Dave and Lou Selvaggio are brothers who immediately strike you with their enthusiasm for the work they do. Dave's passion lies in the firearms industry, and his company DS Arms manufactures the entire FN FAL 7.62mm rifle system in the United States. Lou's attraction to craft beer and the brewing process was growing almost faster than the industry itself. Eventually, the two came together to create Gun Craft Beer - an all-American tactical beer celebrating the history of both firearms and brewing. I had the pleasure of visiting Dave and Lou at Church Street Brewing Company in Itasca, IL, as some of their first batches were canned - and I even got to taste some freedom.
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Lou (Left) and Dave (Right) pause to enjoy some of their newly canned beer, a project years in the making (Photo: Sylvia Gaenzle)[/caption]"Taking those trips to Europe many times - 30, 40 times over there, Switzerland, Austria - old world craftsmanship, watching how they make guns in Austria and Belgium, Germany... having a good beer was just a thing when you get together after your meetings," Dave told me. His fascination with the FAL was piqued when he visited it's country of origin - Belgium - and the mystique and craftsmanship of the "right arm of the free world" drew him again into the thought of tactical craft beer."I thought, 'You know what, there needs to be an FAL beer,'" he said.Lou's fascination with craft beer started in the 1980s, when imported beers were becoming more common. As he watched the business develop in the states, he also felt the nudge to make a beer that was 100% American, and celebrated American freedoms as well as real craftsmanship. The idea laid dormant for a few years, but the desire only grew on him."Just like my waistline," he told me, grinning.
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Cans enter the line, first to be sanitized, and then filled with Gun Craft's M4 Amber Ale (Photo: Sylvia Gaenzle)[/caption]The Selvaggio brothers were driving back from a gun show when the dream really took hold of both of them. They had just seen "tactical" products fly off the shelves, such as tactical bacon, and wondered why they couldn't do the same. Dave and Lou talked extensively about how to bring the worlds of firearms and craft beer together. The first idea to nail down was, what would make this beer unique? Making sure that the product was anything but a gimmick would be the first big hurdle."If I'm going to get into this... as a profession, it's got to be about the beer, the beer's got to be the best it can be," Lou said. "It's about freedom, patriotism, and the right to bear arms. That's what we want our beer to feel like."The brothers searched broadly and carefully for a good brewer and a small brewery that could execute a great recipe. They found them both in their own Illinois backyard; Church Street Brewing Company as the location, and Ken McMullen as their brewmaster. From there, the first four beers were developed and made.
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Quite possibly the most beautiful sight in the world. Beer fills the tactical M4 Amber Ale cans (Photo: Sylvia Gaenzle)[/caption]Church Street Brewing Company is known for "Righteously Good Beer," with their specialty being a German lager. The hidden gem in Itasca has a tasting room that feels warm and inviting despite the warehouse it's located in. The small family of workers, as well as Ken and Lou, gathered around the canning machine in the back of the house, ensuring that each can would be filled, weighed, inspected, and packaged properly. It struck me that, despite the heavily mechanized process, there were so many hands involved in making the canning successful.Ken's relationship with the brothers is fueled by that same enthusiasm and cooperative, familial attitude. He told me that the passion and expertise that Dave and Lou brought matched his own for brewing."I believe in it, and I think this is really going to connect with people. That's why I'm here; it's because I believe in it," he said. That love and care became evident as soon as the canning started.The first beer to come down the line was the M4 Amber Ale, a beer brewed to embody the same advantages of the rifle it's named for - light, balanced, and able to be utilized under any circumstances. The smell of hops and grain filled the small room, and it was hard not to grin. I hadn't even tasted it yet, and I knew it was going be a great brew.[caption id="attachment_9764" align="aligncenter" width="750"]
Sealed cans of beer come off the line, ready for packaging. (Photo: Sylvia Gaenzle)[/caption]I wasn't disappointed. I typically prefer APAs and dark beers, but this amber was very drinkable and packed a lot of complex flavors while still being light and smooth.Speaking of APAs and dark beer, they had some of those on hand, too. The Tactical APA was an incredibly pleasant surprise; a bright, citrusy, carbonated kick that was more refreshing than sharp. It went down smooth but with a pleasant little burn - as close to a nice scotch as a beer can get.And they couldn't leave out the FAL, the first real black rifle made after World War Two with centuries of Belgian craftsmanship behind it. The Belgian Black Ale named after the iconic firearm was light on bitterness, and heavy on that rich, complex flavor that dark beers are loved for. Dark chocolate and roasted coffee with just the right touch of malty goodness.Finally, the 2nd Amendment came down the line. A very red IPA that Ken told me was the result of the four different malts he used in the recipe - as red as you can get without adding any color to it. It's an American beer, meant to honor the blood shed for the freedoms we enjoy today. The taste was unlike anything I'd had yet in an IPA. They're not my first choice in beers, but the fruit notes and great color sold me.
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Lou (Left) and the Church Street Brewery team all assist in the canning process (Photo: Sylvia Gaenzle)[/caption]When working with Grunt Style to design the packaging on each beer, Dave and Lou made sure to include a target on the can - presumably to pass some time with friends and practice your fine aim before enjoying the contents. That should go over well at this year's Shot Show in Las Vegas, where gun nuts and tactical experts come together to showcase their wares, and where Gun Craft will make it's premiere.Dave and Lou aren't motivated by small plans - their next target is nothing short of nationwide domination. With craftsmanship, patriotism, and a whole lot of beer behind them, they're certainly prepared to take aim.To learn more about Gun Craft Beer, you can visit their website here.