PLAINFIELD – In 2008, Brandon Wright was in corporate real estate wearing a suit and tie everyday.
“I’ll never forget that October,” he said. “Every other phone call was a canceled deal because of the real estate crash. The market went into the tanks.”
But with his wife, Amanda Wright, at his side, he weathered the storm through 2011.
While he worked hard and watched the market come back a little bit, she was paying the bills.
“She was a saint and got us through it,” he said. “It was a tough time.”
Back then, he had short hair to go with the corporate look. But he was, in his words, “a super-avid homebrewer.”
He had a wake-up call that year.
“It dawned on me how much work I was putting into an industry I didn’t enjoy,” Brandon said. “You listen to wise old people telling you, ‘Do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ ”
“I decided to give it all up,” Brandon said, his hair back in a ponytail. “It just wasn’t the career path I wanted to do.”
One day, the Wrights came up with a plan to open a home-brew shop.
“We had a little money saved up, so we leased a spot and started Chicago Brew Werks literally off of our kitchen table,” he said.
They opened in January 2012.
Brandon and Amanda are now five years strong as owners and operators of the brewery, Werk Force Brewing Co., and Chicago Brew Werks, the home-brewing supply shop that started it all, based in downtown Plainfield. The membership program they started through Chicago Brew Werks was called “Werk Force,” so they named the brewery after their original supporters.
“It was only fitting to name it after the customers that helped us become what we are,” Brandon said.
Their current two-barrel brewing system made 100 barrels of beer in their first year, 200 in their second year and almost 500 in their third year.
They just started an expansion project in the same building as their Center Street brewery, taproom and brewing supply store.
In May, they intend to open a 10,000-square-foot brewery and taproom a few doors down and still maintain their existing supply store.
They hope to be able to brew five times as much beer.
Growth has been exponential, Amanda said, but it wasn’t as if the Wrights were just lucky. Amanda is 12 years into a successful photography business, and despite a lack of business degrees, they both have an entrepreneurial spirit, they said.
“My family owned a business, so I’ve only had one or two jobs where I’m working for someone else,” she said. “I’ve either worked for my family or myself, so I don’t really know any other way.”
Amanda has scaled back a little bit from photography to help with the brewery business, but has a studio in downtown Chicago. Her skill set has helped the beer businesses take off, and she does all the marketing and social media for the brewery and the supply store.
“She’s an unreal photographer,” Brandon said. “Her photography skills, understanding of angles and branding, I would say, totally got this off the ground. We had a friend help us with the logo, but we don’t put any money into advertising. We’ve grown organically.”
They also have one of the most diverse beer selections of any brewery in the Midwest, they said.
“They are a destination,” village of Plainfield Economic Development Specialist Jake Melrose said. “That’s what these breweries become – economic drivers and sort of a tourist attraction.”
Werk Force took bronze two years ago in the fruit beer category at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers in Chicago. Last year, they took gold in the same category.
“Technically, we have the best barrel aged fruit beer in the country right now,” Brandon said. “Which is pretty cool, especially when we’re up against these huge breweries.”
It’s not currently available, because the beer takes one year to make. And it sold out in a weekend after news of the award broke.
Werk Force looks at beer as an art. All the ingredients are like paints, and how they incorporate them determines the final product. They’ve brewed more than 150 different beers and sodas.
“It’s like a chef coming up with a new dish. You’ve worked with all these ingredients so closely, you know how a slight manipulation more of this or less of this will affect final outcome,” Brandon said.
Their beer is sold at several local restaurants. For information on the Plainfield brewery, visit www.werkforcebrewing.com.