Two Evanstonians who met at the Evanston Homebrewers Association will realize their dream Friday with the grand opening of Evanston’s first nanobrewery, Sketchbook Brewing Company, behind the orange door in the alley at 825 Chicago Ave.
Co-owners Cesar Marron, 37, and Shawn Decker, 57, along with their wives, Amy Wilkinson and Alice George, will welcome customers between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and will hand out free 64-ounce glass growlers to the first 50 purchasers.
Actually, Sketchbook’s first customers were the 300 or so customer-supported brewery (CSB) members who have already picked up their October growlers while the owners were making final plans for the brewery’s formal kickoff.
As is true with many new nanobreweries, the owners are hanging onto their “day jobs” until the business generates enough profit to sustain the two families involved.
Cesar is a software engineer and Shawn is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has been on the faculty for some 24 years.
Cesar was born in Brazil and went to school in Oklahoma. He and his wife, Amy, who have lived in Evanston for the past five years, have two small children who go to school at Washington Elementary School.
Shawn and his wife, Alice, have lived in Evanston for 30 years. Their two children went to school at Dewey Elementary School. Shawn holds a degree in music from Northwestern University.
Cesar says his wife will tell you that “with every thing I do I don’t take the easy way.”
A year ago, as a home brewer, he entered a contest sponsored by the Samuel Adams brewery and was one of three national winners of the Long Shot American Homebrew contest.
The judges said his Gratzer wheat beer “comes alive with its combination of smoky sweetness from the heirloom smoked malt and the spicy and herbal notes from Saaz hops.”
That gave him the impetus, he said, to “do it now.” So he found the space off the Chicago Avenue alley and approached Shawn to go into business.
The two partners purchased a book that tells how to convert from a home brewer to a commercial nanobrewer and went to work, developing what for them was a detailed business plan.
This impressed a volunteer retired business mentor with the non-profit organization SCORE, who told them that most of the people that come to them for help “have their idea on a paper napkin. You guys are way ahead of that,” Cesar recounted.
The Sketchbook owners turned to the online financing website, Kickstarter, to raise $25,000 in 30 days that they used to purchase the gleaming stainless-steel tanks where the brewing is done.
For the past several months, the two co-owners and their families, along with a little help from their friends, have been working nights and weekends to get the facility in shape for Friday’s opening.
Sketchbook will serve up to six different types of brews at a time, including a gluten-free, cherry-infused cider option that features Michigan cherries purchased at the Evanston Farmers Market.
A nanobrewery, Cesar explained, is smaller than a microbrewery, but there is no standard size. New Hampshire is the only state he knows of that specifies a nanobrewery by size, and its definition is a brewery that produces less than 2,000 barrels of beer a year.
“Because we anticipate producing about 700 barrels in our first year, we would be considered a small nanobrewery,” Cesar said.
If they reach the point that they are ready to grow, Shawn said, that growth would most likely come from opening another nanobrewery in another neighborhood, rather than increasing the size of their present facility.
“By remaining small,” Shawn said, “It enables us to be nimble and to introduce a number of new products, as the risk is smaller.”
He notes, also, that a nanobrewery is better for the environment, as it uses less energy in that the product goes direct from the brewery to the customer, rather than being bottled and loaded onto trucks that are transported a great distance.
At present, the Sketchbook website lists 11 beers, but new beers will be added regularly and listed on their Facebook page. At any given time, four to six beers will be available on tap.
Shawn and Cesar were both pleased by the speedy response of the Evanston community to the community-sponsored brewery concept. It is officially in a sold-out status at the moment, although they may offer another membership opportunity in the spring of 2015, as capacity allows.
Customers are reminded that parking is not available in the alley. They should park on the street, either on Main Street or Kedzie Street, and walk down the alley until they spot the orange door.
After Friday’s grand opening, the nanobrewery’s hours will be 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
During the week, the owners will be brewing their beers for the weekend; and also, they still have their day jobs.
Top: Cesar and Shawn enjoy a sip of beer in front of the brewery’s orange door.