Brewer Chat: Calvin Fredrickson of Spiteful Brewing
As the craft beer industry continues to explode, breweries everywhere are getting bigger to meet ever increasing demand. Just this week alone, we've heard plans for a $40 million expansion for Michigan's Founders and an all new, massive river-front production facility in planning for hometown brewery Finch. This is, undeniably, a good thing, as craft beer continues its seemingly unstoppable march toward market-share relevance.
Spiteful Brewing in Chicago's Northcenter is not taking this approach. In an industry where the trend is to get big, fast, a few guys in a one-thousand square foot basement are brewing some of the city's best, and freshest beer. Spiteful has committed 100% to their neighborhoods, to their accounts, and to Chicago.
Meet Calvin Fredrickson, Spiteful's Business Guy #2. Since joining the team in February 2014, he's been the man tasked with distribution, marketing, and event planning... in addition to helping brew, bottle, and label their product each week. Someone this busy doesn't have much time to chat, but we were able to corral him long enough to talk fresh beer, the challenges of working in a small space, and the past and potential future for Spiteful Brewing.
So what's your history with Spiteful. Have you been here since day one?
I was not. Brad (Shaffer) and Jason (Klein) had known each other since they were kids basically. Their vision for the brewery began in 2009 . The first beer was released in December of 2012. We're approaching two years.
What were you up to before you were here?
I was at DePaul until 2012 and worked for Goose Island for a couple years in Marketing. My title was Brand Ambassador. That meant event logistics, beer deliveries, and I handled the charitable contribution component where beer is donated to certain causes throughout the year. It's a really important initiative that Goose does. Other larger breweries like Rev and Lagunitas do it as well. I really enjoyed doing that at Goose because there are a lot of worthy causes that can benefit from a non-monetary donation. Working those events, I saw countless non-beer-drinkers turn into beer drinkers. “Oh you like white wine? Try Sofie.” Worked like a charm. Sofie is still one of my favorite beers. Cellars really well, too.
We recently interviewed Claudia Jendron, Headbrewer at Temperance and former Goose receptionist and brewer. You know her?
Oh, yeah! I met Claudia when I first started working there. I was like "damn, who is this girl, she's crazy." She went from working at a desk in the Fulton office to working in the brewhouse. I have a lot of respect for that drive. It’s a success story that Goose Island has fostered: former Goose employees who cut their teeth at Fulton and leave to open their own breweries. Few other breweries offer their employees the resources to experiment with such abandon. Her experience paid off. The beers she is brewing at Temperance are excellent. We were at GABF together. To be around her, Josh and the rest of the crew after they won silver for Gatecrasher -- that was special.
You clearly wear a lot of hats at Spiteful. How do you manage your time?
Everyone at Spiteful is doing above and beyond what is expected of them. When I stepped into this position, it was something I saw right away and realized, OK what more can I do? Every day I’m happy to do what I do. "Wearing those hats," as you say, is just a no-brainer. As corporate as it sounds, I've gotten a lot better at time management. Jason and Brad have taught me so much about efficiency. All I want to do is get beer out of the brewery, off those pallets, into customer's hands, as quickly as possible With a variety of solid hop-forward beers to choose from in Chicago, freshness is more important than ever. We’re spoiled at the brewery, drinking beer from the brite tank. You begin to notice the difference between minutes-old, day old, weeks old, two month old beer. These days most stores get our beer within 48 hours of being packaged. I’m okay with that.
In our experience, Spiteful always has some of the freshest beer in the market. We bought your day-old Diggable IPA just a few months back. Can you speak to your efforts in the freshness department?
We have under fifty accounts for our bombers and cans combined. Our accounts know the beer is coming down every month, so I work with them to figure out what they need. We're usually able to meet those numbers, and they know that fresh batches are coming soon. They don't need to sit on beer in the cooler. I'm stoked that I can go out every week, see most of the accounts, shake their hands and say, "What's up, how are things going? How can I help you?" My modus operandi is to keep the freshest possible Spiteful beer on store shelves. If that means they take less beer, more power to them.
When people buy our cans, odds are the beer they're getting is two weeks old or less. That's frickin' awesome! As a person who loves beer, who buys too much beer, that's awesome. I take pride in that. At the end of the day, if the beer sucks, you're screwed. But I think we're making good beer. And it’s available fresh.
Speaking of beer, it's amazing that you produce the amount of beer you do from this tiny, one-thousand square foot space.
Haha, yeah, we're a humble operation and we're pleased to be that way.
Reading articles from the early days of Spiteful, it sounds like your space was even smaller. Have you expanded within this location?
Yeah. So the room we're standing in was the first room, and we knocked a door through this wall. The brewhouse is the same, it's a three-barrel brewhouse from Portland Kettle Works. In the first years or so, Jason would help Brad mash in, then he would sit down and do business guy shit. His computer would be splashed by wort sometimes. That's how small the brewery was. Of course, we didn't have these seven-barrel tanks. Later, we got space for our chest freezers, and then a little space just adjacent to that where we store kegs, and another chest freezer for our hops. But even with these three individual rooms, it's still really tight in here.The brewhouse is on wheels for a reason--because we can't package with it in here. So the door is just wide enough to wheel the brewhouse out. And then we get the canning or bottling machine and wheel it into the space where the brewhouse was.
I bet it gets hot as hell in here during the summer...
Dude, unbelievably hot! It's kind of charming how oppressive an environment it is though.
