What does it take to make a brewery? To put it simply: A lot.
You need licensing from the State of Illinois. You need a ton of capital, investors, a business plan, complex equipment and a deep pool of knowledge of a great deal of concerns. You need what is colloquially known as “big, shiny things” and, ultimately, just a whole truck full of ambition.
Blane White, of Manteno, has some of these things, and, pretty soon, he is going to find out if he has all that it takes to make this thing go. I have chronicled White’s journey toward starting his own business during the past couple of years.
Sometime ago, Blane’s wife, co-owner and the one with the know-how in this operation, Natalie White, reached out to me through the column to see if I wanted to talk with her husband about homebrewing and his aspirations of starting a brewery. I went over and brewed with him a few times, wrote it up as a homebrewer’s dream and kept in touch.
Later, I wrote about Blane taking gold at a Brewers of South Suburbia annual home-brewing competition. As if that wasn’t enough, I wrote another article about Steam Hollow Brewing’s initial Kickstarter campaign to raise some additional capital for funding their venture.
That campaign was successful in raising and exceeding what they needed to raise, and put them on a solid path toward turning this pipe dream into real pipes and other things. You need a lot pipes when you move liquid around, if you didn’t know.
My wife and I were at BrickStone a few weekends ago for our preanniversary dinner, and someone was knocking on the patio windows to get our attention. Lo and behold, it was Blane, wearing his own brewery’s branded hat with Steam Hollow Brewing emblazoned on the front, grinning from ear to ear with what I only can imagine was good news.
He looked tired but with what seemed a deep well of unfailing ambition, drive and purpose still simmering underneath. Doing what Blane has set out to do seems like an unimaginable lift.
When he told me at BrickStone he was pouring concrete the next day, it seemed to me things were firming up for him in a big way. So I decided to go check in.
I walked in during the middle a warm day in late August. There is no air conditioning in the entire building, but the large, mostly empty industrial space has this hot, frenetic feel of the clash of ambitions and time constraints constantly at odds.
There is never enough time in the day for a person to literally build his own business board by board. Blane was carrying a comically large piece of lumber from one end of the brewery when I walked in through an open door, which, I assume, was for ventilation but gives the place a welcoming feel.
White answered some questions for the Daily Journal.
JR: I noticed you got the bar up, the bathroom spaces framed out and some concrete cut for drains. What was the most difficult part so far?
BW: Cutting concrete has been the most labor-intensive task I have done so far. Most of the work has been done with friends.
JR: You have a ton of old pallets stacked along the west wall; what are you planning with those?
BW: We are going to put together a decorative wall after we tear each pallet part, at the moment I have about 200 to break down. The wall we have to cover is 20 feet by 96 feet. Not a hard job but time consuming, for sure.
JR: What has been harder to figure out: the interior design or the practical, manufacturer piece?
BW: The design is more the boss’ [Natalie’s] wheelhouse. Natalie has a great eye for design. The brew house placement was easy. I placed it to be close to all of the utility connections.
JR: What’s the next big thing to go up?
BW: Next big thing is the walk-in cooler. It is a big one, 34 by 16 by 20 feet.
JR: I don’t see any “big, shiny things.” When do you hope the brewing equipment is coming in?
BW: The brewhouse should be here October-November, takes a week or two to put everything together. We ordered a Premier Stainless brew system, 10 bbl brewhouse with three 20 bbl fermenters.
JR: What has been the biggest surprise so far?
BW: That after five years of planning and dealing, we finally are pulling this all off.
JR: When do you hope to be pouring beer in this space? When can some of the public sample some of your beer?
BW: We hope to be open in January. We will be in the BA and Bacon festival Dec. 8 at Northfield Square mall.
I walked out thinking this is a hard row to hoe but totally confident White doesn’t want to be anywhere else but with his hand to the plow of this big dream. If the beer is half as good as the hard work he has put into building this place from scratch, it’s going to be fantastic beer, made by great people with all the heart in the world to serve their community. White wants a place that takes part in his community, supports it the way they have supported him, and I, for one, will be there to take part in it when it happens.