Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for

Review: Chardon BrewWorks

205 Main Street
Chardon, OH 44024
Ph 440-286-9001
Fax 440-286-1240

Tue – Thu ~ 3 pm – 10 pm
Fri – Sat ~ 3 pm – Midnight
Sun ~ 3 pm – 8 pm

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

You may have heard the bad news about a school shooting at the beginning of the year in Chardon, Ohio. I even wrote a column about it. I also remember it, not only because it happened on my birthday, February 27th, but because I pass through Chardon every year on the way to Cleveland for work. Well here’s some really good Chardon news…

Chardon, Ohio sits atop a ridge that’s not too far from what Jim Blum: local public radio personality who does a folk show at WKSU, calls, “The Mighty Cuyahoga River;” legendary in folk idiom. Perhaps only slightly less famous than Pete Seeger, the Clearwater and the Hudson. Both rivers have been cleaned up, one after it caught fire.

No, not the Hudson.

Kind of gave new meaning to the old 60s/70s phrase, “Burn, baby, burn,” huh?

I have reviewed Federal Jacks: brewpub for Shipyard, Matt Brewing’s Fred Matt, Abita… the first and largest microbrewery in a region that stretches from Louisiana to Florida, north to Tennessee.

Honestly? What I love is real small breweries, like one in a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire where they actually do five gallon batches on their stove. Or McGuires in downtown Pensacola, where the brew kettles are barely squeezed into a room not much bigger that two or, at best, three large closets. One story we did here at PGA was a brewery built into an old outhouse in England. I would have loved to have at least seen that before it went under.




Well, anyway, “small” was another reason I headed to Chardon.

It’s unusual for northeast Ohio to be so hilly this far west. I think that’s why I enjoy the area so much. One can only put up with so much flat and when I head north into Ohio, as I go up I-71, there’s more than enough flat. Even thinking about it puts me to sleep…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… wait, was I driving, or typing?

Oh, yeah… typing.

I was planning on driving back to Williamsfield, Ohio, where my tour bus was. I had just finished doing a show in Cleveland, and was hoping to do a review of some brew biz on the way. Then I saw Chardon Brewworks in Bill Metzger’s Great Lakes Brewing.

Good news in Chardon? Let’s go! So I hopped onto my personal transporter and told Scotty… what, I don’t have a “transporter?”

“Damn it Jim, I’m an entertainer and a beer geek, not some 1960s Bill Shatner clone…”

So, instead, I put the Honda Element in drive, drove up to Route 6 and found myself climbing out of my Honda, then walking around a real “purty,” historical, town square. BrewWorks didn’t open until 3, but the door was open and I peeked in the door. Mike Nedrow; owner with his wife Donna, and head brewer said, “Why don’t we do the interview now?”

What a guy.

Poor sap: after listening to my own recording of the interview I realized he must have wondered just who interviewing who that day. This is the first time I’ve actually recorded an interview with a brewer for notes. I never realized I love the biz so much I tend to talk as much as I ask questions.

Have to watch that.

Or should I have typed, “pour sap,” instead of “poor?” Mike set out samples he had poured and one of them was related to “sap…” a Maple Brown: Pride of Geauga Porter; with a distinct sweet maple tang, using local Ohio maple syrup. He also gave me a taste of his Hefe: his first beer that he ever brewed as a homebrewer. Named for his wife Donna… and an Imperial IPA that was unique I will tell you more about in a moment, and a pale. We chatted as I sipped.

First I asked why he started a brewpub in Chardon. He said he wanted to do something for the community and…

“I am a pilot by trade: I fly business jets. I’m gone half the year… I live in hotels. I want to work my way out of doing that. I love flying too, but I want to make that more of a hobby than a profession at this point.”

“I won silver medal in National Homebrewing in 2010, just before I opened here. That was part of the impetus to do this: winning a silver out of the whole country made me decide; ‘OK, I’m doing it.'”

He and Donna opened Chardon BrewWorks in 2010.

Obviously it’s a very expensive proposition, so far about 110,000-120,000, and this is for a small brewpub with a Brew Magic system. Imagine what it costs once you get into the huge vessels real big breweries have? Maybe not Carl Sagan-esque, as in “billions of billions,” but certainly, “millions.”

All that moo-lah just to brew Bud, Miller, and other practically cloned versions of the same style? What a waste!

For small brewers some expenses can be quite big. As Mike said, rent: “3 floors, 3,000 a month. Heating and cooling it is a little pricey.”

Bet that “pricey” is a week at the Columbus InBev Bud brewery. Kind of puts it all in perspective, and why craft beer is still a minor player compared to the major players in beer world.

But we’re getting there. WHO YA!!!

One of the ways Mike has managed is he has had a very helpful, supportive, crowd of quaff-ers who love BrewWorks so much they offered financial and other support. He had wanted to do a different decor because he felt the place looked too “restaurant-ee,” due to it having been a former Italian restaurant called Sebastian’s. A lady who was at the bar said she would give him $500 to do it and her husband would pitch in 500.

