Today we got to sit down with taproom manager Blake Murray of Burn’ Em Brewing. Blake is one of the original 7 friends who started this journey together. Burn ‘Em Brewing strives to bring their creativity in the way they brew to produce the finest and most unique brews in the region. Blake shares how this all started with a group of friends and some of the new faces they’ve met along the way.
Tell us a little about Burn’ Em.
We are a microbrewery in Michigan City which is in Northwest Indiana right on the Indiana/Michigan border. We started brewing about 4 years ago and opened a taproom a year later. It’s been open for about 3 ½ years now. We started as 7 friends from Highschool all brewing together in my house. Opened our LLC in 2013 and opened our doors in 2014 and it has been a wild ride. It started out just us, and now we are up to about 12 employees total.
You guys are surrounded in some pretty incredible illustrations. Your cans are like graphic novels. How did that all come about?
Oh yeah, definitely. So the first time we wanted to package we reached out to multiple artists. We had a guy that said “My friend Max who’s up in Chicago who draws comics and all sorts of stuff… He’d be perfect for you guys.” He sent us his portfolio. We checked out a few other artists, but once we saw Max Clarke’s work, we really liked his style. We sent him a couple beer names, he sent us some illustrations, and ever since it has been exclusively him.
Max is originally from Ohio. When we connected, he was in Chicago, but now he’s out in Brooklyn. He is an artist and musician. His band the Cut Worms tour all over the place. He’s done a handful of posters for us and probably over 30 cans. We give him a beer name and style, and for the most part, it’s all him after that.
One of my favorites is the “I’ll Be The Same” which is our Sour that we do several variations on. Currently, we are pouring a watermelon variant. We can the standard and dry-hopped version. They’re the same label but different color. Max took a “Where’s Waldo” approach on that label. It’s all the characters from all our other labels we’ve ever done. We don’t put the logo on the front of the can. It’s on the back with the description. But we kept the front open for the illustrations. The first two might have had it on there, but after that, it’s just been the name of the beer and the characters telling the story.
How many cans deep are you now?
We are getting close to 30 but its somewhere in the late 20s. I’ll have to start counting.
Tell us about the Tap Room?
We are open 7 days a week. Our hours are Mon.-Thurs. 2p-10p – 11a-10p F-S and 11a-8p on Sunday. 10 taps, indoor seating year round and two patios in the summer. We do winterize one of the patios, and it says warm even on the coldest of days. We can fit 4-5 tables out there plus 20-30 people. We are looking into adding a fire pit to the other so we can keep it open as well. We’ll see what happens. We have a small food program. We roast soft pretzels out of our spent grain that we serve with pimento beer cheese. And rotational flatbread pizza with seasonal toppings all on pizza dough made by Arturo’s Baked Goods.
We have live entertainment. Every Tuesday Robert Rolfe Feddersen is there doing vinyl night. Between May and October, we’ll also do a two-hour acoustic set. We booked 22 local musicians this summer, and we’ll be doing the same thing next summer. We occasionally do other nights of music spattered here and there. Robert is kind of our unofficial sponsor. He came in our place before we had a taproom and wanted to play. So as soon as we could, we set that up, and he’s been doing it ever since. He committed to our vinyl night and didn’t do that for anyone else. Now, my twin brother, myself, one other owner, a guitarist and Feddersen started playing together in a 5 piece band called Beer Hippies. We recorded a couple songs on 2” analog tape in Chicago with Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Cheap Trick) as Feddersen always does. We book a show a month. My brother and I stopped playing when we got busy with the brewery, but he (RRF) got us back into it. We’re general rock n’ roll that’s a little folky, little bluesy. Depending on who wrote the song. My brother tends to write bluesy, and Feddersen adds the folk influence. We’re up to about 12 original songs.
The events set in stone at Burn’ Em are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we do four big seasonal parties. In the middle of January, we do our Long Johns On release. We do barrel aged versions of it. It’s an outdoor winter fest, so we bring out the higher alcohol beers that keep you warm. We do a 420 event on April 20 or whatever Saturday it falls closest to. We serve 20 or so beers and have about 5 bands. 420 is more music-centric whereas the others are celebrating beer releases. Our anniversary party is in mid-June.
What is your favorite beer to Enjoy? What’s the most popular?
We are very varietal. We’re up to about 300-400 recipes now. The 10 beers on tap change regularly. I do really like our most popular beers. Well, actually I’m not a fan of one of our biggest selling summer beers we release from April to October is Coconoats. But that’s just a coconut thing. It’s an American Pale Wheat Ale. Thick and creamy mouthfeel, but lively and refreshing. The coconut becomes more present as it warms. People come in all winter asking for it, but it’s only available in the summer.
The Fourteen Buck Chuck is one of my favorite. It’s our biggest selling beer by far. All Citra hopped American Pale Ale. A lot of Citra in the end boil and dry hopping. It’s very hop forward. Thinker body. A little bit of a haze going on. The illustration on the can is a $14 bill. We can’t keep that one around enough. We always wanted to brew different beers, but we find ourselves brewing that one all the time now.
I really like our sours. Although the interest in sours is growing, the popularity isn’t there yet. My favorite beer we ever brewed was this Beet and Rosemary sour that we only did one keg of and it’s probably not even something we can recreate. It was a wild fermented sour. It was fantastic. It was two different barrels of a wild saison. Once they were at their prime, we blended them together. We added 25 pounds of roasted beets that we roasted in our facility and added some fresh rosemary from our garden. The whole keg was gone within 24 hours. (laughs) We probably can’t make it again, unfortunately.
That’s a bit of a Tenacious D “Greatest Song in the World” Story. The “greatest sour in the world” but you can never taste it. Only the tributes.
(Shared laughter) Yeah, this watermelon “I’ll Be The Same” is one of my favorite sours we have done as well. It turned out really good. We use the same “I’ll Be The Same” base and add different ingredients before fermenting. We recently did a tangerine version that turned out really well. A cherry, a raspberry, etc.… Whatever we can find really.
You have 10 of your beers on tap, 7 growlers, and additional bottles & cans.
We release a new beer every Friday. Depending on the crowd, sometimes we tap two new beers.
Yesterday we tapped three new beers to celebrate the hop harvest. Three wet-hopped varieties and a garden topped flatbread pizza. All to celebrate the harvest.
When did the current recipes come about?
There are quite a few that came from when we brewed at my house. We had about six or seven carboys going that would ferment in my closet. Hop Parade is one of them.
Your clothes had a good yeast smell to them?
Oh yeah, especially when we had one blow up. Over fermented and just covered some shit.
Are there any others that the recipes that started in the closet and moved its way up?
Actually a good handful. We’re so varietal. So the ones that you see in cans our kind of flagships. The Hop Parade, the Cream Corn, those are both long-standing recipes.
Funny story of how Cream Corn came to be… One of our old roommate’s aunts would just stuff our freezer full of these bags of this home-made cream corn. So my brother wrote a cream ale recipe. We didn’t add lactose like some cream ales, we just utilized the lactose from the dairy in the actual cream corn.
Now we use that as our gateway beer. For those who aren’t familiar with craft beer styles and come in asking “what is the closest thing to a standard domestic lager?” we point them in the direction of the Cream Corn. It’s an easy drinking, nice smooth beer, so it tends to win them over.
Have you done any collaborations?
We’ve done close to 100 now. We have one on tap now with Alter Brewing up in Downers Grove IL. It’s a New England style IPA. One of our parties we did 9 collabs specifically for the event. Had them all on tap at the same time. We’ve done collabs with Hailstorm Brewing, Workhorse, 350, Mikerphone, Shoreline, Bare Hands Fountain Square, Flat 12 to name a few. We are talking with Blue Nose now about doing a collab. We get around. We do a lot of collabs in Chicago and Michigan because we can’t sell there without a distributor. So that’s a way we can introduce ourselves into areas we wouldn’t otherwise be.
You are going to be at Amber Waves next week which is a new festival helping introduce the craft beer industry to Jasper County. Do you know what you’ll be sampling?
We’ll figure it out early this week. Matt or Danny on our team will be down there, and they’re probably setting something aside for it as we speak.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this, looking forward to sampling Burn’em out there!
For more information on Burn’em Brewing click here.
Last chance to your purchase tickets to Amber Waves Brewfest!