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.

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