“And she said, ‘I’ll bet if you ask the other patrons they’ll help too.’ So I started asking around and I got eight people.”

Mike puts the names of those who help, like Les and Bob Bednar, into the bar: embossed on gold plates. Look at the nice shine on that bar! Wow.

There are also the names of two are two guys who helped him build that nice shiny bar.

Mike started homebrewing 95-96 and has had no formal training…

“I’m a self trained; been a homebrewer for 15 years. I started brewing in 1995 or 96. I brewed a Hefeweizen and I named it after my wife, Donna; Donna Do You Wanna Hefeweizen.”

Mike poured more, as I interviewed and sampled. I really didn’t get to write as many notes on what I tasted as I would have liked because I was busy talking and tasting, and talking and…

“Talking?” Who, me???

I did find Donna to have a substantial amount of the expected banana and cloves esters and plenty of wheat proteins. Yellow and foggy, as expected, rocky/pillow head. Nice.

The beer was good too.

I kid.

“We used the WBO6 dried yeast in there: powdered.”

More on dried yeast and Chardon Brewing in a moment.

The double IPA he poured for me was “…getting to the end of the keg. I used Galaxy hops in that.”

He told me a story about a brewer’s event where he and fellow brewers were each assigned different a hop to brew with. The hop he was assigned was Galaxy and he said he has liked it ever since; using it in his Imperial IPA Hopboniable Snowman.

Hopefully I spelled that right. If not, my apologies.

This was the first, and only, tad problematic defect I found in any beer here. I did mention it: slight astringency and the slightest hint of a phenolic: so slight I couldn’t identify that phenolic. When looking at it in the glass I actually thought it would be worse: a deep, dense, tan and you might not have been able to see the light of day through it approaching the sun’s corona. Of course there probably wouldn’t be any left in the glass by then because it either froze and drifted away in space. (Would that be a “cold break?”) …or boiled away. (Would that be a “hot break?”)

We both agreed, it had a lot of yeast in it: yeast that probably caused that slight astringency that did seemed hop related, and the even more slight hint of a phenolic. I wasn’t quite sure of that last one.

After that discussion he said he was thinking of pulling it, but I said I thought it was still a very pleasant quaff and worth draining the keg; a pleasing Imperial IPA with good body support: both mouthfeel and taste. There was a clinging fruitiness: a bit grapefruit-y. It would have been interesting to try it before the end of the keg.

Soon my palate was immensely pleased by what I felt was the hit of the beer parade that day. Mike poured me some Stout: Irish Dry… nice roasted barley, the body light and very Guinness-like.

“What a beautiful pour.”-Me

“Yeah, it’s on nitro.”- Mike

I didn’t make the comment lightly: I’ve seen some very good pours in my life and this had everything a Stout should have when poured and brewed right. Nice cascading head, and he definitely had appearance and technique down right… as he waited a while to pour some more. Head very tan and turbulent upon the pour. Dark to the point of 44 SRM, but amazingly light body wise: as a simple Dry should be.

The menu says Milk Stout, though if there was any lactose in this I missed it. Perhaps this is a different Stout than what was listed on the web? My recording and notes seem to confirm that assessment…

“I just looked up Guinness clone on the internet, looked at 5 or 6 recipes, looked at my ingredients, saw what I had, put it all into Beer Smith. It’s awesome: $30? You can’t beat it. I would recommend that to any homebrewer too.”

It was missing that slightly soured sense Guinness intentionally has, but not necessary to the style.

“I try to stay within the guidelines, for the most part. When I play with the recipe on Beer Smith it’s got the ranges for the style, and if you go out an IBU, it bolds it: says your out of style.”

“I recommend Beer Smith for any homebrewer.”

We talked about dried yeast, how I have found Nottingham to ferment when almost all other yeasts lag or go dormant.

“I used to use Nottingham, but they tripled the price on it. I always used liquid yeast when I was just a homebrewer, but switching over to commercial brewing you can’t always be that self indulgent. So I switched over to all dried yeast and I’ve been perfectly happy.”

Hmm… perhaps culling yeast, creating a yeast bank and have a house yeast might be a future consideration? Of course that couldn’t come from dried, because drying the yeast stresses it, from what I have studied on the subject. McGuires in Pensacola has used the same yeast… well, now the distant relatives of that yeast… since 88! (No indication of bad inbreeding, though I hear the individual cells call each other “Bubba.”) And Pioneer Brewing in Sturbridge, MA., has used dried yeast for a long time and produced beer that competes quite well with the greatest breweries in New England.

“That’s my Maple Porter: that’s my flagship beer.”

He calls its “flagship” because “Geauga county is known for its maple syrup.”

The maple flavor was obvious in the aroma, the slight semi sweet mouthfeel and the taste. The body, a bit thin for a Porter, could have used a bit more malt complexity if meant to be a Robust, but almost right for a Brown. Hops not all that present, but that might conflict with the maple syrup. He said he uses no Black Patent, but definitely “a lot of Chocolate malt.”

I did get just a hint of smoke, for some reason, but as I said… I wasn’t taking my usual tasting notes. Talking too much.

