Why Non-alcoholic Beer?!?
To understand why I’ve embarked on a journey to create a great tasting non-alcoholic beer and why I’m starting this blog, first you need to know some background.
The Seed Is Planted
My beer story began in circa 2000 when at the age of 19 a friend and I homebrewed our first batch of beer. We thought we were pretty clever because you didn’t need to be 21 to buy the raw ingredients. The beer turned out pretty bad, but we drank it anyway and more importantly the seed had been planted.
While we brewed a handful of batches over the next few years my passion for homebrewing didn’t really take off until I relocated to Seattle in 2004. In the fertile brewing region of the PNW I began to acquire more and more homebrewing equipment and proceeded to brew more than 100 batches over the years and began daydreaming of opening a brewery.
A Dream Realized
The stars seemingly aligned around 2009 when I moved in next door to Jesse Duncan and I met Jesse Warner at Seattle University while working on our MBAs. With Jesse Duncan I found another homebrewer passionate about making great, underrepresented styles and a person that was willing (or crazy enough) to step off the cliff with me. In Jesse Warner I found another homebrewer and business minded individual who was excited to join in an unpredictable entrepreneurial adventure. On September 2nd, 2016 the three of us opened the doors to Figurehead Brewing Company.
It was exciting, exhausting, and surreal to start your own business, open a brewery, and realize a dream. All three of us continued to work our existing day jobs while building out every aspect of the brewhouse and business ourselves and opening the brewery, all three of us are married (and still married FYI), and two of us have kids. So to say it was a labor of love would be an understatement.
We opened on Sept. 2nd after about 9 months of build out and paperwork, and in December of that year I made my first visit to the emergency room with extreme abdominal pain.
The Dream Stolen?
What ensued was several months of unexplained abdominal pain, multiple inconclusive tests, and a few trips to the emergency room. With no obvious explanation for the pain my doctors ordered an endoscopy in late March 2017 which they thought would not reveal anything but would rather eliminate some possibilities. On March 27th I had the procedure and that afternoon got a phone call with the diagnosis… pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, has no cure or treatment, the main way to manage it is by diet and by eliminating alcohol. I was shocked, I thought there must be some mistake, the doctor must have read the results wrong, or there must be something that can be done. Though I couldn’t admit it at that moment, I also knew that on March 25th, 2017 during cask fest I had drank my last beer. Less than 7 months after realizing my dream of opening a brewery I could no longer partake in the product that we made.
Being a husband and a father of an almost 3 year old it was a quick and easy decision to stop drinking, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t take a toll on me. I alternated primarily between anger and profound sadness, and experienced stretches of depression for a long time. I questioned my ability and desire to continue with the brewery less than a year into business. I wondered if I could maintain my passion for a product that I couldn’t experience and whether I could handle watching customers enjoy all my hard work while I could not.
Thankfully almost 5 years later I’m in a much better place, which is not to say that I don’t have the occasional moment of sadness. I still believe beer is the greatest beverage in the world and my passion now is focused on helping people understand why and encouraging people not to take it for granted. I’m still driven to make an exceptional product and I take joy from running my own business.
Following my diagnosis I went to great lengths to avoid alcohol outside of the brewery either because it felt awkward to be around others drinking without a drink myself or it was just too painful a reminder of what I could no longer enjoy. While I have become more comfortable in those situations I still felt I needed to find something else to enjoy during those moments. I didn’t want to start drinking lots of sugary drinks, I couldn’t consume unlimited caffeine, and water just doesn’t cut it, so I started to explore what non-alcoholic beers were out there.
I had avoided NA beers for a while both because most didn’t taste real good and I thought they would be a subpar reminder of what I was missing. In my quest to find a good NA alternative I tried every NA beer I could get my hands on and to my surprise I found a few that were actually pretty good.
While there are more and more quality NA beers to be found, I still couldn’t find the styles of beer that I really missed, the same styles that we primarily brew at Figurehead. I wanted an easy drinking Belgian ale like our Patersbier, an English dark mild like our Captain Digby, or a classic English bitter in line with our Fort Lawton Ale. The chances of a big national NA brewery creating these more niche styles is pretty low, so I decided why don’t I brew one? Thus began my journey to create a great NA beer.
Trade Secret or Open Book?
While the craft brewing industry is amazingly collaborative and most breweries will happily talk recipes and process with other breweries, the NA brewing world is the exact opposite. Most NA breweries spend an immense amount of time and resources on research and development and therefore closely guard their processes as proprietary trade secrets.
This blog is intended to be the antidote to that. My intent is to document everything, put it all out there. Here you will find the results of all my NA beer production research, my thought process when evaluating different methods, and the results of my soon to begin brewing trials. I am by no means an expert on NA brewing but my hope is that this blog will begin a new trend in sharing knowledge with the goal of collectively producing higher quality NA beer in a more diverse range of styles.
I still take immense pride in the quality and diversity of alcoholic beer we make at Figurehead, and while we don’t have an NA beer offering yet, I hope to be able to offer something by the end of 2022 that meets those same quality standards. I’m not sure where this journey will lead but follow this blog and we’ll find out together!
Figurehead Brewing Company