Sonder Stories Chapter 7: Zauber

Chapter 7 - Zauber German Lager

“If you can brew a lager well, then you can brew anything” -Chase

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Zauber is Sonder’s take on a German Lager, specifically a Zwickel Beer, which is a kellerbier that is not filtered. Chase did decide to filter this beer to help with the shelf life, but the rest of the recipe holds true to this rare and specific style of German lagers. The beer still has a good haze to it, which holds true to style. This was a beer that was supposed to be available at open, but with yeast issues and Chase’s dedication to true to style beer, the beer unfortunately had to be dumped. It’s not something any brewer or brewery ever wants to do, but when quality is of the utmost importance, it made the most sense to do it. It worked out in the long run because this beer is now one of the smoothest and most complex lagers available.

Chase loves this beer because of how drinkable it is, how clean and refreshing it is to the consumer, and how free from defect the beer is. Zauber has nothing to hide, and is a straight forward lager that’s easy to appreciate. The buzzwords that float around the brewery about our beer are crisp, clean, crushable, etc and these all ring true about this beer. For any of the people who don’t drink craft beer often or who find themselves drinking more mainstream beers, this is what the bartenders will be pointing you towards if you do visit Sonder. It’s going to deliver the same smooth feel, but with some added complexities and flavors that will be easy to enjoy.

The name Zauber is the German translation for magic, inspired by Chase’s not well known hobby of doing magic tricks. A massive hit with his niece’s, and this hobby also comes out after a couple beers. Specifically on Chase’s birthday in 2018 he had spent some time downtown at a couple breweries, he’d enjoyed his birthday all day long, and Justin got to his house late where they started playing cards. Chase left briefly to go grab a hat his niece’s made for him to wear when he’s doing his magic tricks, and Justin thought Chase was messing with him until he actually fell for a few of the tricks. So if you bring Chase a deck of cards and give him a couple beers, you may be lucky enough to see a couple tricks!

Sonder Stories Chapter 6: Rally Cap

Chapter 6 - Rally Cap

“This beer is a home run” - Daniel

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Sonder’s baseball seasonal beer, a pilsner that’ll always make you think about the ballpark. A traditional German lager, right up Chase’s alley and is his go to drinking beer. It has some softness to it which allows it to be so drinkable, with some slight hop and bitter notes to it. It’s the beer that Chase has most been looking forward to brewing, and the passion comes through. Luke is fairly familiar with the style also having brewed it previously, but Rally Cap is a bit more subtle, slightly lower ABV, and more true to German style.

It’s been talked about before on how Daniel’s background and experience always speaks volumes when evaluating beer, and he claims this to be his favorite Sonder beer to date. For the first time Daniel liked the initial tasting a couple weeks before the finish date of the beer, and this was actually alarming to Daniel because he wasn’t accustomed to liking beers in their beginning stages. “When Chase let me try it two weeks ago, I actually really liked it at that point and I disliked every other beer I’ve tried at this point in the process. I always really like them when they are done, so am I going to hate this one when it’s done?” Daniel says. It was a home run for him immediately, pun intended. Pilsners relate to burgundy wine very easily when thinking about the delicacy and balance that goes into the style, and specifically it’s one of the hardest beers to brew because it’s hard to hide flaws and any technical default is easy to see in the final product.

With baseball in mind, it rings true that this is the type of beer you’re looking for on nice warm day at the ballpark with a hot dog. Danny joked but was also serious when he said, “I cracked open this beer, and immediately felt like I could smell Great American ballpark.” The game keeps going on, and you find yourself having your 3rd and 4th round of this one before you even realize.

Sonder Stories Chapter 5: You Betcha!

Chapter 5 - You Betcha!

Customer: “I’ll have the New England”

Bartender: “You Betcha!”

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Our flagship beer, a New England IPA, has really taken off. The team will tell you that New England IPAs are here to stay as a popular style, and You Betcha! lives up to the expectations. A testament to the abilities of our brew team, this was the first New England IPA ever brewed commercially by Chase, but with some help from Luke who is versed well in the style, they crafted a real gem.

