Startup. Two. Backword.
As a guy with a history degree, I think it is important to gain as much context as possible as to how we got where we are today. I spent 4 years of my life analyzing and interpreting events that happened in the past. Often from hundreds of years ago, sometimes from just decades ago, it was my job to explore the facts, draw conclusions, and present a convincing argument as to how and why things are the way based on what happened in the past. At the time, I did this with the intent of finishing a Bachelors Degree (it's around here somewhere). Now, I present my own brief history to you to illustrate how and why Blue Tape Brewing came to be. Here is the context of this startup existing in my life. This is the Backword.
After completing the 4 or so years of History studies (with a second major in politics), I decided to enter graduate school for Politics in the Fall of 2010. Seemed like a great idea at the time since I really didn't know how to be anything except a student. Upon starting graduate studies, it did not take long for me to realize that I wanted little to do with politics be it on a professional or academic level. I remember there was this sign hanging in the restaurant where I held a summer job during undergrad. It said "Don't tell my mother I'm a politician, she thinks I play the piano at the local bordello." That's about where my sentiments were.
Around the same time, my buddies and I were throwing around ideas for this almost biopic-like film about working in restaurants (working title was "I found God face down in the middle of Main St." True story, although not about me). Think of it as a gritty version of "Waiting." I even started typing up a screen play. The opening scenes depicted the three protagonists as they woke up to their individual stresses in life. The character based on myself was stressed out about grad school and the 200 or so students that were under him during his assistantship. Constant nagging emails, hundreds of papers to grade, all to the back ground of graduate coursework and a 30 hour per week bartending job. Enter the quarter-life crisis.
I talked through it with my mom first. We determined that I was only happy when I was working-- when I was in a restaurant. Surely that's something I could do for myself someday, own and operate my own restaurant. I had no firm concept at the time, just a drive to start a restaurant. I conferred with my aforementioned buddies who agreed that is something they would be interested in as well. So we threw around ideas of what our restaurant would be like. The next week I left grad school (oddly enough, really easy to do. Sign a half page form, see you never again). Our plans to open a place with my would-be business partners never got farther than a couple of meetings. However, I suddenly had a lot more free time without school weighing me down anymore, so I was able to pour all of my energy in to working at Medici in Normal. This is a restaurant that you could describe as a New American Beer Bar. 32 rotating craft brews on draft that would help propel me in yet another direction.
Within months of leaving graduate school, I was managing at Medici during a pivotal time in the restaurant's history. It was a rebranding of sorts. This was invaluable to be a part of first hand. All the while, I had nearly unlimited access to all of these craft beers. Two Brothers, Rogue, Dogfish Head, Green Flash, Stone... the list goes on. Although usually an adjunct lager drinker in undergrad, I had dabbled in Guinness, Blue Moon and the occasional Dead Guy Ale, I was suddenly thrust in to an infinite world of flavor and discovery. During this time I tried to teach myself all that I could about running a restaurant, but I think honestly I taught myself even more about beer. This knowledge turned in to a passion as soon as I brewed my first batch at home.
As part of an incentive program to place an undisclosed beer on draft, an undisclosed distributor provided us with 2 very nice home-brew kits (undisclosed as the act of quid pro quo deals such as this were in a legal gray area at the time and super-not-above-board these days). I had the pleasure of taking one of them home and then I brewed beer and then I bottled the beer and then I drank the beer and then I needed to know everything there was about making beer. So I read every home-brew book I could get my hands on and brewed more and more beer, quickly making the transition from simple extract brewing to the more complicated all-grain brewing. Soon I was even afforded the opportunity of brewing on a commercial scale at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery (Flossmoor, IL). Two coworkers and myself traveled to the brewery to make a custom beer for Medici. It was awesome. It was something I had to do permanently.
Upon our return after that brew day, I suggested in our weekly manager meeting that we somehow install a brewery at the restaurant. We definitely had the space and we had the beginning of the knowledge set necessary to complete such a task. I started researching equipment costs, licensing, what kind of buildout would need to be done. And I kept brewing at home. What was once a driving desire to open my own restaurant became an unbridled passion to start a brewery. And then my employment at Medici abruptly ended. That was September of 2012.
I spent the better part of the next year working for a couple of beverage alcohol distributors. I didn't brew much, and honestly I hated those jobs worse than grad school. And then I found Station Two Twenty (now Epiphany Farms Restaurant). I started in an entry level position, but quickly convinced them that they needed a Beverage Coordinator, and that it needed to be me. I spent the next two year transforming what was a fairly basic cocktail and beer list in to something to be talked about (the wine list was in pretty good shape. Actually I learned A LOT about wine in a very short amount of time, but I'm not starting a winery so it's not especially relevant).
Some where in there, I started brewing again too. My bosses encouraged me to brew more and even let me do so at the restaurant where the BTUs were a little (read: a lot) higher than my apartment. I could brew faster, and clean up was easier in a commercial kitchen. So I brewed more. And I started developing and dialing in recipes.
Working in any sort of commercial kitchen, you have to label any sort of food that is prepared for storage. It's labeled with what it is, when it was made, and who made it. A lot of corporate places use "day-dots" or these fancy lined labels that will dissolve in a commercial dishwasher to label their preparations. Now here is the thing about an extremely chef-driven professional kitchen. They don't believe in these labels. They just buy blue painter's tape and write on it with a black permanent marker. I adopted this practice for labeling hop additions and fermenters. Everything brewing related had blue tape on it. It was the blue tape brewery which quickly became Blue Tape Brewing.
This was Spring of 2014. And this is effectively the historical context of how and why Blue Tape Brewing exists. Fed up with politics, I left grad school to learn everything I could about the restaurant business and ended up gaining just as much knowledge about beer and a drive to start a brewery (I can also make a mean Old Fashioned now, but I'm not starting a cocktail bar so it's not especially relevant). My brewery suddenly had a name. I definitely did not realize it at the time, but this startup was in its very early phases.