Friday, November 20, 2015

Thank you, Bill Siebel!

There are many 'rock stars' in 'craft' beer: some deservedly so, some by acolyte acclaim, some self-anointed. The number of real stars is far fewer.

Despite the Luddite choir currently ascendant in some sections of the 'craft' beer industry, preaching creativity over 'rules', it's the beer educators who are indeed among those true stars, whom we should be celebrating for their essential work in training us, promulgating the zymurgy and technology that advances good beer.

To name but three:

  • Michael Lewis, professor emeritus of brewing science: the University of California, Davis.
  • Steve Parkes, brewmaster; owner and lead instructor: American Brewers Guild.
  • Bill Siebel.
For many years, Bill Siebel was chairman and C.E.O. of the Siebel Institute of Technology, in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest brewing school in the Americas. His great-grandfather, a German immigrant, founded the school in 1872.

Bill Siebel: 1946-2015.

As an educator and administrator at the school, Bill Siebel wielded influence upon several generations of American-trained brewers: microbrewers (such as this blogger), 'craft' brewers, large mainstream brewery brewers, and just plain ol' American brewers. The school's reputation was global; many foreign breweries sent their employees to be zymurgically educated.

I remember well my first day there, in the early 1990s. Bill greeted me. I addressed him as "Mr. Siebel." He corrected me, "It's just Bill." My career path changed that day, and it's been beer ever since.

Bill died earlier this month.

R.I.P., (and I will say it incorrectly one more time) Mr. Siebel. Thank you for all you have done for the advancement of good beer, in America and globally. Your influence upon us: that is your living legacy.

Bill Siebel, leader of historic Chicago beer brewing school, dies at 69.

Bill Siebel was the fourth generation of his family to head [the Siebel Institute of Technology], a Chicago beer-brewing school that has produced tens of thousands of alums with surnames such as Busch, Coors, Pabst, Stroh, and Floyd — as in 3 Floyds Brewing Company.

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to call him a member of the “First Family” of beer education in the U.S., said Charlie Papazian, president and founder of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest.

Mr. Siebel, who had esophageal cancer, died on November 8, 2015, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital [in Chicago, Illinois]. He was 69.

Bill Siebel was chairman and CEO of the Siebel Institute of Technology, established in Chicago in 1872 by his great-grandfather, Dusseldorf-born immigrant John Ewald Siebel. It bills itself as the oldest brewing school in the Americas. “There is one, based in Germany, established before us,” said Keith Lemcke, vice president of the Institute, at 900 N. Branch Street.

“It’s been a continuous run,” Lemcke said, “except for this inconvenient time we call ‘Prohibition.’ ” During Prohibition, it kept going as a school of baking — which, like brewing, uses yeast.

Siebel Institute students, Lemcke said, have included August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch; John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; the father and grandfather of Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch; and Greg Hall, a brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Company and son of Goose Island founder John Hall.

“The contributions that the Siebel Institute has made to brewing — and to training craft brewers — in its long history, are far too numerous to count,” said Koch of Samuel Adams. “I’m a sixth-generation brewer, and my father graduated from Siebel in 1948 and my grandfather in 1908. . . . The industry has lost a great one.”

The family school is “the longest-living institution that has served as an educational institution for brewers in the United States,” Papazian said. “They’ve gone through a lot of transitions, from the small breweries going out of business in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, to embracing the small craft brewers that were emerging in the ’70s and ’80s, welcoming them, and offering them educational opportunities. Bill was involved with that transition.”

“Many of our employees are graduates of Siebel Institute, and the impact the school has made on the beer community is impressive,” said Ken Stout, general manager of Goose Island Beer Company. “A great industry leader has been lost, and we’ll miss him dearly.”

Bill Siebel and his brother, Ron, grew up near Devon and Caldwell in Edgebrook, and at the Southwest edge of the Evanston Golf Club in Skokie, where one of the tees was behind their home. A highlight of their youth was spending summers with their mother, Mary, at Paradise Ranch near Colorado Springs, while their father, Raymond, commuted back and forth from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. The Siebel boys became accomplished horseback riders.

They attended grade school at the old Bishop Quarter Military Academy in Oak Park. Bill Siebel graduated from Florida’s Admiral Farragut Academy and the University of Miami. He served in the Navy, rising to lieutenant, before returning to Chicago — and the family beer school — in 1971, said his wife, Barbara Wright Siebel.

Both brothers attended the Siebel Institute, where a variety of classes, diplomas and certificates focus on yeast, malt, fermentation, biological science, quality control, engineering and packaging. “One of my classmates in 1967 was August Pabst, and August Busch III was a few years before,” Ron Siebel said.

For decades, the school and laboratory were located at 4055 W. Peterson, where the Siebels had a brewing library and a second-floor bierstube with heirloom steins.

After their father and uncle sold the business, “Bill and I were successful in getting it back,” Ron Siebel said. “We got it back in the family hands, and it stayed there until [Bill] retired and wanted to liquidate his holdings in the institute.” Today, the school is owned by Lallemand, a Canadian yeast company.

Ron Siebel focused on selling products such as stabilizers, which preserve clarity in beer. “Bill was ‘Mr. Inside.’ He was very good with numbers,” his brother said. Because of him, “The business was always on a steady course.”

Bill Siebel retired in 2000, Lemcke said.

He restored himself and reveled in nature, hiking, and watching birds and animals. For their honeymoon, Bill and Barbara Siebel canoed nine days on the U.S.-Canadian Boundary Waters. And for 20 years, they canoed in Ely, Minnesota, where he enjoyed spotting bear and moose. He also loved reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

A memorial service is planned from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on November 22, 2015, at the Siebel Institute of Technology, 900 N. Branch Street [Chicago, Illinois].
Chicago Sun-Times
16 November 2015.


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