C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora: When Homebrewers Go Pro, Part 2

C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora: When Homebrewers Go Pro

By Calvin Fredrickson

 

C.H.A.O.S. brew club is a homebrew collective located in Chicago’s Near West Side. Established in 2011, C.H.A.O.S provides brewing resources to budding homebrewers, from equipment, to cellaring space, to camaraderie. But if you’re just looking for a good time without a serious commitment to brewing, do not miss their seasonal parties, which are open to the public through a trial membership. A dazzling array of food – prepared by C.H.A.O.S. homebrewers –is served alongside adventurous homebrew with a deftness to make an epicurean blush. Their annual Cerveza de Mayo is May 7th, 2016. See chaosbrewclub.net for more info.

 

Many homebrewers dream of taking their stovetop batches to a commercial scale. The following homebrewers did just that. Some were present at C.H.A.O.S. from its inception, or close to it, while others had only a brief involvement with the club. One thing is certain of these homebrewers: their shared goal of working in the beer industry was impacted by their time at C.H.A.O.S. These homebrewers found a way to go pro. We hope their stories inspire you like they inspired us.

 

CHAOS_Edward_Nash-2web

 

Edward Nash
Occupation before going pro: Product manager
Current industry gig: Co-owner and head brewer, Arclight Brewing Co.

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?

My father used to homebrew in the late 70’s. That was my first exposure to fermentation. Later, I had a girlfriend that said I should get a hobby. She suggested homebrewing, and I happened to be a garage sale where they had a homebrew kit never opened for $5, so I bought it. I bought an extract kit to familiarize myself with the brewing process, and then went straight into all-grain brewing. I read everything I could get my hands on and started brewing about twice a week. I also traveled a lot and would visit as many breweries as I could for future reference. I came across C.H.A.O.S., who would hold public events where you could serve your homebrew, which was awesome, so I joined them. That just fueled my desire to open a brewery.

C.H.A.O.S. members range from casual to obsessive homebrewers. Where did you fall on that spectrum?

Hard to put a label on it…but I was brewing twice a week…so…

Did you have an epiphany homebrew where you said, “Man, I could sell this. I should make a go of it”? 

Not really…I just tried to brew the best beer I could, actually I felt I could brew better beer going pro because I had access to better technology for controlling the brewing process you do not normally have as a homebrewer.

So, how did you “go pro?”

Made a decision to go for it, found a partner, and we started the process of opening a brewery.

What does your role at Arclight entail?

 I’m the co-owner and head brewer. My job entails everything in the brewing process, and I am assisted by my assistant brewer. As co-owner, I split the duties of ownership with my partner. I generally handle everything in the back of the house while he handles the front of the house, such as the taproom.

What’s the latest at Arclight, and which of your beers are you jazzed about?

We have a sour program here and we do mostly fruited American sours. Our cellar has 30 oak barrels aging cherry, mango, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and raspberry sours currently. We also have an Imperial Golden Java Milk Stout that is really popular. Additionally, we make sodas in-house, which we use to create shandies that are very popular. They have been a great gateway into craft beer for a lot of people.

Any advice for homebrewers or beer freaks lookin’ to go pro?

Going pro is more than just upgrading your homebrew system and selling beer. There is so much added to the process that a lot of people do not realize. Dealing with contractors, federal and state agencies, suppliers, dealing with employees – the list goes on. In reality, actual brewing is a small part of owning a brewery, if that is the route you want to take. If you just want to be a pro brewer and brew at a brewery, be prepared to be flexible. Every system is different and you have to learn to deal with its advantages and shortcomings. Read anything and everything you can on brewing and don’t be afraid to try and fail. Not everything you make will be awesome, but it will make you a better brewer.

CHAOS-Reed-Schwenger1_Photo_by_Seth_Ekberg_web

Reed Schwenger
Occupation before going pro: Food service industry
Current industry gig: Brewer, Goose Island Beer Co.

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?

I caught the homebrewing bug after I worked at a craft beer/farm-to-table restaurant in River North. At the time I was 20, was seriously interested, and was eager to learn more. Being 20, I was very “up in the air” with what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t really have much direction, and never felt I fit in any one specific career. However, I did know that I was extremely passionate about all of the aspects that came with the beer industry. I was always, in a way, “a jack of all trades, master of none.” The beer world had everything I was looking for: Farm-to-table, grain-to-glass, artistic attitude, and a mysterious type of take on the beverage realm. People would say, “Whoa, that’s the brewer…(and in a way)…that guy makes magic in a pot!” and I wanted to be that guy. Furthermore, the brewing industry was, and still is, so hugely multifaceted in community. When it comes to beer geeks, we can talk about beer all day and night; we speak our own language.

C.H.A.O.S. members range from casual to obsessive homebrewers. Where did you fall on that spectrum?

The community basis of this industry is what keeps us going. Brewing beer isn’t the most beautiful job, but the community that surrounds it is. This is the reason I wanted to be a part of C.H.A.O.S., as they’re such a great club with so many fingers in Chicago. At the time I became a member, I had a lot of my own equipment already, I always had something going either in fermentation or in maturation. C.H.A.O.S. was something that would have been good as I needed a place outside of my condo on the 16th floor, a community of people I could speak, chill, and learn with. Although I never brewed there, I have spoken, chilled, and learned with them. They’re great people. You mentioned spectrum, I was on the obsessive end of it, and there are people from C.H.A.O.S. who fall into everything from casual to obsessive.

Did you have an epiphany homebrew where you said, “Man, I could sell this. I should make a go of it”?

