C.H.A.O.S. Diaspora: When Homebrewers Go Pro, Pt 4

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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.


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Eric Olson
Occupation before going pro: Bartender and beer-buyer
Current industry gig: Production manager, Marz Community Brewing Co.

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?

Mike Marszewski, the owner of Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar, introduced me to homebrewing. He helped me brew my first homebrew in my apartment which is now occupied by Marz’s brewhouse. This was the summer of 2011.

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

Relative to the rest of the brewers, I’d say I fell somewhere in the middle. At any given point I had at most 2 carboys in the fermentation room or “ferm-room,” as members call it. My homebrewing was split between beers I brewed at the C.H.A.O.S. club house and those I brewed at home.

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

The beer I impressed myself the most with was an American brown ale that I had added some rhubarb and strawberries to. It was early spring when I brewed it, so I was able to utilize some fresh rhubarb from my mother’s garden in Rockford, IL. It had a wonderful tartness from the fruit backed by a robust, toasty malt bill. The beer really mimicked the experience of eating fresh strawberry rhubarb pie.

So, how did you “go pro?”

Well, I’m glad you put that question in air quotes. I’ve been in the process of becoming a pro the last year and a half working at Marz. No one simply goes pro overnight. That said, the way I stepped out of the world of homebrewing and into the world of commercial brewing started out with talks Ed Marszewski and I had. We already had this deep affection for craft beers, drinking and serving them at Maria’s. After about a year or so of nonchalantly talking about starting a brewery, a small little storefront in Bridgeport opened up (my old apartment in the back). We decided this would be as good a place as any to make our liquid dreams a reality.

What does your role at Marz entail?

Managing production at Marz entails scheduling our production and staff. Working with ingredient and equipment suppliers to ensure the brewery has the materials to brew and package our beers. Being such a small brewery we all wear a lot of different hats, so on any given day you might also see me graining out a mash tun, cleaning kegs, or labeling bottles, etc.

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

We recently packaged a sour version of our Bridgeporter. It packs nearly a pound of fruit per gallon, including elderberries, cherries, and blackberries. Fruited sour up front, porter on the finish. <Doing my best jazz hands>.

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

The biggest piece of advice I have is learn from your local commercial brewers as much as possible. If you live near Chicago or another major craft beer hub, you are surrounded by many brewers with a plethora of knowledge. Brewers learn and improve they’re craft by making mistakes (which you don’t have to make!) So ask around your local breweries to volunteer or just hang out learn. Take notes, ask questions, and always pay attention to what the brewers are doing. This will pay major dividends when it comes to troubleshooting your own brewery.  In addition, homebrew clubs like C.H.A.O.S. are hotbeds for brewing know-how. I was amazed at how much I learned about brewing sitting on the clubhouse couch (RIP old friend) hungover on a Sunday afternoon.

 

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Tim Lange
Occupation before going pro: Senior IT systems consultant
Current industry gig: Head brewer, Marz Community Brewing Co.  

How and when did you catch the homebrewing bug?   

Just after college, my roommate’s girlfriend gave him a homebrewing kit and basic hardware, but it sat around our apartment unopened and unused for long enough that it became common property. I read Charlie Papazian’s book, got inspired and fermented a few barely drinkable beers in a closet. Friend and colleague Tremaine Atkinson (CH distillery) was a homebrewer years before this. After hearing about my semi-successful extract batches, he brought over his mash/boil kettle and a Blichmann wort chiller for my first all-grain brew.  We had a stuck sparge but made a great beer!

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

After my first few batches, brewing became a full-blown obsession pretty quickly. I built a temp controller out of Radioshack parts and turned a 14′ deep freezer into a fermentation chamber—this drastically changed the quality of my homebrews into something I was proud to share. Building a kegerator also helped develop my palate and understand how beers change over time as they lager and stale in kegs.  The last major step up was getting a 20-gallon Blichmann brew system that effectively doubled my output and allowed for split batches.  I was making two kegs in less time than I previously made one, and could experiment with different yeasts and dry hops in each keg.

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

My day-to-day life was lacking creativity, and brewing filled that void. I have the technical side at my job, but “creativity” is limited to problem solving. Beer satisfies both. Selling beer was always a fantasy, and it probably is for many homebrewers. But meeting Ed and getting involved with Marz actually made it possible. Trying to get into Marz forced me to work harder at brewing and evaluate each beer much more critically. I was testing my recipes against the Marz guys hoping they’d want to brew them.

So, how did you “go pro?”

I joined Square Kegs homebrew club, and later, C.H.A.O.S., to get feedback from peers and talk beer on a technical level. Square Kegs lead to entering a couple competitions and winning a couple awards. My girlfriend found an article about Ed starting Marz during this time, so I started sending lots of emails and commuting to Maria’s bar to get some facetime and share my beers with the crew.  My last award was at an event Ed hosted, and he finally caved to my persistence and gave me a chance at Marz.

What does your role at Marz entail?  

We brew three days a week right now and I brew the Saturday batch. During the week, after my day job, I spend some evenings creating or tweaking existing recipes. I also do a lot of research related to processes, equipment, or supplies. We’re fortunate to have a lot of awesome, experienced friends in the industry to guide us in making some decisions, so I spend time connecting with and learning from them. I owe a lot of people a lot of beers. There’s so much to learn as a new brewery. We’re also working on building our new production brewery and taproom.

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

Starting out, we initially made some compromises for our recipes in the name of consistency and quality.  We had to prove to ourselves and consumers that we could make good beer and repeat it.  We generally used one yeast for a lot of our beers, for example, so we could eliminate a massive fermentation variable in our recipes and focus on malt and hop adjustments with each new batch.  We’ve learned a lot in a year and half and we’re applying this experience to help us make better and more interesting beers today.  We’re at an exciting transitional time in a lot of ways.  Last year we started filling barrels with various wild beers with great results. I can’t wait to work more with these types of beers in our new facility later this year. Most of my favorite beers are mixed cultures aged in wood. .

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

Ask yourself why you want to go pro. There are many constraints, considerations, and timelines that don’t generally exist with homebrewing. Brew a lot to see if the passion sticks or fizzles before wasting anyone’s time in a brewery. Also, be very critical of your beers and aspire to brew as well as the leaders in the industry. That’s what people want to drink and how you’ll be measured. And dump shitty beer!

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