The Brew Life
Turning a brewing hobby into a profession.
By Mike Marr
I’ve always been a beer enthusiast. Growing up in the New York Finger Lakes region, there was an ample supply of Canadian lagers to choose from, yet I had an affinity for the European beers that were scarce and elusive. For me, beer was not an ordinary alcoholic beverage, but something that should be enjoyed and cherished with the best of friends. From this, it comes as no surprise to my friends and family that I taught myself how to brew and eventually turned a hobby into a profession.
I started home brewing when my wife bought me a kit as a birthday present. The kit included all the necessary equipment required to brew a batch of beer and ingredients for five gallons of homebrew. While the results of the liquid produced could pass as beer, it wasn’t very good. I then picked up a few homebrew books and decided I needed to learn the fundamentals, as well as the chemistry behind brewing. A few more batches and a lot of time focusing on the details and voilà! I was able to make consistently good beer that was comparable to commercial brands.
While drinking a couple bottles of homebrew on a hot summer afternoon, I was challenged by a friend to create a German Kölsch. I researched the style and found a couple recipes online. I then compared the similarities and differences while making several test batches. It wasn’t long before I found what I thought was perfection.
This recipe became a year-round staple in our household and soon our neighbors couldn’t get enough. One of the neighbors suggested I enter the beer at the Great Lakes Brew Fest in Racine, Wis. It sounded like a great idea, so I signed up for the festival under the homebrew section and got to work making 35 gallons of Marrvelous Madness. Two weeks before the festival, I received an email stating the homebrew section wasn’t going to happen that year. I called the organizer and explained that I went out of my way to create a ton of beer and he said, “Don’t worry, if anyone asks, you’re a startup brewery.”
My neighbor, his cousin and I showed up for the festival and found ourselves in a tent with prominent Chicago breweries. We kept to our startup story, served beer to thousands, handed out surveys to get prospective customers insights about the beer, and had a great time. After witnessing the lines for our beer dominate the festival – even over the big boys – and reviewing the overwhelming positive survey responses, the notion of a brew life became my next obsession.
Buffalo Creek Brewing
With 15 years of home brewing experience, countless “research” trips and tireless hours poured into a business plan, I decided it was time to turn my hobby into a profession. While looking at prospective properties, we stumbled across a very peculiar looking building in Long Grove, Ill., a historic village about 35 miles northwest of Chicago. It was the former Art Studio of the Long Grove Academy of Fine Arts with an impressive cathedral ceiling and a lot of character.
The building was under renovations in 2006, but was under funded and eventually foreclosed on. It sat in a raw, unfinished state for 10 years before we purchased it and transformed it into a state-of-the-art brewing facility with a Bavarian-themed Taproom, Biergarten, Event Room, Patio, Brew Masters Lounge and a manicured wooded landscape with scenic lawns. In the year and a half since opening, my dream of turning a hobby into a profession has come full circle.
Buffalo Creek Brewing has created 12-plus signature brews, which are being enjoyed by many either in the Taproom, the regional markets we now distribute to, or the private events we host including rehearsal dinners, weddings and corporate holiday parties. We have quickly become known as “Lake County’s Only Destination Brewery.”
Mike Marr was a home brewer for 15 years and yearned to turn his passion into an exciting business. In 2012, he submitted Marrvelous, his German Style Wheat Kölsch to the Great Lakes Beer Festival and had an amazing reception which prompted him to start thinking about opening a brewery. As part of his research, he visited more than 300 breweries, took notes of what makes drinking beer a fun and memorable experience. As he started to formulate his plan, it became clear that he wanted to create a destination brewery. A place where beer lovers and families could come, relax and have fun while enjoying well-crafted libations. Marr can be reached at 847-821-6140.