Friday, September 28, 2012

The 1st (partial) family bar crawl

There is something incredibly cool about being able to hang out with your parents and family while enjoying a beer and many laughs. Until late last month, at least for my family, that typically happened at my folks place in Minnesota. 

In late August, we (we = my parents + brother + fiance and I) decided it would be cool to go and visit a few bars and a brewpub around Minneapolis and St. Paul that we had read and heard good things about but had not visited (or at least not visited in some time). Our trip/'crawl' took the better part of the late afternoon and evening of the Saturday we were in Minnesota. We would have visited more places but the fatigue of our designated driver forced us to return home around midnight.

The night began with dinner at the Happy Gnome. It was my first visit to this true beer geek destination, and I was not disappointed. For an appetizer we shared duck confit bruschetta served with peaches, fig, goat cheese, and watercress. For the main course my Mom had the game hen, my Dad had scallops, my brother had the game burger and my fiance and I had the duck burger. For our first round of beer, my Mom had water (my Mom = self-appointed designated driver), my Dad had the Deschutes black butte porter, my brother had the Porterhouse oyster stout, my fiance had the Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison and I had the Brau Brothers Báncreagie . All were quite enjoyable and paired well with our meals. Before departing, because they had it on draft, I ordered a glass of the Black Butte XXIV. It was something I had never had before (I have had the XXIII but not the XXIV before that evening), and I thought my family would like it. We all enjoyed it... A lot. 

Next, we made our way to the Town Hall Brewery. It is a place that is dangerously close to the U of Minnesota, Minneapolis west bank campus. Town Hall Brewery is in a beautiful old bar that is made with dark wood, lit by gentle lighting, and an obvious dedication to the history of the space itself. While at Town Hall, we enjoyed the following:

  • Masala Mama IPA - Enjoyed by my brother and I
    • Great tropical fruit aroma. The contribution of the hops were not overpowering but very pleasant
  • Black H2O oatmeal - enjoyed by my Dad
    • A beer with a great roast and chocolate taste that came together very well in a beer that was very smooth in texture
  • Hefeweizen - my first beer
    • A great example of the style. If I lived closer, this would be my go-to-beer
  • Grand Cru - my second beer
    • I have not had many Grand Crus in my day but I did enjoy this one
  • 1800 IPA on cask - my brother
    • An IPA that I enjoyed as much as the Masala Mama. The hops were not the tropical sort. Rather they were of the piney sort
  • A beer infused with raspberries - my fiance. I forget the base beer for this one
    • Quite enjoyable. I hold it up there with Cerise (a fruit beer I really enjoy)

Town Hall's beer lived up to its reputation - it was great. Not a dud in the bunch. I am already looking forward to my next visit when I am in MN again. My lone regret is that I did not visit more often while I was an undergrad at the U of MN (GO GOPHERS!!). In a future post I will share an interview with Town Hall Brewery's head brewer Mike Hoops. Mike is a great guy whose brewing experience/history is intertwined with another one of Minnesota's brewing institutions - Fitgers Brewhouse. More on that in the interview that will be posted at a later date.

Once we finished our beer at Town Hall, we made our way across the bridge to the Acadia Cafe.

The Acadia Cafe is a place that I had not visited before the evening of the crawl. Their 4th anniversary was celebrated earlier this year (which is a relief 'cause I was fearful I had missed another great beer bar  that was open during my college days), and the place looked great. They had plenty of beer on tap (27 on at the time of our visit) and a cask as well. In addition to the great beer selection, Acadia also offers hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, and other appetizers. While we were there, we enjoyed a few beers (see the list below) and the music of a jazz (?) band that held residence the evening of our visit.

The Acadia Cafe is also where the evening really took off  - the laughs increased in number and frequency and we all shared a few of our talents (examples - I appreciate a woman than can burp well and my brother can go from friendly and approachable to 'demon eyed monster' faster than anyone I know)..In short, our time at Acadia was my favorite part of the evening. To take it a step further, and I apologize if this comes across as bragging but if Norman Rockwell was to paint a picture of the ideal family situation, our time at the Acadia would have provided that scene.

At the Acadia Cafe my family and I enjoyed the following beers:

After the Acadia Cafe, which had a very cocky (but true) statement above their door that I did not notice when we first went in (see photo below) we went to the Republic which had a great happy hour (every beer made in America that is normally priced at $6 were $3 from 10p to 12p. 

