Jeremy Teel | Taproom Manager, Plank Road Tap Room

The first time I met Jeremy was at a brewery launch party in Wicker Park. At the time, he was the writer behind the Suburban-focused beer blog, Subbeerbia and he showed up early. He was quiet and unassuming but clearly passionate about craft and the industry that surrounds it. In just a few short years Jeremy's career has taken a dramatic shift: he left a cushy, full-time job in the corporate world to dive headfirst into the beer industry with two part-time positions and a prayer. And now, we’re sitting at the bar in the cozy Plank Road Tap Room sharing a 5 Rabbit Tamarindo Paletas as he fills me in on his brand new promotion to Tap Room Manager.

Spend five minutes with Jeremy and it will become clear just how passionate this guy is for the community aspect of the beer community. Jeremy and his team are very serious about what they’ve built here -- they don’t serve food, there are no TVs, and they do everything they can to stay approachable. We got into our five questions as we discussed how the industry as a whole can work to do the same. 

What Are You Drinking?

I’m drinking 5 Rabbit Paletas. This is their summer wheat beer, part of a series they’re doing with different fruits. They started out with a guava version, which was bright pink, and this is their tamarindo version. I didn't even know what tamarindo was until this. It’s a tart citrus fruit so it gives it that tart flavor on top of a nice, thick wheat body. It’s only 3.5% so it’s a perfect summer beer. It’s thirst quenching. Kind of a great gateway beer in a lot of ways.

A lot of people come in and they say, “oh, I don’t drink beer” or “I’m more of a wine person, what do you have for me?” You can hand them this and be pretty confident that they’ll enjoy it. The first thing most people say when they try it is, “oh that’s refreshing” which is what you want with a summer beer.

We get a lot of people who come in thinking it's a bar and restaurant and their first question is, “Where’s the food?” and their second question is “Where’s the Miller Light or Bud Light?” We try very hard to never talk down to those people or make them feel uncomfortable about their beer choices. For us, it’s more like, “Well, no, we don’t but we do have this local pilsner that is fantastic. OR this Kolsch from right here in Chicago. It’s light and you’re going to enjoy it.” We have a lot of regulars that are self-proclaimed not craft beer drinkers, but they still come in once and week and drink craft beer.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

I was a published author at the age of five. I had a short story published in Highlights for Children. I’ve tried for years to find the issue. When I was younger I wanted to be a writer -- I thought that being able to create worlds and characters was fantastic and my Mother really instilled a love for reading in me really young. I wrote some story and they ended up publishing it. I think it was about a lost puppy or something.

How do you explain your job to your Mother?

My Mother was leary of me being involved in the industry from the get go. I grew up in a household where alcohol wasn’t seen in a good light at all. My father didn’t want any alcohol in the house whatsoever. As I grew up, I kind of rebelled. But then when I turned 22, I started to hang out at a brewery all the time and the brewer there became a friend and taught me all about beer.

When I told her a few years ago that I started the website, she got worried that I was out drinking too much… I tried to explain the industry to her from my limited knowledge at the time but that it just seemed like really good people that were part of a close knit community and that I wanted to be a part of it. I had moved out here 10 years ago and I had never really found a group of people that I felt a part of… and finally I was finding these people in the community when I went out to events. 

With this position, I just told her a week ago about it and she asked, “Well, what are you doing now that you weren't doing before?” I told her, “The operational stuff -- the day to day operations" but it’s a combination of so many things. You’re giving people a product they want, but you’re also part entertainer. When there are only three people at the bar, you don’t want awkward silence so you’re trying to maintain a conversation, make people smile, make them laugh, whatever you can do to keep them here and make them have a good time so they come back. It’s one part entertainer, one part service, sometimes a little bit of babysitting… it’s all those things. I think she’s getting a better understanding now. I mean, now when she goes on vacation she’ll send me pictures of a beer and say, “Oh, I’m trying this beer from Texas.” And I’m like, “That’s great Mom, keep trying new stuff.” She’s cautiously supportive of it.

What makes the beer industry so special?

For me, it’s been that sense of community. When I used to write for the website, I'd go to these events and the people were welcoming and would invite me to more events and releases. It was cool to walk into a place that maybe six months before, nobody knew me and the next time I walk in, I’m talking to a dozen people and the next time I walk in there’s two dozen people that I know. On the retail side, I've loved helping to build that community from scratch. The community of the consumer’s relationship with the retailer and then how that links together with our relationship with the distributors and the breweries.

Its hard to put your finger on what it is. I think in general the people in the beer industry have some characteristics that overlap with each other. There’s a lot of creative people in the industry, there’s a lot of open mindedness. There’s just friendly people in general… and the beer helps. When you get people together that have something that they’re that passionate about in common they just want to embrace the community. They're tight knit but at the same time open to new people.

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What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

There’s a small but loud group in the craft beer world both on the consumer and professional side of people that have an elitist attitude. On the professional side, I’ve grown very tired of this battle between craft beer and big beer. I mean, I understand it, I was a vocal member of the group against big beer but as time has gone on, it seems silly that we still have to make that distinction and use the words “craft beer.” I understand why we use it but at the same time, beer is beer. It brings people together. I just hate to see it used in any way that’s divisive instead of inclusive.

I think the danger is that once you start being elitist about it and calling people out for what they’re drinking -- whether that’s alight beer or just a beer you don’t like -- the danger is excluding them so that they never come back to a place like this. So then, instead of being an evangelist for craft beer, you start pushing people away from it. You can explain it in such a way that’s inclusive and relateable to instead of “Well that beer’s not craft beer, so it’s not worth your time.” 

I think it’s about creating cultures of inclusiveness. Instead of just outright rejecting other people’s opinions about beer - whether big beer or craft - trying to understand why they feel that way. If we don’t do that, craft beer isn't going to keep growing.