Evil Czech Brewery is closing up in Culver, but Simon O’Keeffe is still heading down there for work.
O’Keeffe was hired in April to be the local craft beer standout’s new head brewer and while much of his focus has been on the main brewpub in Mishawaka, he’s been tasked with turning the smaller brewery in Culver into a research and development facility — a place where he and his team can experiment with one-off and non-mainstream beer styles.
“Now that we’re up to full speed here, we’ve taken on a new employee, we have the freedom to go down there,” O’Keeffe said. “It’s going to be 100 percent wild yeast strains and sour beers.”
Wild yeast like brettanomyces gives beer a funky flavor that’s sometimes likened to “barnyard” or “horse blanket.” The process is controlled these days, but wild yeast strains have been used to produce beer in open air fermenters since before brewers knew all of the chemistry behind it.
Sour beer, sometimes itself brewed with wild yeast strains, is typically produced by introducing a bacteria, such as lactobacillus, that gives off acidity.
Wild and sour beers are all the rage with beer geeks, as O’Keeffe can attest. The only problem is his new experimental brewhouse, which at 28 barrels of fermenter space is about a fourth the size of the Mishawaka location, has a shelf life. Evil Czech founder and owner George Pesek announced he would be shuttering his original location by the end of September and indicated he might look to sell the brewery.
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O’Keeffe confirmed he’ll be free to use the facility for wild and sour beers for the time being.
O’Keeffe, who stepped in when former brewmaster Scott Ciampa moved to Cedar Park, Texas, comes to Indiana by way of California and Massachusetts, two hubs of modern American craft brewing innovation. But his roots are in classic European beer styles. A native of Ireland, he learned his craft at Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery, a brewpub he’s frequented since he was old enough to lift a pint.
“I find I have more of an appreciation for the classic beer styles: stouts, reds, pilsners, which are a lot of the beers I’ve been doing,” he said. “I’ve been getting into sour beers for the past few years as well, but they’ve taken a while to come ‘round.”
O’Keeffe has made other changes since taking over for Ciampa, tweaking the recipes for American wheat Bobblehead (he’s made it hoppier and drier) and rye India pale ale Blackbeard’s Delight (he punched up the rye), overhauling beers like double IPA Three 6 Hoppia (he’s sticking with southern hemisphere hops) and adding new beers like Irish red O’Keeffe’s and hefeweizen St. Benedikt.
He said the new iteration of Blackbeard’s Delight has been so well received, the brewery plans to add it to its can lineup before year’s end. With Bobblehead, Lucky Dog, Voodoo Vanilla Rye Porter, White Reaper, General George Patton Pilsner and Blonde Czich, that’ll bring the can total to seven. O’Keeffe said by next spring, the brewery will have eight beers available in cans.
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The brews O’Keeffe is producing in Culver stand to be Evil Czech’s most innovative yet.
“We are kind of keeping it under wraps, but we’re probably going to do a take on an IPA and then some more traditional styles of sours,” O’Keeffe said.
The brewmaster said the beers will be available in 22 ounce bomber packaging at the Mishawaka bar anywhere from early this winter to late next spring. According to Evil Czech manager Steve Schrimsher, the release date isn’t the only thing up in the air— the long term plans for the Culver brewhouse are completely unknown at this time. O’Keeffe can only hope to make the most of it while it lasts.
“I like the way there are no rules here in the States,” he said. “In Europe, there is still a certain kind of conservative view of beer. On the flipside of that, I think sometimes the drinkability of beer gets forgotten about. Beer is supposed to be drinkable.”