Here we enjoyed the following beer:
Much like the beer enjoyed at the prior stops, the beer we had at the Republic was great as well. I really enjoyed my beer for a few reasons - It was by a brewery that I had only read about prior to the evening of the crawl. In addition, the beer itself was sweet but firm and the hop presence was pleasantly piney.

The best thing about this crawl is that we did not scratch the surface of good bars and beer available in my home state (all the more reason to go on another crawl). There are breweries and brewpubs opening all the time (examples = Pour Decisions Brewing Company and Indeed Brewing Company). The great thing about this is that they are all making good beer. Granted I have not tried them all but I trust that the brewers are capable and that they will all find their audience/fan base. So, the next time you are traveling through Minnesota, be sure to pick up a Minnesota made beer. You will not be disappointed.

**NOTE** - A great deal of credit goes to @13Mikey for providing great advice and suggestions for what places to visit during this pub crawl. Thanks again Mike!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The local beer tap takeover

A few weeks ago I ran into Nik White (@nkosio) at the Chicago Beer Society picnic and we got to talking about how things are growing pretty quickly in the Chicago and Illinois beer community. During this discussion Nik mentioned that he attended the local beer takeover at the Village Tap on September 6th, and how he really liked having nothing but local beer to choose from. We both agreed that it would be great if there were similar events around Chicago to continue giving beer drinkers an opportunity to enjoy and take pride in the beer that is made within our city and state limits. The question that we both had after sharing a mutual appreciation for such an opportunity as the Village Tap provided was why aren't there more local beer tap take overs in Chicago/Illinois? 

According to the Brewers Association, Illinois has 57 licensed breweries and approximately 67 in planning. With that many breweries, you would think there would be enough beer for a local (beer) tap take over on a monthly basis, or perhaps a monthly tap takeover by a local brewery. 

The benefits of hosting a regular local beer/brewery takeover are many in number and would help other folks/business besides the host bar. A few of the benefits of a local beer takeover follow bellow. 
  • Providing beer from one or more local breweries allows the host bar's regulars to (perhaps) try something new; to feel a bit of pride in a local brewery
    • It could also attract new partrons to a bar that they (the partrons) had never visited before
  • The host bar could receive greater foot traffic than a typical day
  • The breweries that are spotlighted would receive additional advertising (via the beer and their name on the tap list)
    • The opportunity to participate in such an event could help a brewery that is fresh out of the gate get its name and beer out to beer drinkers that may not have been aware they (they = the brewery) existed
  • It would create a greater sense of pride in locally made beer
  • It could lead to people discovering a new brewery that may make a new fan for life if the beer drinker finds a beer of theirs that grabs their attention
While I have not gotten into the guts of what goes into planning a tap take over (perhaps in a future post?), I hope I have provided a few things for you to consider. Also, I hope I have provided reason for you to propose a local beer takeover at your favorite watering hole. If you do organize one, let us know about it! Or send us some pictures and we'll post them!

Here's to local beer!!

P.S. In case you are curious, the tap and bottle list from the Village Tap take over (mentioned at the beginning of this post) follows below. Try to read it and not become thirsty.


