The event is lost in the mists of time, but it may have happened something like this: A farmer rested while carrying pail of barley. It suddenly began to rain, so he abandoned the bucket and ran for the house. Days later, the farmer and one of his pals were yakking when they noticed the pail of sodden barley. Various microorganisms had set up shop in the wet grain, causing a pungent aroma to waft from the bucket.
Their wives would have simply tossed that mess to the hogs. But being guys, the men instead opted to taste the barley juice, and history was made.
The stuff those guys discovered is now known as beer. Beer, in turn, led to other wonderful ideas such as the wet T-shirt contest. It also engendered some odious creations such as karaoke.
Beer has undergone many changes throughout the millennia. It has morphed from a beverage brewed mostly at home and in small batches to an industrial product manufactured in quantities normally associated with Lake Superior.
Thanks to the recent revival in home brewing, beer has come full circle. Part of this revival is the microbrewery, a throwback to the time when beer was a local product and nearly every town had its own brewery.
A new microbrewery just opened in our area. As an adherent to the maxim "life is too short for cheap beer," I naturally had to check it out.
Seth Koch is 30-something, an energetic, effusive guy who describes himself as a "beer nerd." He is also co-owner and brewmaster of Wooden Legs Brewery.
I asked Seth the most obvious question first: what's up with the name of his establishment? Is it an allusion to the way people walk after having one too many?
"It's an homage to Judge W.W. Brookings," replied Seth. "This town was named for him, and he had two wooden legs. And we thought that Wooden Legs Brewery sounded much more interesting than something like Brookings Brewery."
How does a guy go about becoming brewmaster at a microbrewery?
"I worked for a large electronics firm for 10 years," replied Seth. "My job took me all over the world, so I got to experience a lot of different beers. In England, I learned to appreciate what they call a 'proper pint.' I've always enjoyed beer and began home brewing some years ago. I guess you could say that Wooden Legs Brewery is a hobby that got out of hand."
What motivated you to chuck a secure job and start a small business?
"The job market has changed. Gone are the days when a person can graduate from college, then settle into a secure career for the next 30 years. And if there's no job security, the risk of entrepreneurship is nil.
"Travel was a huge part my previous job. I would wake up in Huston and go to bed in Boston. My wife and I have two daughters that are six months and 3 years old. Now, no matter how late I work, I still get to kiss them goodnight."
How do you develop beer recipes?
"We begin with a beer we enjoy. We'll read the brewer's notes and consider how we would make it. We then brew a small batch - 15 gallons - in my garage. When the beer is done, we taste it and discuss how to tweak it. Brewing is a continual learning process. It's a lot like cooking. You make small, deliberate changes."
How many different beers do you have here?
"We currently have five that are brewed on the premises and over 100 others from around the world."
I see a lot of stainless steel in the brewing room. Reminds me of my dairy farming days.
"Other than the stainless steel and the use of electricity, beer making has changed little over the centuries. One of our goals is to dispel the myths about beer and foster a better understanding about the art of brewing. Our bartenders are trained to help people learn about beer and help them discover what they might like."
What is your goal for this place?
"Our motto is 'great beer, great conversation.' We wanted to create a conversation-based pub, like a coffee shop except with beer. We don't have televisions. Our hope is for people to actually talk with one another as is the custom in English pubs."
OK. But what's your life goal?
"I would like to retire a happy man. Not necessarily a rich man but a happy one."
What a great philosophy! Let's discuss that over a pint of barley water.