Brewer Chat: The Founders of Four Fathers

VALPARAISO, IN

As if we needed any more reasons to make a pit stop on the way to or from Chicago, we've now got another one tucked away in Valparaiso. Anchoring a small industrial building along humble two-lane Lincolnway road sits Four Fathers Brewing. As relatively fresh faces to the Northwest Indiana beer scene, these four partners have aimed to make 'Valpo' part of the craft beer sandwich between Chicago and West Michigan. Brewers Jason Lacny and Colin Oswald, and their wives Beth and Kim, respectively, have set out to create a community taproom full of uniquely brewed pints. We dropped in to see how opening the space has treated them, their plans for exploring beer styles and how they fit in to the Midwest brew scene. We can assure you that these two brewers, from engineering and biology backgrounds, have the passion, skill and welcoming attitude to make some noise in Chicagoland. 


Jason Lacny & Colin Oswald, the brewers behind Valpo's newest operation.

Jason Lacny & Colin Oswald, the brewers behind Valpo's newest operation.

So give us a little background behind you guys, and Four Fathers?

Colin: Well, we met down at Purdue down in 2003.

Jason: Yea, and '09 is when all of this really started. The actual company consists of the four of us. It's us and our wives. Beth (Lacny) is my wife and Kim (Oswald) is Colin's wife. We always wanted the brewery to have a historical type of feel. We have a lot of American history-inspired items on our taproom walls. It kind of started as 'Fore Fathers,' as a nod to US history. Then we also started looking at how everything starts from the ground up. Beer from the ground up is four main ingredients. 'Four Fathers' references the four main ingredients in beer. So: four of us, four ingredients.

We’ve created this whole circuit, kind of like Napa Valley is for wine in California. You could see the same thing happening around the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

So you've got your brewery, but you’re still working your old 9-to-5’s? That’s impressive.

Colin: Yea, we work like 80-90 hours a week now.

Jason: Right now we're open Thursday through Sunday. That will probably evolve a little as we grow. The girls are primarily in charge of running the taproom. They're the main ones running the show. There's a lot of other things to do, cleaning- and ordering-wise that we're trying to do while we're doing our day jobs. Both of us travel a lot for our day jobs, which complicates it even more. By trade, he's a mechanical engineer and I'm a molecular biologist.

So we imagine the long-term plan is to make this full-time?

Colin: Oh yea.

Jason: We can't wait 'til we get to that tipping point. But I think even if we got to the point one day where we're on a 500-barrel system, I still think Colin and I would always have a hand in the product, in brewing. I think it's still important that if you're offering a craft product the people can still see that the 'artist' is touching the product.

Colin: I love working the mash and getting my feet wet 12 hours a day doing it. I don't mind the hours. I love coming in.

We’ve noticed a rising craft beer movement in Northwest Indiana. How do you see yourselves as part of that?

Jason: We’re almost making a craft beer sandwich; filling in the gap between Michigan, which has been well-established for a long time – and Chicago, which is growing quickly. Now we want to be that thread that binds the two.

Colin: I think 3 Floyds helped a lot with that.

Jason: Yea, it really did. You're already starting to see the impact in other industries. You see a lot of these 'brew buses' popping up that do trips down. We've created this whole circuit, kind of like Napa Valley is for wine in California. You could see the same thing happening around the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

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So why here in Valparaiso specifically?

Colin: Well, we wanted to be in Northwest Indiana. It's an up-and-coming area and there are a lot of good breweries out here already. We wanted to be part of that. This location was nice because, with our initial investment, we didn't have a lot of money. This place already had floor drains, a walk-in fridge; it's set up to be a brewery already. That saved us a lot of money.

Jason: Figure Eight Brewing, the first brewery that came into Valpo, started here [in this location]. And so about a year or two ago, they outgrew this space and moved downtown – right on the square. When we were getting to the point where we were starting to get this all going, we realized that this space was available. So, we came and did a quick walk-through. For the size we were looking to start out as, this was perfect. We can already feel the space creeping in on us a little bit, but the rent was good. With the whole day job conundrum, we couldn't put a lot of build-out into the space. So it just kind of worked out.

Colin: The build-out was almost six months on weekends alone. Just coming in to put wood up, staining it, building a bar.

Jason: This is the vision that we've had since the beginning – as far as what it was going to look like. It was just a matter of doing the work. We were the third brewery [after Figure Eight and Ironwood] coming to town, and we asked "is that smart?" We felt that Valparaiso was probably the best location in Northwest Indiana to become a craft beer destination.

How has the reception been from the local community?

Jason: It's been only a few weeks. This has probably been the slowest week we've had, but it's still been really good. We're still doing quite a bit of carry-out. Indiana is kind of an oddball in terms of liquor laws and they have been for a while. So it was always a pain in the ass when we were in high school...err, I mean college. You can't get carry-out on Sundays anywhere. At all. Recently, within the past five or six years, it's changed so that only craft breweries and wineries can do carry-out. It's great for us now, because if you're in Valpo and it's Sunday – you're going to look for a craft brewery or winery, if you know the law. Our opening was more than we expected.

Colin: Yea, it was nine and half straight hours of lines. We got a lot of buzz right out of the gate. A lot of Chicago breweries showed up.

How have you networked with the locals both here and in Chicago?

Jason: Well, it was difficult at first because you can't technically accept money for your beer without a license. So we started doing a lot of not-for-profit stuff. We even did a lot of brewfests where we knew we couldn't do beer, so we did hand-crafted sodas; just to get out name out there. We also make dog treats from our spent grain, which we've been doing since 2012. It was kind of a way to launch Four Fathers and also a product line. They've been well-received, they were even at Capone's in Chicago for a while.

Hah, so have you tried them yourselves?

Colin: Yea of course! If you were starving, you could eat 'em. They might just get stuck in your teeth a little bit.

Jason: Yea, a little grainy.

Do you plan on doing any beer events in Chicago?

Jason: We would love to be more prominent within Chicago, because we still feel close to it. I think there're a lot of legalities within the brewing world that kind of prevent that from happening though. Tasting and stuff like that – there isn't a lot of marketing utility. I mean, Drew at 18th Street is doing it, so it can be done. We don't plan on doing any events there just yet. But if an opportunity presents itself and we have enough beer at the time, then yes. We're trying to get the Chicago Brew Bus to come here, because they're starting to make trips to 18th Street. So we're trying to push them this way a little bit to extend their loop. We have a nice small location which I think fits them really well.

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So what’s your beer lineup looking like? We’re liking what we’ve tried today...

Jason: We're starting off a little bit 'softer.' We're doing stuff like pale ales and milk stouts. A lot of stuff that showcases our craftsmanship. We're going to start getting a little more inventive and creative because we're big fans of sours and Belgian style ales. Over the summer, we did a test batch of sour brown that we have, called Confidence Man. We also did a Belgian pale, aged on peaches. That's one thing that I think Northwest Indiana doesn't have a lot of right now: a brewery that's doing beers like that. There is a big tender of people out there that like craft beer that really do enjoy sours and wilds.

Looking at your past brews, it looks like you’re both coffee fans, too.

Colin: Yea, we don't want to shy away from it. We use a lot of coffee in here.

Jason: We actually did something different with this beer than a lot of other brewers do. We literally dry-hopped this beer with coffee. A lot of brewers will make a toddy and infuse the coffee into the beer until they get the character they want. So that was a different approach.

We balance each other out in the brewhouse. He keeps me in check, which is good because I can get a little crazy sometimes.
— Jason Lacny

How has managing consistency been for you on your new system?

Jason: When we were at Purdue, he (Colin) was in the School of Engineering and I was in the School of Biological Sciences. So we're very scientific-oriented when we brew. So I think we pay attention to a lot of variables that go into 'consistency.' Brewing small batches, there's always going to be variability. But we're able to control that, I think, just because of our attention to detail.

Colin: We always aim for a high level of efficiency. With this equipment we're in the 90[%]'s.

Jason: Yea we're doing really well as far as that goes. We take a very scientific approach to brewing. But we also look at this as the perfect blend of art + science. Colin and I were so funny with our recipe development when we first started homebrewing. He's definitely the engineer. He'll take one recipe that he wants to make and he does iteration after iteration until it's perfect. Whereas I kind of go the opposite route. If one brew came out well, I'll want to try this other recipe. We balance each other out in the brewhouse. He keeps me in check, which is good because I can get a little crazy sometimes.

Alright, if Four Fathers beer isn't in your glass, what are you drinking?

Colin: I like a mix of everything. I don't like to stick to any one brand. Every time I go to the store I tend to just go for something new. And I don't really favor one style – Belgians, IPAs, stouts – it just depends on my mood. I like 'em all, and I love doing a pick-6 of course.

Jason: I'm a very 'seasonal-style-guy.' In the summertime, I love my IPAs, pales, wheats. And wintertime, I'm all about the heavier stuff. Right now in my fridge, I have some Finch's Threadless IPA. My favorite pale for a long time was Half Acre's Daisy Cutter. Then it was Osiris, from Sun King. And now I'm really into Alley Time by Spiteful. I love that beer, man. Oh my gosh.

All great choices – a couple Chicago beers in there...

Jason: Yea, it's actually pretty hard for me to get Chicago beer unless I'm in the city on business. Those are some go-tos. And another style I think is making a big comeback is the Gose. It's that perfect mashup of sour and salty – a great summer beer style.

Well, do you guys wanna go in the back and see the space? I mean, there's not a lot to the tour as you'll see...

Yea of course. So, no brewery tours in the near future for Four Fathers?

Jason: Hey, I mean we could do 'em – but it'd just be like 'hey! come around back'...

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Thank you to Beth Lacny and Kim Oswald for running the show so that we could take time away from the taproom operations to chat with Jason and Colin. This was a really great perspective from four very passionate and welcoming folk. Northwest Indiana is really starting to make the South Shore of Lake Michigan a true craft beer route, and we can see these four playing a major hand in that. Another great reason to make a trip along the shore to Valpo. Stay updated on Four Fathers happenings via their social medias, on Twitter & Facebook. Or better yet, go get yourself a growler from their taproom. Cheers!