For some, starting a business with two of your best friends might sound like a bad idea, utter chaos, disaster waiting to happen. But somehow, between the games of beer pong and impromptu sword fights (they swear the swords are magical), the guys at Blue Nose Brewery in Chicago have figured out how to make it work. They’re brewing incredible beer and having fun while doing it.
Eight months ago, friends Nathan Garcia, Jordan Isenberg and David Kelley decided to take their love and knowledge of craft beer to the next level. So with David’s expertise and love for brewing, and Nathan and Jordan’s knowledge of the Chicago craft beer scene, they have compiled the perfect storm of talents.
“We are all big beer guys, we kind of met and hit if off,” said Jordan. “Four months later, we were brewing beer. We are all best friends, and we all chose each other for unique skills.”
“We’ve been helping other brewing companies for so long, eventually we sat down and were like, ‘You know the business, you know how to do this,’” said David, a former brewing consultant.
Currently, their brewing facility in Justice, a southwest Chicago suburb, is nothing fancy. They are brewing at a modest 15-gallon capacity. But the feeling and the vibe of the brewery is something to behold. Spend just five minutes with these guys and you can tell that something truly special is taking place.
Stick around for longer than five minutes and you may get David, the Stephen Hawking of brewing as Jordan calls him, talking about his brewing background and philosophy.
“Take care of the yeast and they’ll take care of you”
David, the head brewer at Blue Nose, is a self-admitted nerd.
“I’ve always been hugely passionate. Before I was a brewer, I was a big nerd,” he said. “I loved biology and chemistry, I wanted to mix anything I could together and wanted to learn every kind of organism. The thing that fascinated me more than anything was yeast.”
According to David, there are more than 2,000 varieties of yeast that can produce alcohol and, as he says, the amount that yeast can accomplish as a single cellular organism is mind-boggling.
He continued to explain that just one degree temperature difference will make the difference between a beer being drinkable and not, between it being fermentable and not, between the taste of heat in the alcohol and nothing.
“Alcohol is a flaw of yeast – it’s something that’s not supposed to happen, it happens during stress. So you want to stress them just enough to produce alcohol but not enough to taste it.
“If you have too much yeast, you’re going to lose tons of flavor, if you have too little yeast you’ll get tons of flavor but you get so much fusel alcohol production. That’s why beers are boozy. Take care of the yeast and they’ll take care of you. That part of it is the science, which is awesome – creating the beer is the art.”
Blending Art and Science
“But you can’t go about brewing with all science – It’s gotta be an art form,” David repeats numerous times during our interview.
Take, for example Blue Nose’s True Justice Pale Ale, a staple in the arsenal of most breweries, a beer that David hopes appeals to both hopheads and new beer drinkers.
“Everyone has a pale ale and they are all the same, either really hoppy and bitter or either malty sweet. We use the art form to get that really floral, citrusy depth of character to the hop, but then we use scientific form to where it’s very dry, bitterness does not linger at all, so when you finish the beer it finishes incredibly clean and gives you that feeling of, ‘Yeah, I’ll have another.’”
“I wanted to make beer that the true beer snobs can go crazy for but also for someone who hasn’t had a real beer before to also really love and enjoy.”
But mastering the art form doesn’t stop David from playing mad scientist, as he is proud to show off his homemade device used to regulate the temperature of the mash, heating it to within a half of a degree.
“It uses complex calculations to predict how fast the temperature is changing in something, measures how quickly and how the temperature is moving so it can adjust the heating elements. It’ll do 151.5 and keep it between 151.5 and 152 so we don’t lose a half of a degree of temperature.
David speaks so passionately about beer, it’s hard not to get excited.
“This is everything in me,” he said. “Making something that’s so uniquely you, it’s making something from scratch. I made this start to finish, even the living organisms that helped me, I told them what to do! It’s, to me, it’s something that’s so a part of your soul when you make it, when I make an individual beer.”
And the passion comes through with his beer.
I had the chance to try a few of Blue Nose’s offerings, and while the video above gives a good description of each, I wanted to add some of my own thoughts.
XXX Honey – This is a Belgian Triple that sits above a hefty 10% ABV, but you won’t get even the slightest hint of booze, not at the beginning, not in the middle and not even at the end. The beer is pleasantly sweet right up front, thanks to the honey, but thankfully it’s not sticky or overpowering (See, you can brew with honey and make it actually taste good!!). Like all of David’s beers it finishes clean and dry, leaving me craving another beer.
Brown Ale (not shown in the video) – This beer is the brainchild of Jordan and it’s everything I want a brown ale to be – dark, nutty and sweet. If you could drink Sunday afternoon football in the fall, this would be it. Again, it finishes dry and clean. Keep an eye on this one – they have some cool plans out for the brown ale, including bourbon and vanilla infused versions.
True Justice Pale Ale – I’ll just say this right off the bat – this was, by far, the best pale ale I’ve ever had. It’s really quite something – just when you think you are about to get barraged by bitter hops, they quickly fade and you get something sweeter than you were expecting. I think David has reached his goal of appealing to both hopheads and novice beer drinkers.
Where They Are Now
Blue Nose’s goal is to be licensed and legal with the state in the next two months, and to be in bars in the next two to six months. According to the guys, they will initially work to distribute their own beer but hope to eventually work through a distributor.
But they are calling on the powers of the Chicago craft beer community to help their expansion. Currently, Blue Nose is brewing at a 15-gallon capacity. Their goal is to purchase a 3.5-barrel kettle system, as well as enough fermenters to house their 6 initial beers. How can you help? The guys have established a Kickstarter page for donations to pay for the expansion and insurance and licensing, you know, the necessities.
As Nate so eloquently stated, “One of the things we are proud of is that we don’t have a really rich backer just throwing money at us, it’s just us, using our own money and our own time and skills trying to put it together from the ground up. That’s why we are using Kickstarter, we really do need it and we are hoping people can jump on board with it.”
So how about it Chicago, help these guys out.