Like his father before him, Jarrett Payton loves beer.
And the offspring of Sweetness thought of his dad — the late Bears great Walter Payton — on the night he first tasted a frothy concoction specially made by a father-son microbrewery for Jimmy Green's in the South Loop.
Tasty. Crisp. Refreshing. He drank two.
But it was the touching backstory of Argus Brewery founders, Bob and Patrick Jensen — a man and his boy who set out in 2009 to brew themselves up a family business in an old stable in a dry, forgotten part of town — that really caught Payton's interest.
“I thought about my dad and just knew that this is what we’d be doing together if he was still alive today,” Payton said.
So after downing one of those special Argus brews, Payton hunted down the Jensens to tell them what was on his heart.
“I just said, I want my own beer,” Payton said. “Dad was into craft beer before it was popular. In the ‘90s he brewed Walter Payton Pilsner and a couple others and had them on tap at the Roundhouse. He’d get so excited being part of the process. Picking flavors with the brew master.”
After a few meetings, including a sit down with the Jensens and his mother, Connie Payton, Sweetness’s son had himself a couple beer-brewing partners.
Jarrett Payton’s All-American Wheat Ale was released earlier this year with its namesake as the lead pitchman.
And he’s good at it.
“It’s always been wheat beer for me. But this is not one of those wheat beers that bog you down. It’s something you can enjoy drinking and feel good after you have two or three. It’s a beer that connects with who I am as a person. Easy going. Very social,” Payton said. “And I thought how cool it would be to have a name that had both Sweetness and wheat in it.”
He came up with the social media marketing hashtag #sWHEATnessbrew to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.
So far, Payton has pushed to get the brew on tap at his favorite Chicago watering holes, got the tiny South Side brewery mentioned on Monday Night Football and hopes the Argus/Payton partnership will one day be something he can share with his own son, 8-month-old Jaden.
For Bob Jensen, Payton’s fondness for the father-son roots of the Argus brand was just as important in the decision to partner up with the former pro-running back, one-time aspiring rapper and inspired entrepreneur as his famous family name.
“We were flattered that he was touched by our story and that’s why he’s more than being the namesake to a beer and we developed a partnership,” Jensen the father said. “We’re doing quite well and Jarrett has been a good friend and good sales person.”
Payton’s foray into the beer business took him to the Argus operation inside an old Schlitz brewery stable on a one-way street on the “wrong side” of the Metra tracks in Roseland — just a block away from the historic Pullman district where railroad mogul George Pullman’s rail car factory and “perfect town” offer a glimpse of what Chicago used to be.
“It’s the coolest thing. I went down there and thought, ‘This is Chicago,’” Payton said. “I had no clue about Pullman and now I’m there all the time. It’s pretty special. You go to where the beer is made and see all the history in the Pullman district and we’re part of creating new history.”
The irony, of course, is that Pullman was a dry town under George Pullman’s rules. And even now, the brewery is located in part of the 9th Ward where it’s illegal to sell package beer and liquors.
Starting in February, Argus plans to open up the brewery to the public for Saturday tours. You’ll be able to get a look at the operation in the stables, which still have working elevators once used to move horses, check out the tasting room and buy Argus merchandise.
So far, the Jensens haven’t been able to get permission to sell beer in growlers and six packs to beer tourists.
Payton, though, has hope that the little father-and-son brewery could one day be a reason for people to visit a forgotten part of Chicago.
“You have to start small and see how it grows. I’m in it for the long haul,” he said. “Sometimes you look at a place that you would never see yourself going and there’s a brewery. So, you go. You know?”