The City of Broad Shoulders was founded on hard work. Perhaps no Chicago institution embodies this idea better than Metropolitan Brewing Company. Doug and Tracy Hurst founded the brewery in 2007 as a testament to those who strive to make a difference in America’s third largest city, and want to drink great beer while doing so. Grab a Krankshaft and settle in as we talk about what it means to brew in the big city, Star Trek and why fresh beer is better.
What do you guys do at Metropolitan?
T: Owners and founders. We do everything.
Were you guys homebrewers?
D: I was a homebrewer for 20 years. I started in Madison, in college taking a botany course. Brewed a batch of homebrew for a final project.
How did you get started at Metropolitan?
T: We founded the company in April of 2007. We had to raise money and get a bank loan and all that. We found this place in June of 2008, we had to spend about six months building it out and installing everything. We did our first brew in December of ’08. Our first keg sale was January of 2009.
What was the place like when you first moved in?
D: We’re leasing the space. It used to be an auto-body shop. It was kind of a wreck. The landlord really helped cleaned it up. By the time we were ready to take over the space, it was a big empty clean box. We did have to do some work on drainage and so on, there’s a lot of water in the brewing process.
D: We don’t like working for other people (laughs).
T: I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I’ve been running my own businesses for over 10 years now. When Doug went to the Siebel Institute (in Chicago) and came back he tried to get a job in the brewing industry. As people know its very difficult. So I said, “Forget it lets just take your experience and beer knowledge and do it ourselves.” It was part sense of entrepreneurship, and part Doug wanting to be in the field, but not wanting to work for anyone else.
Do you have a science background? Would you recommend one?
D: Not formally, but I come from a scientific family. I was brought up to have the viewpoint to use the scientific method, and it’s always been an interest of mine. Science, physics, microbiology, but not really much formal training outside of a 101 level education.
I don’t think that you need a science education. I think that brewing is very scientific, and that’s a very important aspect of the process, but I don’t think you need a science education to brew.
T: Owning a brewery you become a Jack or a Jane of all trades. There’s support from each other and other brewers, but in terms of your equipment and knowing how to brew, you’re kind of on your own. In order to be on the market and do a good job, you have to know what you’re doing. By default, you need to know how to organize production, and how to do science, and how to do testing. I studied a little science in college, between the two of us we know enough about the method to do little studies or experiments to solve problems or figure out ways of doing things. You know how to build things, you know how to use tools fix things, you know how steam pressure works, and that’s because all of that stuff is a day to day necessity. You have to pick it up. You can’t rely on other people to do all that stuff for you.
Doug: The science part of it is just as important as the art part of it. Whether you need an art degree or not , I don’t know, but also, being an engineer. Like Tracy is saying, our science engineering and stupidity come together at the right levels (laughs).
Tracy: That’s funny because its true!
What was the biggest challenge starting?
T: Dealing with contractors, the build out contractors. Those are a lot of lessons we had to learn on the fly. That’s in one sense, in another, the same thought, people who run their own businesses are usually pretty independent people. I was under the illusion that I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else, that it would just be about how hard I work, but when you run your own business you depend on hundreds of other people for all the different aspects of how your business is run.
D: It’s all hard work.
Where does Krankshaft come from?
D: When I was in Cologne, Germany drinking Kolsch from the source and realizing how fresh it is and how tasty it is. Even though its light colored lighter bodied beer it’s incredibly different than other similar beers, it really got me interested in that style. A few years ago, you didn’t see many breweries making it, so I thought it was a style that had potential. It has something cool and it’s unique. A lot more people are making it now, it’s a good beer.
Why do you enjoy it so much?
D: It’s flavorful. It has drinkability (Doug and Tracy laugh). It’s about the balance, a nice balance between hops and malt.
T: I like it because you can turn people on to craft beer with it. It’s a good gateway beer. It might be deceptively like an American macro lager, the minute it gets into somebody’s mouth they realize its something different. They get turned on to craft beer a lot of the time. That’s what I like about it; you can share the experience with people. It’s very hard to share the experience with someone who’s not into craft beer when you give them a Belgian or something like that.
What’s your favorite beer that you brew?
T: Can I do it situationally? For red beer, I would recommend using Dyanmo copper (red beer is a combination of V8, spices and beer). I love Krankshaft for day drinking because it’s about 5 percent alcohol. It won’t make you sick and you’ll still be able to have an evening. Flywheel, I will admit that if I were on a desert island and could only pick one beer, it would be Flywheel. It’s a little bit bolder, very crisp, and I love German style beers. Although all of our beers are German style beers, Flywheel reminds me of the beer my dad drank or my granddad drank.