  • 5 Rabbits 5 Lizard, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 4.3% - Latin Style Witbier brewed with passion fruit & spices from one of Chicago’s newest breweries and the first Latin micro brewery in the U.S.A.
  • 5 Rabbits 5 Vulture, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 6.4% - An Oaxacan-style Dark Ale brewed with piloncillo sugar and chile ancho.
  • Baderbrau, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 4.8% - For those old enough to remember, one of Chicago’s original craft beers and the original Chicago Pilsener now lovingly resurrected. Amber in color with a spicy hop-forward aroma, malty body, and creamy finish.  
  • Emmett’s Dark Night Black IPA, Palatine, IL, 12oz, 7.5% - A black IPA with roasted malts and a subtle chocolate- coffee nose, loaded with bitterness, hop resins & floral hop aromas.
  • Finch’s Fascist Pig, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 8% - A deep red malt-forward ale brewed with plenty of caramel malts and a touch of rye and dry-hopped with Palisade and Zythos hops.
  • Flossmoor Station Wallonian Saison, Flossmoor, IL, 12oz, 9.4% - A Belgian style saison brewed with ginger with a bouquet of fruits and spices and a slightly sweet finish. Glass
  • Goose Island Gran Gas, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 6.4% - Gran Gas is the Swedish term for “spruce goose” and Gran Gas is the 4th beer in the specialty Fulton and Wood series brewed with lingonberry, spruce tips and spicy Belgian yeast.  
  • Goose Island Marisol, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 6.1% - A Belgian style golden ale spiced with tangerine zest, coriander and ugli fruit and made in collaboration with Rick Bayless to pair with Mexican fare.
  • Goose Island Pepe Nero, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 6.4% - A Belgian-style farmhouse ale brewed with black peppercorns with an aroma of roasted chestnuts and a mysteriously dark, mahogany hue.
  • Half Acre Daisy Cutter, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 5.2% - American Pale Ale with aromatic hops.
  • Half Acre Over Ale, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 6% - An American Brown Ale.
  • Hopothesis IPA, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 7.1% - An IPA specifically formulated to be balanced, flavorful, and approachable.  
  • Metropolitan Flywheel, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 5.2% - A German style pilsner with mild malt sweetness and crisp hop flavors.
  • Piece Worryin’ Ale, Bucktown, 16oz, 5% - An English-style bitter brewed with rye malts and freshly kegged on 9/4. Very sessionable.
  • Red Streak Cider, Virtue Cider, Roscoe Village, 12oz, 6.3% - An English style draft cider with a lemon hue, a scent of ripe apples, a touch of oak and a crisp, tart finish.  
  • Revolution Double Fist, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 8.3% - A Double Pale Ale with pronounced citrus hop flavor.
  • Revolution Oktoberfest, Chicago, IL, 16oz, 5.7% - Pint 5.50 / Pitcher 20 / 8oz 3 -A classic German-style Oktoberfest beer with toasty malt flavor, a crisp, balanced bitterness and a spicy, earthy aroma.
  • Revolution Repo Man, Chicago, IL, 12oz, 6.2% - A dark roasty stout brewed with 20% rye for a finish that makes you eager to take the next sip.
  • Solemn Oath Khlorost Escobar, Naperville, IL, 12oz, 4.5% - Khloros is a light bodied and refreshing Belgian white ale delicately spiced with orange and lemon peels and Indian green coriander.  Khlorost Escobar is Khloros infused with Columbian coffee.  
  • Three Floyds Moloko, Munster, IN, 12oz, 8% - A Milk Stout brewed with a portion of golden naked oats and lactose milk sugar.
  • Three Floyds Replicale, Munster, IN, 12oz, 4.4% - Abby-style single with an addition of lemongrass and ginger. Dry hopped with New Zealand hops.
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust, Munster, IN, 16oz, 6.4% - The intensely hopped and gushing pale ale.
  • Two Brothers Atom Smasher, Warrenville, IL, 16oz, 7.7% - A Marzen (Oktoberfest) style beer aged in oak foudres.  
  • Two Brothers Ebel’s Weiss, Warrenville, IL, 16oz, 4.9% - Unfiltered German-style hefe weizen with nice, malty sweetness and a soft aroma of clove, vanilla and banana.
  • Wild Onion Hop Slayer Firkin, Lake Barrington, IL, 12oz, 8.2% - An Imperial IPA that starts off with a beautiful malt flavor followed by bold piney hop notes from a smooth mix of 5 hop varietals.
  • Wild Onion Imperial Pilsner, Lake Barrington, IL, 16oz, 7.5% - A citrus and piney aroma leads into an aggressive Noble Hop flavor rounded out with ample malt sweetness   This is the first keg of Imperial Pilsner released in Chicago!
  • Wild Onion Pumpkin Ale, Lake Barrington, IL, 16oz, 5.4% - Spiced with cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove, this beer brings the pumpkin pie into your glass.

