A cliché repeated by many business people holds that the customer is always right. Katherine Valleau, who co-owns the Exit Strategy Brewing Company, 7700 Madison St., doesn’t buy that.
She and her husband Chris have higher expectations for the beer they serve to the patrons who frequent their establishment.
Chris is the brew master who makes all 16 craft beers available on tap. He brews them in “small” batches of 155 gallons and is creative in coming up with unique flavors and blends of ingredients.
For Pride Month in June, for instance, Chris has brewed a special rainbow sherbet sour beer.
Twelve of the brews on the Exit Strategy beer menu are “mainstays,” i.e. always available on tap. One of Chris’ “out of the box” creations is number five on his beer menu, an American Pale Ale with 5.6% alcohol content. “American hops,” reads the description on the menu, “are front and center here, but this beer won’t punch you in the face with bitterness. Rather it accentuates hop flavor and aroma while balancing malt and hops. Brewed and dry hopped with Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Citra and Simcoe hops.”
Listed last on the menu is Valleaudated Milk Stout, “a big chocolaty aroma and flavor with a bit of sweetness that will make you contemplate adding a scoop of ice cream to this brew. Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans and Ghana cacao nibs add to this beer’s complex but incredible flavor.”
“If you come in and ask for a Miller Lite,” said Katherine with a chuckle, “we’ll sit you down and educate you on who we are and how we do things.”
Their regular patrons, she added, come from all over the surrounding area and appreciate what goes into making craft beers and the level of innovation.
“How we do things” Katherine explained, includes high expectations for the quality of the beers her husband brews and the food they serve but also for how their patrons behave.
“We expect a lot from the people who come in,” said the former schoolteacher, “and the people who come in will meet those expectations.”
It all has to do with respect, she said, respect for her staff and for the other patrons. That’s the reason Chris and Katherine close Exit Strategy at 10 p.m. every night. “No good decision,” she explained, “is made after midnight.”
Like most of the other businesses on Madison Street, the pandemic hit Exit Strategy hard. They shut down on March 15 last year and remained closed for three weeks to give them time to “process everything that was happening.”
“We sat and we thought and we cried,” she said, “and then we came up with a plan.”
In April they did a few pop-up events, a day or two when patrons could come in and fill their 64 oz. “growlers,” and they laid off all but two of their staff.
“We never thought we would do a carry-out business,” she said, “but necessity is the mother of invention. We had to adapt, to pivot our mindset.”
Understanding that outdoor service was safer than having a beer indoors, they resurfaced their parking lot, borrowed picnic tables from The Grove, put up umbrellas, and transformed the place where patrons used to park their cars into a beer garden.
Exit Strategy has rebounded to about 70-80% of the business they were doing before the pandemic hit. They are returning to normal incrementally. “Instead of doing a cannonball into the pool,” she added, “we are dipping our toes in the water.”
Getting back to normal includes events like the one they held last Saturday — a tie-dye party. For $40, attendees got to tie-dye a shirt, got a four-pack of beer and a pint glass branded with the name of the beer they were introducing, filled with beer, of course.
Not to be outdone, Exit Strategy’s next-door neighbor, Famous Liquors, is featuring — in addition to Miller Lite, Bud, and Guinness — beers some Forest Parkers may have never heard of like Baltimore Blonde, Victoria, Pacifico Clara, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ and Founders Centennial IPA.