The Other 128 Series: Michael Fitzgerald – Brewmaster
The Other 128 Series is an initiative inspired by the passions and causes our fellows commit to in the 128 hours outside the traditional work-week! Orr Fellowship is full of entrepreneurs, philanthropists, athletes, coaches, learners, innovators, and more. This series highlights their endeavors and showcases the impact Orr Fellows are making in the Indy community.
Michael Fitzgerald is a 2nd Year Orr Fellow and Product Manager at Doxly. During his Senior year at University of Cincinnati, Michael homebrewed his first batch of beer, sparking an interest in home and craft brewing during the last year and a half. Listen to our first 128 Series podcast hosted by Connor Rice to hear Fitz’s story from the brewmaster himself!
Tell us a little bit about you and your experience with Orr:
I’m from the University of Cincinnati, where I studied biomedical engineering, which leaks into this whole beer process.
I stumbled across Orr in an email and thought, “This looks kind of cool, I should probably check this out.” I kept learning more about the Fellowship and the opportunity to become engaged within the Indianapolis community.
I was really excited about Orr because it’s an opportunity to learn more about all these different facets of a business and also get involved in the program outside of work.
Through Orr, I was placed with Doxly where I wear a ton of different hats, which is what really attracted me to Orr and Doxly. Not only do I get to see how things work in a business, but I am actually involved in the processes.
What sparked your interest with brewing your own beer? How did you get started?
I had an analytical, math, and science type of upbringing because all of the men in my family were engineers. My brother thought it would fun to get me a brewing kit for Christmas one year, but then it sat in my closet for almost a year.
It wasn’t until about eight or nine months later that I was a senior in college, bored on a Tuesday night, and I thought, “I’m not doing anything, let’s try this brewing thing out.” So I dove in and brewed that first gallon of beer.
How did that first batch turn out?
It turned out pretty well! The ingredients, recipes, and instructions on how to do it are all included in the kit – they hold your hand pretty well.
My friends thought that my beer tasted pretty good! I was proud of it and that was what sparked this whole process. My passion really grew from there because of my science-oriented mind!
It has been a great hobby for me because I love beer, I love tasting beer, and being a part of the process behind that is a lot of fun.
What’s your favorite beer?
I’m a seasonal beer guy, so in the wintertime, I really like stouts and porters and in the summertime, I really like sours, summer ales, and shandies. My all time favorite beer is probably Guinness. I think their story and the history behind their brand is really interesting. I went to their factory to see how it’s all made and the process behind it, which was incredibly interesting. The care and excitement they have for Guiness is really cool and you can’t really go wrong getting a pint of Guinness anywhere you go.
You mentioned the history behind Guinness excites you, is there a reason for that?
At the University of Cincinnati, we had a class that tended to be what many juniors or seniors would take as one of their elective courses to have some fun when closing out their senior year. It was called Beer 101.
It was a great excuse to drink beer on a Wednesday night with my buddies. Our professor had one rule, “As long as you don’t bring any crappy beers in here, you can drink during class.” I thought that concept was cool and it really enticed me to go!
The class was awesome because I learned the background of Cincinnati beer and the new craft brewery industry that is popping up as of late. It was also really interesting to see how beer has brought people together for centuries.
We never really understood the science behind alcohol for the longest time but it has been around forever – nobody knows why exactly but it’s something that has allowed people to break down barriers and share memories or a connection with others.
It is great to see the complete revolution of beer with the rise of craft breweries. It’s bringing beer to a whole new level. It’s also bringing accessibility of great beer to everyone, which is exciting to see.
Do you envision taking this new skill you have and turning this into a business someday?
I’ve always been looking for a side hustle and the more I delve into the process of making beer, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about. What comes to my mind is, how can I build something around beer in such a saturated industry? I’m not exactly sure how I would attack that problem.
Paige Haefer, another Fellow, always asks me, “How can we build a business around beer?” It’s fun to collaborate. As an Orr Fellow, you’re always trying to come up with that next cool idea or what’s going to be on the cutting edge. As far as beer, I’m a bit too young to be on the cutting edge of the craft brewing industry but I think there are other needs in the market that can be met, I just have to figure out what those are.
There are cool apps out there that allow you to connect with others in terms of brewing beer. I think one need in the industry is having the ability to bounce ideas off of other homebrewers. I think it would be great to bring other craft brewers out of the woodwork and into people’s lives. It would be awesome to see craft breweries have a brewer of the month where they bring in someone who homebrewed their own beer and then the brewery helped them scale up their operation. For example, Sun King could bring me in to collaborate and build something with me that others could enjoy.
Walk me through the process of making the beer:
It’s a relatively straightforward process. There are just a few different steps to it. Number one is that sanitation is everything. What really makes the alcohol is the yeast. If the bottle that holds the yeast is the wrong temperature, it can ruin your beer. So make sure to clean your hands and equipment!
The next step is creating your wort, which will be what turns into beer. The wort is basically a tea where you add your water and your grains and you let that steep for about an hour or so depending on what type of beer you are trying to make.
From there you take the wort and add hops, any type of mixture, or flavorings to spice up the beer while it boils.
Finally, you’ll need to cool off your beer, this is where you put it in the fermenter and add yeast to the mix. The yeast will eat away at the sugars that were created. The byproduct of that is alcohol and carbon dioxide.
From there, it’s a waiting game. Let the yeast work it’s magic and try not to think about your creation. It is always really hard to wait, especially in college when I would see the fermenter sitting in my dorm room every day. I recommend putting it somewhere where you can’t see it!
After that is all said and done, you can bottle your beer or throw it into a keg with a carbon dioxide canister that puts the bubbles into it and creates the fizziness that we all enjoy. After two weeks of that, throw it in the fridge and you’ll be good to go!
I spend about 2-4 hours brewing the beer, 2-4 hours bottling it and the rest of the time it just sits there and does the work on its own.
I can usually get 50 beers out of my 5-gallon kit!
How do you add flavor?
A lot of flavoring comes from boiling the water and adding the hops. Depending on when you add it you can basically determine if it is very hoppy or not so much. You can also add flavoring in the fermentation tank. If you want some fruit flavors or vanilla, you can add some of those to create flavor profiles. A lot of the flavor has to do with what you start with, which will determine the baseline of what you make! There’s such a unique and wide variety of the different types of beers.
Any advice for anyone getting started on brewing their own beer?
Start with a one-gallon kit and see what you can do with that! If you enjoy the process and the beer you make you can start to grow your operation to 2 gallons or 5 gallons – see what works for you. If you have anything you learn along the way, share your findings. There are a ton of homebrewers out there and we need the opportunity to lean on each other and learn. Share the beer you have because your friends are going to enjoy it and you’re going to enjoy sharing what you made.