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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From Hobby to Hired: Many Pro Brewers Begin with Siciliano's

Former Siciliano's employee,
current head brewer, Jacob Derylo
By Steve Siciliano

Over the past fifteen years I’ve had the pleasure of watching a handful of our homebrew customers make the transition from passionate hobbyist to brewing professional. Three of them also happen to be former employees. Jacob Derylo took up the hobby while working at Siciliano’s during the early years. Today he is producing highly acclaimed Belgian beers at Brewery Vivant. Matthew Blodgett and Alex Atkins both honed their brewing skills while employed at the store; today, each earns his living as an assistant brewer—Matt at Founders and Alex with Jacob at Vivant.

The first customer I watched make the leap to the pro brewing ranks was Tom Buchannan, who is now the head brewer at Jamesport Brewing Co. in Ludington. Tom was a loyal customer despite the fact that our inventory back then consisted only of cans of malt extract, a few one pound bags of specialty grains, one type of dry yeast, and a half dozen varieties of hops.

I have yet to make a trip up to Cranker’s in Big Rapids, but when I do, I’ll be sure to drink a pint with good friend and head brewer Adam Mills. Adam would often bring his four young children into the store and they would patiently sit on sacks of grain while he gathered up the ingredients for his homebrew recipes.

Max & Chris from the Mitt
Bill White, Chris Andrus, Max Trierweiler, and Jason Warnes are other customers who have turned their homebrewing avocation into a profession. Bill is the now the owner and head brewer at White Flame in Hudsonville. Chris and Max opened Mitten Brewing on the west side of Grand Rapids last year and just recently they hired Jason as a brewer. Another former customer, Seth Rivard, is a partner and brewer at Rockford Brewing.

One of the most iconic of our former homebrew customers to make brewing a profession is Nate Walser. Nate began his professional brewing career with a short stint at New Holland, later moved on to Founders, and then spent time as the head brewer at Perrin Brewing Company in Comstock Park. I’m quite sure that no one who knew Nate back when he was boiling five gallon batches on his kitchen stove had any idea that he would have such a tremendous impact on the West Michigan craft beer culture.

Last Saturday I took a minute to observe the buzz of activity in the store’s homebrew section. While I watched customers weigh and grind their grains, choose their yeast and gather their hops, I wondered if perhaps one of them would be the next to make the transition from passionate hobbyist to brewing professional. If history tells us anything, it's that the possibility is very real.

Who will be the next to go pro?
Is it you?

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