Local Bottles:

  • Pipeworks Ninja vs. Unicorn, Bucktown, 22oz, 8.5% - An unfiltered double IPA sure to please the most discerning hop lover.
  • Pipeworks Poivre du Sichuan Saison, Bucktown, 22oz, 7.6% - A Belgian-style saison brewed with ginger and Szechuan peppercorns.
  • Pipeworks  Close Encounter Hoppy Double Stout, Bucktown, 22oz, 8.5% - The best of both worlds co-exist between a rich roasted malt character and an aggressive hop presence that will probe your taste buds like nothing you have experienced before.
  • Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Chciago, IL, 12oz, 4.2%
  • Two Brothers Prairie Path Golden Ale (Gluten free), Warrenville, IL, 12oz, 5.1%

Friday, September 14, 2012

An interview with Lynn and Clint of Lake Effect Brewing Company, part 2

Lake Effect Brewing Company Q and A (part 2)

This week - the conclusion of my interview with Lynn and Clint of Lake Effect Brewing Co. In this part of the interview we talk about the origin of their brewery name, a bit more about their flagship beers to be, and other plans for their debut in the Chicago beer market.

Midwest Beer and Brewing - How did the name ‘Lake Effect’ come to be? Was that the first thing that came to your mind and it just glowed so brightly in your brain that you were like ‘Aha!’?
Clint - We were actually looking at a lot of different names. In my previous career as an urban planner, I did a master plan for the entire Great Lakes Basin which had a major impact on how I view our region and how lucky we are to have all of this relatively pristine water here- so I already wanted to have a name that resonates with basin dwellers such as ourselves. Connected with that was a friend of mine whose last name is “Lake.”She competed in chili cook off team that had the name ‘Lake Effect’ in it. I told her ‘that’s a good name for a brewing company’. That was kind of how it came about. We really like the name. In addition, as much as we can, all of the ingredients will come from the  Great Lakes region. Many of our hops will come from Michigan and Wisconsin. We are using mostly Briess malt which comes from Wisconsin and of course Lake Michigan water.

MBB - Earlier you talked about flagship beers. Would you mind saying a little bit more about how many you are thinking you’ll lead with, and what styles they are?
C - We have six planned flagship beers. The one we’ll probably lead with is a wit style beer. I’ve been working on it for many years and I think we’ve really nailed it. The beer you (Ethan) are drinking right now is a test batch flagship for our pale ale. We are going to do a common lager, which is an amber lager, somewhat aggressively hopped. Almost like a Marzen but with a bit more hop bite/finish. We will also brew a robust porter - strong and roasty. Our final flagship planned is an ESB.  It has grain bill typical of an English Bitter, but we are Belgian-ifying it with a little bit of spice and candy. We’re using a really nice English yeast that gives off a lot of really nice esters and clarifies well to produce a really bright beer. It has fruity notes but has the earthiness of a bitter that you’d expect. So to summarize, Pale ale, Wit, an ESB, Robust Porter, Commmon Lager , and the 6th one is an IPA. The IPA will be a more full bodied beer than the pale ale. We are going to aggressively hop it with copious amonts of local hops and then dry hop it. We are also planning a number of specialty beers, for instance we are planning imperials of some of our flagships. We’ll do an imperial wit. We’ll also do an imperial IPA and an Imperial stout which will age in those barrels (points behind the fermenters) right there. There are also a few seasonal beers we plan to release. We have a nice Kolsch-style beer that we look forward to sharing among many others.

Clint and Lynn

MBB - When you get up and running, are you planning on being a draft only? Bombers? Is it too early to talk about that kind of thing? What are you thinking for when you have product to get out into the market?
Lynn - Our business model is going to be primarily kegs and bombers. We are considering 6 packs of 12 oz somewhere down the line. Maybe sooner rather than later. We don’t know. And then, ultimately in year two, maybe next year we’ll have the tap room so folks could come by and enjoy a pint and then take some growlers to go. The timing of all of those different types of retail, we’re still figuring out. We’re hoping that the city paperwork will go smoothly. We’ve heard mixed feedback about how easily or how hard it is to get a packaged goods license and on top of that a taverns license. That could be challenging.

MBB - Patience is the name of the game.
C - Yes. We want to be the local brewery. We are right between four neighborhoods. I think technically we are in Irving Park. Portage Park is south of Montrose but on the other side of Cicero. Jefferson park is katty corner to us. Across the street, across Montrose, is Mayfair. They all seem to be very excited that we are coming in. They want to do things with us, and be a part of their events. So, we are very locally focused. It makes sense - local distribution - because we can only drive so far. It is easier to do local deliveries close by then, say, drive downtown to a restaurant. We will have some accounts in other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park where I live. We will drive a ways but generally we are very local focused for a number of reasons.

