Greencastle Man Bringing BrewPub to Thirsty College Town – The Story of Wasser Beer Company 

Greencastle Man Bringing BrewPub to Thirsty College Town – The Story of Wasser Beer Company 

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By Donovan Wheeler of Indiana On Tap

Minutes into my conversation with Greencastle’s Chris Weeks, he pauses mid-sentence to address a nagging technical crisis unfolding at our patio table.  Picking up the menu in front of him, he props it upright between the pitcher of Dale’s IPA sitting before us and the table’s umbrella stem, blocking the sunlight from the beer.

“Most people think that beer gets skunked because of heat,” he explains waving his hand toward his handiwork.  “But it’s not heat that does it; it’s light.”

“That’s why it’s sometimes risky when you buy beer at a liquor store,” he continues.  “Sure, they put it in brown bottles, and that helps, but the longer it’s exposed to light, the more likely it’s going to end up skunked.”  As he spoke, my thoughts drifted to a few craft brews I’d purchased at the local store here in town, both of which tasted like pickled, hyper-sweetened vinegar extract despite the fact that they were delicious when I sampled them at their home taprooms.  Weeks’ point was made directly and succinctly, and suddenly the anecdotal stories about the mystery beers I’d bought made sense.


Weeks is traversing the very early stretches of what promises to be an exciting business venture: bringing a brewpub to the small town an hour west of Indianapolis. 

Owner and founder of Greencastle’s Wasser Beer Company, Weeks is traversing the very early stretches of what promises to be an exciting business venture: bringing a brewpub to the small town an hour west of Indianapolis.  Having only recently met with investors, many of the details which craft beer lovers in the area are dying to know (location, scope, size, etc.) all remain undisclosed.  What anyone can determine once they meet Weeks, however, is that he knows his beer; he’s passionate about the idea of community; and that he didn’t get to this stage by merely wishing it would happen.

With both a California and Indiana background, Weeks’ journey into the world of craft beer began mostly as a novelty.  A journeyman teacher, working with everyone from special needs and autistic children to female prison inmates, Weeks (who had always enjoyed cooking and good beer) was given a “Mr. Beer” kit for Christmas in 2009.

“I figured out very quickly,” Weeks explained, “that the ‘Mr. Beer’ kit was the ‘Easy Bake Oven’ way of doing things.”  Fascinated by the process, Weeks decided he wanted to know more about it.  But that journey, from novice aficionado to master brewer would not be traveled without additional stress from other sources. As Weeks’ love for the brewing process grew, he would also experience a very trying period working in the classroom.

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Chris Weeks is in the early stages of creating Greencastle’s first brewpub.
“Teaching at the DOC [Department of Corrections] was a great job,” Weeks said.  “It was a very progressive environment.  People from all over the world were coming and touring our facility, seeing what we were doing.”  Despite the international renown Weeks program was achieving, sea changes taking place in education following the 2010 midterm elections didn’t limit their impact on traditional public schools, and soon Weeks, like many other teachers across the state, suddenly saw the job security he had counted on slipping away.  As the women’s prison program unraveled, he moved from the DOC position to a similar job in the Indianapolis Public Schools spending much of his time working with their “Kaleidoscope” program: a special organization where staff members designed behavioral interventions for at-risk students.

“If you dropped in,” he said speaking of his work at IPS, “you would never know it was a struggling school.”  Nonetheless, as a period which Weeks describes as “five years of job insecurity at the public schools” continued, he eventually transitioned to another program in Lafayette. As the instability escalated, he realized that in his current position, he would never have the opportunity to see education reach its potential.  Even before he left IPS for Lafayette, Weeks’ work as an emerging brewer was becoming something more.  But experiencing a moment of eureka is one thing, acting on it is something altogether different.  And acting on it thoroughly, doing the best one can?  That’s simply Herculean.

“Teaching may not have been as stable as I had hoped,” he said, “but it was a hell of a lot more stable than saying, ‘I’m going to start my own business.'”

For Chris, the first step included a slow process teaching himself everything he could about brewing.  While his early home brewing had evolved over two years from that initial “Mr. Beer” to work with extract brewing and extensive self-study (reading staple works like John Palmer’s How to Brew, Zainasheff’s invaluable tome on yeast fermentation, as well as a regular podcast titled Brew-Strong), Weeks knew he needed to fully immerse himself in the brewing culture in order to become the master brewer he would need to be in order to successfully run his business.

