By: Marty Nachel

 

Joe Formanek, Bolingbrook, Illinois

Beer is food. Most lovers of good beer would probably agree with this droll statement, but few might concur as adamantly as Joe Formanek. Joe should know- he’s a food scientist.

“Dr. Joe” is actually the Director of New Product Development at Ajinomoto North America, where he supports both Savory applications as well as Enzyme technologies (Savory applications mainly involve Umami taste enhancement and overall flavor balance, while the enzymes deliver textural improvement in protein applications such as meat and pasta). Sounds like a mouthful…I’ll let you ruminate on that while learning more about him.

Joe was born in Chicago, raised in Minnesota, and later returned with his wife of 24 years to the Chicago area. Joe and Cathy have now lived in Bolingbrook, Illinois, with their two daughters, Veronica and Hannah, for the past 17 years. Oh, and Joe recently hit the half-century mark.

While in Minnesota, Joe owned and operated a full-service restaurant in the resort area of Merrifield. At the age of 19, according to Joe, he was already somewhat of a beer aficionado, offering Guinness and imported German beers at his Horseshoe Inn.

It was just a matter of time before Joe began brewing his own beer; he started in 1987 while he was a student at the University of Minnesota working on his Bachelors degree in Microbiology. Joe left the restaurant business in 1990 to pursue his career, but by then, homebrewing had become ingrained in his life.

After almost 30 years of brewing, Joe’s homebrew system is surprisingly basic. He still uses the old “Zapap” bucket-in-a-bucket lauter tun popularized by Charlie Papazian three decades ago. His counter-flow wort chiller is also homemade. Most noteworthy are the oversized 12-gallon Pyrex fermenters used for all the 5-gallon batches he brews. He also grows his own hops, but because he doesn’t know their alpha acid content, he uses them mostly for flavoring his beers.

It might surprise you to learn that Joe doesn’t use any brewing software, but I guess when you’ve brewed over 400 batches of beer, you’ve probably got your recipes pretty well dialed in. And if brewing awards count for anything, well, software be damned! The exact number of his minor awards –ribbons and medals– is uncertain, but he has managed to earn some biggies. The more notable honors include winning the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year six times (1999, 2001-2004, 2007), the American Homebrew Association Ninkasi Award twice (2000, 2006), and the Sam Adams LongShot award in 2011.

To say that Joe has been involved with the local, regional and national homebrewing communities would be a massive understatement. To start with, Joe was the founder of the Boneyard Union of Zymurgical Zealots (BUZZ) in Champaign, Illinois, and now his main club is the Urban Knaves of Grain in Chicago’s western suburbs. He’s also been deeply involved in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), first as a judge for 19 years (currently holding National rank), then he was also the BJCP Midwest Representative for 9 years (2005 – 2014) while concurrently holding the position of Vice President between 2008 and 2014.

So, how might homebrewing figure into Joe’s future? Well, there’s no shortage of hobbies in his life, including antique car collecting, antique radio collecting and restoration, as well as collecting 20’s and 30’s Jazz and Blues on 78 rpm shellac. But none of these are as all-consuming as brewing beer at home. He says that when he retires, he and his wife might open up a brewpub, and given the confluence of experiences in his life, it seems to be the next logical step.