NORTH CENTER — Nearly two years after announcing its plan to open a brewery based on a model similar to farmers' community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, Begyle Brewing is prepared to begin selling monthly beer subscriptions.
Really. They mean it this time.
On Wednesday, starting at 4 p.m., customers can either go on line or visit Neighborly, 2003 W. Montrose Ave., from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., to buy the right to pick up weekly or monthly allotments of Begyle's beers straight from the source at 1800 W. Cuyler Ave.
Subscriptions start at $77 for one growler per month for six months, all the way up to $476 for four growlers per month for 12 months. Keg subscriptions are also available, maxing out at $685, which will get you a keg a month for a year.
Additional perks for subscribers include discounts on extra growlers, Begyle merchandise and access to members-only events.
Two hundred subscriptions will be made available during the initial offering — technically 30 are already reserved for certain Kickstarter supporters, who were supposed to have received their reward in December of 2012.
"So we're only 12 months behind," said Kevin Cary, one-third of Begyle's ownership team, along with Brendan Blume and Matt Ritchey.
"We kept having to push it back and tell people, 'It's coming, it's coming.'"
While Begyle's community supported brewery (CSB) plan is central to the owners' business philosophy, it also added unexpected degrees of difficulty that resulted in one delay after another.
Begyle needed to carve out a retail store in order to have a space to fulfill customers' subscriptions (non-subscribers can also purchase growlers at the store). The retail store, in turn, required building and zoning permits, a liquor license (still in progress, hence the selling of subscriptions at Neighborly instead of Begyle) and bringing the location up to fire code and into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"When we went public with our idea, we didn't realize what it's like to do business in Chicago," Cary said.
The Grafton was the first pub to offer Begyle on draft.
Cary said he was wowed "to see our tap alongside beers I grew up drinking."
Begyle's success in operating like a traditional brewery gave the owners pause when it came to following through on the subscription concept: They released 30 different beers in their first year of operation, have jumped from five-gallon homebrew buckets to 330-gallon containers and just hired their first employee, Liz French. ("My dad's really excited," said French, who has a doctorate in microbiology.)
"I can speak for myself, it has come across my mind a few times, what if we just brewed?" said Cary.
Ultimately, the partners remained committed to their original model in part because it forges an identity different from other craft breweries but mainly because "there's something we liked about the culture," he said.
Blume helped build a CSA farm in Ohio and the guys, who all live in North Center, make an effort to shop local farmers markets.
"It's a strong principle we wanted to bring into a brewery," said Cary. "It's more the community side — knowing the brewer who's brewing the beer. It's a way to make people feel like they're part of what you're doing."
This past summer, Begyle served as the weekly pick-up point for a Michigan farmer's CSA.
"You got to know the people who were picking up the vegetables," said Cary. "And they got to see our construction all summer. They were part of our history."
Barring a first-day rush on subscriptions, Begyle will continue selling memberships until they run out, both online and in person at Neighborly as well as at the upcoming Dose Market on Dec. 8.