Brandon Wright and his professional photographer wife, Amanda, owners of Chicago Brew Werks located in Plainfield, IL (www.chicagobrewwerks.com) recently invited me into their home. I met Brandon earlier this year at a tasting event he hosted at his shop. He has always been passionate and driven to support great beer and helping people make it. Even on his day off, he’s thinking, drinking, and dreaming craft beer. Over a flight of beer we discussed the shop, ICBG and great beer. Here’s what Brandon had to say:
Brandon: College: I was at Steven’s Point, WI and was interested in brewing, but there were no supplies. Once I transferred to SIU Carbondale, I found a liquor store that wouldn’t sell me beer because I was 20, but would sell homebrew kits and cases of old style bottles. I was hooked from there, brewing a couple times a week. Fast forward several years, I was working in a corporate job as a merchandiser. My work load doubled and then I was slighted for a promotion by the owner’s daughter and I knew it was time to make a move.
ICBG: You were recently shut down by local officials, what was that about?
Brandon: I have done everything above board throughout the process – permits, contacting zoning officials, etc… When we opened, we could operate as a retail outlet, brew in back, taste beers, and even teach classes. After a few months a local official blew the whistle on us. We were completely shut down because the raw ingredients we sell cannot be offered for “home enthusiast use.” After many meetings with local officials, I learned I could sell product as long as it was entered as a web order. A lightbulb came on and someone said “like Autozone?” We renovated the shop to include some computers for placing orders. Now the shop is even better, myself and a couple other people are on the floor helping with solutions ranging from repairing a keg to devising a custom recipe on the spot. We are a community based shop – I would rather teach someone how to do something correctly or solve their problem and have them come back with their friends than have someone come in and take a chance on some basic kit that they don’t like. “Our Approach is taking your homebrew to the next level.”
Brandon: A few years back hop prices spiked – the cost to home brewers literally doubled that year. My friend’s dad owned a landscape company and we talked him into letting us have a quarter acre to plant. We planted hops before the shop was even open. It isn’t easy, Illinois is really hot in the summer and some varieties just wilt in this heat. We plan to boost our rows, layouts, and production next year. We get tons of inquiries from breweries and home brewers alike.
ICBG: Tell me about your favorite local beers.
Brandon: Well…I love Daisy Cutter. Half Acre and “Rev” are great. But, we don’t get them or Pipeworks out here in the burbs. I really love Solemn Oath – Snaggle Tooth Bandana, Kidnapped by Vikings… They are out here and doing incredible beers.
ICBG: What made you want to join the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild?
Brandon: Being more of a part of a great community, I was in IMBIBE and the Guild seemed to make even more business sense. Networking, getting even closer to the breweries, I think most home brewers consider themselves part of the greater local community. Every home brewer I know seeks out craft beer in our local market from our local guild members.
ICBG: What about the future?
Brandon: Possibly some sort of IL Home brewers summit, so we can get the State liquor laws more clearly defined to protect meetings and competitions. I also really want to be able to serve homebrew at festivals – not for profit – but for demonstration purposes, to show people that they can make beer like they currently buy.
ICBG: The Future for the shop?
Brandon: Possible Expansion – Well… Frank (Lassandrello) leaked it in the Reader. We are looking at a second shop upstairs from Broad Shoulders. It is only a matter of time before we need more space – a more retail-friendly location. We need to grow too. I really want to put together a CBW homebrew competition. No club affiliation, just good beers evaluated against each other.