There’s a lot to be said for following one’s passions in life. Not all of us can afford the time or expense to do it, but those who are able are typically the ones you hear tell you that they’ve never worked a day in their lives. Mark Kocol, owner and head brewer at One Trick Pony, is in the midst of what would be considered a “passionate transition.”
An attorney in Chicago, Kocol had long dreamed of leaving stressful days behind and pursuing his dream of opening a brewpub with his own beers. It almost happened in 2010 when after completing coursework at the Siebel Institute of Technology, he took steps toward opening one in Tinley Park, Illinois. After this fell through, he went back to focusing on his law practice and brewing beer continuously until the brewery bug began gnawing again. A lover of Belgian ales, Kocol had been home brewing with Dave Murphy, a retired Ford worker and IPA aficionado. After a couple years of brewing together and realizing they were pretty damn good at it, the two decided to open a brewery in Lansing, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. This time it clicked.
After moving into an 1800-square-foot space in January 2012, they opened in late May with a clear vision for their beers. Despite their individual allegiances to specific styles, they vowed to not be a “one trick pony” when it came to their brewery. This declaration has definitely been carried through as One Trick Pony’s taplist switches up every month, covering a wide spectrum of beer styles. Following the equine theme, their flagship beers include Kentucky Mountain (barrel-aged old ale), Storm Cat (American amber ale), Kisber Felver (American black IPA), Brabant (Belgian golden strong ale), Spotted Saddle (American pale ale) and Prometia (Tripel). During my visit, I was also able to sample their Walkaloosa (American IPA), Kaimanawa (American IPA), Marsh Tacky (American stout), Black Beauty (smoked porter) and Warlander (Imperial IPA). Each beer held a distinctive, bold flavor that left me wanting more.
One Trick Pony’s 2 BBL system, in which Kocol and Murphy and their two assistants, Chris and Jonathan, brew about eight barrels each week, has allowed them to experiment with various styles and assorted ratios within those styles to optimize recipes. Visitors to the cozy tap room at the front of the brewery order from a walk-up window where the owners share stories of their brewing adventures. The space has a comfortable vibe that makes you feel like you’re hanging out in a friend’s basement or garage you’ve been going to for years.
Kocol envisions them staying in their current space for another year and then moving to a larger location. One Trick Pony’s big picture will be driven by demand, though. Still keeping his day job in the law, Kocol is anxiously awaiting the day when he can pour all of his time and energy into his passion for brewing.
One Trick Pony beers can be found on tap at a number of Chicagoland bars, including the Rock Island Public House in Blue Island and The Monkey’s Paw in Lincoln Park. You’ll also see them at upcoming festivals such as the American Beer Classic at Soldier Field and Crown Beer Fest in Crown Point.