Amber Waves is getting to know the brewers who will be in attendance in a series called Who’s the Brew. In this special edition of Who’s The Brew we get to sit down with John Blichmann, President and Founder of Blichmann Engineering. John has more than a quarter of a century brewing experience under his belt and he’s also a BJCP judge.
On top of being an Amber Waves Brewfest sponsor, Blichmann Engineering offers the most intuitively designed, innovative brewing equipment with the highest level of quality for brewers who expect the same in their beers. A family run business here in Indiana that has supplied brewing equipment and solutions to several craft breweries that will be pouring at Amber Waves Brewfest including Upland, Teays River and Fenwick Farms to name a few.
John, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
Was there any defining factor that took you from brewing as a hobby to turning this passion into a career?
My introduction to home-brewing was when we were invited to dinner at my wife’s coworkers house. We arrived and her husband had a cooler full of oatmeal stuff. I asked what that was and he said “I’m making beer”! Now that was in 1991, so all grain was really uncommon back then. So shortly after I started brewing extract beer at home. Although I did recall my dad always having some beer or wine fermenting in the basement when I was little. I still use the old school bottle capper he uses, and his father before him. So I guess it was always in my heritage to brew!
With the boom of craft beer over the past couple decades, has that changed the scale of the equipment you offer? Has there been a larger demand for pro brewing over home brewing as a result?
As a leader in the home-brew market, and craft breweries being started predominantly by home brewers, getting into the commercial sized brewing equipment was pretty much a natural progression for us. We had been selling out 55 gal kettles (1 BBL batch size) to breweries for years, but we got serious about the pro brewing side of our business a few years ago.
Do you feel that home brewing helps sustain the craft beer industry?
I think the energy and creativity in the home-brewing side really drives things in the craft beer side. And it always has. Home-brewing had really grown over the past 15 years because of the desire for “craft beer” but there was limited availability. But now craft beer is everywhere. So the home-brewing market has slowed down quite a bit lately, but is still a prominent part of the whole beer scene.
What are some of the innovative trends you’re seeing in home brewing right now?
A lot of the innovation has been moving to simple all grain systems that allow about anyone with an interest the ability to all grain brew at home. Oddly, there has been an up-tick in sales to people wanting over-the-top high end equipment. Our ANVIL Brewing line covers the simple systems, and the Blichmann brand covers the high end, and we’ve seen growth in both. In the Pro market, we have really focused on the small breweries (7 BBL and below) developing very cost effective systems tailored to tap rooms and pilot systems. It is interesting how each niche has its own unique needs.
Are you still brewing yourself?
Sure do! We do most of the testing of our equipment in-house. We’ve got a number of dedicated home brewers and we all have a different approach to things, so we have that advantage in creating some really innovative and reliable products.
Have you tried anything exciting lately?
I like to brew a variety of beers actually. I love Lawson’s Finest Liquids “Sip of Sunshine” and have been brewing that. I’ve also done some really big beers like a triple mashed barley wine, a sour wee heavy, and a Russian Imperial Stout. But have also been doing some old school beers like a simple American Amber, and some basic American and English pales, all of which are in that 5% ABV or less. So very drinkable.
I believe Upland Brewing has seven locations now. Have you partnered with them since the beginning? How did that relationship come about?
Upland actually reached out to us for a quote early last year for their upcoming Fountain Square location. They are actually having the grand opening this week. After the 2018 Indiana Brewers Cup, Drew from the Pro Brewing division of the company, ran into Pete Batule at the Upland Tap Room in Broad Ripple. They talked for a while, and Pete expressed his interest in working with an Indiana Company and how that is very important to Upland Brewing. We were excited to work with Upland as well, and let them know that we could absolutely help them out with their brewing equipment needs. We love working with Indiana Breweries and helping them to succeed. After that meeting things really took off. This 7bbl brewery in Fountain Square was right in our wheelhouse. So this was really the first time we have had the pleasure of working with them. The neat thing on this particular project is that they will be using this system for test batches and to do collaborations with other Indiana Breweries.
What is most recent brewery you’ve partnered with?
We consider each sale as a partnership actually. But one brewery I got personally involved with is Textile Brewing in Dyersville IA (home of The Field of Dreams movie). Dyersville is about 20 min away from my hometown of Dubuque IA. Turns out the owner, Tom Olberding, and I were at Iowa State University at the same time, lived in the same dormitory, but had never met! So it has been a great fun helping them to achieve their goals.
Thank you so much for being an Amber Waves Brewfest sponsor. Its a great event that introduces several breweries to the area. Gives attendees a chance to sample something they might not have heard of or had the opportunity to try. All while enjoying some great music on two stages this year. And thanks again for taking the time to talk with us.
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