By: James Walsh

 

Most ordinary brew pubs share a common origin: the owner homebrewed, took his or her passion commercial, and opened a brew pub to satisfy an unquenchable demand. That’s what most brewers will tell you. Unless you ask Niall Freyne of Tribes Beer Company. He essentially did the whole thing backwards and might be better off for it.

 

Making a Legendary Craft Beer Bar

If you’re a craft beer lover who grew up in Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs, chances are high that you tasted your first IPA or imperial stout at Tribes Ale House or its legendary forefather Galway Tribes Irish Pub. Both are the entrepreneurial brain children of Niall Freyne, restaurateur and craft beer advocate. Oddly enough, craft beer wasn’t originally in his equation.

“When I opened my first place in 2005, we were really focusing more on wine,” Niall said. Before Galway Tribes, Niall cut his teeth in the hotel industry and mastered the restaurant operations in roles ranging from restaurant manager to VP of food and beverage before going solo.Tribes on Tap

At the time, most hotel chains didn’t know Stone from Schlitz. Wine was their focus and it’s what Niall originally intended to pair with all his food. “But,” he said, “it became very apparent to me that we wanted to make a culture shift in our business with craft beer.”

The introduction of craft beer onto his menu fed a fix that Southsiders didn’t know existed. Galway Tribes gained local acclaim before microbrews were ubiquitous. However, a dismal economy and rising property taxes forced Niall to close his doors in 2009, but he vowed to return to the craft beer scene. Six months later, he opened Tribes Ale House in Mokena, IL.

At first, he wanted to keep his new venture simple – just beer and sandwiches – but his ever-expanding patronage asked for more. It seems that Tribes was made for bigger things.

 

Giving the People What They Want

Fast forward a few years. Tribes Ale House is a smash hit. Both the Mokena and new Tinley Park, IL locations are regularly stuffed with hordes of beer fanatics. With 40 handles in Mokena and 50 handles in Tinley, there’s no shortage of flavorful options. Yet one question was on the tongues of Tribes’ clientele: when will Tribes brew their own beer?

Once again, this wasn’t part of Niall’s original plan, but he capitalized on the chance to stand out in a tap house saturated market. “Putting together a small brewery in Mokena is not unlike putting together a giant kitchen. Operationally, it wasn’t much of a question to me.”Niall Freyne Tribes Beer Company

Under Niall’s guidance, the brewery neatly assembled. A total of seven fermenters and three conditioning tanks (brights) went up in a space Tribes rented next to the Mokena location, taking a risk before the permits were finalized or a head brewer found.

But Niall had faith he would find the right guy when he went looking. Again, that was a risky but logical bet. There is no shortage of brewing talent in Chicago with the legendary Siebel Institute in our backyard. So, he built up buzz and heard David Kerns, then of Haymarket Brewery, was interested. The two chatted for six hours, decided it was a fit, and got down to brass tax. By their May 7th launch party, they had five delicious recipes in various stages of finalization that a packed house could savor.

 

Getting Their Vision Straight

Since the launch, demand has been high. There have been learning curves – brewing batches large enough to supply both locations – but Tribes is energetically expanding. More fermenters and brights are on order to double capacity and the brewery’s sights are set on Chicagoland distribution. Much of that comes from a clear brewing vision.

“We both agreed that we wanted to make beer that tasted like beer, and that once you had one, you’d want to have another. We don’t need bubble gum flavored saisons or beers with loads of cocoa nibs. As cool as they are to make, they don’t sell that well with our South Side public,” Niall said.Brewery View from the Outside

Thus far, Tribes has three year-round recipes set in stone: Daylight Kolsch, a hop forward Double IPA called Hop Raging Mad, and Crafted IPA. Niall hopes to even out their lineup with a fruity beer (possibly a Raspberry Wheat or a refined version of their Belgian Peach) with 2 to 4 other Tribes beers on rotation alongside dozens of handles for big craft names.

What does this mean for the Tribes brand? Niall Freyne summed it up nicely.

“It’s given us a huge bolt of energy to keep it going. Now we’re participating in fests, we’ve changed our logo, and we’re looking into expanding into other markets. Frankly, I think going this way is a lot easier than going the traditional way.”