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updated: 1/17/2014 3:32 PM

Moving Picture: Naperville brewmaster crafts hobby into a career

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Brewmaster

  • Brewmaster Ken McMullen of Naperville stirs the mash as he brews up a batch of IBA, India Brown Ale at the Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora. During the mash process, various grains are steeped in hot water to extract the fermentable sugars required for fermentation.

       Brewmaster Ken McMullen of Naperville stirs the mash as he brews up a batch of IBA, India Brown Ale at the Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora. During the mash process, various grains are steeped in hot water to extract the fermentable sugars required for fermentation.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Brewmaster Ken McMullen's brew area is walled with windows so patrons at the Hopvine Brewing Company can see behind the scenes as they dine and enjoy some beers.

       Brewmaster Ken McMullen's brew area is walled with windows so patrons at the Hopvine Brewing Company can see behind the scenes as they dine and enjoy some beers.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Ken McMullen holds some whole-leaf hops that he uses to brew some of his beers at Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora. The hops are added for bitterness and aroma in the beers.

       Ken McMullen holds some whole-leaf hops that he uses to brew some of his beers at Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora. The hops are added for bitterness and aroma in the beers.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Ken McMullen holds some amber malt and roasted barley.

       Ken McMullen holds some amber malt and roasted barley.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • McMullen carries buckets while cleaning the tanks.

       McMullen carries buckets while cleaning the tanks.
    photos by Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The foam, or head, on a glass of India Brown Ale at Hopvine Brewing Co.

       The foam, or head, on a glass of India Brown Ale at Hopvine Brewing Co.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • A few of Ken McMullen's brews on tap at the Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora.

       A few of Ken McMullen's brews on tap at the Hopvine Brewing Company in Aurora.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

If you've ever dreamed of turning your hobby into a full-time profession, it probably wouldn't hurt to take a few cues from Ken McMullen.

Twenty years ago, the Naperville man was working in quality assurance for a computer reseller when he started brewing beer during his free time at home with a five-gallon kit.

"From the first time I tried (brewing) beer, I was mesmerized," McMullen said.

After brewing his first batch at home, he thought to himself, "I can make a living at this."

Turns out he was right.

The key moment came in 1999, when McMullen took an intensive two-week course in brewing beer at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Inspired by the possibilities, he quit his job and headed to Southern California, where he and his brother opened Temecula Brewing Company.

McMullen brewed beer there for three years before returning to the Chicago area, where he ended up working at a national chain restaurant and then doing a bit of real estate work.

Then he saw an ad for a job tending bar at the Limestone brewery in Plainfield. Because of his experience, he found himself becoming first the kitchen manager and eventually the brewery's brewmaster.

The brewery closed in 2010, but McMullen was able to find a new brewmaster position at Hopvine Brewing Co. in Aurora, where he works to create and perfect brews to please area beer lovers.

He currently brews seven different beers and has plans to have 12 to 14 on tap, with four or five year-round drafts. He's been working with area bars and restaurants to take on some of Hopvine's brews as well.

His beers have some unusual names, including Splagna, a German-style Kolsch; Urban Tumbleweed, a German-style hefeweizen; an American amber ale called Aurora Amber; and a Belgian-style tripel, Brew Monkey.

The latter's name came about as a mashup of sorts, McMullen said. "This beer wasn't brewed by a monk, but it is brewed by a monkey," referring to the Middle Ages when Catholic monks brewed beer, and himself, self deprecatingly, as the monkey.

In addition to his work, he helped create a home brew club called PALE, or Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiast. He also helped start a charity craft brew fest called the Midwest Brewers Fest in Plainfield.

If you're interested in trying some of McMullen's brew, you can stop by the Hopvine Brewing Co., 4030 Fox Valley Center Drive.

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