How many of us can say that we followed our dreams? Anthony Benjamin can.
The Champaign resident has taken his hobby of brewing beer beyond his kitchen and into the Champaign-Urbana area marketplace, creating, with his two business partners, Triptych Brewing, a project that aims to bring East Central Illinois one of its first distributing breweries since Prohibition. The establishment, which will be located at 1703 Woodfield Drive in Savoy, is “focused on crafting quality beer using a combination of traditional techniques and judicious applications of modern technology,” according to Triptych Brewing’s website.
Benjamin finds his passion in sharing his brewing knowledge with those around him, and he plans on doing so with the business’s tasting room, which will host a wide variety of his hand-crafted libations to imbibe on site. Through this medium, Benjamin hopes to introduce the community to new tastes, flavors and ideas that they may never have come across outside of Triptych’s doors. Patrons would also be able to come in, fill up a growler, and get their brew order to go.
Benjamin, who works full time for the web design team at the University of Illinois’ College of Engineering, and his wife, Anna, also welcomed their first child, A.J., in October.
New dad AND new businessman?! See why we think Anthony Benjamin is a Chambana Dad to Know:
What made you get into the hobby of brewing beer? When did you start?
When my wife started law school in 2005, I was looking for a hobby. There happened to be an episode of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” on that week that covered the very basics of brewing and from that moment on, I was hooked.
In truth, you aren’t just a hobbyist; you are an award-winning brewer, and even judge regional and national competitions. Where have you shown your creations, and what do you consider to be your highest accolade?
I have shared beer, cider, and mead (honey wine) throughout the U.S. at competitions and social events. I have checked boxes of homebrew at the airport to share with friends at a meet up in Las Vegas. When I travel to visit friends and family, it is rare that a keg isn’t also traveling with us.
For me, the sharing of the creations is definitely one of my favorite parts of the process. I consider my highest accolades to be the times that one of my drinks has helped create or even spark a long dormant memory for one of its consumers. For instance, I’ve had friends from Germany share with me not only how spot-on a particular beer may be, but how it reminds them of a relaxing afternoon in the beer garden. And, of course, there is a whole collection of events that, for many friends and family, are strongly associated with my beers.
Tell us about your new business venture, Triptych Brewing.
Triptych Brewing will be a new brewery opening in Savoy. The project itself is multi-phase, with each phase building upon the last in an attempt to organically establish the demand for one of East Central Illinois’ first distributing breweries.
Initially, we anticipate most of our sales will be at the tasting room itself. We’ve selected a location that is easy to get to and from, and has plenty of free parking, but is still just a short jaunt from Champaign or Urbana. In addition to pint sales, we’re hoping to build upon the great growler scene that Destihl has started, allowing folks to conveniently stop by, fill their half-gallon growler with the latest and greatest beer, and head home to join the family or continue off to the tailgate to join friends.
At first, the batch size will be relatively small, so we will be able to experiment and continue offering something unique each time you visit. Ultimately, our goal is to expand production to the point where you are able to find two or three of our beers on draft at most local pubs and restaurants.
I am also really excited about the team we’ve put together for the project as well. Joshi Fullop, before joining NCSA, where he currently builds monitoring software for supercomputer installations, has many years of experience with his dad, acquiring capital for startup and emerging businesses using an interesting royalty-based model. And Jason Bartell is a business lawyer and a Certified Public Accountant who brings impressive business acumen of his own to the project. Together the three of us have very complimentary skill sets.
One of your partners notes in your recent fundraising video that you, Triptych Brewing’s brew master, strive to include fresh, local ingredients in your beers. How have you done this in your personal creations? What local resources do you see using at Triptych?
I sure have. I’ve brewed beers using various berries from Pontious Farm, and I’ve brewed a fair number of wines using all local fruit. In fact, last year, you may have seen me wandering around Urbana looking for more mulberries for that year’s batch of mulberry mead. I also brew annual batches of apple cider and a highly received pumpkin beer using cider and pie pumpkins from Curtis Orchard.
I intend to continue this practice at Triptych. One of our partners, Jason Bartell, has a family farm in Rantoul, and we are already planning out fruits and other ingredients to use in the beer, including watermelons, pumpkins and local hops. Additionally, we have a strong connection to a local barley farmer, and we anticipate using his barley and local hops in making a unique Illinois estate beer.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far as you make the leap from home brewing to full-scale business in the Champaign-Urbana area?
I think the biggest challenges have been issues like finding the right space, meeting the right people who are genuinely interested and excited about the project, and balancing the demands of my existing job in addition to trying to get a new business off the ground.
You wouldn’t believe the number of spaces around Champaign-Urbana that have odd covenants associated with them or the number of landlords who just weren’t interested. But I am really happy with the location we ultimately selected and can’t wait to share it with the community.
You’ve said that this new adventure is an effort to have something to hand down to your son. How do you envision your family, especially your son, being part of the business?
That’s right. In many ways, my wife and I are traditionalists. We love big family holiday gatherings and the idea of a family business. When my son is old enough to understand, I want to say to him, “A.J., this brewery represents my dream job, and when you’re ready, I would like it if you would take it over and mold it into what your dream is.” If A.J., or any of my future children for that matter, aren’t interested, that’s cool, too; the business will still be there in a position to support them pursuing whatever their highest aspiration is.
I just don’t want to be in a position, 20 years from now saying to them, “You know, this one time I had the dream of opening a brewery, but I never followed through.” Above all, I want them to realize that any dream they have is attainable, as long as they are willing to work for it.
Being a new dad, what does fatherhood mean to you?
For me, fatherhood means being the ultimate example for your child and supporting them through everything, through the crazy aspirations of being a marshmallow man to the just as crazy dreams of opening a brewery. At times fatherhood can mean sacrifice, but I am convinced that it is by far the most fulfilling experience that anyone can pursue. (Even better than opening a brewery!) I was very fortunate that my dad set the bar high for me and continues to show me through his example of what a father should be.
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