Work It! Tracy Hurst: President and Matriarch of Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing

Work It! is an interview series on MsBehaved featuring fascinating folks who work outside the traditional 9-5, to amuse, inspire, and light a fire under your butt to start pursuing the career of your dreams.

Name: Tracy Hurst

Age: 39

Location: Metropolitan Brewing, 5121 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, 60640

What do you do, in your own words, and how long have you been doing it?
I’m the President of Metropolitan Brewing, a production micro-brewery in Chicago – about 5 years now. I call myself Matriarch. Everything from production scheduling to inventory management is under my command. I do the books, and I’m stingy, so we run a pretty lean operation. Most importantly, I interact daily with the people who carouse within my world: our distributor, sales team, employees, vendors, and accounts. Fortunately, I have a deep affection for humanity.

What was your first job?
My first official job (outside of babysitting, cleaning summer cottages, and all the other child-labor-law dodging ways enterprising kids find a way to make a buck) was at McDonald’s. I lied about my age to get the job. Once they learned of my deception I was banned from using the deep-fryers until I was of legal age. I’m certain that working the grill-area of a McDonald’s at such an impressionable age is one of the reasons I’m vegan today.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
Nude model for art classes while I was in college. My limbs would always go numb. Once I tried to step down from the platform and fell into a pile of naked flesh because both of my legs had fallen asleep. Hot. I also spent a Summer delivering lost luggage for the Dane County Airport. I loved that job because everyone was always happy to see me.

Brewery pup Phelps, “King of Beer!”

What led to you pursuing your current career? Did you have mentorship or special training for
it?
I’ve always wanted to work for myself. I was running two smaller businesses at the time the brewery was born. I shut both down in order to dedicate myself 100% to the brewery. In terms of mentorship, my father, uncles, and grandfathers all ran their own small businesses, so I grew up around the lifestyle.

As far as special training goes, I’ve had plenty of jobs working for other people, so I know damn well what I want my own workplace to look and feel like.

What projects/beers are you working on currently?
Right now we’re just trying to get through the Summer – our busiest season. We’re expanding again by adding another fermentation vessel, so we’ll be able to make even more beer because if some of a thing is good, more must be better.

General manager Jess Straka repairs a pallet.

We’re doing a couple of seasonal brews before the end of this year; an Oktoberfest in September and we’ll bring back our Generator Doppelbock in the Winter. We plan to add a fifth beer to our line-up next year, but I’ll let you fantasize a bit as to what that might be.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Learning to interface with a variety of people. In a given day I typically interact with dozens of people. I work with the basic assumption that we all have a job to do; we’re all interested in the same things. I build relationships from there. This is personally rewarding as well as helpful ingetting shit done.

What do you love about what you do? 
I love beer and the people involved in beer. Some of my best friends are also my colleagues. We’re all super passionate, and I respond to passion. I also love the physical parts of my job – bottling and brewing beer, lifting things to and fro, using big machinery to move stuff around. I like to be dirty at the end of the day.

What do you think set Metropolitan apart from other breweries?
We’re not afraid to let our freak flag fly. Now, that’s true about almost all small breweries, but our flag is our own brand of freak. We’re hopelessly nerdy – we’ve dedicated much of the brewery to our passion for Star Trek. The colors of our rooms, the names on the fermenters, and our Star Trek-themed bathroom are evidence of our unabashed love of Roddenberry’s vision.

But what really sets us apart from other breweries is our brew line-up. We focus entirely on beers inspired by German styles. This means our brews require more energy, time, and resources because we lager (cold-condition) our beers, which is why most small breweries don’t focus on lagers. We’ve never been big on making the most logical decisions, though. We tend to lead with our hearts.

What are your three desert island beers?
Two Brothers’ Dog Days Dortmunder style beer. They only release this beer in the Summer and I look forward to it each year. Malty-sweet and well-balanced with hops. Get some now. Furthermore Knot Stock. This brew is made with black pepper, a flavor profile I just love. This beer is polarizing among the brewery staff, which almost always works in my favor. Founders Red’s Rye PA. Using rye in beer is one of my favorite new things ever. Two Brothers uses rye in their Cane & Ebel; Summit recently released an India Style rye ale; and we used rye in Arc Welder Dunkel Rye, which we released for Chicago Craft Beer Week, 2012.

A frosty mug of Doppel Rye.

What is one of the most memorable moments working in Brewing?
The most memorable moments are when I load beer onto the distributor’s truck. This is the physical manifestation of all of our hard work. It leads to my sending an invoice, which is a physical manifestation of our company’s health and vitality. These moments rank right up there with orgasms and being gin-drunk.

What triumphs and challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur, and what advice would
you give to other women hoping to start their own business?
While more and more women work in our industry every day, we’re still women in a man’s world. But I find that men in craft brewing are inviting and accommodating. I’ve never felt unwelcome at work, an event, or anyone else’s brewery; quite the opposite. Most of the men in our industry seem to appreciate a muscular broad who can carry 55 lb sacks of grain up a flight of stairs as well as discuss and assess the technical qualities and/or flaws in a given beer. Working in craft beer is a triumph in and of itself – not in terms of being able to obtain the job in the first place… more in that I’m surrounded by people who honestly appreciate each other and celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

As for my advice to other women, first, do your homework. Whatever field you choose, learn everything about it you can. Focus locally – what has happened in your industry in your local vicinity? Any legal events? Trends? Knowledge will get you where you want to be. Second, keep yourself healthy. Entrepreneurship is loaded with surprises and stress. You’ll need to be able to think on your feet and react to situations in a useful and sane manner. If your body is healthy and your mind is sharp, you’ll be able to do your job well.

What future projects and long term goals do you have in store?
I would love to open Illinois’ first (medicinal marijuana) dispensary.

Check out the Metropolitan website and  Facebook,  follow Tracy on Twitter, and try the brew for yourself at many Chicago-area bars, restaurants and beer retailers!

Read more Work It! Interviews here. 

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Comments

  1. Nice story about a fine member of the Chicago Beer Community. Tracy at The Golden Arches, imagine that!

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