Atlas Brewing Company: An Interview with Ben Saller (and More)

Atlas Brewing Company: An Interview with Ben Saller (and More)
Photo courtesy of Atlas Brewing

Beer. Bowling. Dinosaurs. and a historic Chicago building. These are what make Atlas Brewing a unique player within the Chicago's craft-brewing game. Well, that and the fact they make some fantastic brews!

Recently, I did an article for Chilled Magazine regarding breweries resurrecting historic buildings, thus re-purposing them for the use as breweries or for the purposes of manufacturing. Atlas had just moved into the their second location - the former Jay's potato chip factory on the Chicago's south side. As is always the case, much of the information I gather in the interview can't be used in the articles I write. So, I wanted to give the highlights of the interview that pertained to that idea.  But, there's so much more to Atlas Brewing than just that move to the Jay's building.

Atlas Brewing - Jay's Potato Chip Building, by Mathew Powers

Atlas Brewing - Jay's Potato Chip Building, by Mathew Powers

So, before we get to the small interview, let me discuss Atlas Brewing a bit.

If you don't know, Atlas Brewing has been around since 2012, when Southsiders Ben and John Saller came together to  turn their homebrewing passion into a bonafide  brewing business. They opened a brewery on and recently expanded from their Lincoln Ave location (2747 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago).  Many moons ago, the original Atlas brewery had served Chicago from 1936 - 1962. Drawing upon that history, a tradition of great Chicago beer, and a modern attitude means their "brewing philosophy draws heavily upon established traditions, yet enthusiastically incorporates modern ingredients and techniques," according to their website. If you drink their beer, you can tell they are not pulling the wool over your eyes. Atlas Brewing has a knack for innovation, yet at no time do you get the feeling that they've crossed the line from beer into something that might be considered a hybrid. That's a neat trick, too, because they turn out a tremendous amount of brews; their beer library is expansive.

Atlas Brewing's Lincoln Ave. location also includes the ability to dine and -- in true Chicago fashion -- bowl. Yes, I said bowl. Remember when you used to sign up for a bowling league or go to a cosmic bowling event with friends and drink cheap beer and soggy fries? Well, this is much better than that!  You can host parties and events in this posh, stylish bowling alley and eat on some great gastropub food. In fact, they take the food seriously: " Our unique brewpub is committed to providing fresh, delicious beer and food to match."

To talk about each beer would require a blog post that would rival War and Peace, but here are a few examples that tell the story of Atlas:

Photo: Mathew Powers

Photo: Mathew Powers

Diversey Pale Ale: A great Chicago named Pale Ale. You remember Pale Ales, right? We use to all drink them and think they were super hoppy back in the day. If you forgot what a good Pale Ale is, drink this one. It's a well-balanced APA with notes of citrus and pine hoppiness. Traditional, simple, and one helluva tasty beer.

Dilophosaurus Facemelter Hibiscus Double IPA: This is part of their whimsical dinosaur series. There are some tremendous beers included in this series. This particular one, at 9% ABV, packs a great Citra and Mosaic hop punch, and the tropical notes really pop. Great balance, great aroma, great taste.

Farmhouse Wheat Ale: This is an easy beer to find, in cans, and I encourage you get it. In truth, this is my favorite Atlas Beer and that's saying a lot. It's not the most robust or complex beer. It's just an incredibly well-done saison that will transplant you to a Belgian farm; it's so fresh.  This pale wheat-ale doesn't overpower, but it has a ton of taste that includes typical Belgian Witbier characteristics with prominent tropical and lychee flavors. Superb beer.

Barrel Aged Fighter, Mage, Thief Cherry Barley Wine: I'll let their description tell you all you need to know, "Our cherry barleywine aged in Wild Turkey barrels with notes of chocolate, cherry, stone fruit, and a strong Bourbon backbone."  They are no strangers when it comes to barrel aging and this is a fine example of that.

And now that you know a little bit about Atlas and their fine beer, here is the small interview I did with Ben Saller this past summer, notably about their expansion to the historic Jay's Potato Chip building, but also about their brewery:

You obviously take pride in mentioning the Jay's Potato Chips building on your website, as well as mentioning the Atlas name, and your own respect for history. How much of that history resonates with your clientele?

"Most Chicagoans are aware of Jays, and people tend to think it's pretty cool that we've set up shop in the old potato chip factory. Some people, myself included, remember taking school trips to the factory. That was probably more than 20 years ago for me. As far as the old Atlas, fewer people know about it, but occasionally we encounter customers that are familiar or even had a relative that worked there."

What was it about the old Atlas brewery that made you want to resurrect that name?

"We don't like to pretend that we have a deep connection to the old brewery. To be honest, we thought of the name before we knew about the old Atlas. Before we had made a decision about our name, we learned about the old brewery, and we thought it would be cool to use the same name. We're proud to be part of a movement to bring back fresh, local beer to the communities surrounding us, more like how it was back when the original Atlas existed."

What makes your beer "Chicago" and how does Jay's help solidify that.

"Our company was founded by lifelong Chicagoans, and I like to think our brewing philosophy reflects Chicago's no-nonsense nature. We don't brew flashy beers or sweet beers or beers that smack you in the face with strong flavors (at least for the most part). That we now occupy a former Jay's building is mostly a coincidence, but we were excited to set up shop in a space with that kind of history."

How did you come to find out the Jay's building was available? Was it something you wanted, or did it just work out and you took the chance to grab it?

"My business partner rents another property from the owner of the former Jay's factory, and was informed of open space in the building while we were scouting new locations."

Does moving into a building that already has size, and was a "factory" help?

"It did help. It's pretty bare-bones, essentially it's a big box, but the power and water supplies and loading docks and location are all conducive to what we're doing."

Was it important to you to find a preexisting building rather than find a new one, thus keeping up with the craft-beer mantra of "sustainability," --- as well as community/local.

"Sustainability is important to us, and we would much rather make use of an unused building than build something new."

Final Thoughts:

It is easy to get lost in the shuffle, with nearly 100 breweries in the Chicago metro region, but Atlas is doing it right. They have innovative beers, understand tradition, are the embodiment of community, know how to have fun, and above all else, they make fantastic beer!

Cheers!

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    Mathew Powers

    Beer and spirits writer for Chilled Magazine, PorchDrinking.com, Thrillist-Chicago, and Sommbeer.com. I love great beer, great stories, and community. In addition to drinking beer, I have a background that involves weather, the environment, history, and of course writing. I love cars, rock music, comedy, traveling, camping, and all things Simpsons.

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