Heading Southeast on I-294 past Alsip usually means a trip out of state, and often a visit to a brewery. Our trip was the latter but not beyond the borders of Illinois. Just before the state line lies the village of Lansing. Within the village’s 6.8 square miles sits One Trick Pony, a brewery that you absolutely will not find unless you have been lucky enough to catch someone talking about it, which doesn’t concern anyone at the brewery one bit.
We arrived at the brewery a little early and the door was propped open so we let ourselves in. Walking into the taproom, the space felt like we had just entered a furnace, which was a nice departure from the frigid exterior and gave new sense to the open front door. Owner and head brewer, Mark Kocol, was manning a computer at a table and greeted us as we shuffled in.
The taproom has a rustic, antiqued feel to it. Old posters and beer ads are framed and hanging on the walls. Empty growlers from different breweries and old brewery crates line the tops of the constructed barriers. The furniture is mismatched wood and repurposed, which triggers memories from days gone by. This room is cozy. It gives you the feeling as though you are hanging out in a friend’s man cave devoted to the legacy of craft beer.
Walking around to the room’s serving window, Mark jumps right in asking what beers we’d like to try. Looking at the tap list, the decision was simple. “Lets start at the top and work our way out of options,” I said.
Sipping on their Marsh Tacky, a smooth and rich American Stout with loads of chocolate and roasted malts, we inquire about the origins of the brewery. The brewer straightens up and begins by admitting that this wasn’t his first attempt at owning a brewery.
On the eve of opening in 2010, Mark received a phone call notifying him that legal structures fell through and the brewery would not be happening. Being as understanding as one could be at that stage in the game, he returned focus to his work and continued homebrewing as a type of therapeutic outlet. Over the next 2 years, Mark and his brewing partner, Dave Murphy, brewed a great ton and eventually entertained the idea of giving the brewery gig another go.
In early 2012, they moved into the space in Lansing and started brewing. Due to Murphy being an avid fan of the style, most of the beers that they had been brewing were IPAs. Because of Kocol’s love for Belgian ales and the itch for experimentation, Mark wanted to expand their brewing horizons and lightly exclaimed, “Fuck you, I’m not going to be a one trick pony and brew only IPA.” With that, the name was set and they opened their doors in May of 2012.
Their opening was soft. So soft that they didn’t even tell anyone. One Trick Pony doesn’t advertise and they let their beer and presence at festivals act as their marketing. The approach has always been to grow after the establishment of interest and a demand that is impossible to keep up with under current circumstances. They want it to be organic.
Making our way through the different beers, the Simcoe American Pale Ale dubbed Spotted Saddle stood out as a crisp, well balanced ale that drinks a bit like a lager. Great tasting and evenly hopped, this brew had the right amount of bitterness paired with a thin malt character that made it very easy to enjoy.
Mark continued to explain that he has always wanted to establish the brand and the beer first, and never to put the cart before the horse, no pun intended. “We’ve always tried to get things started with spending as little as possible,” Mark says as we shift spots in the taproom while the afternoon crowd makes their way through the door. “There isn’t a need to build up a state of the art facility when we can build things up with what we currently have available.”
As the afternoon continues, a few more people file in from the cold day to grab a beer. Dave is entertaining a conversation at the serving window, which looks straight into the brewery where the two brewing assistants maintain the production schedule for the day. Before we set out for the trip back we get a taste of the still fermenting black IPA, Kisber Felver, which will be poured at Darkside hosted by Emporium Arcade Bar on February 23, 2014. Brightly dry hopped with a rich chocolate, coffee and roasted malt backbone, this brew has a lot going on with it and stands up really well.
One Trick Pony sells a lot of their beer through their taproom, but has also been placed in area bars around the cuff of Chicago’s southern edge. Plans to work further into the city are currently in the works, while they have made appearances at festivals such as the American Beer Classic held at Soldier Field and the barrel aged fiasco known as FoBAB.
If you are in the area or on your way to Indiana, add a destination and swing by the taproom for a pint. Beer is also available for growler purchase if you are just swinging through.