Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 164 - The House of Brews

I have never been to the House of Brews. Now, many may see this “I have never...” event and cast a skeptical look at another trip to a local brewery making an appearance in my “I have never...” journey; however, as a lover of beer and wine and someone that takes a great interest in the crafting of both, I believe strongly each brewer or winemaker offers unique experiences to those that take the time to seek them out. As a result, visiting the House of Brews has been an event that has been on my “I have never...” list since I first began my year-long journey. As an outfit known for their innovative and wonderfully uncommon approach to brewing, I knew a visit to the House of Brews would offer something very different than my previous experiences at breweries. As one of the only Community Supported Breweries (CSBs) in the United States, the House of Brews has gained a reputation for their distinctive, collective focus on crafting beer. From one I knew about the brewery before tonight, their goal was to be your friendly neighborhood brewer that gave residents a good place to sit down and enjoy some handcrafted beer with good people. While the beer culture generally maintains such a perspective, I came to understand this concept was at the heart of the House of Brews, and that’s something I can get into.

As a result, I decided I would make a trip to the House of Brews as the seasons pressed on toward winter. With persistently cool weather hitting the State of Wisconsin as of late, I decided there was no time like the present to finally make a trip to the House of Brews, so Rachael and I hopped in the car and drove to the brewery’s location off of Highway 51 on Madison’s Southeast side. When we arrived we found the House of Brews taproom nestled in in between commercial facilities just off a nearby frontage road. Understanding its location was likely due to the onsite brewing operations, I looked over the brightly lit House of Brews windows between the boxy, bland commercial units around the taproom. While it wasn’t the flashiest setup for a brewery I have ever seen, there was something about it that just seemed to fit. In my eyes, the House of Brews had a location that was just right.

The entrance
When we entered the taproom, we were surprised to find the establishment was empty except for a man sitting behind a window on the left hand side of the room. At the sight of us entering, the man promptly rose from his stool and greeted us, taking time to introduce himself by name and ask us for ours in kind. After a brief introduction, the man, Sam, asked us what brought us to the location, which prompted me to give him a brief background on my “I have never...” journey. Interested in the concept, Sam asked me a few questions about my experiences to date. In turn, I told a few brief stories about the past five months, concluding with a remark about the journey leading me to the House of Brews. With a smile on his face Sam immediately responded to my remarks, “Well, let’s get you guys a beer then!”

Happy to take him up on his offer, Rachael and I looked over the nearby beer menu written on a marker board on a nearby wall. As we looked it over, Sam asked us about our preferences and gave us an overview of each beer currently offered by the House of Brews. His knowledge and expertise were readily apparent in his remarks, which prompted me to ask his role with the brewery. “Oh, I just work the taproom,” he said humbly, “I’m only a home brewer. Paige is the one that makes the magic happen.” Sam continued to explain that Paige, the House of Brews founder and master brewer was onsite cleaning kegs for an upcoming batch of beer. Intrigued, I asked Sam if it would be possible to see the brewery and meet Paige, to which he replied, “Of course! ...but let’s get the two of you that beer first.

The taproom

Agreeing with his recommended order of priorities, Rachael and I made our selections and grabbed our beers before Sam led us into the back of the building where the brewery operations were held. Lines of stainless steel kettles, tanks, and vessels filled the center and walls around the room, which sent my eyes darting to tank in the finer details of the equipment. Near the back of the facility, a middle-aged man stood busying his hands connecting empty beer kegs to a piece of hydro-mechanical equipment. Amid the sounds of pressurized water striking metal, Sam walked us through the facility piece by piece, explaining the purpose and functions of each container, machine, and vessel we encountered. Eventually guiding us to the back of the room, Sam took time to introduce us to Paige, who greeted us, and our obvious curiosity with a smile. Together, he and Sam continued their explanation of the brewing process, taking time to field my questions and fill in the gaps between the broader procedures that go into the craft. Thanks to their openness and obvious passion for brewing, I learned more about brewing in the 20 minutes touring the House of Brews setup than I had in the past 30 years of my life combined. Plus, we got to see an awesome art installation hanging from the brewery ceiling The experience was enlightening, and being around such welcoming people made me realize why I had heard so many positive things about the House of Brews.

The kettles

After completing our tour, Sam walked us back out to the taproom and joined us in conversation about his experiences brewing and about his experience with the House of Brews. When I told him one of my “I have never...” goals is to brew my own beer, Sam happily provided me tips and encouragement on getting into the process. Continuing with the same degree of enthusiasm and passion with which he discussed the brewing process earlier, he walked me through the costs, time, and basic steps of brewing. In his explanation her made the craft of brewing seem so simple I believed for the first time I could actually do it. “Don’t let people fool you,” Sam stated in conclusion to his explanation, “It’s not nearly as hard as people make it out to be.” Emboldened by his words, I revisited my objective of giving home brewing a try and committed, in that moment, to gain the experience sometime during this winter. I can’t say I would have gained that push without tonight’s experience, and I have Sam to thank for that.

The art installation
As Rachael, Sam, and I continued our conversation, Sam offered us a second beer. To my surprise, more than an hour had passed since we first began our discussion, which made me willing to have another round. After making our second choices, Sam poured Rachael and me another beer and carried on chatting with us from behind the tap station. Moments later, Paige emerged from the brewery after finishing his work for the evening. He was happy to join us in conversation and a beer as we stood in the taproom enjoying some of the House of Brews delicious beers. The good company and terrific drinks made the time move quickly as the night progressed. Eventually, we found ourselves creeping toward the later hours of the evening, which cued me to (reluctantly) bring our first experience with the House of Brews to a close. With a few more customers (CSB members, by the way) working their way into the building, I wrapped up our conversation with Sam as to not interfere with his effort to serve the newcomers. As we sipped the last of our beers, I thanked Paige once more for his insight, for his work, and for the passion he puts into brewing. With a smile and a handshake Paige thanked me for the kind words before Rachael and I headed for the door.


As we climbed back into our car and prepared to drive home, I looked at the House of Brews taproom one more time. “Now, that’s a place I would love to go to again,” I said enthusiastically, pointing at the front of the building. Rachael chuckled at my response to the experience and gave a brief statement of agreement. “It’s definitely a cool place,” she said as we pulled away from the building, “and the people are awesome.” I nodded my head in agreement and thought about everything I had learned from a few hours of time spent talking with Sam and Paige at the House of Brews. During our trip back to our house I realized I likely never would have obtained such knowledge and encouragement had I not taken the time to explore someplace new. It was a simple trip to another side of town, but I met some awesome people, learned some amazing things, and gained a much needed push toward my goal of home brewing. Anyway I look at it tonight’s experience was one worth having. I just thank Sam and Paige for being who they are and for making a place like the House of Brews a reality. There’s a lot to be said for putting heart and passion into a craft, and the House of Brews has so much of both they readily share it with anyone that stops by for a drink and a conversation. That’s more than I could have expected, but it’s just the type of thing I hoped to find in another day of new experiences.

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