“You can’t become a brewer because you think you are going to drink all of the time. 90% of brewing is not fun. But the other 10% is the most fun you’ve ever had.”
-Frank Lassandrello, Head Brewer, Broad Shoulders Brewing
When I interview the founders of up-and-coming breweries in Chicago, I rarely get to taste their beer. Sure, I will try it later on as they get more established, but I typically focus on the human story rather than the beer since, let’s face it, they don’t have much beer to go around. This was definitely not the case when I traveled to Broad Shoulders Brewing in the Motor Row neighborhood of Chicago on Friday. “I have 40 gallons of beer here!” exclaimed Head Brewer Frank Lassandrello. And he did. He opened up a creepy chest freezer unveiling seven kegs, all full of beer. And he had two other coolers containing kegs in various stages of the lagering process in his pilot brewery.
While Lassandrello is not able to sell his wares as of yet, that doesn’t stop him from brewing test batches so he can meticulously formulate and perfect his recipes. Currently, Lassandrello is brewing on a 10-gallon Sabco Brew-Magic system. Once the full-size brewery is up and running, he will still brew small-batch beers on the Sabco system, dedicating a draft line in the tap room to these one-offs. His business partners own what is standing in as the pilot brewery while the main brewery next door is under construction. He has been in this piloting stage for about a year, but he isn’t frustrated; rather he is eager to get into the market and share his beer with thirsty Chicagoans. To quote Lassandrello, he is “stoked.”
Lassandrello is not just some guy who decided to hop (pun intended) on the opening-a-brewery bandwagon. He has paid his dues over the years, including scrubbing the floors and cleaning out mash tuns at Goose Island Clybourn. He was then promoted to the Goose Island Fulton brewery where Wil Turner, currently Head Brewer at Revolution Brewing’s brewpub, was his first brewmaster and mentor. On occasion, as is the case with many individuals just starting out in a career, Lassandrello wasn’t sure if brewing was for him. He would go and talk to Turner who recognized Lassandrello’s passion and encouraged him to continue with it. Lassandrello was on the first team at Goose Island that created such favorites as Bourbon County Stout and 312. And it was Turner that introduced Lassandrello to the big players in the Chicago brewing scene, and these individuals have been an invaluable resource as Broad Shoulders is coming to fruition. “I’m lucky. I was able to get my foot in the door before people started charging towards that brewery door. But I had to work in order to prove myself,” said Lassandrello.
According to Lassandrello, if the beer “doesn’t taste right to me, it goes down the drain.” This sentiment makes sense when you hear about his quality control background. After he left Goose Island, Lassandrello traveled to Milwaukee to take a position as the Quality Control Manager for Lakefront Brewery. He takes precision very seriously; to say that Lassandrello is a perfectionist is an understatement. He plans on instilling what he learned at Lakefront into Broad Shoulders, complete with a lab in the brewery where he can propagate yeast and taste test.
Lassandrello wants to brew approachable beers; “it’s all about drinkability, finding balance.” He likes beers that are clean and crisp, and he wants to fill a niche that isn’t already filled in Chicago so he is concentrating on European-style lagers with his own American twist. He has an 18-day lagering cycle and his lagering system is literally some old cooler that he got from a nice old lady’s basement that he configured with climate controls. I assume he will have a more high-tech lagering set up when he moves into the actual brewery.
On my visit, I was able to try four of his beers: the session lager, rye lager, india pale lager, and a wheat wine. The session lager was immensely drinkable and refreshing; it really hit the spot after riding my bike from the Northside to Motor Row. According to Lassandrello, this beer still needed about five more days in the lagering process, pointing out that there was a slight sulfur aroma that would drop out after another week. It was pretty tasty just as it was but I could see how a little extra time would help. This 4% ABV lager, he said, is for the session beer purists; those that feel a true session beer is less than 5%.
The Rye Lager poured a clear amber hue and was quite tasty. It was brewed with dark Munich, caramunich, rye, and 2-row. Lassandrello wouldn’t disclose the hop profile, though, so he could protect trade secrets. The India Pale Lager was a hoppy, well-balanced beer but clean and crisp thanks to the lagering process. And the real treat of the day was when Lassandrello opened up a bottle of his 100% Wheat Wine. Most wheat wines blend other types of malt with the wheat but Lassandrello used wheat to construct the entire malt bill, including midnight wheat to add a dark color. This beer was not as sweet as I was expecting; rather, it had a savory, umami quality. It was delicious and I really appreciated Lassandrello gifting me a bottle to take home!
As is the case with any occupation, Lassandrello has to balance family life and work. Right now, he is a tad overworked, what with juggling general contractors, project managers, brewing, and his young family. He’s even cancelled our meetings a few times due to other obligations (I’m trying not to take it personally). According to Lassandrello, all of the paperwork for licenses is filled out and he is “moving as fast as the paperwork.” Needless to say, he doesn’t have much time for leisure activities. He told me about how he wasn’t sure if he would make it to a recent Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout release at The Northdown because he had Wiggle Worm Song & Dance Class with his baby girl at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Luckily, he worked it out and was able to attend the KBS release. But he is frequently unable to be present at beer festivals or special releases due to his familial and work obligations. In fact, one of his beers will be called “Out of the Loop Lager,” referencing to the brewery’s physical location in the South Loop, as well as to Lassandrello not being in the social/social media loop. I hope that once the paperwork has gone through, and the brewery is close to being finished, he is able to relax a bit and attend some of the upcoming festivals!
As you can tell, Lassandrello is involved in all aspects of Broad Shoulders, including construction of the brew house. He has been working with an equipment designer and engineer at DME Brewing Services and the completed brew house should be delivered sometime in July. Lassandrello hopes to be brewing beer soon after and serving beer to the public in late September or early October. Of course, that is still dependent on the paperwork previously mentioned. I am really excited about what Lassandrello has to offer; his beers are insanely good and will be an added bonus to the burgeoning Chicago craft beer scene. I enjoyed my time hanging out in the pilot brewery and I can’t wait until Broad Shoulders is up and running!