Meet Louis Waldmeir ’13, a brewer at Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville. As a German major and College Scholar at North Central, he conducted research through a Richter Grant on the beer culture in Germany, after previously studying abroad at the University of Heidelberg.
Q: There has been a rise in popularity of craft beer and microbreweries in recent years, inspiring beer lovers and entrepreneurs to enter the business. As an employee for a growing microbrewery, what is your typical day like working as a brewer?
A: Schedules vary greatly day to day depending on where certain beers are in their development, but everybody does a little bit of everything to keep things running smoothly. I deal mostly with the “hot side,” or mashing in, graining out, adding hops, transferring wort to the fermenter, pitching yeast, etc. I also help out in packaging and in the cellar. While I do not (yet) design any of our beers, I have plenty of input on the day-to-day adjustments to a given recipe: things like hop substitutions, grain bill adjustments, temperature control, etc. The best part of my job is pouring a pint of something really tasty that I helped create.
Q: What began your love for beer and for brewing?
A: Interning at Brauerei zum Klosterhof in Heidelberg, Germany. The job was primarily cleaning kegs, scrubbing floors, milling in and filling bottles, but the exposure to the brew process is what inspired me to pursue it as a career. Because of my experiences in Germany I have a deep respect for German beer, its brewing history and practices. The American craft beer “scene” is currently dominated by interest in all things new, pushing the boundaries of what is considered “beer.” My background in such an established tradition makes me somewhat unique, and whenever we brew a German style I judge and taste it differently having experienced firsthand the style we are trying to emulate.
Q: How did you get connected with Solemn Oath?
A: When I was a student, I went there with friends a few times before inquiring about work. I got a weekend job in the taproom during my senior year when the brewery was about five months old. I picked up more shifts in the taproom after graduating, and when we started bottling they needed an extra pair of hands. From there, I slowly conned my way into working in the back [operations] full time.
Q: What is your favorite Solemn Oath beer?
A: Impossible to say. Our beer is so varied that what I love to drink changes season to season and day to day. However, any time we do an interpretation of a classic German style, the German beer nerd in me gets really excited. I am proud of all of the beer we have made and truly believe that everything we have released has not only been good, but exceptional. (I swear I’m not biased. OK, maybe a little biased).
Q: You sell beer with names like Butterfly Flash Mob, Super Regular, Kidnapped by Vikings and Punk Rock for Rich Kids. How are these names created?
A: Our head brewer typically comes up with the names. A lot of times, though, as we are brewing, we think of ideas and write them down.
Q: Is there a culture that exists among microbreweries? Is this culture similar to what you experienced in Germany?
A: There is definitely a culture that brings breweries together. To a large extent, we feel like we’re all in this together, we want other microbreweries to do well if for no other reason than we like drinking each other’s beer. There’s a lot of communication between breweries and everybody is willing to lend a helping hand whenever it’s needed. I experienced something similar in Germany, especially with new “craft” breweries beginning to open, and challenging the big breweries that had dominated the market for so long.
Q: What would you suggest to someone wanting to work in the microbrewing business?
A: There are many paths that lead into the craft beer business, all of them requiring hard work and a willingness to start at the bottom of the totem pole. Many breweries actually prefer hiring workers with no prior experience so they can tailor training to meet the work ethic and needs of the brewery. It boils down to passion and willingness to work.
Q: Where would you like to be five years from now?
A: It’s tough to say because if you would have asked me five years ago where I’d see myself today, I would have never answered, “brewer.” I travel back to Germany every year and anticipate continuing to do so. As for brewing, I like the work and I have so much more to learn—I wouldn’t mind feeling the exact same way in five years’ time.
By Devan Conness ’16
A Brewer’s Dictionary
Mashing in: (v) To release malt sugars by soaking grains in water
Graining out: (v) Removing grain from the mash tub
Hops: (n) Herb added to boiling wort or fermenting beer to create a bitter aroma and flavor
Wort: (n) The solution of grain sugars strained from the mash tub
Fermentation: Conversion of sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, through the action of yeast
Pitching yeast: (v) To add yeast to wort
Grain bill: (n) Materials used in brewing (primarily malted barley) from which a wort can be obtained for fermenting into alcohol.