What do you do when your education in mechanical engineering meshes with your love for beer to create a passion for brewing? If you’re Brent Schwoerer, you open a microbrewery. The 37-year-old University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign graduate and his wife Melissa decided to jump and landed three years later with the opening of their very own farm to table microbrewery – Engrained.
Now, the couple and their boys Jack, 6, Wyatt, 4, and Mason, 2, are proud of their undertaking. It’s all in the details for these two and Eighteen21.com was fortunate enough to catch up with Brent to ask about their labor of love.
Where did the idea for Engrained come from?
I studied mechanical engineering at UIUC (U of I Urbana/Champaign) and then completed my Master’s in Human Resource Education. Following college I worked for Caterpillar in product development as an engineer for 10 years.
My background in mechanical engineering led me to home brewing in 2009. I fell in love with the science of brewing and hands-on approach of creating something from scratch.
I’ve always had entrepreneurial dreams and loved the restaurant industry from my college days working at Murphy’s Pub in Champaign and the business plan flowed from there. I grew up on my family’s dairy and grain farm, so agriculture and farming have always been a passion. The local, farm fresh, food aspect was a natural fit and has allowed me to reconnect with farming.
What is Engrained?
My wife Melissa and I have created every aspect of Engrained from the ground up. It’s a farm to table microbrewery with a focus on sourcing from Central Illinois farmers, many of which include my own family - one of my uncles raises beef cattle and I have a cousin who I buy all our eggs from. Two of my neighbors growing up raise beef, pork, and the local chicken we source in addition to our cheese curds. I also love brewing and creating new beers and am incredibly proud of the variety and quality of beers we offer onsite.
In your opinion, what makes a good beer?
Quality is the key. Brewing science is complicated and producing a great beer requires mastery of this science and discipline. Freshness is a key component of quality. Most beers are best when they’re freshest. Brewpubs produce the freshest beer on the market. Our beer doesn’t get packaged, shipped, sit in a warehouse, or sit on a shelf. Brew and serve is what we do.
You hear a lot about farm to table - what exactly does this mean?
At Engrained it means we buy direct from farmers and use those products as ingredients in the food we serve. I have a set of standards for how products are grown, or raised, so we look for strategic farm partners.
In the coming weeks I will sit down with one of our produce farmers regarding what he will grow next year. I will promise to buy certain quantities and he will meet my requirement of raising his produce chemical free. This is an example of a strategic partner. I am also currently working on my 2018 beef forecast with my beef farmers to ensure my sourcing needs are met.
Farm to table isn’t easy, but the quality of ingredients I get along with the pride I take in partnering with, and supporting, local farmers is worth it.
What are your most popular items?
Our beer outsells any other item by quantity. It’s interesting to watch the different beers vie for the #1 spot and how that changes throughout the seasons. Our top selling food item is our cheese curds. Our cheese is the key as it is never more than one week old. One of the neighboring dairy farmers I grew up with turned their dairy operation into a creamery and they use 100% of their milk to make cheese.
Do you have any seasonal beers or food offerings for the fall or winter?
We have a really popular fall harvest salad right now, which features local butternut squash and apples from the Chatham Apple Barn with a maple syrup vinaigrette dressing. Our Oktoberfest beer has been very popular and will probably run out soon. Our next release is our autumn dunkel, a dunkelweizen (dark wheat) with maple, cinnamon, and bourbon - the perfect beer to warm up on a cool day.
Where does your passion for brewing come from?
I have always loved science, which is what drew me to the field of engineering in the first place. A balance of designing, building/crafting, and troubleshooting is an ideal fit for me.
What is the most rewarding thing about running Engrained?
Running the brewery at Engrained is a dream. I also enjoy running the business and managing the challenges that come with operating a 50 employee small business. Being the only person who runs the brewery and personally crafting every single pint of beer that our guests enjoy is the most rewarding part of Engrained for me.
Is there anything else that you would like to share or that you would like us to know about Engrained?
We are truly fortunate to have an exceptional team that supports each other. Every aspect of our guests’ visits is important to us and we work hard to offer delicious food, a comfortable environment, and excellent service.
For more information about Engrained Brewing Company visit: