“You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right beer too,” says Josh Deth, Managing Partner at Revolution Brewing of Chicago. The Commie-themed brewery opened in 2010 as a brewpub at the corner of Milwaukee Ave. and California Ave. in Chicago, later opening a production facility and growing at rapid pace. The grew so fast, in fact, that the six-year-old brewery ranked on 2015’s Brewers Association of the top 50 breweries in the country (based on size).
While the brewpub today still pours smaller batches of experimental beer, Revolution is also in five states and Chicagoland grocery stores, corning a craft beer market that many new breweries can’t reach due to simple production limitations. Revolution went big, fast. Deth talks about why they chose that route and what comes next.
Paste: What does it mean to be on the Top 50 list?
Josh Deth: It was a bit of surprise even to make it, we didn’t think we were going to.
Paste: Does it give you extra validity?
Josh Deth: Certainly. To me, size isn’t everything but it’s the list for craft brewers. We’re big members of the Brewers Association and we care what the BA does. It’s reporting your barrels, but every barrel on there reflects the hard work of the brewers. A lot of what we do in the day to day is around growth.
A long time ago one of our investors, who is an architect, relayed a story that someone told him when he started: everyone wants to form a small architecture company. You can do it out of your home. If you want to form a very large firm, you create a big office building and go after the people and contracts that get you the kind of business you need. Still to this day, even though it’s getting competitive, you can create the kind of brewery that you want. We started a brewpub and then became a production brewery. Then we built a very sizeable production brewery so we could grow. We knew that there was a lot of demand in Chicago for locally brewed beer.
There’s lots of lists in our world. It’s cool and we’re very honored to be on it.
It was unexpected and we’re probably the youngest company on there. We got to 50,000 barrels faster than a brewery ever has. There are people growing fast around us as well.
Paste: Does it put extra pressure on you or make you “the big guy” in town?
Josh Deth: There are others. Half Acre are growing similar to us—we’re just a couple years ahead of them. It’s just how you go about it. We skipped a couple of the growing stages. A lot of us had worked at big breweries before, so we were comfortable at the scale. We’re a very experienced brewing team and sales team. It’s one thing to buy the tanks and order the hops. It’s another to brew real fast while learning as a business owner and putting all the systems and people and training in place. That’s the part that takes longer. People focus on the [amount of beer produced].
Our challenge now is that we’ve completed our expansion plans and don’t have too much construction on the docket. We’ve had construction going on since day one, for over six years.
Paste: What’s the biggest challenge in managing your growth rate?
Josh Deth: Building the organization to support it. You need all departments and logistics working properly. We’ve always had really high retention of staff and we attract great people.
Paste: With some breweries I speak with, it seems like it’s difficult to find time to plan ahead amid the fast growth.
Josh Deth: I went to school for urban planning. [Laughs]
We’ve pretty much thrown out every plan we’ve made because so many things change. Part of growth is living in a dynamic world. Craft beer has changed so much and it’s changing like crazy behind the scenes right now.
Paste: Has that surprised you?
Josh Deth: Not at all.
I think breweries should think twice about doubling down for growth. We’ve been very loose with the spending and capacity increases, but you have to know when it’s the right time to take it easy. We’ll do other improvements, but they’ll focus on quality, innovation and internal things.
Paste: Is a regional brewery still a feasible goal in the new beer marketplace?
Josh Deth: We’re becoming more of a regional brewery but we’re only in one adjacent state. There are parts of Illinois I don’t distribute to.
We see all of our markets grow. We learned to act differently depending on your area. In New York City, you can’t act like a native when you’re a tourist. You need to convince them to try the beer whereas in Chicago if we put out a new product people will give it a shot because they’re familiar with us. It’s fun to go to a different market. We try to be selective. We’re not going national. Regional is a good word for it, even though we’re in Massachusetts and New York when that’s not our region. We pick and choose places to go and will open a few new markets a year, probably.
Paste: Did you envision this growth when you opened?
Josh Deth: In particular, I was the driver of the growth in the company. Now there are other metrics that are more important to us: having a quality of life for myself and our employees. Quality of the beer is of utmost importance. The cream rises to the top. There are like 200 breweries in Illinois now when there used to be 10.
Paste: It’s hard to imagine that you could grow today the same way you could a decade ago, given the changed environment.
Josh Deth: To aim to be a regional brewery today is a much taller order than it was six or seven years ago. We’ve only been a production brewery for coming on five years.
Only Goose [Island] was around for the longest time and it was a wide-open market. A lot of national craft breweries and regional breweries sold a lot more beer in town. The locals are doing great right now and it’s harder for the out-of-town breweries. That’s the new reality for a lot of the national breweries: staying relevant in markets where they’re not local.
Paste: Do you get the “you’re too big” blowback?
I’m sure it happens sometimes. Bars where we were a local brewery, there’s someone more local than us now. In our neighborhood of Logan Square there are seven breweries and more opening; it’s nuts. It’s very competitive. If someone wants to complain, let’s crack some beers and tell me what you like to drink.