When you think of a brewery, what comes to mind? Maybe a large, expansive warehouse with rows upon rows of stainless steel fermentors. Or perhaps you envision a substantial farmhouse with open vats for wild fermentation. Regardless of how you mentally picture a brewery, all of these images have something in common: size. Brewing equipment and fermentors are large and breweries need the real estate to house this machinery. Recently, however, there is a push towards nanobreweries which, according to Wikipedia, are very small brewery operations often culturally defined by a less than 4 US beer barrels (470 L) brew system. And if you are thinking that this type of operation could not become profitable, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione started his brewery on a 10-gallon Sabco system, just like Chicago brewery newcomer Spiteful Brewing. And I think Dogfish Head is doing OK for itself.
Out of all of the breweries opening up in Chicago, the one nearest and dearest to my heart is Spiteful Brewing, located in the Ravenswood Corridor at 1801 W Berteau Ave. I don’t typically believe in fate or serendipitous meetings, but those terms are fitting for the hubby’s and my introduction to Spiteful Brewing’s owners Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein. In June 2010, my new hubby and I had just returned from our honeymoon when my newly acquired sister-in-law, Breana, was in town from New York City hosting an event for her then-employer, Men’s Health Magazine. Lynn, Brad’s sister and Breana’s best friend, had just quit her magazine marketing job in New York City and was in Chicago visiting family before setting off on a massive trip around the world. Lynn mentioned that her brother was a homebrewer and was having a party and wanted to know if we wanted to attend. Yes, please! We all went to the party and became fast friends with the Spiteful crew, and my hubby was even brought on to design their logo and bottle labels.
The hubby and I were there the day Brad and Jason used their 10-gallon Sabco system for the first time and we spent many hours hanging out at Brad’s Roscoe Village apartment during brew days. Brad and Jason even allowed the hubby and me to brew on their system to make a beer in celebration of our first wedding anniversary. In fact, that Sabco system was going to be their official brewhouse but after a four-month stint working at Pipeworks Brewing, Brad realized the importance of upgrading their system. Which is not an easy feat when you consider that their entire brewery is 480 square feet. After many months of waiting for licenses and equipment, the Spiteful boys recently had their very first brewday. And I couldn’t be more excited for them.
When talking about Pipeworks, Brad states that they are more than just friends; they are family. The Pipeworks crew has even taken Jason on ride-a-longs to area Binny’s and other beer stores so he can introduce himself and get the word out about Spiteful. And Brad knows that if he has any questions regarding the brewing operations, all he needs to do is give Beejay Oslon, Pipeworks’s head brewer, a call.
I stopped by Spiteful Brewing on Friday while the boys and Jason’s brother, Jonathon, were just finishing up brewing their Spiteful Christmas Ale. It was a labor of love that involved Jason manually juicing fresh ginger into the brew kettle. The aroma in the brewery was amazing and I was even granted a tiny taste of the chilled wort. Deliciously spicy with a substantial mouthfeel already; it is only going to get better after fermentation.
As a homebrewer, I am always curious about how homebrewers-turned-professional brewers handle the transition to professional grade equipment. According to Jason, it’s not that different than homebrewing, and it is a lot more efficient. Pumps and hoses transport the beer to the next vessel, and a glycol chiller cools the wort in record time which definitely adds to their productivity. In fact, Spiteful can brew two batches of beer in the time it takes many homebrewers to brew one five-gallon batch. Which is good considering it takes two brews to fill one of their fermentors.
Another question that I often have of homebrewers that turn pro is whether it is still fun; do they still get excited even though their hobby has turned into their job. “I get to wake up each day and brew beer,” said Shaffer. “This is my office.” Spiteful Brewing will be pouring at their very first festival on Saturday at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers. Be sure to stop by their booth at FoBAB and get a taste of their GFY Stout aged in Few whiskey barrels. If you see me at FoBAB, you may witness me shedding some happy tears for the Spiteful Brewing crew.