Brewery Showcase | Sketchbook Brewing
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, Sketchbook Brewing is worth 1,000 stories.
For this writer, whose job it is to frequent breweries and watering holes several times a week, it is sometimes difficult to be impressed. However, Sketchbook Brewing, located in Chicago-suburban Evanston, Illinois, impressed mightily – great beer, admirable business philosophy, and a wonderful, cozy taproom.
So, how do I describe this brewery? Words that come to mind include welcoming; inviting; thriving. And dare I say, striving?
Sketchbook strives to blend with, and be good to, its neighbors; strives to produce great beer; strives to be good stewards of the planet we share; strives to provide a good experience to its patrons and strives to learn the business-side of brewing so that the vision of the Sketchbook never has to be compromised.
The metamorphosis one experiences upon walking through the doors of Sketchbook is something to behold; it’s almost transcendental.
One leaves the busy, urban street lined with traffic, trains, and foot traffic to a place that exudes warmth and a feeling of hominess. Sketchbook combines the qualities found in a tripped-out basement and that of a cafe found in a large city — once you are there, you never want to leave, especially once you taste the beer.
The artistically-titled brewery is the brainchild of artist (and homebrewer) Shawn Decker and multi-award winning homebrewer Cesar Marron. But, like any good story, there are great characters galore; their wives, brewing friends, and more than 400 brewery members all contribute.
The Sketchbook Beer
Cesar, who is from Brazil and Shawn, whose artwork career affords him plenty of travel opportunities, bring that worldly knowledge to beer, even if they don’t realize it.
A few examples include:
Smoked Jack Pumpkin Saison: Pumpkins smoked in applewood and it contains wild honey and maple syrup. Yeasty, fresh, crisp, smokey, and spicey!
Gratzer Czar – “An extreme version of our Grodziskie Smoked Polish Wheat.”
Barrel Fever – “Our robust porter with cherries aged in FEW barrels that once housed bourbon, gin, and maple.”
Chicago Dog Gose – “An extreme version of our Gose, made with Celery salt, a dash of smoked malt, and spices.”
Other beers include Black lager, California Common, Rye Amber, Nitro Russian Imperial Stout, and many more. Sketchbook provides beer that simultaneously offers familiarity and originality. And, if all you want is a good IPA, well then you are going to be a happy camper at this Evanston taproom!
It’s not a quiet place per se; There’s lively conversation abound, along with music playing in the background. The cozy taproom beckons patrons to put down their phones, gaze upon the artwork, listen to music, or even better – sip on a beer and chat with a friend, or make a new friend.
Alice George, who is also an artist, commented:
“Without being too laddy dah about it, because of this space, no T.V.s on the wall, no screens, and low [volume] music, it invites conversation. We really have been in too many bars where you can’t talk. I mean, hell yeah, some places have, a great party atmosphere. Go for it. I like that, to, in some places, but this one is about hanging out and having a conversation.”
You know those parties, where everyone ends up in the kitchen, having some drinks, talking, laughing, and otherwise having a great time — that! Somehow, the minute one walks into the door, a sense of comfort emerges. There is no need to escape through the internet — Sketchbook is where you want to be.
A Community Supported Brewery (CSB)
Before the Sketchbook team ever produced an ounce of beer, roughly 150 people dropped their hard-earned dollars on a membership. No beer; no taproom; nothing.
Both locals and those from far away loved the idea, and supported it before ever tasting the beer. Alice commented, “That was when we realized how real this was. When we pre-sold the membership, we were like, ‘Dammmnn’!”
They first started with a kickstarter program in 2014, and opened in the fall as nothing but a backroom with a door to an alleyway. People knocked on the door, came into the brewhouse and pouring station and picked up the beer — think of a speakeasy beer, to-go!
Last year, they finally opened the taproom and there was some worry that it might diminish the allure of paying for a membership, but not only did memberships get renewed, the numbers increased — more than 400 members exist today. Even better, “Memberships originally existed with clients from near and far, but now it’s more localized, which is what we envisioned,” said Shawn.” Added Cesar, “And it’s nice to see us having both new members and renewals, too.”
Sketchbook is also bottling and canning. In fact, the canning line has a long history. Cesar noted, “The bottling line we have used to be Avery’s. 26 years old, from what I understand. And it’s still got life to it – it works well.” In fact, the canning line passed through many hands along the way, including Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing and Begyle Brewing. Stickers on the canning equipment note its legacy
It’s not easy being green, but it’s also not a choice.
What fascinates me about brewing is the deep traditions and its connectedness to the world around us – its dependence on growing things speaks to our dependence on the biological world, but at the same time feeds into traditions of human labor, community and celebration.”
Those words from Shaw Decker speak volumes about his, and the Sketchbook crew’s, modus operandi.
The aforementioned canning line, with its history of reuse, is symbolic of Sketchbook and its owners’ philosophy. Every single chair in the joint is purchased from Craigslist, the slatted-portal-style-wall is made from repurposed 19th century fir flooring, and the bar and table tops once served people attempting to pick up 7-10 splits. And that only scratches the surface
The brewery goes out of its way to save water, save energy, deal with ethical farms, and more. Shawn noted, “Beer can provide a gateway into the entire food industry. Craft brewing has gone a long way towards opening people’s eyes in so many things. And not just in biology, but labor, too. Women are increasingly becoming CEOs and brewing managers, local businesses are thriving.”
To list every detail of the Sketchbook Brewing philosophies about sustainability (and more) would be an article within itself.
If you are interested, click on the brewery’s detailed sustainability information page.
Final Thoughts & Commentary
Writers invariably have to cut more material than he or she can use — it’s the nature of the writing business. Never before in my beer writing have I had to make such tough choices regarding what to cut and what to include.
Simply, Sketchbook Brewing makes it easy to spend money on the beer — it tastes fantastic and everything that goes into creating the fermented treats is easy to admire and respect.