Diamonds and beer: Des Plaines brewery fuses unlikely combination
By Chacour Koop

The first brewery to open in Des Plaines fuses two seemingly disparate industries: crafting beer and forging cremated remains into diamonds.

Yes, the duo of Greg Herro and Dean VandenBiesen -- who invented the process for creating diamonds from ashes of the deceased -- are using their scientific expertise and taste for beer to open Fibs Brewing Co.

Four beer fermenters will be lined up near four 13,000-pound diamond-making machines at the LifeGem jewelry manufacturer, with a glass wall separating the equipment. Customers sitting at a mahogany wood bar will have a front-row seat when the industrial taproom at 260 Howard Ave. opens this fall.

"Where else can you go and have a pint of fresh beer and watch machines make diamonds out of dead people?" Herro said.

Nowhere, of course.

But before feeling squeamish about the pairing, give the burgeoning brewers a chance to share their story.

In 2002, Herro and VandenBiesen opened LifeGem at an industrial property on the south side of Des Plaines. There they began their patented process for speeding up a process that takes millions of years in nature. Their goal has been to memorialize lost loved ones, to bring comfort to the people left behind.

Whirring machines mill the cremated remains at one million pounds per square inch while the forming stone is heated at thousands of degrees. The entire process takes about six months, and the diamonds will be set on rings or pendants.

VandenBiesen said the inspiration came from his brother, Rusty, who at a young age had issues with mortality.

"He had a problem with being put in a grave or urn," VandenBiesen said. "He equated that with being forgotten."

Along the way, Herro and VandenBiesen had hoped their customers would gather at the business to send off the remains with a heartfelt farewell or celebration of life. With customers around the globe, however, that never materialized.

Now the brewery will be a gathering place.

"It's all about perspective," Herro said. "We wanted to create LifeGem as a celebration of life. The beer goes right along with that because we want to focus on the good times. Life is too short to not focus on the good times."

Fibs Brewing Co. will have a dozen beers on tap, including porters, stouts, scotch ales, lagers and India pale ales, among others. The "others" are creations that neither Herro nor VandenBiesen can put into a single category.

Like many brewers, they started tinkering with recipes in a garage, mixing ingredients and sampling ideas until they found a perfect taste. Replicating their recipes batch after batch is the difficult part, they say. It's science, similar to the diamond-making business.

"Making a diamond, you have to follow a recipe," VandenBiesen said. "With beer, it's no different."

But unlike the diamond business, the pressure is off when it comes to brewing, they say. They want to grow the brewery slowly and methodically, never sacrificing taste for quantity.

"The only pressure we have is to create really great beer," Herro said.