Alex Petersen grew up in Woodstock, IL which is where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. He found his way to Indianapolis in order to attend Butler University from which he graduated with a degree in business. His original intent was to study bio-medical engineering but was dissuaded by the bookish nature of the people in that field. He enjoyed getting out into the community and socializing. While pondering the course of his studies, he met a professor at Butler who suggested that he was a natural business major. He switched to business, taking a degree in
entrepreneurship that focused on two things, startup businesses and problem solving. A better suited degree could not be found for someone wanting to open a brewery.
Petersen was talking with his buddies about the future when he suggested that he would eventually become a brewer. This apparently amused his friends who derided the idea, which led to a wager. He immediately started scouring the brewery scene in Indianapolis and ended up with an opportunity to volunteer at Thr3e Wise Men, a brewery operation in Broad Ripple. He ultimately worked his way up to being the assistant brewer there. The only other job he ever had was working for his father’s carpentry business where he occasionally found himself tied off to a chimney by a rope which allowed him nail on guttering, fascia, etc. It seems like the brew deck is a bit safer. After graduating from Butler, he started full time at Blind Owl Brewery as head brewer.
Mashing in is Petersen’s favorite part of the brewing process. He enjoys the challenge of getting all the details right. He says mashing in is, “the intimate, artsy part of the brew.” Another intimate aspect of his brewing at Blind Owl is the fact that he personally oversaw and participated in the installation of all of the equipment he uses.
Petersen’s two favorites among his brews are the Vanilla Milk Stout and the Pecan Pie Porter. The porter is brewed up just before Thanksgiving while the Milk Stout is part of a quarterly stout rotation that also includes a raspberry, a horchata, and, for this year, a pina colada. Blind Owl’s best sellers are the Sweetwater Pilsner, the None-the-Wiser IPA,
and the Black Forest Märzen. Lagging only a bit behind these three is the Hoo-Hoo Honey Brown. A unique twist he employs is switching up the hop profile for each batch of the IPA. Coming up in the Blind Owl pipeline is the Skeleton IPA that will involve adding some lemon grass to the boil and dry hopping the fermenter that will result in an effervescent or carbonation bitterness. Also, coming up is the first ever brew of the Horchata Milk Stout. Later in the year he will try his hand for the first time at a kettle soured beer.
Drawing from the sixty or so recipes in Petersen’s cookbook, all of the Blind Owl brews are his. Thirty of these recipes have been tweaked and perfected. The others are works in progress. His first brew at Blind Owl was the Black Forest Märzen. This beer along with the others brewed for the pub’s opening were “first run” brews. That is to say there were no test batches due to the dearth of time between the permitting process and getting the pub open for business. This nearly doubled his time on the brew deck as he took extra time to double and triple check every aspect of the process.
Petersen lived in Schongau, Germany for three or four months between high school and college. His host family introduced him to beer and to several local brewers. Being under age, he had never imbibed anything in the States. He fell in love with German beer which is why Blind Owl always has the m࣭ärzen and the pilsner on tap. The hops growers for these two lagers are people Petersen knows personally from his time in Germany.
If you want to get into brewing, Petersen says you have to pay your dues. It is critical that you enjoy learning. The mark of a good brewer is taking great satisfaction in watching other people savor his or her brews. He suggests that there are a number of good people who want to teach you. He has personally taught four or five people how to brew. He talks about how many local brewers are very active in the community and also network with one another. This cultural aspect of the business cemented his commitment to stick with the brewing arts.
At 22 years of age, Alex Petersen was very likely the youngest head brewer in the country when Blind Owl opened its doors. He and the pub have launched smoothly and certainly appear to have bright futures. By the way, Petersen won his bet.