Chase will be the first person to tell you that he’s a lager guy, and if he had his way Sonder Brewing would exclusively produce lagers. He first described the style as hiding brewers mistakes, and ultimately wasn’t impressed. It really came to fruition when Chase visited Justin’s house, talked about how he didn’t like the style, then looked in Justin’s fridge to find numerous different New Englands. Knowing how much Justin liked the style, it felt right to have Chase’s first test batch be his version of a New England. To his embarrassment, you’ll now find Chase drinking the style for pleasure from time to time, but he still plays it off as “testing”.

Daniel, who felt the same way about New Englands as Chase, speaks to how juicy and well rounded the style can be if done correctly. Clean is a buzz word thrown around Sonder quite a bit because it’s an emphasis by the brew team and truly speaks to what our typical styles are, but You Betcha! does break this mold a bit by being an unfiltered juicy beer. You Betcha! is a bit different from the typical New England, bringing the juiciness that is traditional to the style along, but with clean bitterness at the end to clean out the pallet, which appeals to the traditional hoppy beer drinker.

Luke claims some responsibility for this beer, as he should, but he’ll tell you that You Betcha! is a bit different from the New Englands he was putting out at Streetside. More of the fruit bomb that is typical for the style is what used to come from Luke, but his knowledge and experience paired with Chase’s drove the creation of this non traditional New England that has been such a hit. Luke had some recommendations to play up the hop character in the beer, and was behind some of the techniques that ultimately softened it up to be a bit more crushable. Luckily Luke was there to comment on the non filtering aspect because Chase didn’t want to go that direction at first, but being told that it’s supposed to look like orange juice made it a no brainer.

Can you tell this was a tough one for Chase? Out of his comfort zone for sure, but having Luke to lean on helped them to create one of our most successful beers. All of our beers have a story, and ironically naming this beer after Chase made perfect sense for the team. His Wisconsin roots hold true, and you’ll often hear him saying the phrase “You Betcha!” as a way to finish a sentence. The word “yes” has been eliminated from most of the staff’s vocabulary, and replaced with “You Betcha!”.

You Betcha! has been an absolute home run for us, and the story behind it doesn’t lack character and intrigue. You’ll see this beer around town and in the taproom year round as a Sonder Brewing staple.

PS. The labels are green and yellow, definitely not a coincidence that the beer has a Packers theme. Go Pack Go!

Sonder Stories Chapter 4: Luke Shropshire

Chapter 4 - Luke Shropshire

The first member of the team outside of the owners, Luke is an integral part of what’s happening at Sonder and building a team with people like Luke will be what propels this brewery forward

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Sonder Brewing’s Head Brewer, Luke Shropshire, sits down with Justin and Chase to talk about his past life before Sonder, how he got here, and where he’s looking to be going in the future. Luke was the first person to join the Sonder family outside of the four owners, and he joined the team in August of 2018.

His background starts with experience in the service industry, he got a Hospitality Management degree from the University of Cincinnati, and started out at hotels and catering. Looking at getting into bar management, he took an interest in craft beer and pursued a cicerone certification. As someone who learns by doing, he taught himself to homebrew as a way of advancing through the cicerone process. He fell in love with it quickly, and six months after starting to homebrew he entered the Malt Infusers America’s Best Homebrewer competition. He entered a key lime gose, and won the entire show out of 350 entrants. This opened a lot of doors for Luke, and kick started his brewing career by landing a brewing job at Mt Carmel Brewing. After 14 months at Mt Carmel, Luke helped launch a brand new brewery, Streetside Brewing on the East side of Cincinnati. Mt Carmel was crucial for building up the problem solving and brewery management skills, and Streetside was where Luke was able to grow as a commercial brewer creating unique styles for the masses.

A memory that has always stuck out for Justin was when he attended one of Streetside’s can release of their New England IPA. Justin loved the beer, bought a case, and stuck around with a friend to drink the beer on draft at the brewery. This is where he saw Luke walking around and shaking everyone’s hand that bought the beer, a true testament of the pride that Luke got from people enjoying what he created. Months before ground breaking, Justin brought Chase and others to Streetside, and Justin was already talking up Luke as a good brewer, not really with any thought of the Head Brewer position in mind being so far away from opening. Spoiler alert, Chase did like the beer. Luke had no idea how big of a win that was at the time, but it paid off.

