Books & Brews: Literary drinking up North 

click to enlarge Jason Wuerfel, seen here in January, built all the tables, 35 seats, barstools, charcuterie boards and flight paddles for Books & Brews. - JOSEPH S. PETE
  • Jason Wuerfel, seen here in January, built all the tables, 35 seats, barstools, charcuterie boards and flight paddles for Books & Brews.
  • Joseph S. Pete

The story behind Books & Brews, the city's first combination used bookstore and nanobrewery, is straight out of a novel.

A former University of Michigan baseball player who often had his nose in paperbacks dreamed for years of opening a cozy European-style bookstore. He was an English major who grew up reading Robert Jordan's fantasies and later wrote novels and screenplays.

Fatherhood deferred his dream for a few years, but that baseball player/English major, Jason Wuerfel, had an idea for how to make a used bookstore viable in an age of Kindles and ebooks.

We need to start with beer. Wuerfel got into homebrewing because he's a serial hobbyist who once picked up the ukelele on a whim and learned to strum all his favorite songs on it.

Wuerfel was fielding complaints one Christmas about how tough he was to shop for when he suggested a homebrewing kit. His first attempt was awful, but he took that as a challenge, the way he did when he practiced for hours in his backyard whenever he lost at sports as a kid.

He brewed batch after batch, while rapidly morphing from a Coors drinker to an aficionado who appreciated a fine session-style beer or a rich Dunkelweizen.

A friend told him about a combination craft beer bar and bookstore in New York, and the idea was planted. He would wed his fantasy bookstore with a brewery. That union proved popular enough that Wuerfel was able to raise $17,264 through a Kickstarter campaign to get the business off the ground.

"Our bookstore is not going to be wallpaper for the brewery, or vice versa," Wuerfel said. "We're going to hold both to a high standard."

It will be one of the first such hybrids in the nation, but others are on the same path in the Midwest. In 2010, the Quarter Barrel Brewery — a combination brewery, bookstore, pub and coffee shop — opened in the college town of Oxford, Ohio. Carmel also is getting The Flix Brewhouse, a hybrid microbrewery and movie theater.

Wuerfel's concept goes beyond pairing craft beer with finely crafted literature.

Open mic nights, live music, book clubs, tabletop games, author readings, wine tastings and movie screenings are on the calendar for the space, located in an office/warehouse behind a Home Depot on the Fishers border.

click to enlarge facade.JPG

Wuerfel's parents own the minor league Traverse City Beach Bums, and he handled the marketing for years, so he knows community events can be a big draw.

His new venture's slogan — "read, drink, converse" — points to the community-building potential of a bookstore that will stock many odd, obscure and out-of-print titles. The taproom will be separated from the bookshelves, to create an atmosphere that's family-friendly enough for children's performers. The place will be welcoming to kids but not smartphones or other mobile devices.

"I don't plan to be a hardcore Soup Nazi, but cell phones will have to be put away," he said. "I'm considering making cell phone jails out of scrap wood."

Despite never having owned a circular saw before, Wuerfel built all the tables, 35 seats, barstools, charcuterie boards and flight paddles himself. He designed the graphics for the merchandise, including sketches of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare drinking pints.

All the brews will be named after literary figures, such as Lord Byron's Breakfast Ale and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout (which will come with a scoop of ice cream if the health department allows). Customers will be able to suggest new beer styles or names.

"It would be a brew-ocracy with community events that would give it an anti-corporation feel," he said.

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