The Brewery—Where Our Story Begins

Like the majority of brewers today, my brewing journey began humbly, with five- gallon batches of beer brewed on a kitchen stovetop. However, unlike the majority of brewers, I wasn’t looking for an escape from a boring job—I was looking for an escape, at least momentarily, from doing my high school homework. It began as a simple twist of fate in the winter of 1995, my senior year at John Jay High School, when I went to visit a friend.

Looking back, I cannot imagine another way of life, but it was a fluke that inspired my brewing career. On that Saturday afternoon, my friend’s father just happened to be brewing a batch of home brew with his long-time brew partner. I was absolutely blown away by the idea that beer, the stuff that was the objective of many a covert mission to the local convenience store, could be brewed at home. Was it possible to dream up a flavor and then transform a few simple ingredients on the stovetop into a drinkable version of that dream? I had to find out.

With the blessing of my parents and the guidance of Kenny Dorsch, my friend’s father, I have been able to make that dream a reality. In November 1995, I brewed my first batch of beer—Cranberry Celebration Ale—and waited patiently as it fermented into liquid gold. Four weeks later, I opened my first bottle, and from that day on, I realized I was born to brew!

I have to admit at that point in my life I didn’t think it was possible to become a professional brewer. I wasn’t even old enough to vote, let alone drink, but that wasn’t going to quell my newfound passion. I bought a copy of Charlie Papazian’s The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing and began my brewing education while avoiding math homework in study hall. After a few more batches at home, I was “forced” to leave for college with the new goal of learning how to be an accountant at Villanova University. Within a few weeks, I found a member of my lacrosse team who was willing to let me use his kitchen stove, and again, I began to experiment. I am not very proud to admit this, but I was fermenting in a five-gallon plastic gasoline canister and picking bottles out of the recycle bin to bottle my beer.

After my first semester, it was obvious that accounting was not my forte, and brewing, even if it was in plastic gas containers, was what I wanted to do.

In another twist of fate, while reading one of my brewing magazines, Brewing Techniques, I came across an ad for the Fermentation Science program at the University of California at Davis. It was as clear as the sterile filtered lager that was sitting in front of me that this was were I needed to be—not sitting at a desk reading Intro to Macroeconomics.

There were many heated debates with my parents and then one more semester at Villanova before I finally convinced them that I wanted to be a professional brewer—and that it wasn’t all about drinking beer. In hindsight, I am sure my parents were probably horrified that their firstborn wanted to spend the rest of his life surrounded by beer, but to their credit they agreed to support the decision of an eighteen-year-old to study a product he couldn’t legally drink.