So Chris traveled to St. Louis, stayed with a friend, and started working at Shaffly’s brewpub for the first two weeks of his stay.

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“One week, I cleaned over 75 kegs a day,” he commented, noting the grueling physical labor often ignored in the more romanticized descriptions of the job.  In fact, brewing is incredibly demanding work.  Besides the non-stop cleaning, Weeks “landscaped the mash,” working through the thick early form of beer with a long paddle in a fairly large scale 15-barrel system.  He also learned to chart the quality of the beer as it worked through the beer-making process, and watched all varieties of brew work from the early milling stage to the latter addition of yeast and eventually fermentation.

“It was very physical labor,” he said in reflection, “but I enjoyed it.  Actually, I loved that part of it.”  But what Weeks particularly valued was the education his internship provided.

“I like the scientific aspect of truly understanding how things happen,” he mentioned.  “And I loved the beer culture as well.  I loved sitting with other brewers talking about how a certain Belgian yeast came to America.”  

Once back in Indiana, Weeks had to finish his education and master the sometimes more critical element in brew pub operation: the development of a business model.  Fully aware of his limitations, he wisely sought the help of local experts who were, in his words, “crucial to the process.”  Foremost among them was Greencastle’s Ken Eitel (owner and founder of Hometown Visions) and Terre Haute’s Richard Pittlekow (serving on the Indiana Small Business Development Committee).

As important as both brewing skills and business acumen are, the final cog is arguably the most important one.  The centerpiece of Weeks’ presentation to his investors, and the success or failure of any brew pub for that matter, ultimately lies in the beverages themselves.  To that end, Weeks has deftly built on Wasser’s H20 motif (“Wasser” is the German word for “water,” pronounced “Vah-ssser”) with a quintet of house beers he’s extremely proud of.


Regardless which brew hooks local patrons, the over-arching water theme remains critical to Weeks’ vision, because as he put it: “Water is the most powerful force in the world,” and it’s the most critical element in the brewing process.

Leading the way is a coffee stout which Weeks is confident will increase the popularity of craft beer in Western Indiana, especially among women: “The Hoppy Professor.”  What makes his stout more unique is a dry-hop process which produced a “free style beer” he developed as he was “just being creative.”  In fact, the beer even held its own in regional competitions, earning a “Very Good” rating.  Wasser’s additional brews include a traditional German wheat beer called “Old Gold” (using a widely respected but little-used yeast); “Big Walnut Brown Ale,” which Weeks calls “a little bigger than some other browns”; “Putnam County Buzz Bomber Cider,” another “Very Good” beer using all local ingredients from the Indiana area; and a red ale titled “Wabash River Red.”  Regardless which brew hooks local patrons, the over-arching water theme remains critical to Weeks’ vision, because as he put it: “Water is the most powerful force in the world,” and it’s the most critical element in the brewing process.

With key presentations behind him, Weeks is cautiously and eagerly awaiting the next step toward creating a fully-operational physical brewing site.  And while he fully hopes to enjoy the success which his hard work will earn him, he is also a man who doesn’t forget where he’s been and what he’s given so much of his working life toward.  Still a man driven by the sense of public service which propelled him into teaching, Weeks’ brewery will also promote a “2% for Teachers” non-profit element, where a share of his revenue will go back to the schools.

Whether they are motived by good beer, a charitable spirit, or a respect for a hard-working entrepreneur, Western Indiana craft beer lovers will soon have the chance to enjoy local, fresh beer without having to plan their growler-runs around time-consuming trips to Indy.  For Chris Weeks the emerging reality of Wasser’s birth has been, in the end, a chance for him to celebrate the greatest by-product of his very hard work: “There’s an inherent pleasure in being able to give someone a beer and say, ‘I made this.'”

It’s a pleasure we can’t wait to share with him.


2 Comments
  • Jared Brentlinger
    Posted at 06:56h, 16 May Reply

    I am excited to see this come to Greencastle. Finally, fresh beer will be available to us citizens of Putnam County. I have a feeling he will be expanding in the first 3 years his doors open!
    PROST!

  • Kim Cassady
    Posted at 15:28h, 13 November Reply

    Way to go Weeksie! I’ll take a growler of each!

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