06 Jun The Beer Drop: Spiteful God Damn Maple Syrup Pigeon Porter
THOSE. GODDAMN. PIGEONS!
As their name implies, spite isn’t exactly in short supply with the folks at Spiteful Brewing, which is apparent from beer names like Go Fly A Kite Stout, If It’s Too Loud…You’re Too Old English Brown Ale, and the star of this week’s Beer Drop, God Damn Maple Syrup Pigeon Porter.
In reality, the crew behind the juice produces some serious beers – all while staying true to their roots and never taking themselves too seriously. As you’ll see from our conversation with Spiteful’s account manager extraordinaire, Calvin Fredrickson, this sense of humor plays a vital role in how they approach their craft. Read on for the scoop on the beers, the brewery’s humble beginnings, and more:
Tell us about God Damn Maple Syrup Pigeon Porter:
God Damn Maple Syrup Pigeon Porter is best served out of a stemmed tulip glass at cellar temp (55 degrees Fahrenheit). Pair it with brunch – bacon & eggs! The robust maple flavor and notes of milk chocolate and dark roasted coffee complements smoky and savory fare.
And Working for the Weekend?
Our year-round DIPA feels fresh and familiar at the same time. Familiar in the sense that it has the biscuity malt profile and piney hop element of a classic west coast DIPA, and fresh feeling due to its lean body, no booze burn, and pungent Mosaic hop bouquet. Working for the Weekend is sneaky and smooth! It is the DIPA to carry you to Friday.
How’d you get into craft beer? And what were you up to before?
I got into beer in college because I was tired of drinking Name Tag Lager. I bought Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, and that set me down this long and wonderful road of beer. I’m likely to be talking about beer day-to-day, anyway – I’m lucky I get to do it for a living.
Before getting into beer, in my younger days, I was a custodian/groundskeeper at a machine shop, then a shoe salesman, then a golf cart cleaner. I moved to Chicago to finish my B.A., and luckily, I got a job in beer right out of college at Goose Island. I spent a couple years there, then joined Spiteful in February 2014.
What’s the story behind Spiteful?
Spiteful was dreamed up by Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein in 2009. After a few years of homebrewing in their free time, Brad and Jason “went pro,” opening Spiteful in November 2012 and releasing G.F.Y. Stout in December. That first beer set the tone for what Spiteful would become. Brad and Jason originally planned to open a bar, but soon learned their skills were better suited to opening a small brewery – like really small! We started in a 400 square foot basement space in North Center, production only, no taproom. No windows, either. Humble beginnings. We had a handful of bars and liquor stores that carried us, most of which were located within five square miles of the brewery. We grew slowly, adding new equipment over the years, increasing our capacity until we expanded into our new 7,500 square foot production brewery and taproom in Bowmanville. In light of that substantial expansion, we are proud to now service the whole state of Illinois. Plus, I don’t have to deliver the beer myself in a Tahoe anymore!
Where did the name come from?
The Spiteful name came from Brad and Jason’s shared sense of humor. It’s rooted in a sense of spite toward things and people that deserve it! Pigeons? Oh yeah, they deserve it. “God damn pigeons!” Selfies? They’re for wieners! Everybody’s got a healthy sense of spite in them, we think. We express that attitude through our beers, with aggressive flavors, and with funny beer names and labels.
On that note, tell us more about your labels and branding! How do you come up with beer names?
Our branding and labels stem from that Spiteful attitude we share. The branding is just an extension of our day-to-day conversations. What’s pissing us off lately? What deserves to be poked fun of? Our branding is intended to be accessible to anybody with a sense of humor. Don’t think too hard about it. Many of the labels reflect stories of living in a big city and the many ups and downs that come with it. The label for Bitter Biker DIPA depicts the dangers of cycling in Chicago; Dibs Are for Dummies Barleywine’s label rebukes the asinine “dibs” tradition in Chicago. And if you claim a spot you didn’t even shovel out, you’re doubly an idiot!
Beer names flow out of conversations over beers after work. If we have to think too hard about it, it’s usually a no-go. Shorter names are good, to-the-point, but we definitely have some longer names. Anything’s fair game, so long as it feels “Spiteful.” There is no specific method, usually just some joking around. When it sticks, it sticks.
Where’s home base for the brewery?
