When it comes to first impressions, there’s definitely something to be said for a smile, handshake and friendly conversation. That goes double for businesses trying to establish themselves and persuade customers to stick around longer or stop back in. On my first visit to Metal Monkey, owners Dan Camp and Brett Smith and the rest of their staff could not have been more welcoming, humble and generous. Add their diverse taplist, a spacious taproom with a variety of seating options, a consistent food truck schedule, heavy metal at a volume that allows you to hear the person a couple seats down from you and the chance to pet a real live monkey that occasionally visits – it’s easy to see that Metal Monkey is in a position to thrive in the Chicagoland craft beer community.
Which Chicagoland brewery inspires you most and why?
I’d probably have to call it a tie between Off Color and Pipeworks. I love the fact that they both tend to go against convention. I always thought it was pretty impressive that Pipeworks would release different beers seemingly weekly, and I’d rarely see the same thing of theirs on the shelf twice. Off Color seems to dive into styles or interpretations of styles that nobody else out there is doing, and from my experience, it’s all been great.
In 10 words or less, sum up your view of the current Chicagoland craft beer scene.
Love it! Bout time we’ve stepped up our game!
Would you be in favor of retailers/bars filling growlers of your beer? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t. When we fill a growler, there’s a certain level of love and care that goes into ensuring our customers get the best quality they can at home. If someone else was doing this, we wouldn’t have the same assurance it was done properly, and I’d hate for poor packaging to impact the perception of our beer.
What’s at the top of your professional wish list over the next 3 years?
We’ve been open a couple months, and I thought this would be a hard question to answer right away. Immediately, I’d love to keep up with demand in the tap room, while also being able to brew new beers and styles. Going along with this though, in the longer term, I’d like to upgrade much of the equipment we have (namely fermenters) to accommodate a larger capacity, which will let us do more distribution and eventually start bottling/canning. Oh and maybe get a band that I really love to play in the empty field across from the brewery at some sort of outdoor summer event. But that one might just be a dream.
What makes your brewery different or stand out in Chicagoland?
We all have been craft beer fanatics long before opening, and we’ve been to a ton of breweries around the country. We’ve taken a ton of notes over the years on what we like and don’t like as far as the taproom and customer experience. And we think we’ve been able to put together a comfortable place that people enjoy hanging out at. It’s inviting, and you can sometimes forget that you’re sitting in a warehouse. And how many breweries can you go to on a Friday night and hear Mr. Bungle, Carcass, Slayer and Evergrey?
Being in the suburbs and a little off the beaten path, we like to bring food trucks to us, and there’s a ton of great ones in the area. There’s a lot that don’t make it out of the city, so we’re trying to bring them out our way so us suburbanites can enjoy something a bit different.
As far as the beer itself, that’s what we’re really here for. We’re working on a small enough scale that we can still act on our homebrewer instincts to do things out of the ordinary. We’d never put anything out that didn’t meet or exceed our expectations, but we’ve got that freedom to play around and have fun while making some kickass beer.
Tell us something about your brewery that we probably don’t know.
Did you know I always wanted to be a dancer in Vegas? Bet you didn’t even know that shit did you? No, but really, I think the thing that people seem the most surprised about when they come in is when we tell them that we designed and built most everything in the place. Lights, tables, bar, the cooler, much of the brewing equipment, and really anything that wasn’t required to have a contractor for.
What’s your brewery’s toughest challenge day in/day out?
Right now it’s keeping up with demand. There are six of us involved with the brewery: Brett, Rachel, Brandi, Jason, Danielle and myself. I’m the only one who doesn’t have another job. Things have been so busy lately, we need to brew almost every day to keep up, and we don’t always have that opportunity due to schedules.
If you could go back and change one thing when starting your brewery, what would it be?
I wish I had some horror stories about all of the things we did that went terribly, but really aside from a lot of sleepless nights, worrying about the budget and working ourselves ragged, things have gone pretty well. Maybe a few minor changes in the layout of the brewery, but hey, we can always fix that next time, right?
What aggravates or annoys you most when it comes to the current craft beer scene?
It may seem pretty minor, but when someone orders a beer from us and tells us the ‘IPA’ or the ‘stout.’ We’re not selling the latest buzzword that some clickbait article told you is the hottest thing in beer. We’re selling something we put a ton of love and effort into bringing you. You can at least call it by its name. Like I said, that may be a bit minor. Other than that, I don’t like when it seems like a new brewery opens up because someone with no knowledge of craft beer thought it would be a good cash grab. We opened on the tightest of shoestring budgets, and it will be a long time before any of the partners get a paycheck from Metal Monkey.
If you could put only one other Chicagoland beer on tap at your brewery, which would it be and why?
I’d go with Imperial Vultures from our neighbors in Plainfield over at Werk Force Brewing. Not only is the beer amazing, but Brando and his whole team have been a great help to us – not only in our homebrew days, but in getting things opened up here. I think that goes hand in hand with a lot of what I like about the craft beer scene − that all of these people are willing to help out what may be considered their ‘competition.’ We get a lot of great traffic through the I-55 corridor between Werk Force and us. I refer people over there every day, and we get people in here all of the time saying they heard about us from them.