I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 2005 and I stepped into Buckeye Brewing, a Cleveland, Ohio-area brewery that also had a “brew your own” facility onsite. My intention was to check out some of Buckeye’s beers, but when I walked in that room, smelled the melanoidins from the mashing grains, the piney, citrus hops, and the fresh, bread-like yeast character of fermenting batches, it was a life changing moment. In that moment I knew that this was my calling.
At the time, this wouldn’t have been considered to be an “upward career path.” I was a successful advertising sales executive for a large company, about to enter into the management side. The pay and benefits were excellent and I had already earned 4.5 weeks vacation annually. Why would I even consider leaving that to do manual labor for much less money? It has been said that smell is the most powerful sense. Though it’s hard to argue against the audible beauty of a Beatles masterpiece or an ocean view sunset on the eyes, the aromas in that room on that day were completely captivating. Simply stated, I just knew that I needed to get into beer. But how?
I started to homebrew obsessively and joined the local homebrew club called S.N.O.B (Society of Northeast Ohio Homebrewers). I read every book and magazine about brewing that I could find, especially my personal favorite, Brew Your Own. I joked to friends that I wished my company would offer me a buyout so I could pursue my brewing career. I even changed my work computer password to “buyout” to help encourage the karmatic energy around me. Whether by luck, or perhaps through divine intervention from St. Gambrinus, my company did, eventually, offer me a robust buyout and I was free to pursue a new career path.
Since this was my first break from work or school, I figured I’d take a few months off, increase my brewing knowledge and see what opportunities would arise. But first, a celebratory trip to the Great American Beer Festival was in order to celebrate my “retirement” from the corporate world. It was there that a brewery from my beer scene won gold with their world class imperial stout. I congratulated the owner and after 15–20 minutes of conversation I was offered a chance to work for the brewery, starting at the bottom. The very next week I began work with Hoppin’ Frog Brewery of Akron, Ohio and within a few months had become a brewer. In a very short time, the “olfactory” had taken me to the “old factory.” To this day, it’s one of the most satisfying things I have ever done and I am thankful for that first professional brewing opportunity.
Absolutely none of this would have happened had I not become an avid homebrewer. Starting at the brew your own facilities, upgrading to the kitchen stove, then graduating to all-grain in the garage on a system that could produce some really good beer, I was on my way. A few dozen medals later, including a National Homebrew Competition silver, I realized that I had the base knowledge needed to go into the field of brewing that I so longed to be a part of.
Homebrewing not only helped me to land a job as a brewer, it introduced me to so many like-minded individuals that share a love and passion for all things craft beer. And I can truly say my life is better because of them and because of my love for homebrewing.