I started brewing out of spite
No, really. It was one of those moments where I was challenged and my response was "Oh yeah?? I'll show you!" In other words, this post is about my brewing history.
To wind the clock way back, when I was 7 years old I had an uncle hand me a warm can of Busch Lite and told me to give it a taste. I did and he chuckled. I don't condone giving beer to minors but it was effective in me not wanting to try beer again until I was in college. It was in college that a friend of a friend left a few bottles of Killians in my fridge and suggested I give it a try. It was my first exposure to beer that wasn't - well, in my mind at least - beer flavored.
I began seeking out different styles and flavors. I quickly became a Guinness devotee. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Rogue Dead Guy, et al. I remember buying a six pack of RedHook ESB and thinking it was way too bitter so I left it in the fridge. Just a couple months later after cutting my teeth on far more bitter beers, I returned to it and realized how well balanced it actually was.
It wasn't long before I became the worst kind of craft beer convert - a snob. I am truly embarrassed about this phase, but fortunately it didn't last long. I turned my nose up at what my fellow college student friends were drinking, goading them into trying what I liked. During one of those rants, one of them got fed up with me shitting on their beer brand of choice and said "Like you could make something better!"
Like Biff Tannen calling Marty McFly a chicken, I had been triggered. I immediately set out to learn how to brew beer. If anything, I could justify shitting on what I considered bad beer if I could make something good. So I bought a Mr. Beer kit and brewed an Amber Ale that was... it was bad. A lot of people end their brewing hobby at this point. I was not going to cede defeat. I bought a food grade bucket, the cheapest stock pot I could find, a big spoon, and a copy of How to Brew (all of which I still have, 14 years later). I was going to make good beer, damn it.
My first extract kit turned out pretty well. My second one blew up. Literally - the fermenter cork jammed and when it popped off, all 4 walls, floor, and ceiling were painted in beer. What I was able to save was even better than the first beer! I got cocky and started experimenting with recipes - loads of kiwis, unique sugars, Mountain Dew instead of brewing water (best not to dwell on that one), and so on. Online resources were scant and I didn't know any other brewers so it was mostly all self-taught from trial and error.
Eventually I met another brewer through a college class. We challenged each other on styles and compared notes. I started seeking out and reading every book and magazine I could find on brewing to get a competitive edge against my friend. I participated in a couple crowd-sourced brewing experiments through one of the brewing magazines, challenging the established brewing myths (secondary fermenters are a lie!).
A few years into the hobby, brewing in a small apartment kitchen. OG brew kettle on the stove in the background.
A corner of the bedroom closet in that apartment converted into a fermentation chamber
I moved to the Quad Cities during this and one such experiment was published with my name and city, which prompted a member of the local homebrew club, MUGZ, to recruit me into the club. At the first meeting I attended, my mind was blown at the quality of beers homebrewers were making. I had so much to learn. I attended every meeting, taking notes from the other brewers, getting feedback on my own beers, and making a lot of good friends. I nervously served my own beer at homebrew festivals and was surprised when people actually liked my beer.
I was actively seeking out new beers and breweries along the way. I had (and still have) a supportive wife that liked beer as well. We'd frequent New Glarus, check out new breweries in Chicago, and even went on a tour of the Rogue brewery on our honeymoon. For a while, I was fortunate to have a job where I traveled all over the country and I made sure to stop at as many breweries as possible in my free time on those trips. I'd seek out the brewers when possible and chat about their beer. I traveled to Germany a few times and Ireland, drinking their classic styles at the source.
I began judging at beer competitions and submitting my own beers for feedback. Some fellow homebrewers and I were picked to brew a beer at Bent River. My first taste at brewing something professionally people actually wanted to buy. I started noticing various members of MUGZ going pro themselves, but didn't really consider it myself since I couldn't think of any way to make it work with my day job. I was happy to collaborate with my friends that did brew professionally - I brewed a couple beers at Rebellion, and there was a pro-am collab with Wake.
At this time, I'd been obsessing over beer for over a decade. My home setup had transformed from a pot and bucket to a semi-automated electric brewery with stainless steel conical fermenters. I'd read just about every modern book on brewing. I wanted a challenge. I started looking into the Cicerone program. It's a test for beer experts with a less than 33% pass rate. I started studying.
I studied for about a year and half before I took the test and I learned so much more about beer history, tasting, recipe design, and brewing. My own beers started to noticeably improve as well. I started chatting up someone from work about what I was working on and after a while he asked me if I wanted to open a brewery with him. We started planning, I passed the Cicerone test, and here we are.
And somewhere along the way I completely forgot which friend challenged me to shut up and actually make good beer.
My brewing setup these days.