Mike Chiltern says if you want the absolute freshest beer served to you in White Plains come over to his place — Wolf & Warrior on East Post Road.
And why does he say he has the freshest? His place has a brewery, which he and right-hand man Mark Ruggiero watch over like doting parents, just mere feet below the beer taps.
The bar and event space, which serves farm-to-table food, is about a half-mile down the road from where the self-made braumeister was born at White Plains Hospital. But the road he traveled to making fresh beer professionally had one big obstacle that he had to overcome — a $58,000 fraud perpetrated by a brewing company manufacturer. More on that shortly.
Wolf & Warrior Brewing Co. is in space once occupied by Jimmy Dee Music Productions. To create what Chiltern envisioned took a lot of sweat equity.
“Mark and I demoed this place ourselves over the course of eight weekends using crowbars, Sawzalls and hammers,” he said.
To get the money he needed to get going, “I wrote a business plan for the SBA and I got a loan on the strength of my homebrewing career.” (He has a wall of ribbons and honors from homebrewing competitions next to the basement brewery.) That career began in the home he had in Queens in 2012, but its roots stretched back to his semester abroad where he wrote a paper for a course at Syracuse University on beer in African culture.
But beermaking would take a back seat to a 20-year career in television production for The Learning Channel (“Trading Spaces”), documentary work and then, finally, video production for Morgan Stanley’s global television network based in Purchase.
It was time to leave corporate America after discovering that a city of 58,000 residents that swells to 200,000 during the day didn’t have a brewery. So last November, Chiltern dove headlong into creating Wolf & Warrior, the names of which are derived from his two boys, Vuk and Branko. His wife, Jelena, is from Serbia, and they wanted to give the boys Serbian names. Vuk means wolf and Branko, which means defender, was adapted to warrior.
On a recent hot afternoon, the sweet smell of boiling wort — what beer is known as before it’s fermented — was in the air of the establishment.
Chiltern talked as he and Ruggiero cooled the wort and weighed Mackinac hops — “the most sought-after of New York hops” — to add to the brew.
“My hands are on every beer we make,” Chiltern said. “It’s tough. It’s a 24/7 job. I handle payroll, schedule, the ordering of the grain, hops, paying utilities, fixing something that breaks, marketing, social media, Instagram all falls on my lap. Managing the food vendors. It’s exhausting. And on top of that, the little ‘wolf and warrior’ are 4 and 6 years old and they want their dad.” He adds, “I honestly couldn’t do it without Mark. He’s got professional brewing experience and he’s got passion for beer that equals my own.”
That passion extends to growing his own hops, which he has been doing for four years. Of course, he has to augment his garden’s yield with “hops from around the world and New York state.” He said, “95 percent of the grains we use — barley, wheat, oats — come from the Hudson Valley and upstate. No farms, no beer as they say.”
And Chiltern is dedicated to his craft. “Today we’re making a brut IPA, as in the French word for dry,” he said. “Once it’s done fermenting and it’s ready to drink, there is zero residual sugar left in suspension, so it’s a very bone-dry, champagne-like IPA. It still has IPA aroma and hop flavor minus any caramel malt sweetness.”
He cracks open a bag of mosaic hops and invites a visitor to breathe in the complex aroma. He goes on to say that he vacuum packs the hops because the “essential oils in hops are very volatile, and so they can easily be susceptible to oxidation. Oxygen is a true enemy of beers that are considered hoppy beers. So we want to minimize oxygen contact at all costs.”
Chiltern has an unwavering zest for his craft. It kept him going when three-quarters of the way through the buildout he got a heart-sinking phone call.
“We already did demolition and I get a call from the Bend, Oregon, police department,” he said. The original brewing equipment that Chiltern ordered was going to come from Oregon. “The police called to say we need to let you know that the company you’re doing business with emptied out the factory, padlocked it and we firmly believe you’re the victim of fraud.”
Chiltern adds, “And your deposit has gone up in smoke. Along with 17 other breweries in 10 other states.”
Since the crime was considered interstate wire fraud, the police handed the case over to the FBI.
“Horrible news, especially when you have two children and you just pledged your house and you put all your chips in and the most crucial thing you need to carry on the business — beer-making equipment — you now realize you don’t have it,” he said. “You’re out the money for the deposit.”
“My wife said there’s no pulling out now,” he said. “We already invested $300,000 to general contractors, electricians and all that to create this space. Mark already left his job to join the team. We just have to push on, batten down the hatches and go for broke.”
Like a warrior?
“Like a warrior, exactly! Or a hungry wolf,” he said.
Chiltern started liquidating anything he could find.
“The last things I had left to me were remnants of a 401(k), the remnants of an IRA and a Roth (retirement account) and credit cards,” he said. His father pitched in with money, too.
Chiltern was undaunted.
He remembered Blichmann Engineering from a homebrew convention several years back that made pro-grade equipment. He contacted them and they knew about the brewers who were defrauded.
“Within two weeks of ordering from them it was here,” he said. “We loaded it all down the stairs … 500 to 600 pounds per piece. Everything came down the stairs by hand with moving blankets and ropes.”
Brewing began, and on Jan. 24 Wolf & Warrior opened for business.
“Yep, we opened with three beers on tap,” including an Argentinian blond ale named Patagonia. “And today that remains our best-selling beer,” he said.
The other two beers were New England IPAs.
As far as distribution, “we send kegs out of house, not the fat boys, the ‘slimmers,’ sixtels they’re called,” he said. “They go to bars and specialty bottle shops and restaurants that have a good craft beer program, like Coals pizza in Port Chester and Bronxville. Frankie & Johnnies Steakhouse in Rye takes Patagonia. Half Time (a beer store) takes beer fairly often. Beer Noggin in Bronxville. I just started bringing beer north of 287 to Croton Tapsmith (co-owned by TV personality Toni Senecal) and The Green Growler,” both in Croton-on-Hudson. “And more to come.
“It’s kinda cool that I brought a business to the actual same street that I was born on 42 years ago. So it’s full circle. It’s like coming home after a long sojourn.”
For more information, go to wolfandwarrior.com.