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Brew & A: Bobby "Bobby_M" Mierzejwski

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What are you doing right now? Hanging out on HomeBrewTalk, probably sitting in a cubicle or office, lightly tapping the keyboard to make busy noises while blurting the occasional vulgarity to convince those around you that you are super busy and hard at work all the while dreaming of brewing all day every day.
What would you do? Would it be starting your own shop? Isn't that the dream?
For Bobby Mierzejwski the dream is a reality. Known as Bobby_M here in the community, Bobby is founder and CEO of BrewHardware.com. A community sponsor and innovator in the brewing world, Bobby sat down for Brew & A to tell us more about brewing beer, starting a brew business, and what it takes to be successful in both.
Austin: How did you start brewing?
Bobby: My wife bought me a very low end starter kit for the holidays in 2005 after a passing mention about being interested that you could actually make beer yourself. This kit was pretty similar to the Mr. Beer product that is so notoriously deficient in quality but it was even more obscure and purchased at Kohl's department store. It's the kit shown in one of the pictures below. I'm pretty sure half the fermentables came from corn sugar and the hops were old and cheesy. That batch was awful, but it made me want to do better so I bought a proper 5 gallon equipment kit and got back on the horse.

Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Bobby: This is impossible to answer. I haven't found my favorite beer yet. One commercial that I always have a six pack of is Troeg's Hopback Amber. I like American hops layered on top of a good malt backbone. A good runner up is Avery's Ellie's Brown. When I feel like I can splurge, I send a lot of money to New Glarus, Russian River and Belgium.
Austin: Have you brewed any clones of the commercial beers you like?
Bobby: Back when I first got serious about brewing, one of my favorite beers was Red Hook ESB, and that was the first and last beer I ever tried to clone. To me there's something counter-intuitive about cloning. While it's challenging, it take some of the personal art away from what homebrewing means to me. More often, I use new found favorite commercial beers as inspiration for future brews and use it to figure out ingredients I might like to use. One example is Troeg's Hopback Amber. I found out that they use malts that you'd typically find in European Amber Lagers rather than the typical American 2-rows. So, yes to style and ingredient cues, no to clones.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Bobby: My pumps. I can't imagine going back to pouring several gallons of scorching hot liquids.
Austin: Any horror stories? I think we all have one or two.
Bobby: Definitely. The day before I ordered a pump I poured (splashed) at least a half-gallon of strike water onto my jeans providing a bit of a slow burn. I never thought it would happen, but it was my first 10 gallon batch and the amount of water I was trying to pour was just too unwieldy. Pump ordered.

Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Bobby: Nothing sticks out as particularly bad. Either I'm good at spotting the fad products or just lucky.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Bobby: This is one of the most versatile hobbies that can satisfy a lot of personalities. For me it's a perfect combination of art, science, and engineering. The social outlet of meeting so many different kinds of people is also a major aspect that keeps me interested.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Bobby: I brew using all methods and choose depending on my end goal. My usual goal is to make the best beer I can, as close to my intended style as possible. That usually means all grain if I can afford the time. In other cases, I just want to bang out something to drink so a 100% extract brew does that for me.
Austin: How do you decide what you're going to brew?
Bobby: I used to be able to plan my next bunch of brews a few weeks in advance because my previous line of work was so predictable. I remember getting it in my head that I'd brew every style in the BJCP guidelines and not stop or repeat one until I got them all. HAHA, I must not have had kids yet.
At this point I have to keep a lot of ingredients on hand to be able to just brew something on whim. It's not what I'd call a very evolved form of brewing because I don't necessarily ferment with the yeast I wanted to use because I didn't get a chance to make a starter. The sunny side of this situation is that being able to crank out a decent beer without adequate planning is still a pretty admirable skill. I mostly get my inspiration from grabbing a pint at a bar where a somewhat disregarded beer style is brought back to the forefront. For example, I just got to have some Shlenkerla Marzen on tap and I'm pretty sure I'll be brewing a Rauchbier next.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences
Bobby: All of my favorite brewing is done in groups and most of the time that's with my club, The WHALES. It's never just about beer. We've boiled 40 gallons of wort in an oak barrel using hot rocks, made huge Russian Imperial Stouts aged in fresh Bourbon barrels, and I really enjoy hosting our ongoing sour barrel projects that have been going since 2008.
Austin: Can you tell us more about that project?
Bobby: The hot rock project is best described in this video:
The current barrel project that I'm hosting is a 3-4 year Solera with Lambic style beer. We've been rolling over various sour beers in this French Oak barrel that originally held Cabernet, year after year. I figured she had one last ride in her so I made it a long one. 10 shareholders filled the 60 gallon barrel initially and then every 6 months, a team of two shareholders brews 16 gallons, takes 15 out of the barrel and puts 16 back in. The beer that is removed is aged on some kind of fruit for another few months, bottled and distributed to all shareholders. That cycle repeats 5 times and then everyone takes a 5 gallon share directly from the barrel. It's such a long project that we've already had to move the barrel once.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Bobby: This is just as impossible as coming up with a favorite. While I can appreciate beers that exemplify a classic style even if they are not a favorite style of mine (Hefeweisen for example), I like obscurity a bit more. Don't get me wrong, a beer that pushes a style's too hard just to be wacky or "off centered" isn't the same. I like bold flavors that are not driven by high ABV. American sour ales, smoked beers, etc.
Austin: Close your eyes and breath deep. Think of beer. What's in your hand?
Bobby: Interesting. The one that immediately came to mind was Saison Dupont. Whenever I think of beer in terms of aroma, this is the one. I'm not even crazy about Saisons and I've never had a homebrewed one that I liked (my own included) but Saison Dupont's aroma is a real standout.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Bobby: Shiny, clean in place, and semi-automated without losing too much of the hands on aspect of brewing. I know quite a bit about equipment these days and I test out a lot of great products but I will never settle for a brew rig in any static configuration. Playing around the gear and reconfiguring means a lot to me and I'm always finding inspiration from ingenious homebrewers and their stainless steel toys.
Austin: Any new products coming out you're excited about?
Bobby: I've been incredibly lucky to find myself on the other end of supply chain in the last few years. Of course I'm admittedly biased, but I get really excited when I take a tinkered-together piece of DIY brewing hardware, have it manufactured and bring it to the masses. One gadget that has been a pet peeve of mine for years has been the cobbled together heat sticks made from Home Depot drain pipe. I finally designed something that is infinitely safer and can be made cheaply enough that no one should have an excuse to use drain parts again.

