Across the globe, brewers may come in all shapes and sizes, each unique in their love for hops and malt. Look hard enough and you’ll see there’s a common thread connecting many of them.
There are no tall tales here, however, as one of the most popular stories about the creation of a brewer happens to have plenty of truth.
It typically goes like this: It’s the holiday season (or a birthday, Father’s Day or any other time you hand over gifts to a beloved person in your life) and a significant other needs a gift. Wandering through a Big Box chain store, the ideal item appears. On the front of its packaging, big block letters proclaim “BEER KIT.” On its back, a smiling man holding a mug filled to the brim with amber brew.
It’s a story told again and again, the brewhouse equivalent of a campfire tale. It’s about Mr. Beer, the football-shaped, countertop homebrewing kit that from the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond or True Value has launched the career of brewers all over.
“You never really know the significance something will have, but this purchase definitely came at a good time,” said Joli Tribuzio, wife of Danny Bruckert, head brewer at Sixpoint Brewery. “As soon as he opened it, I remember feeling right away it was something he’d want more out of.”
The gift came at the perfect time. It was December 2005 and Bruckert had just left an acting job performing in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” an off-Broadway show. He suddenly had lots of time on his hands and Tribuzio saw Mr. Beer in a CVS Pharmacy not far from their tiny Queens apartment.
“My parents would come over and I’d have to explain to them, ‘yeah, he’s making beer,’” Tribuzio said with a laugh. “I don’t think they understood what that was.”
Bruckert wasted no time rattling off recipes for IPAs, a lager, stout and amber ale. He shared them with friends and brought samples to share with coworkers at a bar. He started going to True Value Hardware stores to find brewing ingredients and at home crushed grains with a dough roller. The Mr. Beer kit kicked off a hobby, which became a passion and led to seeking out a job in the industry. His first was as a keg washer for Sixpoint in 2010.
“It was an imperfect way to learn, but a perfect way to try,” Bruckert said. “It removed beer from being this packaged product you buy at a grocery store and turned it into science. I never would have thought about it like that.”
He’s certainly not the only one. Over the last 10 years, shoppers have bought more than 2 million Mr. Beer kits, said Rich Zich, president at Coopers DIY, which owns the Mr. Beer brand.
“Our goal is to teach a lot of the things to know if people do want to step it up to the next level,” Zich said. “From homebrewing to doing it professionally, you still need to follow ‘rules’ of making everything clean, having the right ingredients and focusing on details each and every time.”
About half of Mr. Beer kits are sold during the holiday season, which is when it ended up under Scott Stokes’s Christmas tree in 2011. Months before, Scott took a summer vacation to San Diego with his wife, Tina, and found a love for the city’s locally-made brews. Back home in Palm Desert, California, an off-hand remark about spotting a Mr. Beer kit while the pair walked through a BevMo! retail store, stuck in Tina’s mind.
“He’s one of those guys that’s always difficult to buy a gift for,” Tina said. “He’s a big USC Trojans fan, so it’s always something sports related. But beer had become a new interest of his and it seemed to fit him well.”
Perhaps a little too much.
After unwrapping his present, Scott brewed his first batch the next day, a pale ale. He didn’t want to wait for that beer to fully ferment before he could start another batch, so within a month he went out and bought two more Mr. Beer kits. Semi-retired from land development and real estate, he had plenty of time on his hands for homebrewing his first year. He made 25 batches.
“At first it was endearing, but then we had a hefeweizen fermenting in our formal dining room and coolers stacked all over the place,” Tina said.
Scott loved his hobby and needed more space.
“Late one night I decided I would open a brewery,” he said.
Spurred by a found love for brewing, Scott soon upgraded to full-fledged homebrewing equipment to make all-grain batches and decided to open La Quinta Brewing Co. in 2013. With limited experience beyond Mr. Beer, he hired a brewmaster and continued to learn at the new brewery, where Tina also works doing marketing and graphic design.
Scott’s original Mr. Beer kit, first opened up almost five years ago, still sits in a cabinet at home as a reminder of how it all started.
“It was all her fault!” Scott jokingly exclaimed.
If that’s the case, it’s a “burden” Tina was happy to have taken on.
“I was just so happy I got my husband a decent gift,” she said with a laugh. “But now it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”