Luke was pursuing other positions, no one was hiring in Cincinnati at the time so he was looking into positions out of state and having conversations with his girlfriend, Hayley, about what moving would look like. He found the Sonder Brewing Head Brewer listing, he had some interest in the job, he remembered meeting Justin and Chase, but was concerned about going from a neighborhood brewery to a larger scale production brewery. Justin and Chase talked frequently about what a good fit would look like, they weren’t going to target anyone locally, and just see what interest the job posting garnered on its own.

Luke responds to the posting, and the story is funny now hearing about both of them “playing it cool” from their ends, very similar to two people interested in dating each other but not wanting to come off as desperate. Luke ignored the first phone call to seem busy, and Chase knew the job couldn’t be passed up after he saw the brewery, they were two peas in a pod and they didn’t even know it yet. Within thirty minutes of the actual interview, Luke knew he wanted to work at Sonder, and this was driven by the immediate impression Chase gave off. Luke was a talented brewer already and grew up quickly in the industry, but he knew he could learn a ton with Chase as a mentor. Luke was a true believer in the vision the owners had, and it was ultimately a no brainer.

Once Luke accepted the offer, he knew some work on the brewery still needed to be done, but he didn’t expect three months of additional work before brewing. It wasn’t ideal, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way because of all the heartache and stress that came with it. Luke admitted that he, “cried to his girlfriend one night because of the stress and being afraid of the unknown. It got bad.” The process drew him closer to the company, people, and vision. It also grew the relationship between Chase and Luke much quicker. Once everything seemed like it was good to go and the grand opening was announced, another setback happened where the brewhouse was unable to reach a boil. Twenty seven days out from opening, the brew staff wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to make beer. Luke at no point ever thought that he had made the wrong move or thought that this wouldn’t work, but the situation was still grueling and not as easy as he thought. Luckily Quality Tank Solutions was able to eradicate the problem, and the team was able to actually start doing what they were brought on to do, brew beer. Chase and Luke knocked out seven beers in 19 days. It took twenty hour shifts for nearly three weeks to ensure we’d be pouring beer at our opening, and Chase actually spent the night at the brewery. Chase would always offer to let Luke go home, but he always responded with, “I’m not your Assistant Brewer, I’m your Head Brewer. I’m sticking this out with you and we’re getting this shit done”. One night Justin even decided to be there with them when they were brewing, and he made it to about 4am before he fell asleep on the futon. If we ever name a beer about something related to a futon, you’ll know why.

None of it went as expected for Luke when he joined the team, but it ultimately made him feel more ingrained within the team through blood, sweat, and tears (literally). He wasn’t with them from the beginning, but he at least got to experience the do or die beginning. Again, he wouldn’t have done it any differently.

Chase and Luke’s first official interview was three hours, and the two clearly hit it off right away and it’s translating into the beers. When talking about the relationship between them, Chase talks about how much of himself he sees in Luke. He always wants to learn more, improve on his skills, and progress further as a brewer. Transparency has always rung true with the both of them. Luke even admitted to wanting to own his own brewery when Chase asked him what his future goals are. You would think that this would be problematic for Chase, but he appreciated the honesty and knew that he’d make this job so good for Luke that he wouldn’t ever want to leave. Even if Luke were to decide to leave to start his own thing, Chase and Justin admit that it would be something they welcome and support 100%. Luckily Chase is taking it as a personal challenge to always keep Luke at Sonder, and the two mixing their experiences and talents should continue to test the boundaries and limits of what can be done with beer.

Sonder Stories Chaper 3: William Goat

Chapter 3 - William Goat

He’s a formal goat, but he likes to party…

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William Goat is our traditional bock beer, made with traditional german malt and hops. Chase is well versed in the style having brewed a bock at New Glarus, but this was the first time a bock recipe of his own was used commercially, while Luke hadn’t brewed this style for the masses till now.

A true test of a beer at Sonder is getting it into the hands of Daniel Schmerr, and letting his honest side come out. After his first taste he was on record for calling William Goat, “the best domestic bock he’s ever had”. The brew team tries the beers everyday to see if they are on track for the final product, and sometimes other Sonder staff get to partake. This included Daniel on the bock where he loved the beer from start to finish.

Historically bocks have a goat as the brand for their beer, and William Goat is the more formal version of a billy goat. More formal, but still likes to party. The first bocks were brewed in Einbeck Germany, and the origin of where the beer started got lost in translation with consumers thinking it was Einbock, not Einbeck. When Beck turned into Bock, the German translation for Bock is Billy Goat, so it was a natural mascot for the style of beer.

