Ds Scholarship

South Shore Brewer Wants To Widen Scope Of Craft Beer Community

Chicago – Jay Westbrook has always enjoyed good food and drink, but his love for such things goes beyond his taste buds.

For Westbrook, a South Shore native who has worked for years in the service industry, delving into how things are created has always been magical. So, when he introduced the world of craft beer a few years ago, Westbrook was instantly hooked and knew he not only wanted to drink more craft beer but wanted to make it himself.

It was the combination of finer points in the craft beer making process and math that captured Westbrook. Westbrook admits that the process isn’t for every Chicago beer-lover, but for someone who enjoys tapping into a “nerd” in an understanding from the ground up for how things are produced, he was determined to put his newfound knowledge to work.

The self-taught brewer is now being honored for his efforts. Westbrook was recently named one of three recipients of the Illinois Kraft Brewers Guild Grant for Diversity in Brewing. The initiative aims to build a more inclusive artisanal brewing community through equitable access to technical education and training.

For Westbrook, the honor makes sense not because he sees his hard work paying off, but because of the job he did for himself when he decided to start making his own beer. From the start, Westbrook has pledged that a portion of the sales of his beer creations will be given to charity for local charities that can make the community better.

“The craft beer community is very welcoming and very inclusive, but it’s time to double down on that and welcome everyone to the barn and make them feel welcome,” Westbrook told Patch.

Westbrook’s introduction to craft beer came at an Alpha Beer event two years ago where brewers and beer lovers sat together and sampled beers for each letter of the alphabet. By the time he sampled 26 different brews, Westbrook had fallen in love and knew he wanted to make beer his full-time business.

What started as an excuse to share a love of craft beer and try different types of brew has evolved into a loving act for Westbrook and brought it back to its roots.

“We weren’t just out there getting beaten up — it was the educational aspect that really got me going,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook imagines a good farmhouse or Saison but is open to all styles of beer when it comes to finding out what’s out there. Westbrook, who got his start in the service industry as a bartender and bartender at Theater on the Lake in Lincoln Park, soon expanded his education for beer, leading him to want to learn more about the best spots in the industry.

The more time Westbrook spends around industry professionals and brewers, the more convinced he can produce quality beer himself. In the ensuing five years, Westbrook has worked with Haymarket Brewing to produce three of the four beers, which include Harold’s ’83 Honey Ale along with other beers he worked with Venn Brewing to produce. His honey beer is now sold year-round in Chicago-area Binny stores and has proven to be the beer most people associate with him.

The recipe writing aspect of the process remains his favorite part of beer production. The piece of the puzzle requires the brewer to start with the taste profile he wants to produce, and then decipher the equation mathematically until it is correct.

But he admits that the taste of his first beer made him more than he expected.

“It’s almost like an out-of-body experience knowing I’ve enjoyed so many moonshine, I’m actually enjoying what I did,” Westbrook said. “There is an incredible amount of pride that comes with that, but I doubled down on the feeling of pride when I was able to put that cold beer in someone else’s hands and they feel the same way I do about it.”

But as much pride as Westbrook takes in making his own beer for others to enjoy, the fact that his mission has caught the attention of Craft Brewers Guild makes his efforts all the more worthwhile.

The Illinois Diversity in Brewing Scholarship was awarded to three individuals from historically underrepresented groups, including but not limited to individuals who identified as female, black, Native, colored, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ) and disabled. Scholarships can be applied to one of two courses offered by the Siebel Institute and the WBA Global Brewing Academy and cover the full cost of the course.

Because Westbrook’s mission is about inclusion, the fact that the grant comes from an organization that hopes to expand the reach and production of the beer-drinking community makes that honor even more important, Westbrook said. The honor surprised him and made him emotional due to the fact that he worked so hard to give back to the community that welcomed him into the fold.

“It’s very satisfying and just lets me know I’m not doing this for nothing,” Westbrook told Patch. “Just having a community of people around me personally who have invested in my development and are willing to be there for me while I grow is an amazing feeling.”

He added, “Just being part of a community of brothers who feel the same way as I do and who are on their own journey validates every reason I jumped out the window, jumped off the balcony and decided to get into this game.”

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