Monday Night Brewing: Everything They Brew, They Brew It for You … and Bryan Adams
02 May 2011Written by Cristen Conger
For a beer-making trio that grew out of a Bible study, it might come as a surprise that the Monday Night Brewing (MNB) patron saint of converting hops and barley into delicious alcohol is none other than balladeer Bryan Adams.
Or maybe it comes as more of a surprise that a group of Bible study dudes decided to start a home brewing operation in the first place. Either way, Jeff Heck, Joel Iverson and Jonathan Baker take beer — and Bryan Adams — very seriously.
“Yeah, the first week [of brewing beer], we were like, ‘What should we put on?’ Joel has a horrific iPod — it’s awful,” Jeff said on a recent Monday in his driveway where a brew was underway. “But the least offensive was Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits The Best of Me.”
“So we put on some Bry-Bry,” adds Jonathan, who, it should be noted, selected “All for Love” (by Bryan Adams) as the first dance at his recent wedding reception, which also flowed with a special nuptial edition MNB ale.
As they’re telling me about the beatification of Saint Bryan Adams, the flow of people arriving to Monday Night Brewing, hosted in Jeff’s garage and driveway on – you guessed it! – Monday nights, has increased from a trickle to a steady stream. Joel, the third MNB partner with the embarrassing iPod, is posted up in front of their pilot brewery system as it steeps crushed barley in hot water, which will then be cooled, hopped and yeasted before going into the fermentation chamber. A cluster of MNB patrons have gathered around him as he explains the finer points of how they’re cooking up tonight’s Belgian wheat with fresh ginger.
“Joel grew up in Japan, so he tries to put ginger in everything that we do,” Jonathan jokes.
Brewery attendees can sample the MNB craft beers on tap (typically their trademark IPA and Scotch ale), and many in the mostly male meet-up also treat it as a Homebrew 101 course, asking the expert threesome questions about ingredients and techniques that nudge different characteristics and flavor qualities out of the grains.
When the guys brewed their first batch of beer together four years ago, they weren’t intending to hone their home brewing into a full-blown operation, complete with their own brand of Monday Night Brewing beer soon to be sold in liquor stores. Instead, they were just looking for an icebreaker activity for a Bible study.
“We were talking about deep, profound things like the meaning of existence and God, but we didn’t really know each other that well. So one Monday night, we decided that we’d brew a batch of beer,” Jeff says. “It was great, and we had a great time, so we did it again the next week and the week after that. Then we started actually figuring out that we could make beer that was decent tasting.”
Pretty soon, around 20 or 30 people started showing up at Joel’s house — the original MNB headquarters — to participate in the homebrew process, and Monday Night Brewing was born.
“About three months into it, Joel and Jonathan and I had [become] the guys who were organizing and making sure we knew what we were doing, and we also started to realize that our professional backgrounds and our personal interests were all complementary and aligned really well, so we decided we’d give it a go and make a business out of it,” Jeff explains. “We put together a three-year plan that turned into a four-year plan.”
Divvying up the MNB tasks, Jonathan oversees marketing as Master of Mind Control, Joel handles operations as Taste-Testing Ninja, and Jeff covers finance and beer recipes as Supreme Beer Chancellor.
The business-end of moving their signature beers (Eye Patch Ale and Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale) from Jeff’s garage to liquor store shelves has eaten into time they’d typically devote to brewing, but it’s not like they haven’t amassed an epic amount of beer-making experience in the past four years.
“I’ve probably brewed 20 batches of [our IPA] just trying to get it right,” Jeff says. And when you consider that it takes three weeks for a beer to ferment before imbibing, that adds up to a whole lot of time invested in this delicious ale that conjures up “sweet caramel, citrusy flowers and swashbuckling adventure.”
“The Scotch Ale is the one that I’m most proud of because there’s nothing else like it that I’ve ever tasted,” Jeff adds — although this gal personally can’t stop craving a frosty glass of refreshingly earthy MNB Blind Pirate Double IPA, which is saying something since I don’t even consider myself an IPA fan.
Although the men are beer masters now, they’ve naturally concocted some failures along the way.
“We wanted to make a Christmas beer and called it swaddling ale,” Jeff says. “But I decided that I wanted to get something that had a spruce or evergreen flavor, but really light and subtle, so I probably added 10 times the amount I was supposed to of this spruce flavoring. It tasted like a can of Pine Sol that someone had poured vodka into.”
Clearly, developing and brewing fine craft beer like the Jeff, Joel and Jonathan have done is far more complex than cracking open a PBR.
“It takes tenacity. It’s been a lot of long nights, too; a lot of long weeknights,” Jonathan says. “We’ve been out here ‘til one a.m. some nights. This is my creative outlet now. I used to write a lot, and I don’t do that anymore because I think about this too much.”
But the guys don’t take all of the credit for MNB’s success. For them, the folks who stop by and sample every Monday have also provided invaluable feedback, which has been crucial for tweaking their IPAs, ales and wheats bit by bit into an impressive craft beer repertoire that would delight even Bryan Adams’ distinguished palate.
“We had such humble beginnings and started as a group of folks coming together to drink beer,” Jonathan says above the buzz of MNB patrons milling about. “We want what we’re doing to feel like it’s other people’s, too. The regulars who come feel like they’ve been a part of this from the beginning, and we want that and we want their input, we their feedback and we want them to tell their friends.”