Ohio Brewer Spotlight: Chris Kambouris of Bascule Brewery and Public House
Travel with us to the city of Lorain, a recovering Rust Belt beauty with a lot of potential. It is here you'll meet Chris Kambouris, head brewer at the soon-to-be Bascule Brewery and Public House. He is no stranger to a recovering city having spent much of his life in Youngstown, where the steel industry once reigned. Chris was nice enough to agree to an interview and share some pilot brews, one being a marvelous sour (a word of caution here, if you sample the sour thinking that's going to be like 4%, tops, and that you'll totally be able to keep your professionalism while conducting an interview, Bascule's clocks in at about 9% and the slur will be strong by the end of the mug. Source: my interview recording).
Tasty (yet potent) brews aside, Chris brings a refreshing look at starting a brewery in a place that might intimidate other new businesses. Here's a bit of what we got to talk about earlier this month:
Fermenting Ohio: Tell us about yourself and bring us up to speed on how you got to Bascule Brewery and Public House.
Chris Kambouris: I’m originally from Youngstown, technically Campbell, Ohio. There’s a valley that Youngstown settles on where old steel mills just line its entire side. Youngstown is very much like my current city of Lorain, there was this big uprising of industry, population, diversity, and little by little that all started to crumble and you’re left with a struggling community. I was the last of four children of Greek immigrants. My father was a retired steel worker and he was someone who always did things with his hands. He did any job you can think of from the old world, from being a milkman, to shoemaker to sponge diver (someone who literally harvested sea sponges off the sea floor). Modernity has taken us so far away from what we used to know and skilled jobs, and the same goes for beer. It’s sad that we’ve come to a point in time that most people don’t know the basic ingredients or process of how beer is made, or even bread. Making beer was just as common as making bread back in the day. I’ve always been that type of person who loved making things from scratch whether it be cooking, baking, I’ve always liked being self-sufficient. When I first became interested in the craft beer scene, I was working at General Motors on an assembly line but listening to podcasts on any and everything beer, how to make it, taste it, whatever. I started to read up on homebrewing, and one day I stumbled into a homebrew festival in Youngstown, and it was such a great experience. I had no idea that was possible. When I tasted what beer tastes like before you ferment it, that sweetness, it sealed the deal. As my interest and involvement in the industry grew, there came a moment when I was offered a job to work in a brewery or to accept a full-time position at General Motors, which is a golden ticket in an area like Youngstown. I had to do a real gut check and take a risk to venture on this unknown path. And that’s what I did, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve since worked with The Brew Kettle, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company and ended up back in Cleveland when I was approached by a friend (and now my current partner) who was interested in bringing a brewery to Lorain. I started as more of a consultant and then assumed the head brewer role as the project took shape. We had to figure out what was going to set us apart from the landscape of Lorain, which had been hit hard with the financial collapse and didn’t have much to offer. So why open a brewery here? My partner grew up around here and knew what it used to be and knew what it CAN be. How awesome it would be to put a brewery in a town and not have it be “another cool brewery” but have it be a cornerstone of the community.
FO: Is Lorain about to get a revival like Cleveland?
CK: Definitely, but we’re really going to have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to get there. A lot of people want to focus on revitalizing the downtown area, but downtowns are really only arteries to the area industry, and that just isn’t here anymore. Is it easier to revive an entire downtown section, or is it easier to revive your block? This might take some time and some effort from the individual neighborhoods but it can be done, and we’re hoping when businesses like our brewery start to take hold it will bring about positive change. Look at Ohio City, they’re making it work despite geographical disadvantages, like not being as close to the lake like other areas, but they’re still making it work and we can too. We need to focus on smaller neighborhoods and that’s how Lorain will come back. I wanted to set up a keystone of what would be a new way of industry in Lorain. We don’t need another big company to come in and try and bail us out, if we could celebrate small businesses and invest in those, take your own skills and crafts and start doing things better than anyone else out there so people will shop local, that would be huge for the local economy. I want to be a part of a revival that reinvigorates old neighborhoods and gave a glimpse of what they were before the industry left the area. It all comes from embracing and adapting to the craft business mentality.
FO: Let’s talk beer styles. What do you have planned for your brewery?
CK: I always get asked what my IPA will be and if I’ll be serving Coors or Budweiser. I’ll only be serving our own beers and we’ll definitely have a variety, but won’t bow to any trends. I’ll use style guidelines, but every beer we craft will tell a story of Lorain or a story about someone who made Lorain great. Personally, I’m a fan of English Styles, Baltic porters, ESBs, Scotch ales, I’m sort of getting into Belgians and Sours. For the brewery, I need to look at the beer I brew in “does it makes sense for them to be HERE”, in Lorain, or at least Northeast Ohio. I’m not going to make a West Coast IPA because I’m not on the West Coast, those ingredients would not grow well here. I have a good relationship with some local farmers and we can collaborate with them for local produce and honey, that’s how I’m going to incorporate Lorain into the beer. There’s no shortage of inspiration. Other styles we’re considering stem from the various communities that live here in the city. A great supporter of ours is of Polish ancestry and his last name translates to “Black Kettle” so to honor him we’re coming up with a Baltic Porter and will name it accordingly. I’ve also brewed a coffee stout with Bustelo coffee as a tip of the hat to the Puerto Rican community here in Lorain.
FO: What have been your major challenges getting a brewery operational?
CK: I’ve had to work around several personal challenges and recently really had to focus on if my decisions benefit my son and I, and also the brewery, and then moving forward from there. Money is always difficult for a startup, we’ve had fundraisers and we have support but there’s been gaps that have slowed our progress. Time is also another challenge, especially when this idea was early on and we were all traveling from various distances to try and collaborate and make decisions.
FO: What's the story behind your brewery name?
CK: We wanted to open on the premise that we’ve been here all along rather than going with a trendy or random name, so we decided to name our brewery after a significant geographical landmark. The Charles-Berry Bridge replaced an old turnstile bridge, also known as a "bascule" bridge. After some back and forth, we’ve arrived at Bascule Brewing and Public House. The bridge is actually the second largest of its type and no one really knows that. It’s also the gateway into Lorain and a connector bridge, so it all ties in together and makes for a perfect fit.
FO: Your thoughts on the Cleveland beer boom and has it had a positive impact on Lorain?
CK: Great for Lorain. More beer is always a good thing. We may be late to the ball but I feel Lorain is about to experience its own craft beer boom.
It looks like Lorain will finally be getting some love and we wish Bascule Brewery and Public House the best of luck as they wrap up their finishing touches (they expect a late spring launch of their taproom). Keep your eye on these guys, they'll be doing great things for Ohio!
(Stay up to speed by following Bascule on Facebook!)
#raisethebridge and #drinkohio!