Sunday, February 5, 2012

Don't Call It A Comeback

Following my departure from Søgaards Bryghus, I faced a major dilemma: Would I stay within Denmark and find work there, or move back to the U.S. and resume the search at home?

I spent a month looking for work within Denmark, where my most promising lead became Midtfyns Bryghus, an award-winning microbrewery on the island of Fyn that's growing rapidly. They've become famous for beers such as their Chili Tripel and Imperial Stout, along with the fact that they're one of the only breweries in the world to put Braille text on their labels. They also made waves in the Danish beer community by winning awards for Rough Snuff, a dark beer brewed with snuff tobacco which was later banned for sale. The owner, a U.S. expat named Eddie Szweda, proved an incredibly friendly and generous host. He showed me the current brewery - a tiny building in a village 30 kilometers south of the city of Odense - and the potential site of its new home, a larger and more modern building nearby. He also treated me to lunch, where we discussed everything from brewing to living as expats in Denmark. He sent me on my way with an armful of assorted Midtfyns beers, and promised to keep in touch for the future.

Ultimately, however, a job at Midtfyns depended entirely on whether Eddie got the new building, and he could not give me an answer before my flight back to Chicago. So I bade farewell to my friends in Denmark and saw what I could of Aalborg and the region before returning to the United States. I spent Thanksgiving with Ryan Witter and his family at Fanø Bryghus, where I met Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergø of Evil Twin Brewing. There I enjoyed a fun brewday making a 32 Plato (!) imperial stout, followed by a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. I packed up my possessions, had one last rowdy night at the Wharf, and flew home just in time for Christmas.

Vi ses, Danmark: One last look at my favorite park in Aalborg.
Upon returning to Chicago, my mother offered me a place to stay while I looked for work, and I accepted. I returned to the job search with a vengeance, and was pleasantly surprised by the response - I scored half a dozen job interviews within my first week of searching! I spoke with several breweries over the phone and via Skype, and took a trip to the east coast to interview with breweries such as Duck-Rabbit in North Carolina, and Allentown Brew Works in Pennsylvania. I felt confident in how the interviews went, and was excited to see who would respond.

Duck-Rabbit Brewery in Farmville, NC.
It turns out that I didn't have to go far to reenter the brewing industry: Goose Island, Chicago's largest microbrewer, hired me to work in their Fulton Street production facility just before the end of January. Between their commercial beers and the brewpub on Clybourn Avenue, Goose Island has been a favorite of mine for some time, and I'm honored and excited to work with them. I began work on Monday, and once again hit the ground running, training heavily on the brewhouse and working hard. Over the course of the week, I helped to brew batches of Goose Island IPA, Matilda, Green Line and even their famous Bourbon County Brand Stout. With two mashes to collect wort for one huge five-hour boil, it wreaks havoc on the brew system but is a blast to brew.

Taking a wort sample of Bourbon Country Brand Stout, at Goose Island.
What does that mean for this blog? It will continue in some form, but it may change format or style at some point. But as long as I brew beer, you guys will hear about it.

Funny how things work out sometimes: I traveled halfway around the world and lived abroad, just so I could get a job in my hometown. While the job in Denmark may not have worked out, it set me up for a successful career in brewing and gave me a once-in-a-lifetime experience to boot. I intend to return to Denmark for a long visit sometime in the next few years; in the meantime, I'll continue to put my all into continuing Goose Island's history of excellent beer.