Our brewery & taproom is located on the North Side, in the Bowmanville neighborhood. We love it up here. It’s an easy-going and relaxed slice of Chicago. We enjoy hosting neighborhood association meetings, club meet-ups, and supporting neighboring businesses through beer donations for events. We have been embraced by this neighborhood, and our next door neighbors are Half Acre. How cool is that? We really admire that crew. We’re proud to be in Bowmanville!
Before that, our “taproom” used to be the curb in front of our old brewery on Berteau in North Center. We’d sit out front after a long day of brewing and packaging in the dungeon, as we called it, and shoot the breeze over some hours-old cans of Alley Time or Spiteful IPA. I think fondly of those old days – but I certainly appreciate the opportunities our expansion and taproom has afforded us. We are available statewide – and people don’t have to sit on the curb to enjoy a beer with us, they can pull up a stool to our bar.
What makes Spiteful special?
I enjoy working at Spiteful because we aren’t pandering to anybody’s expectations of beer at any given time. Trends come and go. Customers’ palates and sensibilities shift over time. All we’re trying to do is express ourselves with beer that’s true to ourselves and executed with intentionality. I love our hop-forward American beers, but I also like the European-style beers we’ve been brewing lately. Our Mild Ale was fantastic. We did a Northern English brown ale with Kuma’s that turned out great. And we just brewed an ESB in celebration of my band’s album release. How many people get to do that? I’m lucky. The ESB is stellar, too. My band’s music – well, that’s a different story!
How do you measure success there?
Success at Spiteful is measured by “I’ll have another of those” types of comments from our taproom guests, and by the repeat buys from our retail and bar partners. That’s the most tangible way we know our beer is resonating with people, repeat business. Having a taproom makes that feedback very personal, and immediate. Sharing a beer with our customers, getting to know them, their families, their interests – that’s a reminder of why do this: to share something we love and cherish, something we busted our asses over, with other people.
Hot Hop Takes
Favorite beer festival:
My favorite beer festival is Great Taste of the Midwest. I’ve only been one year – last year – but it left a strong impression on me. Great vibe, everyone’s friendly, lots of homebrewers with geeky questions, and the event is held in a park along the shore of Lake Mendota in Madison. It’s a beautiful celebration of midwestern beer and culture. I drank a lot of Summit Keller Pils at that fest. I wish Summit was still carried in this market… After the fest, we drank many boots of doppelbock with the Potosi crew and the polka band got mad at us for hooting and hollering too much. Can you believe that? At a German beer hall? Anyway, Great Taste is a blast. Highly recommended!
Highlight from this year’s Illinois Craft Beer Week:
Two highlights of ICBW for us are Beer Under Glass and our annual Cheeseburger and a Pair of Dice event, where we grill burgers, drink beer, and play dice at Guthries. I know of no other event like it! The dice game grew out of our connection to the bike messenger community. An old tradition of messengers is playing dice and drinking beer in a downtown alley after work – hence the name of one of our flagships, Alley Time Pale Ale. Our co-founder Brad and former artist Luke Snobeck used to be bike messengers.
Biggest brewing pet peeve:
One pet peeve we have at Spiteful relates to seeing breweries chasing trends or appropriating the style and language of another brewery. Be yourself! Develop your own culture; don’t co-opt someone else’s. It’s one thing to take inspiration from a brewery or a beer, but there’s an awful lot of outright carbon copying happening right now. I think it’s unsustainable.
Favorite brewery (other than your own, of course):
We spend a lot of time at Half Acre and Dovetail. Half Acre for hoppy goodness, and Dovetail for the continental European-style beers. Both breweries do an excellent job of communicating their souls through their beers, their aesthetics, and through their staffs. Just good people making, selling, and serving great beer. There’s too much good beer in this town for any one person to adequately take in – but I try to get out to one new brewery a month. Even that is tough to do, though! Falling back on the old faithfuls is easy… Do I want rauchbier? I will go to Dovetail and hope they’re serving it. Do I want something hoppy and elegant? I will go to Half Acre. I’m very predictable.
Many thanks to Calvin for sharing some spite with us this week! And don’t be shy the next time you’re near their North Side digs – order in some food and post up at the bar with your pup (they’re dog-friendly!) for some fresh brews straight from the source.