Justin Maynard of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild

AVONDALE, CHICAGO

Talking CCBW, brewers' rights & cheap wine with Justin Maynard of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild

We're all fans of beer here, especially local, Illinois-brewed craft beer. We drink it at bars and breweries around town, pick up the newest releases at our neighborhood bottle shop, and attend the seemingly endless stream of festivals throughout the year. Breweries make beer, distributors get it to us, and we drink it. It's as simple as that, right?

Unbeknownst to many a fan, craft beer would not have experienced the explosive growth seen throughout Illinois the last decade if not for the tireless work of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Whether it's lobbying for pro-craft beer legislation down in Springfield or working out logistics for the next Beer Under Glass or Festival of Wood & Barrel Aged Beers – ICBG plays a major role in this industry we love.

And the man behind operations at the Guild, is Justin Maynard. Entrusted with leading the charge toward all things good for Illinois craft beer, he's a man with a lot on his plate and a lot of eyes (even if the average drinker doesn't know it) on his work. An uber-friendly craft beer geek himself, Justin can be a hard man to track down, especially a week prior to the Guild's biggest time of year, CCBW – Chicago Craft Beer Week. Luckily for us, we were able to catch up with him at Revolution Kedzie to learn a little more about one of the driving forces behind the craft industry in Illinois.

To get started, can you tell us your official title with the Guild?

I'm Executive Director of the Illinois Craft Brewer's Guild. I'm the ED. One of my board members calls me "Ed" all the time, which is strange.

We like it. Just how many members make up the Guild?

When I started three years ago as a contractor, we had about 24-25 breweries involved. And now we're up to 110. That's regular members that have a manufacturing license to produce beer. Back in the day we also had seven associate members, and we now have 235. They are allied members of the Guild; they don't have a voting right, but they support the guild, pay dues and come to all the meetings. They want to get involved in the whole structure of things.

Whatever happens in the suburbs, or western Illinois – we’re all on the same team. We defend craft brewers’ rights.

Have you visited all of the voting member breweries?

Well, I've been to pretty much every corner of the state. I've had a lot of great beer, let's just say that.

So where does Illinois rank among the other US guilds?

Number one! There're a lot of states that have more members. California has six guilds so they kind of split the state up in chunks. I'm sure one day in Illinois, ten years down the line, Chicago may have it's own thing going on and then there may be some subsets around the state. It's kind of working itself out now.

Before you were "Ed," what was your daily gig?

I worked in IT for 12-13 years. I started my own record label with one of my friends Chris in 2004. We did that for a little while and that job led me into Riot Fest. I did that for two and a half years. Riot Mike (Petryshyn) is one of my good buddies and we worked very well together. He introduced me to marketing your brand. It's hard to make money in the music industry – like having a gun with no bullets. In the beer industry it's like having a gun with plenty of fuckin' bullets. You can do whatever the hell you want. I love it.

IT was great for 12 years, I'm just not a cubicle machine. I couldn't sit there anymore. Swivel chairs and meetings are horrible.

Oh come on, you must have a swivel chair upstairs in the Guild office.

I have an executive chair – it's leather buddy!

This is the job that you might not think about. Nobody knows what the Guild is. Nobody knows how legislative efforts happen in Springfield. Nobody understands lobbying. It was something I never would have thought about until I started doing it. I met Pete Crowley when I was doing Riot Fest, and he was an excellent president of the Guild. I still miss him. Josh Deth from Revolution was a board member, and I miss him everyday. They molded me to where I am today. It's hard to just jump into something and take control of the situation...make it your own without pissing off everyone on the board. They were like, "This is your job, we know what you can do, we trust you, so just run with it." It's been pretty flattering.

Can you explain how the board is structured? It must have needed to evolve over time as the industry changed.

When I first started we had a hodge podge of directors that really didn't communicate well. It was still unified by Pete and he did a great job at that. I can't give him enough credit. Once we started getting our legs underneath us, we started doing better with memberships, bringing in revenue, and running these festivals at a more professional level. And of course the popularity of craft beer didn't hurt. We were able to step back and say we need more qualified members on the board to have a voice. That's when we brought in Jim Ebel from Two Brothers, Gabriel Magliaro from Half Acre, and John Barley from Solemn Oath. We didn't do a house cleaning, we just wanted to tighten up the ship.

In a perfect world I would love for all my brewers to be able to do whatever they want. Is that too much to ask?

