A Quiet Desperation
For those of you that may be wondering what the hell I’ve been up to in the last couple months – I can give you a very brief synopsis:
Imagine a piece of taffy, being stretched by little children, in numerous directions, all at the same time.
Upon coming back from Ukraine, I figured everything would go according to plan, but, you know, mice & men and all that jazz…
Anyways. The original attempt saw me flying into JFK for a potential job prospect at a upstate brewery. The position offered everything I had wanted, plus a little more. On top of a being the production lead, I’d be finessing my finest at the sour production side of things, as well, something I had specifically been looking for. Needless to say, I was pretty damn excited.
My frightening, yet hilarious, Ukrainian Airlines flight from Kiev → New York, involved a postponed flight due to weather, pirated Chinese dubbed movies, a broken tray table, religious quarrels, and what looked like duct tape on the wing. Honestly, it was the equivalent of a Greyhound bus, but flying over the Atlantic ocean. Hooray!
Upon landing at JFK, I found myself, for the first time in a long time, very relieved to be back in my own country. Except for the god awful blaring of news on the television sets in the JFK customs area. Good lord. Guess I had forgotten how loud it is in this country.
Regardless, things felt fresh, and after coming off of the totality of the past several years in Ukraine, everything felt aligned and in its proper place. Plus, I had one of the best damn breakfast sandwiches in this hole in the wall deli, so that was a pretty solid start.
A few family emergencies (everything is fine now) lead me back to Phoenix, Arizona, where my parents decided to reside after swiftly moving down from Portland, back in December of last year. I felt like it was in my best interest to stick around in Phoenix, so unfortunately, things with the New York brewery didn’t pan out.
But I hadn’t lost hope. Oh no, not yet. While my options had narrowed down, I found solace in the fact that being back stateside was going to make my search a bit easier.
November/December of last year (2017) was actually quite a busy one – it was the pinnacle point at which I had really decided that my time in Ukraine, and specifically, Pravda, was ready to end. After putting word to the street that I had planned on departing, it felt like everyday, for those few months (and into January a little), I was speaking with someone new over the Skype about a potential job opportunity. Yes, it’s a #humblebrag, I’m aware, but it felt pretty cool, and for the first time made me realize how well I’d done over in Ukraine, and my career, in general.
During this time, one of few people I had actually felt an honest connection with was a solemn, yet genuine man, by the name of Kenny, out of the big ol’ state of Texas (Teh-hoss for you Ukrainian, readers). Kenny contacted me in the back of December, and honestly told me right away he had been in the brainstorming process of opening a brewery in the San Antonio/Austin area, but lacked any real experience with the industry. Of course, I was skeptical – every direction you look, someone wants a part of the brewery action, in some way – with 6300+ breweries and rising, it’s getting hot in here (but my opinion on this is for another time).
Upon Skyping with Kenny, any predisposed assumptions were simply cast away. While the goal to ‘open a brewery’ was there, Kenny wanted something special, something genuine, more down-to-earth, and connected to everything, locally. Our visions and philosophies were extremely similar, and when it comes to opening a brewery, I believe these are necessary for symbiosis. Unfortunately, the brewery was mostly still in its beginning life stages, and many things needed to be fleshed out before I would be hired on. “Perfect!” I thought, as I still had plenty of time left at Pravda before I took off, and hopefully everything would time well.
The beginning of the year already felt like going supernova. After coming back to Ukraine from the holiday season, the oh so exciting label fiasco, a potential dream gig in New York (mentioned above, then of course, declining it), and putting in my two weeks, it had been such a whirlwind of emotions & thought, that I had completely spaced on Texas.
Luckily, for me, Kenny’s timing was super solid, and hit me up just as I was arriving back stateside, graciously inviting me out to Austin.
Austin, was, simply put, pretty incredible. Having never visited before, but always hearing the drastic comparisons between it and Portland, I was pleasantly surprised to see it was absolutely true. While we were there, we checked out numerous breweries, including Live Oak (incredible German-style beers), ABGB (Austin Beer Garden Brewery – one of the best kettle sours I’ve ever had), and Austin Beerworks (was able to hook up a killer tour), plus many many more.
While I tried to hide my anticipation around Kenny and his family, the one I was anxiously waiting for, was the world renowned, Jester King.
Settled upon hundreds of farmland acreage, the brewery resting inside an old garage/barn – the beer, location, and overall ambiance of Jester King did not disappoint in the least. Though there is a part of me that had taken more mental notes in regards to the beers we consumed, honestly, it would have defeated the purpose. These were beers constructed to be simply enjoyed without, well, be deconstructed – an experience meant to be enjoyed with those usual suspects you surround yourself with. In some ways, it fit exactly the type of attitude I would see in my own place – a brewery that’s just doing itself, for itself, and thus rippling out from there.
Included in the visit was a few spots of land checked out for brewery development, out in the Texas Hill Country, and tons of amazing food… Hit up the famous Salt Lick BBQ, and brunch at Bangers, in downtown Austin. I can’t complain, it’s pretty nice to be back in the US, when it comes to food options.
By the end of the trip, Kenny offered me a position as consultant with his future brewery, which would then extend to Head Brewer once production rolled around. I was ecstatic! We talked beer ideas, challenges, etc… Obviously, all of this seemed completely perfect… Only one thing scratched at the back of my head: Timing.
Without a piece of land procured yet, we would be at least a year out from opening, once one was found. Maybe longer, as being in the industry as long as I have, something always happens.
So, all that Austin fun was at the end of February, and it’s now the beginning of April. Without brewing for almost 2 months (or running a brewery, for that matter), it has felt like much longer. It’s an addiction that leaving me with the shakes – I’m not connected to my main duty, and it’s super weird. I’ve been brewing small 10L batches at home, in addition to some yeast capture projects, but it’s only scratching that small surface – at times, it can feel like an iceberg.
Being in back has been a bit like being on purgatory spring break… While I’m happy to have the time off, I’m going a bit dramatic just trying to fill holes with side-projects (**cough** this blog **cough**). Luckily, I’ve been able to meet some of the Phoenix area brewers, so here’s another check plus for networking.
What’s next? A very good question. We had our first branding meeting this last Tuesday (went real well, surprisingly), and will hopefully figure out a name this month. We’ve almost narrowed down a site for the future brewery, but still going through some more checks before I want to announce anything official. As for brewing, I have a few plans going into motion, but I’ll go into these once they become a little more concrete. Once the wheels start spinning a bit faster, I’ll be realigned once again. Regardless…
I may have a general idea now of what it might feel like to retire.