Barrel program-to-be

MBB - It is nice to hear that you are looking to stay neighborhood focused. Much like a few other breweries that have openly said so. There is a bit of a romanticism to that it’s almost a throwback to the way things were before prohibition. You know what I mean? Every neighborhood had its own brewery that did its own thing. Looking around your place, I see a few fermenters, a few barrels. When can you expect to receive the other equipment? You mentioned a stand for your kettles, and your walk in fridge.
C - The burners and that installation, I think that is probably going to happen in a couple of weeks. Lynn and I are going to drive up to Michigan, we’ll pick them up, we’ll bring them here, and we’re going to hook everything up to the water. There’s going to be some plumbing, electrical work, some ventilation. It will take a little while to get everything fine tuned but we’ll have a brew house where we can actually start doing the bigger batches with. The walk in cooler will also be sorted out in the next couple of weeks. We found a special cooler so that these things (the fermenters) can roll into. Once we have those two things we’ll just need some hosing and a pump and then we should be good to go for the bigger batches.

MBB - So if you had to guesstimate when folks will be able to see your product in some of the local bars here, are you at a place where you can guesstimate or is that tbd?
L - We actually are. As of this past Monday we are officially submitted to the Illinois Liquor commission for our state paperwork. So, our application is in. So, we estimate another two weeks to be able to do tastings and samples offsite and onsite. The clock is ticking for our 45 day waiting period online. So, depending on how long the state takes to process the paperwork once that’s process is over, we feel that we are a little bit ahead of schedule. We were estimating a soft opening, grand opening, in October. Now we are shooting for mid-September, late September at this point. We gotta ramp up production and actually start to get it out to locations shortly thereafter.
C - Samples are going to come really soon. It could be days. Once we get the go ahead for that we can stockpile all of our different beers. The licensing seems to go relatively quickly. We thought we would have all of our equipment and everything before the licensing was done but it is starting to reverse.
L - Everything is coming together for us.

MBB - With the possibility of you being able to offer tastings in a few days as you said, is there a chance that we could see you at the Oak Park Microbrew festival?
C - That was one of our targets. It’s possible, but unlikely.

MBB - It sounds like a lot of it is out of your hands.
L - We were told our inspection would possibly be this week or early next week. So as soon as that goes through it’s pretty much in the state’s hands.
C - There is the Chicago Beer Festival, that one at Union Station. They’re doing it in the fall. I’m sure we’d be ready for that. We’re also looking at the local farmer’s market right over here in Jefferson Park and the Copernicus Center. We would do samples out there. I envision it as our first gig, it might not be. There’s been a lot of interest in us doing that. We’d like to get some imperial stout into these barrels for FoBAB. That’s in the winter time. I would love to be at that one for sure. The Oak Park one might be too soon.

MBB - Maybe next year.
C - Absolutely next year.

Hops growing outside of Lake Effect Brewing Co.

MBB - When Clint was showing me around, he mentioned that you (Lynn) were the one that found this place. How long did it take you to find this place? Were you always looking in this area or did your search take you all over the place?
L - Our search was a challenge. We were looking at different aspects of the business model that we wanted to implement. We wanted to be able, obviously, manufacture beer, but we also were interested in having a tap room as an option. We focused our search, early on, on Elston, Ravenswood corridor. We looked at some places closer to downtown. The southside a little bit. Actually, we stumbled on this location in this little industrial corridor along the freeway, and the owner has been fabulous. We obviously felt the location was second to none. We have the ability to have Metra customers stop by, we have the blue line, we’ve also got a fairly large bus hub just north on Milwaukee. Just across the street from the Gale Street Inn. Of course, we have the freeway here which actually works twofold - people can stop off and visit us, but at the same time we can jump on the freeway to deliver our product. We’re really happy when we found it. It took a while because a few people were on vacation, but it really worked out well.
C - There are a lot of alcohol sales moratorium zones in the city. There are package moratoria and there are tavern moratoria. This particular location is in neither one, which is rare in the city. Then we needed 1500 square feet. Some realtors would come forward to help but when they realized we only needed 1500 square feet and it was not the next Rock Bottom brew pub, they kind of lost interest.  We had to find it ourselves. It was a long search, but we are happy with the result.
L - As we inquired about various, different properties they would say ‘Hey, how about this place? That place? That place?’ Before we even go out and look we need to go on the city site for moratoria. Like you (Clint) said, we had to make sure we were clear of tavern and packaged goods. Then we also had to make sure that we were not close to a church or another tavern. One single website you can narrow it down to 10% of your options.
C - On top of that, having an Alderman that is pro-business and pro beer we met Alderman Arena, at Fischman’s and he was drinking an Oak Aged Yeti so that was an immediate good sign.
L - He saved the theatre.
C - He saved the theatre, he’s fighting for the food trucks. His ward office is just a few doors down from Fischman’s. He’s obviously a big supporter of their expansion. They’re going have a rooftop and a restaurant. The time is right in this area.
L - The time is right in a bigger sense to. With a lot of laws changing, being able to self-distribute this year. It feels like Chicago beer history is coming full circle again. It is nice to see a revitalization of the beer industry here in Chicago.