The board itself is voted in. We have an executive team – currently it's the President, Secretary and Treasurer. Barley is the President, Jim is the Treasurer, and Gabriel is the Secretary. I report directly to them, to the board, and also to our voting members. There's also events and marketing. Marketing focuses on where we want to take the brand. How do we brand ourselves as Illinois first? How do you brand craft beer? With events, we're focused on running our Guild events. How do you get ice and glassware? How do you sell tickets online? All things that people don't know about.

Personally, my main job is getting shit done for the Guild and the state of Illinois. I worry about legislative efforts we put forth, about running successful festivals, and the message of craft beer throughout the state. Whatever happens in the suburbs, or western Illinois, we're all on the same team. We defend craft brewer's rights.

The legislative work that you do goes largely unnoticed and under-appreciated by the average beer drinker. What are you working towards on that front right now?

In a perfect world I would love for all my brewers to be able to do whatever they want. Is that too much to ask!? What I want to do is work with distributors. Brewers need distributors just as much as distributors need brewers. I want brewers to be able to self distribute. Do I believe in caps on anything? Hell no. I believe in progression. If you have the balls to open a business, you should be able to do whatever you need to do to make that business successful. I'd like brewers to use distributors to their advantage. I'd like brewers to brew as much or as little beer as they want. I want them to open bottle shops, retail stores, brewpubs. I want everything that's good in life for brewers.

Right now the cap is at 30,000 barrels. We're literally going to blow that away this year with the bill we're working on with ABDI (Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois).

A lot of people talk about the definition of "craft beer." We tend to think the definition doesn't matter that much. What does craft mean to you?

I think it's a personal experience. The fact I know local hop farmers or malt groups... I know the people that work for these businesses. They manufacture a product for beer and that makes me appreciate it even more.  We do Replicale every year at Oak Park [Microbrew Review]. We choose a new recipe, pick a yeast strain, and get donated hops and malts. The breweries can then do whatever the hell they want with it. It's so rare and stupid and we throw it all in one festival. I think that's 'craft.'

Craft beer should be fun. You’re supposed to drink with your friends and enjoy each other’s company. That’s what it’s all about.

Exactly – a personal experience. It's whatever it means to you, and it doesn't make much difference how many barrels you produce or whatever other metric people gauge it by nowadays.

It's like that Budweiser commercial that came out during the Superbowl. Some dude slamming a hammer on a piece of iron metal. That shit is not craft. It's what Americana thinks about brewing beer. Take your shirt off, sweat, pull up your pants. That's not brewing.

Brewing is doing a full brew day; doing two turns, transferring beer, mopping the floor. Waiting around while your wife is at home to have ingredients delivered there. It's on-the-fly, taking care of business. That's what small brewers do. It's not glamorous. Small brewers don't press buttons. They have to make the beer, bottle beer, sell the beer in the room. Or, if they have a distributor, they have to have a network of relationships.

Craft beer should be fun. You're supposed to drink with your friends and enjoy each other's company. That's what it's all about. It's not about going to the shelf and finding the cheapest $5.99 12-pack. That's not drinking beer. That's giving up.

That's why Replicale is amazing. I didn't come up with the recipe, I'm not a brewer. I send out an email to all my brewers and I said, "I need a team of 5-6 people to come up with a recipe." My inbox got flooded. Even from the most seasoned brewer who I would never email directly said, "Justin, I'm interested." I was like, damn!

What's your perspective on the Goose Island sale a few years back? That seems to be a growing trend in the industry as of late.

We're so lucky to have them in our state. I think the Hall family has been such a great influence for small craft brewers. Look at the lineage of what they've produced. Brewers that have not only moved on to be a headbrewer or start their own thing, but actually moved on in other roles. If you go to a distributor, there are people who have actually worked in the brewery. They understand that background.

Of course, there's that fine line between being owned by AB Inbev and being a craft brewery. Personally, I have friends who work for Goose Island-Fulton and Wood and I know they put their heart and soul into the beer. Are they owned by one of the big conglomerates? Yes. Does that affect the beer they make at Fulton and Wood? No. They do an excellent job of making craft beer. We just talked about "craft." They do craft beer. They don't fuck with that.

AB Inbev wouldn't buy Goose Island and tell them how to make their beer. They say, "Make the same quality beer you've always made, but at a different scale." When it comes to home, Goose Island set the trend in the city and we should all be happy for that. People have different opinions and that's fine. My personal opinion is that they do a lot for the Guild and they're still really good partners. I think they make quality beer. If they ever change that direction, then I'll have a different opinion. It's not like they're the evil empire. We're not gonna look upon them as being a negative part of craft beer. They created craft beer in Illinois. I think people need to realize that.

