After working on an organic farm for some time, it is curious to me, that I might liken my life to the onion plant, and subsequently, most hearty root vegetables that grew in the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania where I found myself farming. And it is twice as interesting and surprising to come to a self-realization that I owe everything I am, to the onion lifestyle.
My brewing career started figuratively as a tiny seed that was carried away by the wind through happenstance, and struck fertile soil in the desolate junkyard of my birthplace, where fertile soil had long ceased to exist. A hot and sunny day spent driving around Staten Island, NY in search of stale air conditioning and fluorescent lighting to rescue me from the overwhelming stink that hung in the air led me to seek refuge within a Bed Bath and Beyond in a local strip mall. Within the sterile smelling confines of bleached white cinder block walls adorned with cheap chinese-made home goods, I found my life’s passion and purpose.
I was renting a cheap apartment in the Mariner’s Harbor neighborhood of Staten Island. My parents moved our family out of that neighborhood when I was 2 years of age because life would have been too hard for me there. I moved back there for the same reason at 17 years old; not because I hated my parents and despised my upbringing, but because I respected them. I wanted to test myself and the skills I had been given to lead a fulfilling and productive life of independence and self-reliance in an unlikely place, while I still had a family and a home to fall back on.
I was a tiny seed. I worked two full time jobs in neighboring New Jersey, for a criminally less amount of money than I was worth; one cooking food late night for Rutgers Students at a comic book cafe, and one as a field technician at a paintball park. The value, and sometimes in-value, that people put on a persons age has always, and will continue to, puzzle me.
I was always broke, broken and tired. I worked from 8am to 4am and got very little sleep. On my days off, I would take the ferry into Manhattan, and with the little money I had scrounged up would buy myself dinner at a high end French Bistro, a cannoli from a famous Italian bakery, or visit the Union Square Farmers Market to buy one meals worth of fresh produce. These days spent in the city, some of the proudest and yet most pathetic instances of my life, were the ones I looked forward to, and the ones I tried to dream about during my inadequate sleep cycles.
For those unfamiliar with growing onions, it might surprise you that such a relatively large object actually comes from a very tiny seed. It is amazing to me how such a small and seemingly pathetic object can absorb so much water and nutrients from its surroundings to become those big onions you see at the market.
I had just completed my 2nd home brewed beer on the cheap kit I purchased from bed bath and beyond before I walked out to the sidewalk and dumped it in the fucking street. As someone who takes things seriously, and as an avid drinker of craft beer, I couldn’t waste anymore time on this toy brewing system. The beer was horrible and unsanitary, and cost more to make than the good brew I had been buying underage from the corner store on Forest Avenue.
I worked any extra days I could and saved up for a “real” home brewing kit, purchased from a local home brewing shop. I spent all of my free time late at night boiling and cooling wort, dry hopping, checking the temperature in my linen closet/fermentation cellar, reading technical brewing books, and absorbing every facet of the craft that I could.
Even if you plant the seeds early in the year, you still won’t have a full sized onion by late fall. It takes a lot of effort and a long time for an onion plant to mature. After 1 year of growth, they are still only halfway matured. At harvest time, when the world starts to get cold and dark, onions must be uprooted and stored over the winter to be planted next spring.
That winter, I uprooted myself. After finishing up my 15th batch of home brewed beer, the last that I would ever create, I decided that day that I would be a professional brewer for the rest of my life.
I would love to tell you the quintessential romantic explanation of how I’ve come to open my own brewery… About how my home brewed beers were other-worldly, and how all of my friends thought my stove top swill was so good that I should go into a million dollars in dept to open my own micro brewery, and about my cutting edge, outside of the box, proprietary talents that make my beer exponentially better than the thousands of reputable brands on the shelf.
But that would be a lie.
The truth is, my beer was terrible, I possessed no god given super powers, and to be honest, I had no friends.
I was successful in drowning out any distractions that might hinder my own self development. I wanted to be a brewer. So I went out and became one.