MBB - With you two having the homebrew basis, do you have any advice for any home brewers that may read this and have the same aspirations that you have and that you embraced to open your own brewery?
L - I would say follow your passion. It does not matter if it is the beer industry or any other industry. I come from an entrepreneurial background. My father’s family business and other extended family, they followed their dreams. They do the small business thing. They get entrepreneurial. I would encourage anyone and everyone to be passionate about something. To channel it. Go with what you want - whether it be the craft beer industry, which is amazing. It is expanding double digit growth in the last couple of years. If you looked at the Colorado market, for example, versus the Illinois market - the rank versus per capita ratios and all of that, it certainly points to the fact that craft beer in Chicago has plenty of room to grow. Especially for other homebrewers in the Chicago area. There’s no reason we can’t have more.. there are a dozen, 15 or so that are up and coming right now. If you have the background, and the passion to do it, why not?

MBB - Anything to add Clint?
C - What I love about this experience is that we are learning so much. All kinds of new skills. Brewing set aside, just setting up the business and knowing where to locate where you’re going to go, what kind of building permits you’re going to need, all these kinds of things. There’s a lot more to it than making good beer, but making good beer and having passion is where you start and is your core activity.
L - It comes down to, as you said, being realistic. You gotta know what you are getting into. No question about that. It’s a big task. We’ve been at it for a number of months, and I don’t think there’s any given day where we don’t have 100 or so balls in the air that we are trying to juggle at once. It is very challenging. There’s no question about it, but these little victories that we have that energize us to keep going. Recipes coming out fantastic. Getting a trademark. It’s little things that are gratifying.
C - And to have patience to. Just to find a place. To find the right spot. The licensing - even though that went faster than expected, we submitted our TTB application in May.

MBB - I apologize for not mentioning it earlier, but how long were you two working on your business plan before you started taking the tangible steps of getting the tanks, the equipment? Or is that an ongoing thing?
L - I don’t think the business plan ever stops being worked on, in a sense. We’ve been working on it continually for many months. As of last week we’re officially starting our fundraising campaign. Looking for investors and then starting a kickstarter campaign very quickly as well.
C - We started off with that book right there - ‘Starting your own brewery’ by Ray Daniels. Fantastic book. What else, we read the Dogfish head book about how Sam Calagione he got started. We also read the Brooklyn book, can’t rememeber the name but also very interesting and inspiring. Two completely different ways of starting a brewery. Once we felt educated enough we began to draft the plan.  
L - We got the location, we were getting tangible things, but we are still wrapping up the plan. Because the business model is still in flux.

MBB - It seems like one of those things that is always organic. Things are just going to jump up that you were not expecting. You were but to a different degree.
L - I think it’s really neat to see the business plan that we settled on and the business model that it contains is actually being realized by other brewing companies here in town. Revolution just setup a production brewery with a tap room right there. Then you’ve got Half Acre opening their tap room/pub this summer. I think it’s a proven business model that we are diving into. It’s exciting.

If you'd like to keep up-to-date on what's going on at Lake Effect, follow them on facebook and twitter.
Many thanks to Lynn and Clint for their time and for talking to me about their brewing company!

Friday, September 7, 2012

An interview with Lynn and Clint of Lake Effect Brewing Company, part 1

Lake Effect Brewing Company Q and A

 Lake Effect Brewing Company has been the dream of Lynn Ford and Clint Bautz of Lincoln Park for the better part of two years. Both fellows love making, discussing, and sharing beer. Earlier this month I had the good fortune of being able to sit down with both of them to discuss what inspired them to get into beer, their company - Lake Effect Brewing Company, and the work that has gone into getting it off the ground.

