Trading a Blackberry for a Brew Kettle

Shortly before leaving my former employer, American Family Insurance, I wrote a blog post for the internal employee facing blog about chasing dreams. When it was published, it became, I believe, the third most popular post in the history of the internal blog. What follows is a slightly modified version.


We all have dreams in life. Everyone’s dream is unique and everyone’s dream is his or her own dream – a cabin in the woods, a condo on a beach, a house with two kids and a dog. The important thing is that we reflect on our dreams, discuss our dreams, write them down and chase our dreams. I’m currently chasing my dream of opening a brewpub.

How did I decide to chase my dream?

A little over 10 years ago, my wife and I tried homebrewing for the first time, and we produced something that was … drinkable, so we made a few more batches together. I eventually took it on as my hobby and my wife was the taste tester – a job which she still takes very seriously. I bought more equipment and kluged some together from spare parts. In a couple of years, I was brewing beer the same way as the pros, only on a very small scale. This was just a hobby, right?

Fast forward to the fall of 2012, in the midst of a new wave in the craft brewing industry. Thoughts of “what if?” started to fill my head. What if I tried to do that? What if I approached a bank? What if I left my job?

But dreams aren’t built on “what if.” Dreams are built on action. Acting on dreams requires gumption.  And sometimes a kick in the pants.

In the fall of 2012, while hanging out with some friends, my friend Amanda asked my friend Chris, “Have you tried Nate’s beer? It’s amazing!”  He hadn’t. I tried to back out of the conversation by stating that it was just homebrew. See, Chris used to be part owner in a small (still successful) brewery here in Wisconsin, so he knows his beer. Chris then turned to me and, catching me off guard, asked if I wanted to serve samples at the fall closing party of a music venue he now owns – product untasted. As I tried to back out, my wife pulled me aside and said, “You need to do this!” She had just given me a kick in the pants. *Kick*

I worked out a few details with my friend and committed.

Six weeks later, I served three types of my beer at his party, going through more than 10 gallons of my precious homebrew, with more than 100 people tasting it and coming back for more. Of course, Chris drank plenty of it himself, promised to provide me feedback but never said anything other than, “Fill my cup.”

The next day, while hanging out with Chris and his family, he finally provided feedback, while drinking yet another one of my beers. “Ok. I promised you feedback,” he said. “Lots of people make homebrew. The thing is, your beer doesn’t taste like homebrew.” *Kick*

There wasn’t anything I could say after a compliment like that – it was the best feedback anyone could have ever given me.

Time to act.

The energy from that discussion got me thinking. I wrote down what it meant to accomplish my dream. Then I started to talk to people about it. Over the last past two three years, I’ve gotten advice from professional brewers, business owners, politicians, accountants, friends, family, and even a couple of lawyers – all so I could put together my plan to make my dream a reality. I’m now acting on that plan.

After more than 12 years of walking the halls of American Family, July 1, 2014 was my last day. It was the last step – the last kick – that I need to move forward full force to chase my dream. That was when the real work began. I’m still a ways off from opening the doors – likely early 2016 before I open – but I’ll keep working and keep chasing my dream.  If you want to keep tracking my progress, follow this blog, my Twitter feedFacebook page, or Instagram.

Big dreams take a lot of hard work and dedication. They take help from family and friends. Sometimes, they also take a kick (or three) in the pants.

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