I think I was brewing beer one time, and in the background on T.V. was How It’s Made. I was staring at the abyss of the show and had a boil over. For some reason, this was the time I thought about going pro seriously. I loved automation, systems, operations, working with people, and making what seems like nothing into something people can physically put their tongue on and taste. Including this, the feedback, and learning from one another is especially fun.

So, how did you “go pro”?

While working as a bartender at numerous establishments, I was always trying to get off work and use as many connections to get my foot in the door. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but remembered the importance of working for free when you love something. I knew that if I was seriously committed to building a career out of this, I should gain formal education. I attended Siebel institute of Technology for their Concise Course in Brewing Technology, and in 2015 I was part of their Master Brewers Program in both Chicago and at Doemens in Bavaria. After graduating, and all that money spent, I learned a hell of a lot, but was also able to prove that if I was willing to foot the bill for school and be successful there, I must be passionate, trainable, and hardworking.

What does your role at Goose Island entail?

Currently, I have been at our barrel-aging warehouse working with Bourbon County Stout, BCS variants, and our Sour Sisters as well. It’s hard work, but it’s definitely fun. We work with a great team of people, and we’re always learning. The moment I was able to catch my breath, I had to have the C.H.A.O.S. guys come in and see the place. We gave them free reign on the facility, and had a great time getting to know each other better. Goose Island is making some big changes, and we shutting down the brewery for the month of March as we install new equipment. We’re still here with lots of catch-up work, and a bit of travel for many of the brewers. When we get back on track, I’ll be heading over to the brewery on Fulton. I’ll miss the barrels for sure, but they’ll always be nearby.

What’s the latest at Goose, and which of your beers are you jazzed about?

For beer, I’m very jazzed about or 2015 Halia release. It’s really a great beer that showcases the variability of the barrel-aging program. The differences that we see from one year’s vintage to the next is so similar, but so different. 2014 was very peachy, where 2015 shines with the oak. The wood and fruit really worked well with one another in the cask. I’m definitely looking forward to our new equipment, and I’m eager to work with it.

Any advice for homebrewers or beer freaks lookin’ to “go pro”?

My advice for home brewers, and/or beer geeks going pro, is to brew beer. You may be able to read and talk about beer…you may know all of the mistakes possible, but you have to get your hands dirty, and you have to take reasonable risks. Join a club like C.H.A.O.S.! After all, it’s just beer, it isn’t brain surgery, so most of all, have fun.

 

CHAOS-Eric-Padilla_Photo_by_Calvn_Fredrickson_web

 

Eric Padilla
Occupation before going pro: Database application developer
Current industry gig: Former head brewer, Breakroom Brewery

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?

I started homebrewing just over four years ago with a couple of my friends. We wanted to learn how to make beer since we had been craft beer fans for a while, so we put together some money and we purchased equipment and recipe kits to get us started. Our first beer was a pale ale kit that we got with our equipment bundle.

C.H.A.O.S. members range from casual to obsessive homebrewers. Where did you fall on that spectrum?

I guess I would say obsessive. When we started homebrewing we were making a batch just about every other week. We had to purchase more kegs and fermenters soon after we started in order to keep up the pace. This helped us learn a lot about brewing in a short amount of time, and allowed us to see our beers steadily improve with each batch.

Did you have an epiphany homebrew where you said, “Man, I could sell this. I should make a go of it”? 

Not really, but I did notice that more and more people were liking my beer the more I brewed. I put a lot of time and effort into learning as much about brewing in order to make beer that actually tasted good. It was very rewarding to share a glass of a beer that I made with friends and have them enjoy it. I would get asked frequently about becoming a pro brewer, but at the time I had no idea what it took to actually start a brewery. I wasn’t until later when I started meeting pro brewers that I actually got to see what was involved in making beer on a large scale.

So, how did you “go pro?”

My first pro brewing gig was at Horse Thief Hollow brewpub in Beverly about three years ago. My friend, Dave Williams, invited me to come brew with him when he started as head brewer there, so I would head there after work to assist him. I was very lucky to have this opportunity because I learned a tremendous amount about running a new brewery. Without that experience I would not have been able to hit the ground running to get Breakroom Brewery started in the short time we had. This past year was great learning experience for me, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to expand as a brewer and to be able to get direct feedback on the beer that I brewed. While I am currently pursuing a new path, I wish the best for the Breakroom group and their new partnerships.

What does your role at Breakroom entail?

As the head brewer I pretty much got to do all aspects of running the brewery – from developing recipes, ordering ingredients, brewing, cellaring, cleaning, record keeping, etc. There is a lot of manual work involved and some days can be long, but it is all worth it once you take a sip of your latest brew.

What’s the latest at Breakroom, and which of your beers are you jazzed about?

I recently made a Mosaic-hopped pale ale Mosa that I split in half to ferment with two different yeast strains. One half was pitched with American yeast and dry-hopped with Amarillo hops, while the other got a Belgian Trappist strain and was dry-hopped with Cascade. I’m a big fan of these hops, and doing this split batch shows how the type of yeast used can complement them in different ways. The clean profile of the American yeast lets the hops shine through, while the esters from the Belgian strain meld with the hops to create something unique.

Any advice for homebrewers or beer freaks lookin’ to go pro?

Keep brewing, and learn as much about brewing as you can. Read as much brewing material as possible or take formal classes. Then try to intern or volunteer at a local brewery. If you feel brewing is something you’re passionate about, then make the leap and apply for a position at a brewery that can get your foot in the door.

 

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