Earlier this summer I asked two Montana brewery owners/brewers what it took to make the leap from avid homebrewer to building and operating a commercial brewery for a piece appearing in the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. My first conversation, with Kalispell Brewing Co.’s Cole Schneider is at this link.
Cole had only recently completed the longer-than-expected task of converting a historic building into a brewery. Chuck, a seven-year veteran of the Montana brewing scene has done it twice since opening Quarry Brewing in Butte’s Uptown. Read along for my (unfortunately) quick conversation with Chuck and his unusual entry into homebrewing.
“It is Truly What I was Meant to Do.”
Chuck Schnabel, co-owner and brewer of Quarry Brewing, got into home brewing in a way he might not recommend to everyone. “About Twenty-one years ago, I wrecked my Nissan truck,” explains Chuck. “The only thing I could salvage out of it was the radio. So I sold the radio and bought a homebrew kit.”
At the time Chuck was serving in the military and stationed near Tacoma, WA. He became a frequent visitor to a local homebrew shop and before long was helping out at the store. “It was great for trying recipes, evaluating malts and hops and learning how the ingredients worked to produce wide varieties of beers,” says Chuck.
A brewer for the local Big Horn Brewing (Ram Restaurant & Brewery) recruited Chuck to help develop recipes. Within three months Chuck became an assistant brewer and quickly moved to head brewer before being placed in charge of all lab work and quality control for eight of the company’s breweries.
Ready to leave the busy pace of life in western Washington, the Anaconda, MT, native moved back to Montana with his wife Lyza in 1999. The triggering point for starting his own brewery came from a meeting with a startup operation in Anaconda. Though he did not end up joining that effort (and the brewery was short-lived), Chuck knew he could put the pieces together for his own brewing adventure.
“I had no idea how to finance it,” Chuck says, “but I bought used equipment from Canada and everything else I needed to open up the brewery for $100,000.” That was 2007 in a leased building in uptown Butte, a space they quickly outgrew. In 2011, Chuck and Lyza purchased the Grand Hotel building, renovating the basement into a larger brewery and taproom, a process that took much of Chuck’s time.
“I lost sight of brewing during the construction phase,” Chuck notes, “but when my assistant brewer left for a new location I rediscovered how much I enjoy it. Now, I start brewing at 5:30 a.m. Turning on the radio and mashing in is fantastic! It is truly what I was meant to do.”
Note: A version of this story first appeared in the August/September Issue of the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. The theme of the issue was “Living the Dream” reflecting those in the industry who had made the leap from homebrewing to commercial brewing. Look for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News in breweries, bottle shops and select bars throughout the Rocky Mountain region.