The tag team duo of Todd Randall and Erik Pizer has come a long way since I first sat down with them a month before their grand opening in September 2014. So much so that it causes moderate head trauma to think of how much they’ve accomplished in such a short time. From award-winning beers and weekly special releases to hosting unique events such as charity fund-raisers, stand-up comedy showcases and acoustic rock shows featuring some of their all-time favorite artists. Seriously…what other brewery has sold out a convention center for its own beer and punk rock festival within its first year? Buckle up, friends, because they’re just getting started.
Which Chicagoland brewery inspires you most and why?
Todd: Brickstone. They’re the hardest working guys in the industry. They did things the right way by building their brand locally while still producing world-class beers. Tommy and his crew are an inspiration and showed us all that keeping your head down and…..just WORKING…. is still effective in today’s business landscape.
Erik: I have to agree with Todd. Tommy and company at Brickstone really are something else. Tommy built things up at the brewpub at a time when there wasn’t a huge community of knowledge and support, and now he’s making phenomenal beer – and lots of it!
In 10 words or less, sum up your view of the current Chicagoland craft beer scene.
Todd: Great people. Great Beer. Helpful to each other. Good looking.
Erik: Getting bigger daily. Still staying pretty closely knit.
Would you be in favor of retailers/bars filling growlers of your beer? Why or why not?
Todd: No, I hate growlers. Terrible vessel for beer. End of story.
Erik: Nope. We can call for retailers and consumers to be better educated or say that we’ll control the standards at bars, but I don’t see it being good enough. I understand the desire for these places to have another revenue source and consumers want to get beers from places they can’t get to visit, but there’s still not enough control. There are excellent, strong arguments for filling growlers, but they’re from industry people talking about craft beer-focused consumers. Sure, it feels like craft beer is ubiquitous and that ‘everyone’ knows how to fill, store and care for growlers, but the reality is that us beer geeks are a smaller number than we realize. There are just too many consumers that think they’re entitled to whatever they want, but the fact is that the brewery should be able to decide how a consumer takes their beer home. It’s hard enough that shaker pints are still being used, how can we honestly say that we can be OK with the extra effort of cleaning and filling growlers?
What’s at the top of your professional wish list over the next 3 years?
Todd: Lazy River Strip Club in Calumet City. Everyone knows that. Also, a second location and production facility for 350.
Erik: An automatic keg washer! But seriously, probably a nice big production space…with a keg washer.
What makes your brewery different or stand out in Chicagoland?
Todd: We’re super small, so we don’t distribute or fill growlers for the public. That is very different from most Illinois breweries. I want people to give a shit about us before we distribute. This has always been my plan. Is it the right plan? We will find out. Am I crazy?? Yes. Being one of the smallest breweries in the state allows us to be creative and keep extremely fresh beer on tap at all times. We have 19 beers on tap right now. That’s cool, right? Also, 350 is heavily influenced by punk rock music. Punk has always been a big part of our lives. Growing up playing in ska/punk bands had a similar feel and camaraderie as the Chicago craft beer scene. That’s what sucked me into this industry. I love it. So I created 350 Fest. It’s my baby. Nothing but Illinois craft beer, punk music, great local food and INSANITY! Basically a huge celebration of Illinois beer.
Erik: We’re a tiny brewery that has a big personality. We don’t distribute much if at all right now, so you have to come hang out with us to have the beer. We promise nothing but a good time and some great beers when you come visit us. Todd’s done an amazing job with all the events we’ve put on – from Laugh Riot, our monthly comedy night, to last year’s 350 Fest. Get yer popcorn ready, we’re doing it again: 350 Fest 2 is gonna be even better this summer!
Tell us something about your brewery that we probably don’t know.
Todd: We have a small batch series called Sunday Detention. Last year we released 52 beers in 52 weeks. Still going strong. Every Sunday, a new beer is released at noon. Also, we have a full kitchen now. Come get your grub on!
Erik: Even though we’ve served at least snack-type foods since the day we opened, it seems a lot of people don’t realize we have a full kitchen now. The food is excellent – we even declare our burger the best in the ‘Industry.’ We just won’t tell you which industry that is.
What’s your brewery’s toughest challenge day in/day out?
Todd: Staying creative. We are very hard on ourselves when it comes to being unique. We put a shit ton of work into being creative. We hope people give a shit.
Erik: Balancing regular beers with new stuff. It’s tough when we put something new on tap and it becomes a favorite, and I get asked to keep brewing it. Sure, we’ve got 18-19 beers on tap most of the time, but we like to keep actual variety – not just the same few beers all the time.
If you could go back and change one thing when starting your brewery, what would it be?
Todd: More room in the taproom for activities.
Erik: To piggyback on that thought – a bigger brewhouse to supply the additional beer we’d need!
What aggravates or annoys you most when it comes to the current craft beer scene?
Todd: Sellout motherfucking breweries! Where is the PRIDE in what you created? As an individual, you only need so much money to get by and be happy/support your family. If some shitty corporation wants to buy you…guess what? You are already making money…and doing something right. Keep doing it!
Erik: I’m not a fan of all the hoarding of WHALEZ BRO. I get that some beers are rare and hard to come by, but it’s just beer, people. Isn’t all this about drinking tasty beverages and having fun? They shouldn’t be trophies you get for waiting in lines all day. We have some pretty awesome customers that bring us all sorts of cool beers. I love cracking them open and sharing them over the bar with whoever wants to try something they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to.
If you could put only one other Chicagoland beer on tap at your brewery, which would it be and why?
Todd: Pipeworks Ninja vs Unicorn. I love Pipeworks. I’m a fanboy. Gerrit is smart.
Erik: Brickstone APA. It’s just so good.