Sunday, October 13, 2013

How I got into Craft Beer

I was asked one day, how I became interested in craft beer. This was question that Ashley Rouston, The Beer Wench, as part of a interview question sheet that she e-mailed me. During the same series I asked her similar questions on her background as a blogger. I am not sure if my answers to her questions were every published.

I'm sure how I became interested in craft beer is similar to most everyone story. This story lead me further and has gotten me into craft beer industry. It all started when I first entered college. In high school, I didn't drink alcohol hardly at all, though I other things. 

Staying on topic, I started drinking what every other college student did and currently still drinks, the yellow fizzy water. Though I find nothing wrong with drinking this, because I still partake in drinking beer like Pabst and the like (especially when it is free and given to me by my father). I'll go further in this discussion on another blog on beer snobbery.

My first memorable night in drinking was after my first freshman college cross country race. Strangely I remember that night. It was a night of drinking Icehouse and after that I couldn't drink beer again for a while. That was until I drank Guinness. After my first sip of that it, I was thrown back because I didn't think that beer could taste like that.

After this instance every once in a while I would try beer like Budweiser, but I would usually fall back on Guinness or straight up liquor. That year went by finishing cross country, indoor track, and then outdoor track, partying and drinking throughout. The summer came and I found a new beer that I fell in love with while spending most of my time in Saint Joseph, Michigan. A 22 oz. beer was being past around and this beer was Solsun made by Bell's Brewing Company (now called Oberon). Again, being thrown back by what I was tasting, I was immediately hooked by craft beer (though not called that during that time.

Fast forward to 1999 my junior year at Grand Valley State University. I turned 21 and I found a small speciality (it was small then) shop call Siciliano's Market. I didn't know it then, but it was a gold mine. Perusing the shelve, picking out beer like Piraat and Founders, I was astonished by what I tasted. Then in 2003 I turned to homebrewing with my buddy and now head brewer at Pike 51 Brewing Company. I initially chose homebrewing because it was cheaper, but because it took three weeks to get a beer and my other pleasure (in which I mentioned earlier), I was both impatient and lazy.

I finally graduated and moved away to Charolotte, NC and found a beer bar called The Flying Saucer that had 85 beers on tap, plus over 200 bottles. Because I was teaching inner city middle school in the Charlotte-Mecklandburg School system, I ended up at the bar a lot. I eventually joined a beer club at The Flying Saucer in which, after we finished 200 beers, we got a saucer plate to hang on the wall and $100 in beer on the bar for a personal party. I also found a beer/wine store called Total Wine.

The next year I took a high school teaching job in Indiana, 45-min. north of Lafayette. I lived in Lafayette and while living there I found a local brewery called Lafayette Brewing Company. Still not knowing what was happening to the beer scene or the industry, I was really digging what I was tasting.

I ended up back in school in 2006, trying to refocus my education. During that time, I also tried my hands in homebrewing again. We went to the now defunct Michigan Brewing Company and learned how to all-grain brewing. I started to go to Founders Brewing Company, when it was in the Brass Works building on Monroe Street. A beer bar ended up opening in Grand Rapids, MI in 2008 called Hopcat. I applied to be the brewer their, but never heard back. I applied at New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, MI as someone to give brewery tours, but at that time I also got accepted into Miami University in Oxford, OH for graduate school. Still not really realizing what was happening in the craft beer scene, I decided to follow the route of more schooling and go and get my masters degree.

I continued homebrewing as I was in graduate school. I attempted to start a homebrew club in Oxford, but that failed. Another one that a buddy of mine, Matt Aerni, and I started was more successful though. I followed through and got my master's degree in zoology studying beneficial insects in agricultural dominated landscapes. While getting a master's degree, I did start up at a nanobrewery/brewpub called Quarter Barrel Brewery and Pub. We only could brew on Sundays, but only having one tap and competing with 8 guest taps, with the likes of Dogfish Head and Stone, our beer didn't sell much.

Finally, in 2012, I got fed up with the academic world and started looking for a job in the brewing industry. I talked with people like Mitch Steele (head brewer at Stone Brewing Company) and Joe Mohrfeld (Owner and brewer at Pinthouse Pizza in Austin, TX) on ideas to take to owners. I had a couple of phone interviews. One that sounded promising at Founder's, but I had to turn down a second interview because teaching promises that I made at Miami during my PhD. After I got really fed up with the academic world I regretted turning down the second interview. I finally got some on-site interviews at Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina and Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, Ohio, but never got any call backs. 

Finally I saw a blog video podcast of a new brewery in Cincinnati, called MadTree Brewing Company. I thought that if I could volunteer, maybe that could help. In this video, they interviewed three owners (Kenny McNutt, Jeff Hunt, and Brady Duncan), two of them (Kenny and Brady) had huge beard, just like mine. I thought, I need to contact them and work there! I started volunteering in February of 2013.

After a year of looking I got another on-site interview at SaugatuckBrewing Company (SBC). In April of 2013 and they sounded interested in me and my experience. I went back to Oxford feeling ecstatic and 2 days later, while out for drinks with fellow graduate students, I got a notice on my phone of an e-mail from the brewery. They hired me to begin work on 1 May. I told all of my friends, then I had to notify my advisor. That did not go over well at all, but I decided that I had to stop pleasing other people.

I started at SBC with some cellar and quality control work. A week later, I got put on as a brewer. Currently I am the second-shift brewer and lab geek (quality control) for the brewery. I get to do all sorts of fun and exciting stuff with brewing and science. Lately we done an experiment with open fermentation and I harvested the yeast and am building that up. I got to design my own beer not to long ago and also, I am learning all sorts of new things. They like me a lot there and they also gave me a small raise last week after working there only 5 months!

It seems that I found my place in life. All in all, I'm living the dream and happy to be back in my home state of Michigan.

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