Earlier this week the head brewer and owner of Black Husky Brewing, Tim Eichinger, took the time to answer a few questions that I had about Black Husky Brewing and his personal brewing experiences. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!
WIBG: When did you get your start brewing and why?
Tim Eichinger: I brewed my first batch of beer in 1988 and it turned out so great I didn’t brew again until 2003. We moved up to Pembine from Milwaukee in 1999 and the beer choices up here were pretty limited. I bought a kit from Midwest and it just kind of went nuts from there.
WIBG: When did you decide to jump up to all grain, and then move on to developing your own recipes?
Tim Eichinger: Almost immediately, I probably did five or so extract batches and then went to all grain. I did that for a few reasons. First, I am cheap and it is cheaper to buy in bulk than one kit at a time. So I had to start developing my own recipes. I went to the Internet and learned a lot on the various boards. The biggest thing I learned is that most of the “experts” on brew boards are full of shit. Denny Conn is a great homebrewer and anything he says is gospel in my mind.
WIBG: What made you decide to get into commercial brewing?
Tim Eichinger: It wasn’t one thing, and it wasn’t just me. Toni and I have always wanted to do something together – something different, something creative. Brewing fits those criteria and there were other factors as well that led us in that direction. I have always felt like I worked for idiots and now that I am self-employed I am sure I do.
Seriously, there were a lot of reasons. One of them was to find something to do that we could do until we drop dead. Nothing scares us more than thinking about retirement. We won’t have any money and we don’t want to be a Wal-mart greeters. Doing something we enjoy is like not working.
WIBG: How many brewers are currently on staff?
Tim Eichinger: That’s funny. The brewery is Toni and myself, as well as some help from our son Jake and daughter-in-law, Lena. Jake is the only person who I let brew with me, or maybe he is the only one who can make it through all the cursing and abuse that I dole out during a brew session.
WIBG: Are there plans to upgrade your brew house to a larger capacity, or plan to add more fermentation tanks to increase capacity?
Tim Eichinger: Nothing concrete, but it is only a matter of time before we need to build a new building and increase capacity. We are in about 400 square feet right now and it’s way too small.
WIBG: Do you have plans to expand distribution throughout the state?
Tim Eichinger: We self-distribute so it has to make sense. Right now we distribute locally, a little in Green Bay, but the bulk of our sales are in Milwaukee. Our big beers aren’t for everyone so ours is a niche market. Milwaukee works well for us because we stay with the kids when we go down.
WIBG: Do you source your hops and grain locally?
Tim Eichinger: No, we are not proponents of buying locally just to say we bought locally. We purchase the best product and if that is local fine. If not, we’re not going to compromise our product just to say we buy local. We do source ingredients like maple syrup and honey from local businesses in the area and the quality of those products are clearly superior to other products available.
WIBG: Are there more Beware of the Dog Series beers in the works?
Tim Eichinger: Yup. We just released Harold The Imperial Red and Three Scrutineers. We are planning to release them on a regular basis so Sparkly Eyes will be out late summer, Smoke Monster after that, Twelve Dog Imperial Stout in December and we are probably going to have a Christmas beer too.
WIBG: Do you have any special releases coming up?
Tim Eichinger: The Beware of the Dog series beers are our special releases. We’re working on a barrel aged Twelve Dog. We will not be doing a pumpkin beer. Ever.
WIBG: Are you planning any upcoming collaboration beers with other breweries?
Tim Eichinger: No. Someone once said, “The craft brewing business is an industry largely devoid of assholes.” Well, he never met me. I can’t think of any reason why we would want to collaborate with another brewery nor do I see why they would want to collaborate with us.
WIBG: What is your favorite beer style?
Tim Eichinger: Probably hoppy beers but I like just about anything as long as it’s done well – except sour beers and pumpkin beers, and I haven’t had a session IPA that is drinkable.
WIBG: Is there one brew of yours that you would say is your favorite?
Tim Eichinger: That’s like asking which of your children is your favorite. I like them all and my preferences change during the year. Sproose Joose, Pale Ale, Big Buck Brown and Three Scrutineers would be my top today.
WIBG: Is there a particular brewery that you look up to?
Tim Eichinger: Not really, it’s not that I don’t think there are other great breweries out there, it’s just not how I think. I don’t have time to analyze what others are doing. We just need to worry about what we are doing and be honest with ourselves.
WIBG: Do you have any advice for home brewers that can help them brew better beer more consistently?
Tim Eichinger: Keep lots of records and brew all the time. Don’t take your beer to your mom for an objective opinion and don’t drink while brewing.
WIBG: Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in starting a craft brewery?
Tim Eichinger: We have been pretty vocal in different events we have done about how hard it is and we have a couple articles addressing this on the website. Mainly, it’s dirty, hard and frustrating work and most of your groupies are old, fat, bald guys like me, not bikini-clad college girls. It’s not the glamorous life that you think it is; you don’t stand around drinking all day with hot chicks. You’ll probably work less and make more money in the job you already have – even if that is at a fast-food joint. Don’t expect somebody else to give you all the answers; don’t ask for someone else’s business plan. How we started (how long it’s taken, how much it cost, etc.) are answers unique to our situation, just as they’ll be unique to someone else’s situation. You have to do the hard work yourself – if you’re not willing to do that, don’t even start.
All that being said, it is incredibly rewarding if you can make it work. But I have had some pretty shitty jobs so my tolerance is probably greater than most people’s. It’s all relative. Toni and I both come from large families, with not much money so we’ve always had to work very hard. We both have a great work ethic.
WIBG: Is there any additional information that you would like my readers to know about your brewery?
Tim Eichinger: We are very small – we did 116 bbls last year. By comparison New Glarus does about 330 bbls a day. We are an extremely small brewery and while there are other small breweries they primarily sell all their beer on premise – glass sales. We have to be the smallest distribution in existence because it is an extremely unprofitable way to make money. But when we started this brewery three years ago I knew how to brew but knew nothing about the beer business. We have learned so much in the last three years and genuinely believe that we put a product as good as any out there. I am not saying we are the best brewery, but if you said it, I wouldn’t disagree.
One of the reasons we did this was to get out of the corporate atmosphere where rebranding and making up silly new words to describe the same old shit is considered innovation. We wanted to control quality, do things in a way that we thought was the “right” way and make something we really believed in. If we can make a living that would be great too.
Thats all for today! Check back next week for a review of the upcomming Grand Teton Cellar Reserve Release, Oud Bruin and an interview from the Grant Teton Brewmaster himself, Rob Mullin!