The first brewery profiled for this series also happens to be the first one I featured on this website a few years back. Nestled into a snug space in a Lombard industrial park, Flesk has come to be known as ‘the little brewery that could.’ Starting with a 1bbl system in early 2013, the brothers O’Brien have slowly, but steadily, grown their following in the Chicagoland area through an old-fashioned recipe of hard work, perseverance and friendly handshakes. Word on the street is that Flesk is set to take a major leap forward in 2016.
Which Chicagoland brewery inspires you most and why?
Will: I think Metropolitan is great. They brew the best lagers around. They’re proof that you can brew a beer to style without chasing the new hop or crazy ingredient. They stay relevant and they’re growing. Their branding is solid, and they’re cool people.
In 10 words or less, sum up your view of the current Chicagoland craft beer scene.
Will: Rapid growth with a lot of new challenges facing all of us.
Will: Yes we’d be in favor for it, however, it comes down to a quality retailer or bar. Since we self-distribute, we can pick and choose where our beer goes. If the place has a great process that maintains a high standard (like most bars worth spending money at), then we’d be happy to have them fill for us. If we saw quality slip, we could talk with them to solve the issue or worst case, stop selling them beer. Crap places will eventually only get brands that either don’t care about quality or customers stop getting growlers filled. I see a lot of upside to this.
What’s at the top of your professional wish list over the next 3 years?
Will: Move to a larger spot and open a taproom. Solidify our distribution footprint and expand if possible.
Will: Today, brewers are building million dollar breweries to make millions of dollars in profit (I bet). They do that because it’s ‘go big or go home time’ in their eyes. We didn’t. We built our brewery how MacGuyver would’ve done it – fuckin’ gum and paperclips. Our beer is damn good. We don’t have a marketing background nor a marketing budget. Everybody that drinks our beer has likely tried it before they spent a single penny on it, and chances are they met me or James at a liquor store or festival pouring that sample.
Tell us something about your brewery that we probably don’t know.
Will: First, our size. We are small, a lot of people see our beer in a lot of places and assume we’re much larger than we are. We’re in a 1000-square-foot space (about the size of a 2-bedroom apartment) with only three people here. Second, from when we started through today, we have fully financed our operation with a combo of personal loans to James and myself and small bank loans for some equipment. We don’t have a host of investors or anything like that, it’s just the two of us. We’ve also built a lot of our equipment. We don’t consider ourselves engineers, but we manage to put some stuff together like our canning system. And we’re proud of it.
What’s your brewery’s toughest challenge day in/day out?
Will: Time. There’s never enough. When we combine brewing with sales and distro, it’s a long day. Also, motivation. Three-plus years in and we’re growing, but it’s painfully slow, and there are a lot of days that we want to throw in the towel and say ‘Fuck it, it’s too hard.’ We need more people, but I can’t pay them, so it’s just us still. It’s hard to keep up the pace we need in order to succeed, and nobody just stays motivated in a vacuum. I’ll look at a good review of our beer on UnTappd, and that usually does the trick, but it’s short-lived.
If you could go back and change one thing when starting your brewery, what would it be?
Will: Start with more money and build a taproom.
What aggravates or annoys you most when it comes to the current craft beer scene?
James: People who call themselves a ‘craft beer enthusiast’ but spend their time tearing brewers down while having no clue what actually goes into it – from ordering grain to brewing, packaging, delivering, tastings, festivals, etc. If someone were truly a ‘craft beer enthusiast’ instead of ripping a brewer anonymously online, they’d contact the brewer directly and let them know whatever – either negative or positive.
Will: I guess since I spend a lot of time selling and delivering, I deal with the gatekeepers of beer. I’m constantly reintroducing myself to new beer buyers and bartenders at places we’ve been selling for years at this point, which slows the process way down. Again, there’s never enough time.
If you could put only one other Chicagoland beer on tap at your brewery, which would it be and why?
Will: We like a lot of beers for very different reasons – from being spot on with certain styles we like or pushing the envelope of what a beer is. We have a lot of brewers we’d kill to have on draft here. I can’t answer that without putting a dozen names down.