Does that surprise any of my readers? Somehow I doubt that.

Mac’s Irish Red 5.7%, 25 ibu. Mike said he thought it had too much diacetyl, but to be honest I’ve tasted more in some accepted versions of the style.

From the Irish Red listing…

May have a light buttery character (although this is not required).

He said the Red seemed “grassy:”…I didn’t get that sense. Of course I don’t live with it on a daily basis like Mike does. It’s nice he’s doing that kind of critique of his own beer: I often find brewers can live so much with what they brew they miss both the forest, and the trees and that boiled dirty root sense, taste-wise. Kind of like the slowly boiled frog concept.

Now there’s are two nasty ideas for Specialty beer, eh?

Brewery is upstairs and would look very familiar to most homebrewers:

“We brew on a Brew Magic. One keg at a time. I brew 50 liter batches…” (…or about 13.2 gallons. It uses 15 1/2 gallon kegs.) I brewed about 250 barrels last year.”

Mike said they really don’t filter much, and I shared my Tim Rastetter story where he decided just to open up the bottom of the conical until the yeast came out for Thirsty Dog’s classic of the Russian Imperial style: Siberian Night.

Not filtering can be a big plus, depending on the beer of course.

Before I left that day I wanted to take a picture of the brewery, so he told me to go outside, hang a right open the door and then, “Go up those 28 steps?”

(He’s actually counted the steps??? Wow. Such attention to detail probably helps him as a brewer. Or maybe he had a Homer Simpson moment and counted them on the way down one day after “DOH”-ing in? “DOH!” “DOH!”)

Across from the brewery, upstairs, was a spillover area, and for special events.

We talked about traditionally trained brewers vs. not.

“Some are good, some are not, but the thing that’s aggravating to me is the elitist mentality.”

He mentioned a brewer he hired who had experience, but once he started brewing it was like he took Mike’s recipes and turned Mozart into all flats. Then he mentioned his current brewer, who had had no experience, and how he seemed a natural brew-talent.

“My one brewer, (also “Mike”) had never brewed a drop of beer in his life and I trained him about a year ago. He’s fantastic: he actually did the recipe for the Hopboniable Snowman. With that little mash tun we were looking for ways to get the gravity up on that then we put in some Geauga County maple syrup in there. We’re using 5 pounds of maple syrup and putting it in at 15 minutes before the end of the boil.”

Mike had to get the pub ready for customers so I left, wandering around downtown Chardon: looking forward to some great Chardon BrewWorks food in the very, very near future… a mere hour.

Chardon has a very home-y town square: huge municipal building on the north side with a clock tower. So as I wait for Doc Brown to show up with his DeLorean, I checked out a small Chinese take out place. Figuring Doc didn’t show because he was busy watching old cartoons on TV, or looking for PLUTO-nium, I went back to the “food-ture” and ordered Cottage Pie at Chardon BrewWooks.

Yesh, I really went around town square; even past the old clock tower, for that one, didn’t I?

Anywhosie, back at Chardon BrewWorks, Mike and I talked about brewing legend Greg Noonan as I ate my Cottage Pie. I met Greg at 7 Barrels about 10-15 years ago. I just happened to swing in and… zap! I’m doing an interview. He was so kind, so helpful, so open: kind of like the day I did this interview with Mike.

“I started with Papazian’s book and I think his books scared me a bit, and then I got one of Greg Noonan’s books.”

We also spoke more about how we both started homebrewing, me starting right after it was made legal…

“I always point it out to the Carter bashers who made brewing legal.”

BrewWorks Cottage Pie: the usual hamburger, onion mix with slightly nontraditional corn, mashed potatoes and a slight drizzle of cheese, something Mike was quite proud of. “It’s really not supposed to be drenched.”

For about $13 it was well worth the gobble.

Mike’s recommends for homebrewers:

“Enjoy being self indulgent. As a commercial brewer you have to think about cross utilizing grains and yeast, for example, in order to manage costs. You can make some pretty darn good beer by cross utilizing. As a homebrewer you can go out there and do all kinds of grain. Very common in a homebrew recipe to see 6-7 different kinds of grain. I buy 50 pound bags, so if I buy a funky malt that I won’t use but a couple pounds of in a batch, I’ve got a 55 pound bag sitting there. Or, I could buy a couple pounds but I’d pay a premium for it, though I do that every now and then too.”

“I keep my recipes simple; cross utilize grains. It’s less expensive that way. As a homebrewer, 6, 7, 8 different kinds of grain? Have fun! Have at it!”

“Another thing I would tell homebrewers, if they extract brew like I used to… I didn’t discover until later the significance of a grain bag in your brew pot. Put a grain bag in regardless of what it is for the proteins. It makes all the difference in the world in the taste.”

Chardon BrewWorks started to fill with other, probably less gabby, customers, and I had to get back to my tour bus. I waved goodbye and headed down the road, thinking…

“Now I have have a great place to stop, have locally brewed craft beer, and someone to talk beer with.”

Life, indeed, can be good.


Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
©Copyright 2012
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved


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