C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora: When Homebrewers Go Pro, Pt 3

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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.

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-David-Williams_photo_by_Kelli_Williams-WEB

David Williams
Occupation before going pro: Technical consultant (I still do this, too).
Current industry gig: Head brewer, Horse Thief Hollow

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?  

I started brewing after a move from Philly to Chicago early-2006.  I saw an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown, and it looked like something that was interesting and fun. I lived in Naperville, IL at the time, and the closest homebrew shop was The Brewers Coop located inside Two Brothers Brewing. I visited the shop and bought my first homebrewing setup from Jim Ebel. I started brewing on my own for a while and later with friends.

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

When I first started, it was very casual. I made the same amber beer featured on Good Eats. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I was really into Belgian beers around the time I first started homebrewing. It wasn’t until my third batch that I decided to make a Belgian-style Beer. Belgian-style beers are good to brew early on in the hobby – they’re very forgiving as far as pitch quantity and fermentation temperature goes. That third batch opened my eyes to what kind of beer could be made in my kitchen. From there, it became an obsession.

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

I didn’t start out with any ambition to turn into a professional brewer.  It’s something that just sort of fell into place, and it’s something I do as a passion of love, because it’s certainly not something you get into for a huge paycheck. With that in mind, the notion of “Man, I could sell this” was never something I considered. It was more of “Man, this tastes good. I can’t wait to share it with my other homebrewing friends and family.”

So, how did you “go pro?”

I met Neil, the owner of Horse Thief Hollow, when he was first starting to plan out the brewpub – it was very early on in the process when it was a little more than an idea. I literally hear hundreds of people tell me “Hey, I’m opening a brewery.” So, I didn’t think much of it. He came to a C.H.A.O.S. event and tried some of my beer. We hung out at that event and later on went to other craft beer establishments, and over time, we became friends. Once he had purchased a building, Neil invited me to check out a rough space that would later become the brewpub for Horse Thief. I brewed some homebrew beers for an informal construction party. After that party, Neil asked me to help set up the brewery, and later he asked me to be the brewer for Horse Thief Hollow.

What does your role at Horse Thief Hollow entail?

I am the head brewer at our 90-seat brewpub in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. We have a full kitchen and brew all of our beer on-site. As head brewer, I am in charge of production on a five-barrel brewhouse where we fill either five- or 10-barrel fermenters. I run all the typical operations of a small brewery, from brewing to cellar duties.

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

We recently brewed Cheval Deux, a biere de darde with sweet potatoes. It’s typically a Fall seasonal, but we re-brewed it a few weeks ago to enter into the World Beer Cup happening this year in my hometown, Philadelphia. We did pretty well with this beer in the last WBC, winning a silver medal in the field beer category. We’ve got our fingers crossed for similar luck this year.

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

I feel like brewing is in a renaissance period right now. There’s never been a better time to get into the industry. But you should only get into it if you have the right motivations. Being a shift brewer or even head brewer isn’t going to send you home with your pockets stuffed full of money. You’re gonna work hard, long, exhausting hours. You’ll most likely be paid crap, and at the end of the day, you’re basically a glorified janitor. If you’re okay with that and truly have a love for making beer and all the creativity that goes into it, then there isn’t a better gig around. The brewing community and people you will meet are some of the best people you’ll have the privilege to meet. The community, having a creative outlet, and being able to make something with your own hands is what makes it all worthwhile.

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Jason Krasowski
Occupation before going pro: Sign manufacturer
Current industry gig: Brewer, Begyle Brewing

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?

I spent a lot of years around homebrewers, watching and helping, but I have to thank my father-in-law for pushing me to start really doing it myself three-four years ago by signing me up for the American Homebrewers Association and giving me a copy of How To Brew. The hands-on process and creation of an end product that others could enjoy got me.

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

Somewhere in the middle. I was brewing twice a month when I first joined the club, and C.H.A.O.S. was my first all-grain brewing, so I really got super obsessive about hitting all my numbers (OG, FG) and making good yeast starters. But when I was there, I was always trying to listen, learn and ask questions from the other members. I think that was and is my favorite part. Everyone was super helpful. At first, I was a little intimidated by the process, but felt more at ease because of the friendliness of the other members. It was a relaxed environment and I took every opportunity I could to learn from others.

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

It wasn’t some recipe that set me on the path – it was realizing that I enjoyed the non-sexy details of the brewing process, like cleaning and cellar work. At almost 40 years old, I didn’t think I could have the career in beer that I wanted, that maybe the time had passed, but the craft community was inspiring and welcoming. I used to listen to brewing podcasts all day while I worked at the sign shop and just think about beer, but now I don’t need to do that. I just get up and go to work. I’m living it now, that’s the part I still pinch myself about.

So, how did you “go pro?”

My first step was to take the Concise Course [in Brewing Technology] at Siebel Institute so I had some tangible knowledge about what I was trying to do, and to show my potential employer I was serious about this career change. From there, it was looking at probrewer.com and waiting for the right opportunity. I went on a few interviews before I got the job at Begyle, and now I thank God those other ones didn’t work out because I definitely feel like what I do now is a perfect fit.

What does your role at Begyle entail?

Our head brewer, Liz French, our cellarman/cider maker, Paul Cade, and I do everything that has to get done to get great beer into your hands. Our brewery isn’t very automated, so from dumping grain and doughing-in to building case boxes, we do whatever is needed. But mostly, we clean…a lot.

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

Oh, man! That’s a tough question to answer! We’re lucky that our bosses are very supportive and trusting with putting the power of development in our hands, so we’ve been able to do some cool new things, like the Irish Red we have on tap now, or the barleywine in the fermenter. And we’ve been able to tweak older recipes to make them exactly the way we want them, like our double IPA, Quagmire. I liked the beer before, but after just a few small adjustments, it’s so juicy and drinkable to me, it’s scary!

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

Here’s what I’ve learned….
Taking a class from Siebel or somewhere that is industry-related is a big help, and looks great on a resume. It sets you apart from the competition, and let’s us know you’re serious about being in the business. So much about working at a brewery has to do with personality. You are really selling yourself, and whether or not they can see themselves working with you for what can be long, tough days. So remember, attitude is important!

As far as resume goes, nobody cares how many check-ins you have on Untappd or breweries you’ve visited. Seriously. We all drink beer, that’s why we’re here. How does what you are doing now relate to the multitasking you would be doing in a brewery? Someone told me once, “I can teach anyone to make beer, what I can’t teach is how to be a hard worker.” It’s very true.

 

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