D: I like Dynamo and it depends on the situation. Dynamo pairs well with spicy food similar to the way Dos Equis or Negro Modelo might. I think Krankshaft is a good refreshing beer, and like Tracy said, if you’re going to have a session, Krankshaft is a good session. Flywheel, when I’m in the mood for a little more hops or to pair with a creamy cheese, I like Flywheel.
Your labels are decidedly metropolitan. Where do they come from and what’s the inspiration?
T: Randy Mosher does the design, and beer dorks know who that is. He’s written a couple books about beers and he’s a homebrewer. His Clark Kent is being a graphic designer. We came up with the name because we were very urban and we love Chicago, and I grew up in Milwaukee. We love the city because of the versatility and the diversity. When we’re driving down Lake Shore Drive at dusk heading south into the city, it brings a tear to your eye. It’s the steel and the metal and the glass and the electricity, but it’s also the human beings that live in Chicago that make this city what it is.
We love our neighbors, we love the people that are on local television. We love everything about living in Chicago. The attitude-hard work pays off-people are enthusiastic about what they’re doing and there are lots of chances to be who you want to be. Yoga classes or karate or art or cooking, anything you want you can have in the city. Metropolitan Brewing points to that, but you’ll also notice lots of flowing lines, lots of sex appeal, and that is the humanistic element added in. Randy talked with us about these things and kind of came up with the design. It’s kind of bad ass too. Hard work, pulling pallets around the brewery and stuff isn’t always glamorous.
The names, though, are all power generating devices. I love power tools, I’m a little bit obsessed with them. I was told once that power tools are awesome because a human uses them to do great things. That’s where all of that came from. We’ll work with Randy until he tells us we can’t anymore because he gets it.
We decided very early on that we wanted our personalities and the way we think about the world to come through in our beer. We know that the beer we enjoy drinking and the craft brewers that we admire feel that way too. It’s a nice way of saying we get to let our freak flag fly (laughs).
What’s next for you guys?
D: Our upcoming new release is a Dusseldorf style alt-beer, or it’s inspired by a Dusseldorf alt-beer. We’re calling it Iron Works, an Alt style beer. It’s sort of a German brown ale with plenty of hops and a sort of restrained rich maltiness to it.
T: Our long-term goal is to be a regional brewery. We will never ship out of the Midwest. It’s contrary to our interest and philosophy of drinking fresh beer. We’ll get into Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, etc. Then we’ll grow by making different kinds of beers, focused on specialty brands. In terms of our mainstay beers, we definitely want to grow.
D: We’re so small we have to work 24 hours a day to make this work, and we get paid next to nothing. Growing will make this easier in some ways, and will make this more sustainable overall.
Why does beer mean so much to society?
D: Some say beer was what started society. It’s been hypothesized that the reason that people formed organized communities was in order to control the grain and barley crops so they could brew beer (laughs). The oldest written recipe ever discovered is for beer, it’s just part of human nature. That’s one of the things I really love about it.
T: People have wanted to light a buzz ever since there have been people (laughs)
T: Konig pilsner. I can’t get enough of it lately.
D: Thats a good choice, I’ll say Konig pilsner!
Food and beer pairing?
T: Right now we’re doing a lot of seitan tacos, spicy tacos with vegetables and Dynamo. We also use seitan in a burrito with wing sauce and that works with Dynamo too. Dynamo goes great with spicy goods.
D: And veggie chili with Krankshaft.
T: Oh yeah! Hell yeah. Veggie chili with Krankshaft.
D: Also, Wisconsin cheddar inoculated with the same thing bleu cheese is, so it was a pungent aged cheddar, and it paired really well with Flywheel.
Book? Movie? Album?
D: Book right now? The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I made pizza crust from that book and I’ve never had maniacal laughter before, and I did after I ate that pizza.
Movie? I don’t know what all the kids are watching these days (laughs).
T: Your movie, you’re a movie buff!
D: And record? Hmmm…Husker Du’s “Zen Arcade.”
T: For me, favorite book is the Veganomican by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It’s been out for a while, but it’s a great vegan cookbook that I’ve been digging into. That’s the reading I can do these days. When I can read, I read about dogs, food and beer. Favorite movie was the new Harry Potter. It kicks incredible levels of ass. And we’re big Star Trek buffs around here, so I would pick any Star Trek movie over anything else.
Album? The new Raconteurs album has been in high rotation. Jack White is a renegade. I can’t imagine him in any long term band. I’m a huge fan of Jack White, he can really do no wrong in my book. I don’t give a crap about the White Stripes breaking up.
For more info on Metropolitan Brewing Company, check out their website.
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