Beer and books do mix: UH lecturer gains fame
Aaron Corsi often says, “It’s interesting.”
With almost every response to questions about brewing, the Hotel and Restaurant Management lecturer began his sentence with the phrase.
Corsi, also the brew master and co-founder of 8th Wonder Brewery, says he’s passionate about what he does. And it’s because what he does is so interesting to him that he loves going to work.
“I was really interested in brewing and fermentation and distillation sciences, and when I decided to go back to school, Conrad Hilton was the first choice,” Corsi said. “I just moved back from Denmark where I really got into the raw material, grain and fruit for brewing and fermentation. I found that there were these courses available, but I wanted to dive deeper into it.”
Thus, Corsi approached his professors and he was given special challenges and special areas of emphasis involving beer, wine and spirit fermentation as well as distillation.
He was later asked to come on as a lab instructor and received a teaching fellowship for his masters program at the Conrad N. Hilton College, where he met his business partner, Ryan Soroka.
As a result, a business plan was formed.
Corsi, who sold his very first beer at The Den, was then asked to return to teach and work on his doctorate. At UH, he currently teaches alcoholic beverage production; beer appreciation; and winery, brewery and distillery operations.
“This is where my passion grew into a career,” Corsi said. “I really want to inspire other people to do it, and this is a career path that might not be on the radar for a lot of people, but the industry is in need for qualified people so I figured no better place than my alma mater, where I kind of got the start, where this seed was planted, to come back and help teach and help the industry out as a whole.”
Charles Cannon, who graduated with a hotel and restaurant management degree in December 2013, was a former student of Corsi’s and found his classes very informative.
“I learned a ton about beer and I already thought I knew a lot before taking that class, but I didn’t know anything as far as brewing goes,” Cannon said. “What really surprised me with what I learned was the very intricate parts of the brewing process and how just little things can alter a recipe or a beer in so many ways.”
Cannon wants to own and operate his own brew pub one day. He began an internship at 8th Wonder Brewery in January. In May, Cannon became a full-time cellar worker.
“As I was coming close to graduation, I spoke to Dr. Corsi about what I was going to do in the future. He offered me the internship in order to help me learn about brewing and on a large scale, not just what I do at home.”
One with Houston
When it came to picking names, Corsi said 8th Wonder was not their first choice. A gentleman from Pennsylvania had already claimed the name Heady Brewing Company — Corsi’s first choice — for his online beer periodical and small distribution company.
Although Heady Brewing Company is still their LLC, Corsi and his business partner were happy to change the name.
“We always like to say the trademark dispute was a blessing in disguise,” Corsi said. “Although it was a little stressful for a while, we came up with a much better name.”
Corsi said 8th Wonder pays homage to the Astrodome. Moreover, he adds that the name “8thWonder” is the next best thing, paying homage to Houston while also embracing the global aspect.
When the brewery opened in 2012, Soroka said he hoped for the brewery to still be open by next year. Since then, they were awarded best brewery in Houston at the Tastemaker Awards, an annual event in which judging is completed by the local food and drink industry peers. They also entered some of their beers into the first Beer Judge Certification Program Sanction tasting in Texas, in which they took home four golds and a bronze.
Corsi said business has been great.
“People are enjoying our beer,” Corsi said. “We love making it for people and we’re really happy. The city has been kind to us and the press has been kind to us. We’re actually in the process of quadrupling capacity just to keep up with demand.”
“It’s hard as a brew master. If I just brewed everything I like, it probably wouldn’t sell really well.”
Nevertheless, he ensures the beer is the best quality they can brew. “We don’t compromise any ingredients, we don’t compromise on the procedures,” he said.
Even so, it doesn’t mean Corsi and company do not flex their brewing muscle every once in a while. One of their most popular beers is a Vietnamese coffee porter called Rocket Fuel, which Corsi says is not of a usual brewing style.
One of Corsi’s influences for Rocket Fuel is Vietnamese food such as the soup, pho, or coffee. Because of the dense Vietnamese population in Houston, he receives a lot of feedback on whether the taste is right or not.
“This is one of the industries that you can still have fun in, not just cranking out the same thing, over and over and over again,” Corsi said. “The craft beer drinkers are usually the college-educated or are in college, and they like to experiment. And we give them beers they can experiment with — kind of that mad scientist type of thing.”
Geology senior Mark Ferguson is a fan of Rocket Fuel. “I love coffee, and this beer mixes the strong coffee taste I like into a beer,” Ferguson said. “It’s perfect for a hot summer night here in Houston.”
The brewery makes one keg of beer at a time. They complete the fermentation process, then taste-test the beer themselves. If the brew is up to their quality standards, they’ll let their guests try it at their tours.
“We usually have our tours every Saturday,” Corsi said. “But just because I like something doesn’t mean the consumer, our public — the reason why we’re in business — will like it. So we’ll let them taste it and we’ll get direct feedback.”
While Corsi says he loves praise from the consumer, he respects criticism.
“They’re our sounding board, they’re our tasting panel,” Corsi said. “It also helps us by bringing new people of interests to the brewery, trying our normal stuff and seeing what’s out there.”
They also had collaborations with other breweries as well as local rap artists.
“Bun B is a big fan of ours,” Corsi said. One of the rapper’s favorite flavors is apple cider. They now produce a Bun B Apple Brown Ale.
New business ventures
Currently, Corsi and his team are trying to figure out how to make it more commercially viable. There are also in talks with grocery store companies about distributing the beer.
“At the moment, we’re keg only and draft only, so you can get it at restaurant and bars. But we are planning on canning by the end of the year.”
As for which beers will be canned, Corsi said they will probably go with their medal winners: Rocket Fuel, Alternate Universe and Hopston.
“Civilization has been started around breweries, cultures have been started around breweries — we kind of want to be that for the Houston area as well as the University.”
Aaron CorsiUH lecturer and co-founder of 8th Wonder Brewery
“But you know, the public is very vocal, they’ll let us know what they want, and we’ll make it happen for them,” Corsi added.
Ferguson is excited Rocket Fuel may be one of the beers to be canned.
“I can’t wait to take some home and sit on my back patio,” Ferguson said.
Before the canning can happen, the brewery is working on shelf-life tests.
“Coming from a science background, I want to make sure the product gets on a shelf, and maybe for whatever reason it’s not stored at a proper temperature, it can hold up to that abuse,” Corsi said.
Corsi sees breweries as a community thing.
“Civilization has been started around breweries, cultures have been started around breweries — we kind of want to be that for the Houston area as well as the University,” Corsi said. “Our first beer ever served was actually at The Den. It was the only bar open at the time, and then quickly after that Pinks opened and they support us. We hope to be in the new stadium so we want to be very involved in the community, and if the community ever needs anything, let us know. We’ll help when we can.”
Ferguson said he supports local businesses such as 8th Wonder Brewery, and sees it as him supporting the community.
“So many people tend to gravitate to the major companies because they advertise everywhere,” Ferguson said. “I like the small local places like 8th Wonder because their beer reflects their pride in brewing. Flavors like Rocket Fuel are distinct and they reflect the history of Houston.”
“I think it’s great to have a local place like 8th Wonder that is tied to UH and the local community. Their beer and their love of Houston is what makes them successful.”