Mike Pallen, Founder & Head Brewer
Mikerphone Brewing, Elk Grove Village, IL (currently contract brewing)
8BBL System / Production Brewery (taproom coming late 2016)
To say that Michael Pallen has earned his stripes in the Chicagoland craft brewing scene would be a gross understatement. After all, over the past few years, he’s pulled on his brewing boots for such area heavyweights as Pipeworks, 18th Street, Spiteful, Breakroom and Slapshot. It’s always been his goal to run his own place though. Pallen is already well on his way to joining his local brewing brethren with Mikerphone, where beer styles fall into four categories – hoppy pale ales, saisons, sours and adjunct stouts. Only a handful of commercial releases last year was enough to convince RateBeer Awards voters to honor him as the Best New Brewer of Illinois. This year, Pallen is putting the majority of his focus on getting his brewery and taproom in Elk Grove Village built out and opened.
It has to be Pipeworks. Several years ago, Pipeworks made a post on Facebook in regards to seeking help with moving in their very first fermenters. I had the day off, so I reached out and they accepted my ‘help.’ The reason I use ‘help’ in quotes is because there was not much to do. A truck with four 7bbl fermenters arrived, but the kicker was that two fermenters were attached to each other with a huge welded metal bracket. There was not much we could do but watch as the forklift operator moved the conjoined fermenters toward the door. I will never forget the expressions on both Gerrit (Lewis) and Beejay (Olson)’s faces as those tanks swayed and wiggled nervously to the curb. It was scary. (Now we are all pros at it.) After that day, the guys invited me down to help bottle and brew. Pipeworks was where I met guys like Mr. Beer Karma himself, Fitz, and Drew Fox (18th Street). Fitz has become an amazing friend and helper with all things Mikerphone. Drew gave me an incredible opportunity as his assistant brewer. I learned so much from him.
Pipeworks was a pioneer and has become an important piece of the Chicagoland craft beer scene. To this day, Gerrit will still offer advice and has even sold me some of their equipment, including two of those original fermenters. Honestly, if it were not for the model Pipeworks created and the road they paved, I do not think breweries like Mikerphone would be able to do what we do today.
In 10 words or less, sum up your view of the current Chicagoland craft beer scene.
A collective of hungry, motivated creatives redefining what beer is.
Would you be in favor of retailers/bars filling growlers of your beer? Why or why not?
I do not distribute kegs very often, but if I did, I would not be opposed to establishments filling growlers with my beer. First off, I trust the owners of these establishments to not only represent my beer properly, but also to properly take care of their lines. Most, if not all, have their lines cleaned weekly. This is incredibly important when discussing pouring beer into growlers. Second, I see a growler as another form of package/vessel. Maybe someone cannot get a can or bottle of Mikerphone beer but has the opportunity to get a 32- or 64-ounce container of fresh beer to go home with. I am all for it. I do caution a few things though. I think we as breweries and retailers/bars need to educate consumers about the proper growler cleaning techniques (Be sure to wash out with warm water. Air dry. Do not put the cap on – otherwise mold may start to grow). I also think we need to make sure consumers understand the shelf life of the beer in a growler. Due to lack of proper CO2 purge or counter-pressure filling, the beer has a better chance of oxidation, lack of carbonation or early spoilage than a properly sealed vessel. Drink now or understand what you will drink in the future may not be the best. And I also think retailers/bars need to regulate which beers are available for growler fills. If there is an IPA that has been sitting on for a long while, don’t put that in a growler.
What’s at the top of your professional wish list over the next 3 years?
Instead of focusing on the next 3 years, I need to focus on the next 3 months. Right now, I am awaiting the TTB Brewer’s Notice, finalizing ordinances with Elk Grove Village and beginning the construction on my own space in Elk Grove Village. I am hoping to have a lot accomplished in these next 3 months and to finally start brewing in my own space. Along with those plans will hopefully be a tasting room so I can interact directly with consumers and give them an insider’s look at who/what Mikerphone Brewing truly is. On top of that, I will continue to contract brew out of Une Annee to keep beer flowing into the market.
What makes your brewery different or stand out in Chicagoland?
Honestly, I do not know. I make the beers I want to enjoy and drink. They each take on names that reference songs or artists or albums or music phrases that have meant something to me throughout my life. I guess you could call these the soundtrack to my life. Nothing is off limits as far as it goes with what ingredients I will use. I get inspiration from cooking, traveling and, of course, music.
I do also have to mention that our packaging and labels are different and catchy. The 24-ounce Big A$$ Cans, which will be brought back to life as soon as I get into my own space, are unique. Mikerphone will be the only Illinois brewery packaging in that format. I believe there are only seven breweries in the U.S. using that format. And the label designs have been fun, beautiful works of art. My friends, Nick and Alyssa (aka NGLKSS), do an amazing job taking an idea I have and crafting something special. They are a huge part of who Mikerphone Brewing is.
Tell us something about your brewery that we probably don’t know.
The Mikerphone Brewing logo (white font with microphone) was created back in December of 2010 by a former coworker, Chris Warfield. The logo was inspired by the New Belgium Brewing bicycle logo. I had visited their brewery several times way back when and loved how simple and clean it was. Their bicycle has become so iconic.
What’s your brewery’s toughest challenge day in/day out?
Time. I wish there were 80 hours in a day. Mikerphone Brewing is mainly just me. I recently brought on a volunteer who has really stepped up, and I value his help every day. As soon as I get into my own space, I plan on bringing him on full time. Until that happens, though, it is pretty much on me to handle all things Mikerphone. Planning my weekly/monthly schedule. Ordering ingredients. Brewing. Packaging. Label ideation and ordering. Sale emails. Invoices. Reports. Deliveries. Interviews. Social media updates and correspondence. Website updates. There is a lot that goes into running a brewery and there is only so much time in a day.
I try to get it all in, but it is hard. On top of that, I have a wife and two kids. I feel it is incredibly important to have a great life/work balance, especially when loved ones are involved. Our youngest is only a few weeks old, and that takes a lot of energy, but you make it work. At the end of the day, which for me is usually in the wee hours of the night, I am doing what I love, and it never feels like a job.
If you could go back and change one thing when starting your brewery, what would it be?
This is one hell of a question. Mikerphone Brewing has been a brewery in planning for over 5 years, and everything that has happened, good or bad, has gotten me to where I am today. There have been several road bumps along the way, but those are what taught me what works and what doesn’t, what is best for the brand and what isn’t. I do not think I would change anything.
What aggravates or annoys you most when it comes to the current craft beer scene?
The frequency of craft beer festivals. There seems to be one every weekend, sometimes two or three. If I donated beer to every fest, Mikerphone would be broke and out of business.
If you could put only one other Chicagoland beer on tap at your brewery, which would it be and why?
I spent several Thursdays and Fridays brewing with Brad (Shaffer) at Spiteful Brewing. After a hard day of brewing, we would crack open an Alley Time, their pale ale. This beer is a perfect all-day easy drinker with great hop aroma and perfect malt balance. Some people have ‘Beer Thirty’ while others have ‘Miller Time,’ but as far as I am concerned, it is always ‘Alley Time’!