Lynn and Clint

Midwest Beer and Brewing - Perhaps we could start at the beginning - what got you into beer? Also, would you please identify yourselves for the lovely people who read this later?
Lynn - My name is Lynn Ford. Co-founder along with Clint Bautz here. I think the origins of our love of beer started with some European trips that we both had. Our traveling to England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium. I definitely developed a love for beer while I was traveling and when I got back I started home brewing. I was brewing in San Diego at the time. There are some good homebrew shops there.

MBB - I think you mentioned Ballast Point the last time we talked.
L - Right. They have a home brewing supplies store called Home Brew Mart. The Ballast Point brewery is right next door. They’ve got a tap room. Excellent business model for sure.

MBB - When we talked at the (Illinois Brewers) Guild meeting, you talked about being able to take as much fresh wort as one could hope to get... Actually was it wort?
L - It was the extract.

MBB - Thank you.
L - Right out of the wall. They developed it fresh on site and you could pull a lever, bring your little 1.5 gallon bucket, and load it up. You were all set.
Clint - Wait, extract? Like powdered extract?
L - Like the wort. It was syrup.
C - Oh, cool.
L - It’s unusual because typically, from Midwest Supplies, you’d order it and it would come in little jugs. This was cool to go down to your local homebrew shop and get fresh extract on site.

MBB - So a little note to Brew and Grow, if they are reading this. (To Clint) So, what about you?
C - The first time I developed a taste for beer was also abroad in Germany, underage at that point. My brother was stationed over there just before the Iraq War. He introduced me to a number of beers there. I really liked Dunkle Weisse beers, but also gained an appreciation for Doppel Bocks and Helles Beers. A few years later I moved to California to go to college and there were a lot of craft breweries that were just starting up. Sierra Nevada was well established. Lagunitas was just starting in ‘93, ‘94. There were some other breweries - Red Hook, Pyramid and a few others. When I went into the liquor stores there and I would try all of them. I developed a love there and created a huge bottle collection at home. I’ve always liked the beverage. I became kind of a connoisseur and people would ask me what kind of beer should they try and I always had an informed opinion. Not long after, I decided that I love beer so much that I should try making it as a hobby.  I bought a kit and started making it. I’ve been home brewing for about five years now. My travels are influencing me today as well.  I recently went to Belgium and traveled all over the countryside visiting breweries. It was a dream beer trip. I went to Germany recently as well, visited Munich and all of its beer houses. Cologne was also a delight. One of the reasons I am brewing a Kolsch is I have never actually drunk a Kolsch before, a real Kolsch that is, until I had one in Cologne. They drink it in little glasses like this (holds up little glass). I always drank beer in big glasses, and now I am a little glass guy. That’s how it should be drunk - in a small glass where you can really enjoy it and really savor it. When it gets in a big glass it really warms up.

MBB - Now what about you Lynn - how long have you been homebrewing?
L - When I got back from Europe in 1999. So, about 2000. So I have been homebrewing for about 12 years.

MBB - Solid base for the both of you.
C - Yep.
L - Absolutely.

MBB - You mentioned that your travels abroad were a great inspiration to you, or at least helped bring you into beer. Do you find that’s also where you derive a lot of your inspiration for the beers you like to make or do you find that was a nice starting point for where your tastes currently lie?
L - I definitely was fond of the English Bitters. There are some Scottish ales that I liked. Belgian ales were very enjoyable. I found myself coming back and working on pale ales in particular once I returned. Pretty much built it up from there. Quickly went all grain. Started doing more advanced home brewing. Got a little bogged down in the bottling aspects (laughs). As almost everybody does. Most recently, building a kegerator, and experimenting with lagers.

MBB - Is lager brewing a newer venture for the two of you as home brewers or is it always something you have dabbled in?
C - I’ve been doing lagers for about 2 years now. I recently went to the Czech Republic where I visited Pilsner Urquell and a few other breweries. Seeing Pilsner Urquell being brewed was really inspiring and I've incorporated some of the key steps of their brewing process into my pilsner production process. I also try to emulate the crispness and estery qualities of Budvar, the real Budweiser from the Czech republic.  As a home brewer, I learned how to brew California Common lagers. That was my first lager because you can do it at close to ale temperatures. For home brewers, it is probably the best one to start with. I’ve done 7 or 8 of those and they have been very drinkable. You can actually use that yeast to do pilsners, any kind of lager if you want to ferment them in the high 50s, low 60s. We plan to have one lager in our repertoire of flagship beers and several seasonal lagers.

