Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local brewers.
Kyle Tavares was a science major in college, pre-med. That would make any parent proud. But he also knew that standing around a laboratory all day might not be his ideal gig.
And then the future head brewer at Mile Wide Beer Co. found craft beer.
“I think it was probably Dogfish Head 90 Minute for me,” Tavares says, referring to the well-known IPA. He recalls playing softball with Gray’s Bookstore co-workers during college and a teammate had a small cooler with beer in it. He was offered one, and when he reached inside, he soon found it wasn’t the Milwaukee’s Best or Natural Light Tavares was used to.
“I opened it, and I said, ‘What the f#%@ is this?’” Kyle recalls. “This isn’t beer. It threw me off.” He’s pretty sure the one he chose was a Dogfish Head, and not long after he was at Liquor Barn being bowled over by the selection of beer in front of him, and he found Dogfish 90.
“I said, ‘I can drink this, this is good,’” he says.
Soon, he discovered Rich O’s Public House (now New Albanian Brewing Co.), began exploring more styles and brands, and not long after that he bought his first homebrew kit and began brewing at home.
(The fermenter he employed in making his first batches is still used to catch condensation in Mile Wide’s brewhouse.)
Soon, he was volunteering at New Albanian Brewing Co. beside brewer Jared Williamson, who now brews for Schlafly Brewing Co. in St. Louis, cleaning kegs and doing whatever else he could to help out and learn the ropes.
He fell in love with brewing.
Needless to say, his life plans soon changed. He saw two obvious choices: Continue cleaning kegs and eventually hope to get a job at a brewery to work his way up, or go to brewing school. That’s how he ended up in Chicago at the World Brewing Academy.
“I saw that this is a job people do,” he says. “I started seeing more about bigger breweries having a more diverse employment staff. I quickly decided I was done with the past. I knew I didn’t want to be in lab all day and be a chemist.”
Part of his education included studying in Germany for three months, where he and classmates toured breweries and learned from some of the country’s top brewers. Beer was consumed along the way, and in Germany, brews are served in steins or liters. Tavares had a classmate who was, for lack of a better term, something of a class clown.
“Most of the questions would be about beer process, technical things, but his question would always be, ‘What’s the most number of liters you’ve had in one day?’” he recalls.
The highest number they heard in response was 12, so when classes were ending, the decision was made to take the “liter challenge” to see who could beat that number. No one did; Tavares made it to eight before he caved.
“I don’t recommend this,” he says. “That was definitely an experience. Luckily, the food in Munich is great for that, because it’s all starchy and … pork knuckles.”
Williamson later recruited Tavares to come to Schlafly to brew, which is where he connected with Mile Wide co-owner Scott Shreffler — the brewer also is owned and operated by Matt Landon and Patrick Smith — where he focused on brewing day in and day out.
He later shifted to quality control, which also was singularly focused. These days, he’s not only in charge of brewing, he’s also involved in going to events, finance, paperwork — all the trappings of owning a business.
“Opening this place, it’s so many things I had no exposure to, whether it’s sourcing equipment or the legal side of things,” he says. “Which, luckily, I’ve got good partners that work on that shit. I learn enough to know that I don’t need to know any more than I do.”
Tavares estimates he works roughly 60 hours per week between brew days and all the et cetera, and he also recently bought a house in Germantown and adopted a puppy — a pit bull mix named Gerald, a rescue from Saving Sunny.
Having a puppy is enough to keep someone busy, job or no job.
“He’s the unofficial brewery mascot,” Tavares says, beaming as he shows a video of Gerald running around the living room. “When we first got him, he seemed so lazy and slow. Now, he keeps us busy. He’s definitely a puppy.”
And as Tavares and the Mile Wide team prepare for this year’s Hops on the Hill event on Saturday, Sept. 15 — he brewed a collaboration New England IPA with three breweries from Tennessee for the event — he has no regrets about giving up a future wearing a lab coat.
What he finds funny is that some people, when they learn Tavares has a brewing degree, are surprised.
“They say, ‘People go to school for brewing? I thought you just mix some stuff together and then add alcohol,’” Tavares says. “There are lot of people who believe that. Making beer, it’s not rocket science, but it’s still science. It’s beer science.”