From 4th grade pals to owning a brewery in Chicago, IL! Founders Rich Bloomfield, Zack Day, and Greg Williams are in it for the long haul.
“We noticed at all types of functions where there were women, Black people and Hispanic people, we were the only guys bringing it around,” Bloomfield told PorchDrinking. “Friends would ask them questions about the beers they’d brought, and it gave the trio opportunities to explain their interest in craft to an audience that historically hadn’t been included in that scene.”
He continued, “We explained that stuff and were able to get this feedback and find beers that were palatable to these people. So it was just like, this is natural to us. If we start brewing beer, understanding these underserved communities’ palates, we can reach a whole different market and introduce a new community to craft beer.”
The founders conjured the concept of a brewery in 2017, but it would not manifest until 2021 with the opening of Funkytown, located in brewery incubator Pilot Project. Within one year of opening, they had brewed 800 barrels of beer and are projected to double that quantity in 2023.
What’s more, their vision has since expanded to other states such as Wisconsin and Indiana.
Although the brewery’s success brings monetary rewards, the founders say their compass is centered on ensuring they are increasing representation in the sector.
“We’re trying to get more Black folks, Brown folks, and women involved in craft beer, so we figured the best way to do that was to make more palatable and traditional styles that are low in bitterness,” Day explained to PorchDrinking. “That way, people can find their own type of on-ramp into the craft beer game. We don’t want to turn them off with something that’s too bitter.”
The friends are also finding unique approaches to diversify the sector through their product labels.
“We used a multi-pronged approach,” Bloomfield shared with the outlet. “We make sure there’s Black people and women on the label so that they know they’re included in the environment. We use cultural references and hip-hop references or just things that come from the community that are relatable and haven’t been seen in commerce before.”
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Already, they have received major support from Boston Beer, the maker of Sam Adams. In summer 2023, the founders participated in the first-generation craft brewery’s program, Brewing the American Dream, and ended up winning the competition. That provided them with mentoring, capital, and exposure.
Looking ahead, the friends are hoping to scale and launch their own brewery location, separate from Pilot Project.
“That’s something I’ve been waiting to do for a while, ever since we started homebrewing,” Day expressed to PorchDrinking. “That means the next elevation level. It takes me from almost like a JUCO to the pro leagues.”