Joseph R. Short
Brewer – Abnormal Genius – Creative Engineer
Short’s Brewing Company
My affliction with “better beer” began the summer of 1997 shortly after graduating from Kalkaska High School. While visiting Kalamazoo pre-Western Michigan University I was exposed to Bell’s Beer. I never enjoyed the taste of beer until I had real beer. After my freshman year at Western I decided I would take a stab at making my own beer at home, since I had already collected so many bottles I could re-use. My first attempts were with extracts. They probably didn’t even ferment and were actually pretty gross. During my sophomore year I really wanted to make beer I enjoyed and was proud to drink. I also thought it would be a pretty handy craft to master since finding a beer buyer was mostly risky and a pain in the ass. Grain and yeast were readily available however. Since I was living in a house at this point, it was easier to practice brewing at home vs in a drom. I took the plunge to all grain with “The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian in hand. My first 20 or so attempts or so were pretty awful. Being a person of steadfast determination I was not going to give up until I brewed something I enjoyed and was proud to consume. I kept at it until it all finally “clicked”. I began to understand everything that I had read over and over and I made a drinkable batch of beer. It was a glorious day. It was definitely some kind of pale ale. Light in alcohol, medium hops, and fruity American ale. Once I had my program down, I then began learning about engineering beers at home, and started manipulating recipes and traditional styles while determining original gravities, mouth feel and bitterness levels. I loved everything about making beer. It was art to me.
Just after my junior year of school I decided I was going to leave the industrial arts program and try my hand at the brewing trade. After all, I wasn’t doing so hot considering all my study time was with brewing books and not the curriculum I originally moved to Kalamazoo for.
It was back to Up North. Rapid City to be exact. In tow I had a large inventory of home brew, all bottle conditioned and filled and capped by hand. I must have had 20 cases. I brought several different beers to Traverse Brewing Company in Williamsburg. I gave them to the owners and told them I was looking to work in the brewing trade. Long story short, they drank my beer and gave me a job. I began my first professional brewing days on a 14 barrel Peter Austin English ale brewing system. Which was great. It was like a giant home brew set up. I stayed the whole summer and soaked up all the knowledge I could. From there I traveled to St. Joseph MI to attempt to resurrect the Light House Depot brew pub with some friends I had waited tables with years earlier at Old Peninsula Brew Pub in Kalamazoo. I thought I hit the big time, when actually I had no idea what I was doing. The venture was short lived. My direction did not coincide with the goals of the owner. From there I landed a job working at Michigan Brewing Company. My stint at MBC lasted about 8 months. I worked mostly on the packaging end and in the pub room. I attribute a lot of my overall brewery education to head brewer Dan Rogers. Dan sort of took me under his wing and “learned me” the ins and outs of his operation. He knew I had a burning desire to become a brewer. When the opportunity arose, he recommended I go interview at Jackson Brewing Company who was in need of a brewer. I got the job and was the sole brewer for Jackson Brewing Company in Jackson MI. They had a 15 barrel JV Northwest brewing system that was beautiful. It served as a pub production system. Production was light and I really came into my own at JBC. Eventually the business was bought out and was changed to Zig’s Kettle and Brew. I brewed for each company for about a year. Although my skills as a brewer began to mature, I could see a dead end ahead in Jackson. Soon I had to make a decision. I could go job shopping and keep climbing the Michigan Brewing circuit ladder, or I could go and try to do something my way up North. I chose to gamble on going solo.
I found an old hardware store, some money and mostly and ignorant, blindly ambitious passion for the craft I wanted to bring to Northern Michigan. I was 22 years old going on 23. The first 4 years would be about 86 heart wrenching chapters about the struggle of beer liberation and small business survival and how we even made it this far. So we’ll stop here.