May 28, 2016
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American transcendentalist, has an interesting way of describing what progress looks like — he paints a picture of a boat, tacking back and forth with the wind, as it makes its way across the ocean. From a distance, it appears to go in a straight arching line towards its pre-determined destination. But of course, up close, it’s a thousand little zigs and zags, working with the momentum of the wind in order to propel itself forward. The final destination may be determined — but it’s place on the horizon is only ever approximate until those final moments when it comes closer and closer upon hitting the far shore. For me, this is the metaphor of the emergent business strategy. And for today’s small brewers, it represents a way to plot a vision for the future, while also admitting that the prevailing winds of change will be something you have to grapple with, as elegantly as possible, on your way across the sea. And he summarizes all this, all these little decisions that composite big decisions by saying, “The force of character is cumulative.” Today’s guests are a pair that have done a good job of doing just that. Eric Hobbs and Tom Korder of Penrose Brewing Company in Geneva, Illinois, about an hour west of the city of Chicago along the metro train line, set out on the Belgian-inspired journey that began in their days together at Anheuser-Busch and Goose Island, and went forward into a future all their own. They learned some lessons early on that they adapted to quickly and with grace. Such as hitting the market early with a Belgian single and hearing “where’s your IPA” a hundred times a week. And running a bottling line for the first time, and having some yeast management issues. And hosting bottle releases for their sours, and realizing just how intense that kind of crowd can be when they don’t get what they want, how they want it. Through all of this — these two have tacked back and forth on their way to the brewery they always imagined. And in my opinion, they’re loosening up the sails, and picking up speed.