What I Do: Brian Ivers of Side Project Brewing
Brian Ivers takes chances. He quit his engineering job to hike the Appalachian Trail, despite having almost no long-distance hiking experience. On the advice of a taproom bartender, he quit that same engineering job (again) to take a Goose Island brewing internship.
A few years later, he was the first brewer his brother-in-law Cory King hired to work alongside him at Side Project Brewing in Maplewood. Oh, and that Goose Island bartender? She’s now his wife, Erica Ivers. Here, the engineer-turned-brewer talks about his college days, traveling the country on foot and his dream of opening a brewery in the middle of nowhere.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be an electrical engineer. That was my main focus, so as an extension, all science and engineering always interested me. … I heard at one point that farmers make wine and engineers make beer. Maybe the people who make wine object to that, but as a brewer, that rings true to me.”
“I was drinking Shiner Bock and AmberBock [in college], and I thought I was pretty cool. I considered that I had a sophisticated palate because I chose Shiner over whatever [was] the lightest thing you could get. But then I found out about various styles of beer, and I thought, ‘Well, these all have to be investigated.’”
“It’s a familiar story. You suddenly get obsessed with something else. But I’d spent all this time and money going to engineering school, so I was like, I might as well give that a go. I just did homebrewing for quite a while. I spent gobs of my student loan money on homebrewing equipment.”
“We brewed a nut brown ale, and I still have the bottle of the first one we ever capped. It was good. Of course, we thought it was good back then, but that was the big epiphany. … That night we got drunk drinking our own beer just to make sure there was alcohol in it.”
“Everybody on the Appalachian Trail or any long-distance trail gets a trail name. Usually they get assigned to you throughout your first month on the trail. … Most of the time, they’re unflattering. I was eager to have a flattering trail name bestowed upon me, so the first night, I’m drinking this [Oskar Blues] Ten Fidy on the trail, and me or [my friend] Stephen said this should be my trail name. … I kept one of the cans, and I hiked it all the way from Georgia to Maine – almost 2,200 miles.”
“Baseweight was based on one of my old homebrew recipes. … Right before I left for the AT, I left it in a fermenter. When I got back from the AT, that beer had soured. … Cory and I put fruit in it and added some bacteria and made it a sour. Later, that sour version of Baseweight became Trail Porter, which was brewed as a Side Project beer.”
“When you’re out hiking, you don’t have [creature comforts], and therefore when you get into town, all the sudden, beer tastes the best it’s ever going to taste. Suddenly being in a no-name bar in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, bellying up to that bar and having a beer is one of the greatest experiences ever.”
“Erica and I daydream of taking our kids on the Appalachian Trail one day. … We ran into a couple on the [Pacific Crest Trail]. They were hiking with their 12- and 10-year-old kids, and they did the whole trail. We were inspired by that. We were like, ‘You know what? If we have kids, maybe that’s not the end of the world after all.’”
“What my wife and I envision now is a hiker hostel-brewery kind of place in the middle of nowhere, maybe along the Continental Divide Trail. [Hikers are] fun people and honest people, and we think it’d be pretty cool to cater to them in the summertime. Then maybe in the wintertime, we’d be in the mountains, so we’d cater to ski bums. … That’s the scheme at this point.”
Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.
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