Stevenson grads ready to unveil their first craft beers
Stevenson High School graduate Brad Shaffer, 29, of Chicago pours a sample of GFY Stout at Spiteful Brewing, a microbrewery in Chicago, which he recently started with another Stevenson grad. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 21, 2012 4:52PM
BUFFALO GROVE — Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein are hoping there is something new for their friends to try this Thanksgiving.
And that “new” thing would be the craft beer the two have spent the last few years perfecting.
“We’re trying to get it out by Thanksgiving,” Shaffer said Nov. 14. “It’s going to be close.”
“We don’t want to rush the beer just to meet that goal,” Klein cautioned. “We just want to make sure that, when it is out, it’s right.”
“It” is Spiteful Brewing, the craft beer firm operating, essentially, in a janitor’s closet of a warehouse in Chicago’s Northcenter neighborhood. The two graduates of Stevenson High School hoped to make a triumphant return to “the ‘burbs’” the night before Thanksgiving — the vision being to sit at the bar in the Village Tavern in Long Grove with a crew of old high school friends, all enjoying Spiteful’s first five products at one of the first businesses to sell it.
The vision began three years ago, when Shaffer had just moved back to Chicago from Colorado and was unemployed; his childhood friend was working but hated his job. They talked about going into business together, which led to the idea of opening a bar.
“We were running numbers, and it didn’t really make sense,” Shaffer said.
They were drinking microbrewed beer as they talked about the future.
“Then Jason’s like ‘We could make craft brew,’” as Shaffer recalled.
They went out and bought a home-brewing book, got some ingredients and, on Nov. 22, 2009, cooked their first batch on a kitchen stove. They knew from the beginning that a real business was years away from reality.
“We’re not just going to open a microbrewery the next day,” Shaffer said. “But we slowly started getting better and better.”
Working as a team is a habit the pair forged long ago: They met at age 9, on a pond, when they joined their first hockey team. Klein preferred offense, Shaffer specialized in defense, but both enjoyed one of the stereotypes of hockey players — belligerence.
“We were always there to make the other one angry,” Klein said. “We would be spiteful to each other.”
Through years of experimentation (and more than 100 test batches) and the seventh-month process of getting a business license, the first five products of Spiteful Brewing are about to go public.
Spiteful’s first season brew will be a brown ale for the winter; its year-round offerings will be:
• Bitter Biker, a double India pale ale
• an unnamed pale ale
• Fat Badger, an Irish ale
• G.F.Y., a stout
The process of finding the right mixes for each recipe was laborious, they said — and rewarding.
“It’s a blend of science and art,” Klein said. “Tweak it, tweak it, tweak it.”
The result of all that is Spiteful’s first 320 gallons of commercial-grade brews, sitting in four tanks in the Spiteful closet. Shaffer recalled the moment, not that long ago, when they took their first sips of the formula that they knew would be the final mix for G.F.Y., the first they got right.
“This is a reliever,” Shaffer said. “It’s not just homebrew anymore, this is commercial.”
“This” is now a day job, as well — one that both said is off to an uncharacteristically spite-less start.
“I wake up in the morning, I come here and I brew beer,” Shaffer said. “It’s a really good feeling. I wake up in the morning and I’m happy.”
They are hoping that dozens, maybe hundreds, at a couple of bars and at Binny’s Beverage Depot, will discover Spiteful this weekend. If all has gone well, they will have spent much of the early part of this week pouring their products into their bottles themselves, then applying the just-got-in labels by hand.
Last week, the labels were still in limbo, and the Thanksgiving objective was questionable. Sitting in the Spiteful closet with Shaffer, Klein looked at the tanks holding their products, considered their vision again, and shook his head.
“It’s going to be very close.”