29 May Evil Czech Brewery’s Simon O’Keeffe To Start New Brewing Adventure In Croatia
If pizza is pretty good even when its bad, then the opposite can be true as well. When someone leaves a job, even if it’s under the best of terms the situation still kind of sucks. Simon O’Keeffe is leaving Evil Czech Brewery in Mishawaka to begin a new adventure in Europe. It’s great for him, and everyone at Evil Czech is very supportive, but even with those positives, it still sucks for all of us.
When the mad Irishman appeared in northern Indiana in late 2014, Evil Czech was already an established brewery. Yet Simon helped them to take the next steps and get the most out of their 15 BBl brew house. They started distributing, even out of state, and they increased their production every year. Now, almost three years later, Simon says it is the right time to take on the next challenge in his brewing career – opening a start up brewery.
Simon began home brewing while he still lived in Ireland, and he established a lot of brewing contacts in the islands and on the continent, contacts that are still bearing fruit. Through a friend of a friend in the industry, O’Keeffe heard of a craft brewery that was just a beginning of an idea in Zagreb, Croatia. In most of the situations Simon has found himself professionally, the breweries he joined were established, with a portfolio of beers and recipes that were at least a starting point, so this would be very different.
Certainly, Simon reworked the flagship beers at Evil Czech, but this is different from developing recipes, contacts, supply chains, and a philosophy from scratch. Simon told me that Zagreb is a burgeoning craft beer market, with several new brewery openings in the past couple of years. A lot of the education of the craft beer fan has already taken place, and now the population is clamoring for an influx of American beer styles, including juicy NE IPAs.
This is the niche that Simon and the owners of Positive Brewing in Zagreb will fill, an IPA heaven with a side trip through the sours. He is very excited that Zagreb is a wine capital, so the availability of barrels will make an aging and sour program not only easy, but diverse. Croatia grows lots of fruits and herbs, so infusions and soured fruit beers is a natural road that they will follow.
The owners of Positive are seasoned beer and hop importers, so Simon will have no worries about getting any of the ingredients he needs for making stunning beers. The brewing equipment is already on it way to the brewery, so they will hit the ground running once Simon gets to town. They hope to have their first beers out only weeks after firing up the boilers for the first time.
While Evil Czech had toyed with sours under Simon’s watch, this was not a focus of the brewery. How could it be with the popularity of beers Static Chipmunk Imperial IPA, Patton Pilsner, and the Voodoo Vanilla Rye Porter. It takes a lot of the brew houses capacity to supply thirsty drinkers with these popular beers. At Positive Brewing, the sour program will be a focus from the beginning, and Simon will bring the experience he has gained while in the US.
Unfortunately, he’s not here much longer in North America. The plan is for a new Evil Czech head brewer to be hired in the next few weeks, and for Simon to help him or her get acclimated to the system before he leaves on July 15th. George Pesek, founder of Evil Czech Brewery, is excited for Simon’s opportunity, but he is disappointed that this will take his brewer away from him. This represents big changes for both George and Simon, but they are parting on the best of terms, and now George has a place to stay in Zagreb. The two of them are actually planning a visit to Croatia for George next summer.
In the meantime, the two of them have started the search for a new head brewer. An ad was placed on ProBrewer.com on Wednesday and on Brewbound.com on Thursday. In just that short time they have received multiple resumes and inquiries already. Simon says he is looking to leave the brewery with someone at least as experienced as he, and perhaps someone with a bit more varied background. At least two years of head brewer work is desired, but a brewer with four or more years of assistant brewer experience will be considered as well.
While Simon told me that no plans are in the works to change the beer recipes, he hopes that any new head brewer with ideas to improve beers will feel comfortable making those changes. A change in brewers is a chance for the patrons to experience something new as well, although change just for the sake of change is not what they are after. George and Simon are looking at a person or two from the northern Indiana, Chicago, lower Michigan regions may approach them, but they are still open to any brewer who comes in and knocks their socks off.
We wish Simon the best of luck with his new adventure, and recommend that patrons get up to Mishawaka to drink his beers before they are gone. Then, when the new brewer is aboard, get back to Evil Czech to experience Evil Czech all over again. What’s new, what’s the same, what is the new philosophy (if there is one)? These are all exciting opportunities for Indiana craft beer fans – but even this happy parting kind of sucks.