What are you really excited about in the Illinois craft scene right now?

Something that tickles my fancy are the souring programs. I just love barrel-aged beers, and I love souring. I don't know how it works, but every time I go down to Springfield, I always stop in at Destihl. I talk to Matt Potts (Destihl Founder & Brewmaster), one of our board members; the dude knows how to make sour beers. He can explain it to you in verbiage that I can't. To talk about the souring process is just something that's amazing to me. I think I need to try every sour beer in the city.

I'm also finding all these brewpubs opening up. Breakroom Brewery just opened up their's. The whole matching of the culinary aspect with the craft brewing aspect blows my mind. I don't do beer pairing dinners, that's not my thing. I like a burger with my beer, and I like to choose the appropriate beer with the burger. I'm not a culinary expert, I just know what tastes good. Breakroom has some great beers going on and their kitchen is great. I love the whole brewpub aspect.

What about the need for more taprooms in the city? A lot of people talk about that.

I agree 234%! I think every manufacturing facility should have a taproom. And it's legal in the state of Illinois. If you apply for a manufacturing license, it's built into it.

So it's not hard, it's a matter of money and space?

I don't know if it's the city. I don't know if it's restrictions or if it's not part of the business plan. But I would definitely, as a fan of craft beer, expect every brewery to have a taproom. That's just me being selfish though.

We really look forward to the Guild's events throughout the year. With CCBW upon us, can you speak to why your events are so unique?

First of all, thank God that there are so many new breweries out there. Consumers have an option of what they want to drink. We have a brewery down south called JT Walker's (Mahomet, IL) that opened up two years ago. I'm sure you guys have never heard of them but they make great beer. I had Scratch Brewing (Ava, IL) beer at GABF, and I thought they were amazing. They don't use hops; everything is from the forest. These are breweries that you'll never touch upon up here. They're going to be at BUG and Welles Park – the bookends of CCBW. These are breweries that you'll never see on shelves but you can try them at our events.

The cool thing is the brewers love our events so much that they show up themselves and want to pour the beer. I always give the brewers the option of if they want volunteers and they say no. They want to meet their consumers. They want to meet "Joe Craftbeerdrinkerguy." I send an email to Garrett at Pipeworks, and there he is, right behind the jockey box pouring beer. Our events are very personal.

So we have a question we ask everyone...

Don't ask me my favorite beer, I hate that question! I'm a seasonal beer drinker. I like local, seasonal craft beer. In the fall months, I'm not a big fan of pumpkin beers, but I do like that transition. I love barrel-aged beers, and that has nothing to do with FOBAB. It's all about transition. Right now it's all about crushable pale ales. I want every can of those being produced by Illinois brewers.

That wasn't our question! We were wondering, what's in your fridge at home right now?

Ahhh, I love Riesling. It's a dirty secret. I probably appreciate the $6.99 bottles of wine more than anybody. I love rosé – I love sweet wines. Yea...that's embarrassing. I'm down with the cheap wine. Because someone crafted that wine for me to consume, and I respect that. I will pay $7 for that!

In terms of beers, I drink enough beer outside of my house to not drink much at home. I probably have a week-old growler of something in there. It's always something seasonal.

Favorite beer bar in Chicago?...

For me, it's not just about the rare beers and how hard they are to find, but it's the atmosphere. Beer Bistro is one of my favorite spots. These are probably beer bars that no one would go to in terms of rare beer, but I love Riverview Tavern and Mash.

What about a region of Illinois you think is about to make waves? Something craft beer fans should get excited about.

Southern Illinois excites me the most. A lot of people talk about St. Louis; Perennial, Urban Chestnut, Schlafly. They have that whole scene going on there and it kind of bleeds over into Illinois. There are a lot of breweries that have popped up down there. None of us have time to travel down there all the time, but it's kind of a gem that nobody has really tapped into yet.

Sounds like we have a roadtrip to make. Thanks for having us, and to think we didn't ask you a single question about FoBAB!

Want to talk about it now for 2 hours??


–THR–

 
 
 

Photography by Robert Battista

We had to cut it off there or we would have ended up talking into the next morning. Keep an eye out for Justin throughout CCBW and next time you're in your local Illinois brewery taproom.