Friday, September 30, 2011

How It All Began

*This is not really me, though I'm sure a similar reach happened circa 1980's.

Here's the real story:
For years I have designed packaging for beer, enjoyed drinking beer and been fascinated with the growth of the micro brew/craft brew industry. I am also an eternal craft, food and music hobbyist, so to transition into brewing my own beer had probably always been just a matter of time.

During my first design agency job in Rochester, NY we designed beer packaging, collateral, truck graphics, neon signs for Genesee Brewing Company (turned High Falls Brewing in 2000, turned back to Genesee Brewing Co. in 2009). Genny Light had a large following and Honey Brown had just started taking off and being distributed outside of the Northeast. Through this introduction to locally brewed beer, I started paying more attention to microbreweries such as Rohrbachs and The Distillery, who crafted many seasonal beers for their own bars/restaurants as well as places like Custom Brewcrafters who brewed custom keg batches for many of Rochester’s favorite restaurants.

When I moved to Chicago in 2006 I quickly discovered that I was in “Miller Land” and pretty much any agency that I would want to work for, wanted a piece of the Miller business. I was quickly submerged into the 2007 redesign of Miller Lite packaging while freelancing with two different firms. I was involved in the upfront conceptual graphic and structural ideation as well as the final roll-out of the chosen design into billboards, advertising collateral, truck graphics, neon signs. It felt fairly familiar but with a sizably larger budget and nationwide exposure. There’s nothing quite like being at a Sox game and seeing a stadium size Miller Lite billboard above your head that many a night’s blood, sweat and tears went into. Literally. The chances of cutting late night comps and not slicing a finger is rare.

As the craft beer industry really started to take off, every neighborhood bar’s tap list started becoming more and more impressive - boasting limited release, seasonal batches from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan’s up and coming breweries. Today the best from around the country are all in or fighting to get into the Chicago market. Anyone with a palette for complex flavors, unexpected ingredients and kitschy branding was surely in beer heaven.

Visiting many of the breweries’ beer tours has also become a big part of Chicago’s “to do” list, right along side of the museums and architectural tours. The more tours you take - the more you see that although the four key ingredients are the same, each brewery has their own philosophies and takes on how they want to differentiate themselves.

In August of 2011 I attended a *Mac n’ Cheese Productions  and
**TeamPete “Mingler” that was hosted by Brew Camp owner Jared Saunders. He gave us an overview of home brewing 101 to promote the grand opening of their beer, wine and soda making supply store, right in my neighborhood. Growing up in a family that canned, pickled, sauerkrauted (yes I did!) and made jam the process felt very familiar to me. I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer to help Jared “pitch the yeast”. He took the complexity and intimidation out of brewing and into a fun experiment in the comfort of your own kitchen. When I left that night I knew I had found my new hobby.

Over the next week I researched recipe ideas I stopped into Brew Camp to check out the store and see what I was getting myself into. The cost of the equipment was minimal - since truly you’re just working with a bunch of buckets, hoses and filters. Their starters kit, which has everything you will need to brew a 5 gallon batch, with the exception of bottles is $80 and includes a Beer 101 class at the shop. My ingredients for a 5 gallon batch were $35. I packed up the Matrix and was well on my way to homebrewer’s paradise. And the rest is history...

* Mac n’ Cheese Productions is a Chicago-based, highly regarded, anything but typical - social, professional and romantic networking group. Founder Saya Hillman hosts a variety of events each month out of her cozy Ravenswood loft. For more information check out

**If you like bikes, beer, improv and any combination of the three you will quickly become a fan of Pete Aiello of TeamPete. Check out his events at