For Triptych Brewing, three is the magic number. A triptych, by definition, is comprised of three parts—often referring to a work of art. And that’s just how Anthony Benjamin, head brewer, sees Triptych Brewing.
“I want to combine me, beer, and [the] community to move forward on this work of art,” Benjamin said. “We wanted a name that made you think but you could explain in one sentence.”
The significance of three doesn’t end there. Triptych’s creation and logo are representative of three components essential to its product: barley, hops and water. Additionally, as Benjamin notes, there are three founders of the company and three communities that they hope to immediately serve—Champaign, Urbana and Savoy.
Joining Benjamin, who is the leader of the web design team for University of Illinois College of Engineering by day, is Joshi Fullop, who works for the National Center for Super Computing Applications, an offshoot of the University of Illinois, and Jason Bartell, a local attorney.
Fullop will focus on capital and royalty financing, while Bartell will be handling legal matters for the company.
“We decided to divide up the duties based on how our skills and interest fit best,” Benjamin said.
To help the dream become a reality, Triptych has taken its idea to Kickstarter (eds. note: $12,535 of the $20,000 goal had been pledged with 13 days to go at the time of this article). Benjamin sees Kickstarter as a perfect fit for what he’s trying to accomplish with Triptych.
According to Benjamin, the $20,000 is mainly to check out interest and brand awareness, avoid overhead of debt and get people involved. “I’m really happy where it is so far. I ultimately think we’ll break the goal. It’s not all about the money though, but to build a crowd of followers,” Benjamin said.
Triptych’s origins date back to 2005 when Benjamin moved to the area with his wife who was beginning law school at the University of Illinois. Benjamin said he had a lot of time on his hands during her studies and he needed a hobby.
Benjamin said that he had spent a fair amount of time at a brewpub while he was a student at the University of Missouri where his appreciation for craft beers—which he learned from his dad— grew and became more refined. “He taught to me appreciate beer rather than just slam it to get drunk.”
It was an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown that discussed home brewing that made it seem “fairly normal” to Benjamin. So he joined the BUZZ club, a local home brewing club at the University of Illinois, and convinced his wife that he needed equipment to fulfill his pursuit. He brewed his first batch of Anna Maria's Amber Ale—named after his wife Anna—in 2005. He still holds on to one bottle as a keepsake.
“The first batch was beer, though I don’t know that it would be a ribbon winner,” Benjamin said.
Around three to four years ago Fullop talked to Benjamin about how he wanted to start a brewery and Benjamin expressed that he had also shared the interest. He began researching and discovered that the results are heavily dependent on the equipment.
Inspired by west coast breweries that produced drier, crisper beers with a hoppy finish, such as New Belgium in Colorado, he set out on his mission to “introduce a wider range of flavors to the local population.”
Triptych hopes to have two-dozen varieties every year, including seasonals (such as pumpkin ale) and an organic vegan beer. Benjamin says that they’re hoping for seven to eight on tap at their brewery at a time, with specialty offerings. He says they are going for a brewery approach similar to that of New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin, which produces 100,000 barrels per year and is limited to Wisconsin only.
Benjamin has a lot of optimism and excitement about the brewery. Triptych has a lease signed in a re-purposed office space in Savoy for the new factory. “The building owner is excited and there are provisions if the business doesn’t start.”
They are also planning a pre-construction party tasting event on the 25th to promote awareness and preview the beers. Benjamin says that they will have a computer on hand so people can pledge to the Kickstarter fund, which will have less than a week left at that time.
“We were here when Destihl and Blind Big Brewery opened. We want to get people excited, but we don’t want to lead them on.”
Benjamin says that Phase I will have a production level that will force them to stay local. They will use their connections to local bars through beer clubs and being “beer geeks” to help spread the product.
Phase II, which Benjamin says will “no doubt will be well in-hand,” hopes to raise production through controlled growth to serve downstate Illinois. They have no immediate plans to spread westward.
Benjamin is excited about getting their beer around town to share. “We hope to have two to three beers anywhere that will have them.
They hope to use the tasting room itself as a sounding board and seem focused on making the community a part of the process. “The Kickstarter video is sincere in terms of what we’re trying to do.”
The Triptych design itself was crowd sourced via 99 designs, which allows users to rate design submissions. “It’s neat to see 10–15 different ideas and whittle them down.”
Moving forward, Benjamin wants Triptych’s label design to be sourced from local artists. He describes the current logo as more of an emblem, similar to New Belgium, which will be an integrated element of the complete label.
“We really want to respond to community interest and we’re open to any suggestions,” Benjamin said. “We have a phenomenal beer community—a great place to enjoy beer.”