Pops in the Brewhouse
After President Carter legalized homebrewing, some homebrewers during the Reagan era fashioned this idea of starting microbreweries. Some of the survivors employ their kids today. But what about the Clinton generation who have always enjoyed craft beer? These are the people responsible for the latest wave of DIY brewing. And nary a one has kids old enough to put to work. Instead, some recruit their parents.
It’s a tradition that started in 1984 when Kurt (57) and Rob (52), the Widmer brothers, pulled their father Ray out of retirement. He worked at the brewery for 24 years before re-retiring, just before passing away at age 88.
In 1996, Nick Floyd previously brewed at the Florida and Falstaff breweries before roping in his brother, Simon, and father, Michael, to start Three Floyds Brewing, now headquartered in Munster, IN.
That same year, Ricardo G. Norgrove, 40, turned his dream of starting his own business into a reality. Whereas his initial idea of opening a newfangled coffee shop, one where people would pay upwards of two dollars for an espresso beverage, didn’t float, he learned how to brew at Brendan Moylan’s Marin Brewing Co. as preparation. Securing financing became a family effort. While there are three Floyds in Munster, there are four Norgroves at Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, CA. Ricardo Norgrove’s wife, Tami, and parents, Sandy and Richard R. Norgrove, are incredibly hands-on. When disagreements arise, all four concur that the family comes before the brewery. However, with a large extended family, just sharing a bloodline doesn’t equal job security. Still, Richard Norgrove insists that, “if push comes to shove, we’d sell the brewery (to protect the family.)”
More recently, in 2006, Scott Vaccarro, 30, christened Captain Lawrence Brewing in Pleasantville, NY. His love of homebrewing led him to transfer from Villanova and a career in accounting to UC Davis, where his studies in fermentation science resulted in a job at nearby Sierra Nevada Brewing. The Grossman family remembers him fondly as the brewer who introduced cask conditioning.
One constant among the fathers who work at their sons’ breweries was the cautious eye they put to the business plans. Vincent Vaccarro helped his son create the brewery to keep him near home. He is a CPA at a major accounting firm during the week and the CFO—and tour guide—at the brewery over the weekend. Scott’s mother, Linda, works behind the bar in the tasting room. When beer geeks ask show she landed such a sweet gig, she replies, “I gave birth to the brewer!”