Chris McKim is owner of -- and the original brewer at -- The Brew Kettle Taproom & Smokehouse in Strongsville. The Brew Kettle is a brew-on-premise business, where people can come in and brew beer under the supervision of a professional brewer. But it's much more than that. It's also a restaurant and a production brewery. The Brew Kettle's profile has climbed in recent years thanks to its beers winning numerous awards, including medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Question: Why did you decide to open a brewery?
Answer: My wife Pam and I both had great sales jobs and were approaching our mid-30s. We decided that without children we were prime candidates to test our entrepreneurial skills. Pam wanted to make wedding dresses and I wanted to brew beer. Our homebrewing hobby that had started back in 1984 had become a passion and we were making some pretty tasty suds. Luckily I won the debate as to which one suited our hopes and dreams best. The original plan was to become the brewer and an investor in the Rubber City Brewing Co. which was to be located next to the Akron Civic Theatre in downtown Akron. Plans changed while on a trip to Costa Rica when we met a couple from British Columbia who spoke highly about a brew-on-premise that had opened near their home in Vancouver. When we returned home in March 1995, I spent many hours researching the legality and feasibility of the concept. It turns out that we could open the concept without partners and on paper the financials worked. The Brew Kettle opened on Dec. 14, 1995.
Q: The brew-on-premise side of The Brew Kettle is now highly successful – and there have been several folks who’ve attempted to imitate your formula here in Ohio. Was it easy or difficult to get people interested in brewing there in the beginning?
A: The first three years Pam kept working and supported our fledgling concept business as well as the two of us. There were many days where I felt like the Maytag repair man waiting for the phone to ring. I clearly remember sitting through a Strongsville City Council meeting and hearing one of the council members say to the guy sitting next to him: "There is no way this is ever going to work." I think that comment kept me motivated for many years. I had ordered the elephant, now I just had to keep taking one bite at a time to finish it.
Q: Since Jack Kephart took over as head brewer and you expanded production, The Brew Kettle has won two medals at the Great American Beer Festival and garnered several other awards. Do medals and awards help business or are they just nice to hang on the wall?
A: Medals and awards are cool and kind of good for our ego. They, however, in no way pay the bills. We start each day trying to make the best beer we can to please the customers pallet. The happy customer after all is the only way a business can survive. Jack has been developing some great new beers and has improved some of my old recipes as well. He is an award-winning brewer. We are very lucky to have him as part of The Brew Kettle family.
Q: What’s your best selling beer and why do you think it’s so popular?
A: Today it is White Rajah, White Rajah and White Rajah. The beer seems to perfectly hit the consumer taste for a lighter bodied American IPA with a tropical fruit/citrus profile. Now we just need to try to keep up with the demand.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: It would be a toss up between the mid 1980s versions of Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout and Pilsner Urquell since those are the two beers that taught me that beer could and should have flavor. I'm not certain if their recipes have changed or my tastes have changed or both. I am certain that the flavor memories I have of those two beers from my 20s changed my life.