Alums Team up to Engineer a Better Beer

By Dennis Walikainen | Published

Chas Thompson of Schmohz Brewery at the alumni tailgate party in Grand Rapids.
Chas Thompson of Schmohz Brewery at the alumni tailgate party in Grand Rapids.

Chas Thompson, a 1991 Michigan Tech alumnus in computer science, had a good reason for becoming a brewer.

“I was thirsty,” he says, pouring beers from the Schmohz Brewery counter at the recent Grand Rapids alumni tailgate party.

Another Tech alumnus, Jim Schwerin (’87), owner and brewer at Schmohz (pronounced shmoes), had a similar reason.

“I couldn’t find a beer I liked,” he says.

So, he bought an old building near the airport in Grand Rapids and extended his love of homemade beer into his own brewery, starting with his own brewer, Thompson, who tracked him down when he heard a new brewery was opening in Grand Rapids. “Once we got together, we found out we had quite a few friends in common including my brother who was at Tech around the same time as Chas,” Schwerin says.

Schwerin, a mechanical engineering graduate and application engineer for an automotive firm in the area, started brewing his own beer on weekends, and soon the hobby grew into an avocation. He still hasn’t quit his day job, but . . .

“I wouldn’t rule that out someday,” he says.

His beers are doing well, all twenty-five-plus brands they make, “depending on the season and our attitude,” according to Thompson.

But, his most widely distributed brew is actually root beer, which has just been taken on by Meijer stores, a large discount chain that is based downstate.

“That could be huge,” Schwerin says. “And I’m trying to get restaurants to feature our beers. It’s frustrating because it won’t cost them any more to feature them than regular beers. It’s just convincing them.”

Schwerin’s wife, Laurie , a 1987 Michigan Tech graduate in business, also helps out at the brewpub, where they keep twelve beers on tap. She tends bar and helps run the business.

At the tailgate party, they offered six options to choose from, with names like Hopknocker Imperial IPA, Bone Crusher Stout, and Valley City Cream Ale. Business was brisk, a line was forming, and the root beer was also popular.

“We make it old-world style,” Thompson says, as he filled the cups. “We prefer the European style, with real ingredients like barley, not rice and fillers.”

Thompson says they use “an incredible amount of grain,” as he shows his dexterity. “I can text and talk at the same time, too!” he informs a laughing alumni couple.

Another couple arrives, back too soon it seems, for Thompson. “Here’s a [gallon] bottle,” he says. “Share it at your table and bring it back. Empty.”

There are a couple more hours before the game begins, and the assembled alumni and friends are getting caught up with each other around some burgers, brats, and some nicely engineered brew.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.