Interview with a brewer: Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago, IL

May 29, 2008   //   by Jonathan   //   Blog, Interview with a Brewer  //  1 Comment

We’ve let a little time pass since our last interview with a professional brewer. Okay, a LOT of time. We started this series with the hope of giving us little nuggets of insight as we plan our own brewery. From that standpoint, this series has been incredible. It has also strengthened my belief that the craft beer industry is like no other. The spirit of collaboration is strong (Exhibit A: Collaboration Not Litigation Ale) and the people are great. And with that, I introduce you to the next professional brewers in our series:

Doug & Tracy Hurst from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago. Metropolitan is unique in our series in that, like us, they aren’t quite off the ground yet. Unlike us, however, they are dern close. We targeted them for an interview because of the freshness of this whole planning thing in their minds. And we were not disappointed:

1) What were the steps that led you up to start a brewery?

Doug, my husband, earned his Diploma in Brewing Technology from the Siebel Institute/Doemens Academy in 2004. I’ve been a business owner for years, so naturally, we decided that instead of his getting a job as a brewer somewhere (boring), we risk everything in order for him to give it a try himself (exciting!). He wrote a business plan and quickly decided that he needed a partner. He asked me to join him in attempting the feat of bravery and madness that is opening a brewery. Always up for something new, I closed my portrait studio and became his business partner.

We raised our funds through friends and family as well as a bank. Doug quit his day job. And now we work together for Metro Brewing. It’s not exactly always a lovefest, but it is fun as hell.

2) How is the brewery progressing?

We’re negotiating the lease on our official location. Right now, though, the brewery doesn’t wait for such minor details. So we’re furiously churning out beer in small batches on our pilot system. Our bedroom is now a cold fermentation room, our dining room is an office, and we work pretty much around the clock.

We do need a location soon, though, because we’ve purchased our 15 bbl brew house as well as four 30 bbl fermentation tanks. Doug regularly hits the brewery classifieds for used equipment and kegs. Also, with this crazy hop shortage on, we luckily secured our hop needs for about our first year of production. That was our first Big Purchase; 300 lbs of hops. The UPS guy was so pissed.

And finally, we do a lot of promotion. We participate in as many beer events as we can. We bring beer everywhere. And we talk about the brewery to everyone: the press, the local craft beer community, random strangers on the street.

3) What is your favorite thing about what you do?

The beer. I’m not kidding. Doug’s beer is damn good.

And meeting people. When we do a beer festival, we tell people about our Little Brewery that Could. Folks are sincerely happy for us and excited that Chicago is going to have another local brewery.

Of course, working for ourselves kicks ass too. Doug and I both have a ferocious DIY ethic. We work a lot, but we make our own hours; set our own schedule. This freedom is worth the long hours and stress. Who can complain about constantly being surrounded by beer?!?

4) Why the focus on German beers?

Craft beer is dominated by ales. Ales are awesome, to be sure. We enjoy them regularly. But the Midwest is known for producing lagers. Why not brew craft lagers? Well, because producing lagers is more expensive and takes up more time and space. But so what? If you plan for those contingencies, you can make it work.

Finally, Doug likes German style lagers. And he’s in charge of all the decisions around what beers he makes. The Dugg has spoken.

5) What marketing tactic has been the most beneficial to you? If "word-of-mouth," what’s the SECOND most beneficial?

Bringing free beer to events, festivals, and parties. Sometimes we set up a table complete with a sign and email sign-up list, sometimes we just simply bring a keg of beer. Bringing free beer places is fun and wins you many friends.

6) You have a fairly strong online presence for an upstart brewery (Facebook, Myspace, email newsletter, a website that’s actually updated). What benefits have you reaped from this strategy? In what ways hasn’t it met your expectations?

Thanks for noticing! The main benefit is that keeping our web presence fresh is fun and keeps my writing chops up. Sometimes people come up to me and mention something that we put in our blog. I love that. It means that people are as excited about Metro Brewing as we are. Well, maybe not AS excited. Again, we like talking to people. Keeping our online content fresh is a really easy way to reach lots of folks.

As far as not meeting our expectations… well, we didn’t have any expectations to start with.

7) If you started another brewery, what is the one thing that you would do differently this time around? (We’re not trying to copy your answers… okay, we are.)

I think we’re too new at this whole thing to answer this question. Every time we do something, it’s the first time. Everything surprises us. We make mistakes, but we learn more from our own stupidity than we do from anything else.

Thanks again to Tracy & Doug. And we’d like to formally wish ya’ll the best.