Hopefully after you have a couple William Goats, you embody the personality that he brings with him. Don’t let looking good stop you from having a good time. William Goat will be a winter seasonal every year, and he’s going to bring the party everytime.

Sonder Stories Chapter 2: The Midwesterner

Chapter 2 - The Midwesterner

A beer cultivated, brewed, and enjoyed all in the midwest

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The Midwesterner Hazy Pale Ale is a Sonder Brewing fan favorite, and a perfect example of Uniquely Crafted beers. Chase and Haley have Wisconsin roots, and the hops from this beer are grown in Wisconsin by Haley’s Dad and Step Uncle, and originally crafted by Haley’s Step Grandfather, Elton, who was a Hoarder Culture professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Elton found a wild hop strand in his land, cultivated it, built it up, and patented it. The hops, named Northern Discovery hops are 100% owned by Haley’s family.

The unique part of it all is that you will only find these hops used in Ohio by Sonder Brewing. Outside of Sonder, there are a couple in Wisconsin and elsewhere that have this hop, but it’s largely only used by Sonder. So not only does Sonder have some exclusivity to this hop, but it was also cultivated by the family member of two Sonder employees, Haley and Chase.

A couple other breweries are using this hop, but we took a nontraditional route with how this beer is brewed. The name, “The Midwesterner”, rings true because all the ingredients for this beer are sourced from the Midwest. Chase crafted this recipe to showcase the hops, which give notes of tangerine, strawberry, and over time will give stone fruit notes as the beer ages. Typically wild hops like this can be very gnarly and aggressive, but the Northern Discovery hop is truly unique in flavor and allows for a clean beer to be created using it.

Haley and Chase have harvested these hops themselves, and the running joke is them telling people to go “harvest the hops themselves”, and Chase is still hoping to get Luke to do it sometime. A sneak peak into hop harvesting is that it can get messy quick with getting cut and stung by hop oils.

The phrase Uniquely Crafted is a commitment of ours to deliver to our fans, and The Midwesterner truly brings that to life. We’re going to have it on tap as much as we can, so stay tuned for when it’s available.

Sonder Stories Chapter 1: Our Story

Chapter 1: Our Story

sonder (n) - the realization that every person has a unique story

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In the first chapter of Sonder Stories, it makes perfect sense to dive into the four owners, and hear how this idea of a brewery in Mason Ohio went from concept to reality. The vision started in 2015, it was a long road to opening, and these four embody the culture Sonder Brewing has created.

Justin Neff, President, started his beer journey as a home-brewer for 8 years, and created a business model for owning a brewery. His passion came from a desire to do something more than his previous role in food sales, and an upbringing in small business gave him the perspective on what it would take. A family with his wife, Liz, and a move from Chicago halted the business plan for the time being, but it was always in the long term plan once the timing was right.

Daniel Schmerr, Vice President of Sales, has been working in the industry for a long time as a beer and wine buyer for retail locations across Cincinnati. He met Justin while he was working at a bottle shop, and their friendship naturally grew over time because of the shared interest in beer. Daniel enjoying one of Justin’s home-brews he decided to share was an important moment between the two, and Daniel will be the first person to tell you he’s an honest critic when it comes to beer so him enjoying the beer was a really good sign. Over beers the two talked through Justin’s business plan, and after about three pages Daniel was on board.

Justin and Daniel started looking at properties and buildings, they found one that they thought would work out, but structure and mold problems caused it to fall through. Then they stumbled upon 6.5 acres of land in Mason, which would eventually become the location of Sonder Brewing today. The location was set, but the name of the brewery was the next thing on their mind. Trying to be intentional and meaningful with the name, they fell in love with the word Sonder, and more importantly fell in love with the meaning behind it. Every person has a unique story, and that definition embodies the people behind Sonder Brewing.

Jen Meissner, Chief Marketing Officer, was introduced into the fold as the third piece to the puzzle. Jen and Justin met as neighbors, and their families quickly became close. Jen’s background in marketing was the perfect fit for the group. She quickly was able to run with this idea that Justin and Daniel had come up with. The thought of “everyone having a story” and a shared passion for music were the only pieces of information she was given, but coming up with the Record Hop logo came from it.  Originally thought to take a few weeks, Jen had multiple concepts ready to go the next day.