Now that I've tooted my own horn, I'm looking forward to checking out Chugger pumps' new higher horsepower pump. I've dabbled in "overkill" homebrew pumps from other manufacturers but I've always wanted one in stainless. I don't need it for my own system but our club's 2BBL brew system can definitely use it. I've also been watching for new reinvented fermenter designs that would make glass carboys obsolete, but I don't think we're there yet.
Austin: Any advice for people looking to start their own brew based business?
Bobby: Someone should be giving ME advice on this ;-) I guess the first thing I'd say is that you have to be sure you REALLY like beer, talking about beer, and listening to other people talk about beer. I suppose anyone reading this on HBT would fit those criteria. What I really mean is that if you're the type that can get burned out on a hobby by being too immersed in it, it would start feeling like a job pretty quickly.
I'm sure that's not something isolated to homebrewing, but I think going pro in any field that can also exist as a hobby would carry the same caveat. Another thing to think about is that brewing and business are two very different things. I suppose if you're passionate enough about "making it happen", whether it's a homebrew shop, a nano brewery, or a craft beer sticker business, you'd eventually figure out the business end of things in due time. I've been exposed to a lot of college classes, practical work experience, and other side hobbies that amazingly all became relevant all at the same time when I turned this thing into a business.
Browse through the community college adult enrichment catalog and look for accounting, book keeping, and Microsoft Office classes. If I had to pay a bunch of different people to do all these little jobs in a broke startup business, it would have tanked before I could ever quit my day job. I think the last bit of advice is to keep the bottom line, money, profits, etc all in mind as you move along, but don't ever let it be the reason you want to turn your passion into business. I decided to walk away from my long stable career to work at least twice as hard and it was never about the money. I've never been happier professionally than I am today.
Austin: How did you get started?
Bobby: The simple answer is that I built myself a few sight glasses, then built a couple more because I came up with a better design. One person asked me to make them a couple of them, and then two more, etc. It grew bigger and bigger. The other side of that startup story was that I just taught myself how to work the newer CMS style websites so that I could build a new website for my homebrew club. I leveraged that new skill to make the first draft of brewhardware.com.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've given you when you first started?
Bobby: There is no right way to brew. The journey to finding out what works best for you is 99% of the hobby. Ethanol is the other 1%.
***
Bobby_M, a member for eight years now and going as strong as ever, is making the brewing world go round through innovation, communication, and adhering to a superior quality and ethic that makes us proud to have him as a community sponsor. Please show your support of Bobby_M by visiting BrewHardware.com!
Salud!

 
"Hanging out on HomeBrewTalk, probably sitting in a cubicle or office, lightly tapping the keyboard to make busy noises while blurting the occasional vulgarity to convince those around you that you are super busy and hard at work all the while dreaming of brewing all day every day."
Hit the nail on the head...awkward.
 
I have purchased several orders from brewhardware.com and have always had a great experience. Bobby is knowledgeable, friendly, and knows how to treat customers. HBT, as well as the greater brewing community, is lucky to have him as a member.
 
I've known Bobby for as long as he's been on HBT and I'm proud to say that.
Great interview Bobby!
 
You definitely brought it all together for yourself. I like the obscure stuff myself. It's fun to research an extinct style & bring it back to life. Or even the rarer ones. That barrel with the hot rocks would be neat to try.
 
Great article. I really like this: "I decided to walk away from my long stable career to work at least twice as hard and it was never about the money. I've never been happier professionally than I am today."
I have watched a few of your videos - they are really awesome, thanks for making them.
 
Great to see this. I think I bought my first sightglass from Bobby about 5 years ago. He was my inspiration to just buy pots and do the work myself, and to build my brewstand. He's always been a big help.
 
Great to discover more about the person who I have been following for years. I have purchased 90% of my hardware from him and never regret it. Thx Bobby and keep the hardware shiny...
 
I've often thought running a shop would be cool. I think the market here is covered though. Cool that you're making it work. Cheers man!
 
Great interview! Bobby's store brewhardware.com is awesome. All of my fittings, pumps, hoses, etc came from him. Great support and customer service, and rock solid products!
I can't wait to try some of the new products.
Thanks Bobby!
John.
 
Bought a lot of stuff from Bobby and I couldnt be happier. I've just started "Hocus Pocus", my own gipsy brewery here in Brazil and i can tell the same thing as you: not easy at all, hard work, burocracy but enjoy every minute of it.
 
I would not have near as nice of a set up if I didn't find brewhardware.com. Great prices, awesome service. This was a great interview.
 
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