MBB - I’ll get back to asking about your flagships but how did you two first cross paths?
L - That’s a good question. I came to Chicago about 4.5 years now in December of ‘07. I moved into Lincoln Park. My father was staying at the Belden Stratford at the time. I came here for a job. That transition led to me to living in the Lincoln Park area. Right around the corner from Clint, and our soon-to-be common watering hole known as Ravens. We had our small group of friends that were pretty close. As I recall Clint had recently picked up homebrewing. He was extremely passionate about it. So, Clint and I bonded on that level. I think initially, we bonded on a more technical level professionally because Clint has a background in Urban Planning or GIS (aka computerized mapping). My master’s degree was in GIS science. So we were able to talk shop on that level also and that’s how the friendship started.

MBB - The idea of Lake Effect, and coming together to, for lack of a better term, take things to the next level. Was that an idea that was nestled in your collective noggin from the get go, or was that something that took a few years to really get some legs under it?
C - It definitely evolved. I immediately took to home brewing and it became kind of an obsession. I had always thought about the possibility of starting a brewery business but it seemed like a far off dream.  However, I slowly realized I was taking over a lot of the house with my hobby. My wife was understanding at first but began to have concerns. We had an extra bedroom that became the fermentation room. Then I started taking the lagers downstairs to the basement where it was a little bit underground- low 60’s in the summer- i was a perfect temperature for that. I also started putting carboys in the closet in the other bedroom. It started to drive my wife crazy. She would wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of fermenting beer. I did moved the “brew house” to the back deck in order to get out of the kitchen permanently and that helped, but hoses were everywhere in the house and operations still got in the way. I would have a lot of homebrew parties (3 to 4 parties a year) where people would come over and drink the beer. People would say ‘Hey this is really good beer. Have you ever thought about bottling this and selling this?’ This certainly gave me a lot of ideas. Once I decided to get out of the house to find a garage, storage unit, or somewhere to give my wife a break, the idea became more tangible.  I spoke with Lynn and said I need a partner to do this thing and he was all in so we began looking at places. It was a long hunt but we found this place here.
L - So, at the end of ‘09 my family business was winding down (the reason for coming to Chicago). Clint was winding up a whole new project. He was obviously excited and passionate about it. For me, I think I was thriving off of his momentum and digging into it from there. Being more on the management and business side of things, and Clint serving more as our head brewer. I think that has formed a very good partnership for us. We click together very well. We have a very nice way of complimenting each other’s skills, and running the company so far and being able to keep up with the ever increasing responsibilities.

Hops being grown outside of Lake Effect

MBB - So is that how you are going to divide the responsibilities? Lynn, you will be more of the logistics, the business side of things. Clint, you’ll be doing more of the brewing or will it be an ever changing set (of responsibilities)?
C - Yeah, that division is there. I am doing a lot of the marketing, PR and the brewing. You (Lynn) are doing more of the logistics, business side of things. In general, that’s how we are, but Lynn is a very good brewer. When this system is setup we are going to both be brewing. Someone is going to be putting the grain in; somebody’s going to be stirring. So, we are going to know each other’s jobs really well. Likewise, I am going to be doing all the recording of all the beer that goes out, going out making sales visits, review any kind of document, etc. We both wrote the business plan together. We kind of mesh but we do go back to our bases. So there will be some crossing.
L - There are a lot of hats we will have to wear, and the way we see it is that more than likely we will both need to wear all the hats at some time or another. Cross-train however we will need to manage and run the company as best as we can. Chances are we will both be doing deliveries if one or the other of us is not available because, obviously, we have not quit our day jobs yet. Just getting things going. So, we will need to work with schedules as best we can.

Next week I'll post the second half of our discussion in which we'll talk about the origin of their brewery name, a bit more about their flagship beers to be, and other plans for their debut in the Chicago beer market.

In the mean time, if you'd like to keep up-to-date on what's going on at Lake Effect, follow them on facebook and twitter.