The original idea was that Justin would brew, Daniel would run the taproom, and Jen would lead all the marketing and branding. The initial thoughts were a small three barrel brew system, but having no commercial brewing experience created some doubt in Justin’s mind. His normal brewing at home was on twenty gallons, and he often had his Dad brewing with him. The size of the land gave them a lot of flexibility to do more, and that sparked this idea of being a much larger operation. They envisioned a community center where everyone is welcomed, whether you love beer or not. September of 2016 Sonder official earned their LLC, and in Justin’s basement, where most of the initial “meetings" were held, they decided to change the vision from Justin brewing to him operating as the President.

Once they made that decision, finding someone to be the brewer was the next thing needed to be done. They had a vision in mind for what the ideal candidate would look like, but with no money the team looked around not really knowing how to find someone and more importantly didn’t know if they would find someone with the right experience. The famous words of Daniel Schmerr at this moment were, “Yeah unless you get someone from somewhere like New Glarus, then you do whatever you can to hire that person.'' A pipe dream that was talked about after a couple Serendipities quickly came to life when they posted the position. At this point there was no land, money, or beer in the business, just a vision and concept for what could be.

Chase Legler, Director of Brewing Operations, was the fourth piece added to the equation, and the first resume to be submitted for the position. It was a shock to everyone when his name came through and a resume attached, you can’t make these things up. Chase’s time at New Glarus started from the bottom and evolved into leading their brewing operations. Justin and Chase began speaking about the position, and Justin coincidentally was traveling to Wisconsin for work shortly after they started the initial conversations. Specifically it was two days after the first phone call, and luckily the Wisconsin stereotype of the people being friendly and hospitable lived up. Justin left Cincinnati with the weather being 70 and sunny, and showed up to Wisconsin in a blizzard wearing shorts and Toms shoes, “tom toms” if you ask Chase. He was meeting Chase at a local bar, and clearly stuck out like a sore thumb which made it really easy for Chase to know who he was looking for. With the cheese curds and New Glarus fruit beer on tap flowing, they quickly found that their ideas aligned. They shut the place down, and Chase invited Justin over to continue talking.

What had to of been a great phone call was Chase calling his wife, Haley, to let her know that a stranger from Cincinnati was coming over to stay. “Sorry if he murders us, but he seems really nice. It’s going really well, see you in 5 minutes”, Chase tells her. Luckily Justin had the same conversation with Liz just to make sure she knew where he was if he wasn’t heard from the next day. Justin was confident that Chase was the right fit, and Chase felt the same way but needed to convince Haley of the same thought if they were to ever make the move to Cincinnati. Justin left Chase’s house at 1:30am to make sure he got to Milwaukee for an 8am meeting the next day. He got to Milwaukee at 3am, got some sleep, and woke up to the news that his meeting was canceled due to weather. The news didn’t matter because the trip was more than worth it.

Justin, Daniel and Jen had already built a family feeling together and Chase joined seamlessly, but him being added to the mix meant that they needed to go even bigger than previously thought. The trajectory changed because of the talent these four had, and they were confident that together they could achieve more. Luckily fundraising with Chase’s beer samples made it much easier to gather funds.

Ground break was supposed to happen in May 2017, and construction would be finished five to six months later. Fast forward, Sonder breaks ground in October and the doors opened October the following year, 5 months later than expected. If a beer ever gets named about a man sleeping in his truck while he’s supposed to be doing his job, you will know why.

Once the word spread about Sonder, the question became, “What are you going to do with 6.5 acres?”. The vision of a community center speaks true, and is already coming to fruition. Jen said, “People are just embracing that you can meet here, bring a group, have a birthday party, a surprise anniversary party, retirement party, etc. People call all the time just wanting a chill space to have great beer and hangout with our friends, and we have a great space for that”. Truly a build it and they will come idea, and it’s something that Sonder is embracing. A community center appeals to the masses, and the hope is for Sonder to be that place to everyone. You’ll often hear Chase speak to how functionally beautiful the brewery is. The brewery is a very welcoming place and an easy place to enjoy beers, but the brewhouse was designed by Chase and gives the brew team the ability to create and recreate excellent beers.

The Sonder Story is only beginning and these four have created the foundation for what is to come, and their leadership will continue to drive this place to new beginnings. Every beer has a story, and these four coming together is a great story in its own.