Brewing at 30 Below
A toast to the "kids" shaping the future of beer in the North
By Amy Martin | March 13, 2021
The following five men and women — every one under the age of 30 — are part of a new generation of brewers shaping the future of Up North’s beer scene. Here’s a look at their unfiltered love for beer making, their favorite beers to brew, and how they cut their teeth in an industry you can’t even take a taste of until age 21.
Thomas Hodges, 29
Brewer at The Filling Station Microbrewery
Thomas Hodges’ brewing journey began in 2010, making hard cider at home and working in his local homebrew supply store in Lansing, Michigan. He submerged himself in brewing information, spending all of his downtime reading books, blogs, and anything else he could learn from. Things really took off when he secured an internship at Mountain Town Brewing Company, in Mountain Pleasant, and was hired in soon after.
Hodges’ favorite style of beer to brew is lagers; he says enjoys the challenge.
“Any brewer will tell you they require the most finesse. Flaws in most lagers are really easy to detect, so your process has to be dialed. They challenge your skills, for as simple as they are, I find them the hardest” he says.
When asked if his age has affected his progress in the brewing world, Hodges shared that even though he was only 21 when he entered the industry, he never felt that he was treated differently by his coworkers, all of whom respected his good work ethic and willingness to learn.
“Where I did find difficulty was at events and beer festivals, with the customers. It's hard to talk to an overwhelmingly older crowd when you barely look old enough to drink. Even talking to other brewers, I had to sort of prove I knew what I was talking about,” says Hodges. “I think being young in any industry can be tough, you just have to have the right attitude about it.”
When he’s not brewing, Hodges can be found camping, hiking, dirt biking, snowboarding, and most recently began training to be a pilot.
Ellie Maddelein, 22
Assistant Brewer at Five Shores Brewing
Ellie Maddelein knew she wanted to be a professional brewer at the age of 16. For her, the passion began with a trip to Oregon she made with her dad, and a visit to Rogue Ales. The entrance took them right through the brewery and gave her an up-close view of the beer-making process. She immediately fell in love.
“From that point on I knew I wanted to be a brewer, and I would do whatever I had to in order to get there,” says Maddelein.
She started homebrewing after that fateful trip and following high school earned a Sustainable Brewing Bachelor of Science at Western Michigan University, as well as a Brewing Science Certificate from Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Maddelein says she can’t really choose her favorite part of being a brewer — every day it’s a different thing. She loves hearing people’s excited feedback of a beer she’s made, the smell of the hops, the physicality of the process, and having the unique knowledge that enables her to take things apart and put them back together.
One drawback: She admits she gets treated differently in the brewing industry because of her age — and her gender.
“Helping out in the bar as a young female, customers talk down to me, and yet they’re drinking what I just made them,” she explains. She also shared that as a young brewer, “You have to carry yourself in a certain way so people don’t think you're just a kid.”
On the flip side, she does enjoy being a younger member of the industry because she can share her passion with other young adults and show that beer isn’t just about getting drunk. As a peer, she says she believes she’s taken more seriously than if an older person were having that conversation.
Chris Schnepf, 28
Lead Brewer at Stormcloud Brewing Company
Brewing professionally wasn’t originally on Chris Schnepf’s radar, who double-majored in music business management and general marketing at Ferris State University. All of that changed when he needed an internship for his degree and landed one in sales and marketing with Revolution Brewing, in Chicago, the summer before his senior year. After concluding his internship, he knew he wanted to stay in the industry but felt called towards brewing rather than sales and marketing.
It was, however, his marketing experience that enabled him to get at least one brewery to take a chance on hiring and training him in the art of beer making.
“My senior year, I went into a local brewery multiple times for a drink, and I wrote a lot of messages on napkins to the brewer just trying to sell myself,” he says.
After finally scoring a meeting with the brewer, Schnepf was hired in and, shortly after, started brewing at the age of 21. He also began exploring another passion: experimenting with a variety of ferments, from kombucha to sauerkraut, because he believes fermentation is an important part of humankind’s preservation and well-being.
Schepf’s favorite part of being a brewer is recipe writing and experimenting with different ingredients, such as using the same malt but from different countries or maltsters. He especially enjoys brewing Saisons, because they are versatile and be made with a variety of different flavor combinations.
When he first started in the industry, Schnepf said he experienced some anxiety that people were treating him differently because of his age. But over time, his anxiety shrank some as he gained more confidence in himself and his brewing knowledge.
Jordan Scholl, 22
Brewer at Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen
Jordan Scholl began brewing at the age of 15, then started brewing professionally at 18.
“It has always ‘rustled my jimmies’ to create new flavors and have fun with everything the earth has to offer,” says Scholl of her early entrance into the industry. It started innocently enough, she notes: “I began making my own tea originally and realized I had a knack with different flavors, and this is where my passion for brewing began.”
Having started brewing at such a young age, she was faced with challenges but says she gained a lot of respect from people once they realized how knowledgeable she was.
“At first a lot of folks thought I was just making some closet beer for me and my friends, but as I would talk about all the books I’ve read and how much passion I had, they saw it was much more than that for me,” Scholl says.
Officially, her career started at Short’s Brewing Company, but Scholl says she believes that hands-on learning and experimenting is the best experience anyone interested in brewing can get.
She admits she’s heard many comments that “brewing is a man’s job” over the years, but she never let it get to her. Instead, she joined Fermenta — a nonprofit trade group with the mission of educating women in the craft beer industry — which helped her realize she is hardly alone as a female in the brewing industry.
Scholl’s favorite styles of beer to brew are porters and stouts, because of the incredible aromas they emit during the process. When not brewing, you can find her snowboarding or wakeboarding.
James Warren, 29
Assistant Brewer at The Workshop Brewing Company
James Warren has been brewing professionally for three or four years and was a homebrewer five years before that, but being a brewer was not his original career path — he earned a bachelor's of music education from Adrian College.
“Brewing is an interesting industry in that there are professional certificates and degrees now, but it is also something you can just jump into, and with a lot of hard work you can work your way up from the bottom,” says Warren. That's exactly what he did, starting as a packaging tech at Short’s Brewing Company.
Warren’s favorite part of being a brewer is the troubleshooting that goes along with it. He enjoys being able to work on problems and have them be tangentially related to what he’s producing. He enjoys brewing special one-off beers most, but when it comes to drinking beer, he prefers clean, light styles with a lower alcohol percentage, such as lagers.
“Something with a lot of flavor that you can drink more than one of and not be feeling it,” he adds.
When asked if he felt like he was treated differently in the industry because of his age, he shared that, if anything, he felt like reverse ageism is more prevalent than the alternative. He expanded on this, saying that older members in the industry are treated differently because they’re not able to do the physicality and the labor as much anymore. Of course, he adds, that’s not to say that perspective is true either: “There are a lot of older folk still kicking as lifers!”