So how close are you to saying "We can't hit any more accounts with what we have?"
Oh man, it's a tough issue. We are contacted frequently by people we would love to bring on board. We're having a hard time meeting that demand and I don't know if we're going to be able to meet it in this space. In fact, I can say that with confidence. Which is why we're looking into new spaces. I don't have a date on that yet but none of us wants to be here long-term. I speak for all five of us when I say that.
Sounds like you just want brewhouse luxuries like natural light and air conditioning.
Oh yeah, that would be nice! I mean, don't get me wrong, the space we have here, Brad and Jason have busted their asses to make it run as efficiently as it does. This thing is a well-oiled machine. But it's so small. This is not a long term solution. We hope to be in a new space... soon.
Do you want to stay in Northcenter?
Absolutely, all of us love this neighborhood. All of are within at least thirty minutes biking distance or less. This neighborhood is awesome, people here are friendly, appreciate good beer, and there are five breweries, maybe six… I might be missing one. Half Acre was instrumental in helping us make our canning line operational. Begyle is down the street -- in a pinch, we’ll lend each other ingredients. Letherbee Distillers is across the hall from us. Yeah, we like our neighbors.
Our model has been to stay close to home and grow from the inside out. Once you're able to take care of the epicenter, grow. We don't want to grow for the sake of growth. For us, it’s a philosophical thing. Why send our beer 100 miles away when people want it five miles away? That model makes no sense. Sure, we’re working on taking on more local accounts, but right now we’re limited in that respect. We’re sardines in here. But as we grow, we are going to be mindful of the community that has supported us from day one. Places like Guthries, Green Lady, Bad Apple, Four Moon-- those accounts have stood behind us since the beginning. They’re champions for quality Chicago-brewed beer. Being able to walk from the brewery to four bars that carry our beer is nice.
Looking at all those labels on your freezer, we had no idea you'd made that many beers. How do you balance doing one-off specialty beers versus your flagship beers that establish your brand?
One-offs are awesome, but we understand the importance of recognizability. There are a lot of people out there that don't identify as beer nerds. So-called beer nerds on the forums--I'm one of them--are reading about beer all day, and know new beers from all over the country. But there are a lot of people that aren't like that. Many people recognize something they like and they buy it again Heyoka, Pony Pils, Anti-Hero... there's nothing wrong with that, that's fucking awesome. We want to hit both, you know? The beer nerd and the every day beer drinker.
Do you have a favorite?
I pound Alley Time. That beer is 6% and absolutely poundable. A pale ale should be so refreshing that it can be pounded in under five minutes.
So if you're sitting at home on Saturday night, what would you find in your fridge to keep yourself company?
There was a New Glarus beer in there, their Cran-bic. Usually a couple Spiteful beers. There's a beer called Gratitude by a brewery in Denver called Our Mutual Friend. It's a dark sour beer. They're a mover and shaker in Denver for sure. Pretty new, about two years old at this point.
I have been drinking a lot of lager lately. Pony Pils is usually in the fridge. That beer is outstanding and it does not get its just dues. I like Dynamo by Metro. Some of my favorite beers brewed in Chicago are from Goose Island’s Clybourn Brewpub. Nick Barron, formerly of Flossmoor Station, has been the brewmaster at Clybourn for a couple years. His lagers are outstanding. He's got a Bohemian Pils and a German Pils that rule. Their Pales and IPAs are fantastic, too. Oh, and their barrel aged beers… Uff da.
Everyone has a go-to cheap beer. What's yours?
In college, what I would buy at the grocery store would last me about two days. And that was by design. I liked going to the grocery store, I still do, because I like to talk to people. I find the grocery store a prime environment for getting to know people and just shooting the breeze. I would go to Trader Joe's three days a week or so. In that time, I met somebody who helped me get my job at Goose Island. I love interacting with people while they're shopping for frozen chicken. People do not expect it. I really get a kick out of that.
So anyway, Name Tag is $3 for a six-pack. It's so bad! In college my friends and I would pick up a couple six-packs of Name Tag and a six-pack of Modus Hoperandi. We'd drink two Modus Hoperandi apiece then just pound Name Tag. We knew how bad it was, but Name Tag is justa running joke between a few friends.
Where do you see Spiteful in a few years?
I see Spiteful as being something that a lot more people know about. Spiteful won't be a five person team in five years. One thing that won't change is what we stand for. The people that we bring on board are going to be like us. They're gonna be people like you guys who care about beer, who have their hand on the pulse. People like you, people like me, invest back into this industry. I spend a lot of money on beer each week, more than I care to mention, because I care about beer. And I'm trying Goose beer, I'm trying Finch, I'm trying the new Lagunitas because I really care about that. The people in this community are all investing back into it. Because we care about it.
In a couple years, I imagine all five of us who are here now will still be here. The additional people are going to have a great presence for sure. But we don't want to impose ourselves on anyone. We want to put fantastic beer out there for thirsty people. And keep fresh beers on shelves.
Hopefully in little bit bigger space?...
I hope so. Our brand represents who we are but, ultimately, we want more people drinking good beer. And if that means it's people drinking Spiteful, people drinking at Goose Clybourn, or elsewhere, then awesome. I think Chicago has room for growth as a beer market. We need more pubs. We need more taprooms. That's what we're headed toward. Personally, at Spiteful, we want to have a taproom to bring people in, to drink our beer a day old. Day-old Alley Time is a thing of beauty.
Photography by Jack Muldowney