Lake Effect Brewing Company | School of Brett
Down an alley, on the Northside of Chicago, school was in session as two neighbors invited their friend Brett over for a unique experiment.
Lake Effect Brewing Company founder, Clint Bautz, and Omega Yeast founder, Lance Shaner, became neighbors and fast friends when Omega opened next door. “We used to literally be in the same building,” Shaner said. “We started out in that costumer company, and I spent lots of time at Lake Effect.”
“We were their first customer,” Bautz said. “At least we should’ve been.”
But what’s become the pinnacle of their friendship, was also a real labor of love. Bautz and Shaner toyed with the idea of making a mixed four-pack of beer, each one showcasing a different strain of Brettanomyces, for a few years before they decided to do it.
The result, after a few different rounds of trial and error, is School of Brett. The base of the mixed four pack — the control — is a simple, stainless steel-conditioned Saison. The experiments take that same Saison, introduces three separate strains of Brett; lamicus, classenii and bruxellensis and ages it in wine barrels.
The final iterations all fell a bit short of what they hoped to accomplish, so in perfecting the beer, Bautz turned to wine barrels.
“We fell back to, ‘What do we do well?’” Bautz said. “We needed four vessels. … I think the ultimate vessel that we were most comfortable with was a wine barrel.”
But aging beer in wine barrels is not without challenges. Bautz acquired four barrels of the same wine, from the same vintage, that were all treated the same way. After a 185 degree water rinse of the barrels and some prep, the fermented beer went in, the Brett strands went into their separate barrels and they sat for six months.
This being Chicago, the weather and the Polar Vortex threw Bautz his share of curveballs, but the resulting products were the embodiment of what Bautz and Shaner sought out. Three shining examples of how Brett impact a beer and produces flavor.
A Fermenting Future
While the beer was tailor-made for Brett heads, Bautz and Shaner wanted to take steps to ensure everyone could enjoy School of Brett. To do this, each can of the mixed four pack explains how the beer was made and offers tasting notes.
“We wanted to show how profoundly Brett can alter a beer,” Shaner said. “Everyone knows that intuitively, but I think this gives you the opportunity to taste the base beer that’s untouched by Brett and see exactly what differences Brett provides.”
For drinkers that graduate from School of Brett, Bautz and Shaner plan to do more collaborating in the future. Bautz pictured that the pair could team up for maybe three more mixed-four packs.
“There are a lot of strains of Brett that Omega has,” Bautz said. “We’re going to bring out some of the other ones too.”
“I think it would be an awesome series,” Shaner said. “We like to experiment with our customers. We’re always up for that sort of thing. … I hope we can bring more things like this to people in the future.”
Done by the Lake
Bautz follows the path of your classic home brewer realizing a dream narrative. An architect before Lake Effect, the 2008 recession killed the construction market and he decided to turn to brewing. He opened Lake Effect Brewing, and so far it’s paid off in bounds.
Lake Effect is a fixture of Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood and Bautz uses the brewery to showcase the best of what it has to offer. While he’s had his fair share of traditional collaborations with other brewers, Bautz made a point to reach out to neighborhood staples like Hagen’s Fish Market, Superdawg and Gale Street to brew collaborations that ignite buzz around their offerings.
For example, Superdawg is a renowned Chicago drive-in. Two winking hot dog statues adorn the roof and carhops brings you contently cushioned hot dogs to enjoy while you’re contently cushioned in your car. Bautz was visiting with a relative of the family who owns Superdawg when the idea of beer that paired with a hot dog was thrown around. Bautz loved it. It progressed and Bautz made Superbier.
Ensuring Lake Effect was a part of the neighborhood is quintessential to Bautz, but the neighborhood also gives Bautz something very important for beer; the water.
“It’s all about the water,” Bautz said. “[The Great Lakes] all share the same water and we’re very water rich [as a region]. It’s what makes us unique.”
Situated close to Lake Michigan, Bautz named Lake Effect after the Great Lakes, and has the grand ambition to, one day, distribute beer around the Great Lakes. To that point, Lake Effect has its Inland Sea Series of beers named after the Great Lakes and the fresh bodies of water which surround them.
“The brewery to me, right now, is exactly what I pictured it,” Bautz said. “It was really just taking what I was doing at home to the next level and making really flavorful beers for the neighborhood. That’s what we’ve done.”
School of Brett is available in mixed packs at Lake Effect Brewing and around select Chicagoland liquor stores.