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An Outsider Now on the Inside

3.11.14

For the past six months I’ve had the unique perspective of seeing Penrose Brewing Company come alive. I’ve scrubbed walls in the 100-plus-degree heat of August and thawed out a frozen glycol chiller in the sub-zero wind chills of February — and documented a building’s transformation from an empty shell to a fully functional brewery through the seasons. I’ve learned a lot about Eric and Tom during this process, too, whether it’s what inspires them to how hard they push themselves to why you shouldn’t make bar bets involving your hair.

But it was a weekend road trip through Michigan after a long, sweaty week of cleaning, demolition, cleaning, test batch brewing under the sun and more cleaning that I realized these guys are always on, and Penrose Brewing Company isn’t just a business to them; it’s their life’s work. Where many people would see a road trip as an opportunity to relax and recharge after a long week, Eric and Tom see it as an opportunity to visit people and places doing unique, inspiring things. They may slow down and appreciate the moment over a nice meal or great bottle of beer, but that really gets their creative juices flowing and ultimately leads to continuing conversations about how to create unique, lasting experiences through Penrose.

Simply put, inspiration revitalizes them, and the energy goes back into making Penrose better.

Capturing moments is something that really inspires me, and I saw the weekend as an opportunity make some photos and come home with some great stories as I immersed myself in the Penrose culture through a full weekend. It certainly didn’t disappoint, as we stopped at Three Floyds’ Brewpub for burgers and pints on our way to an overnight stay with Ryan Burk at Virtue Farms, only to be followed by a quick stop for a private tour of New Holland’s House of Funk on our way north to Empire Orchards and Hops Farm the next day. In between, we shared plates at farm-to-table restaurants, bottles of cider from Ryan’s private cellar around a bonfire and sleeping quarters with a snoring bulldog named Mudge.

At Empire, I found myself watching Tom as he smelled freshly harvested, whole cone hops that would be used in a test batch of our harvest saison, which he grabbed from a drying bin the size of an above ground swimming pool. Standing in the orchard a few minutes later, I snapped photos as Ryan’s eyes lit up when he bit into apples straight off the tree.

I’ve been telling stories for years, whether it’s through my photos or writing for newspapers, magazines and websites. But I usually drop into someone’s life for an hour, a day or a week, and once the photos are sent or the article’s been filed, the story is told and I’m onto the next. I’ve covered brew days and had behind-the-scenes access at breweries and businesses, but in those moments with Tom and Ryan I realized I was standing with creators at the very beginning of their process and it clicked: Penrose has given me an opportunity to be a part of something as it comes to life, and tell these stories as they develop over the next several weeks, months and years. I’m already six months into this journey, but it’s really just beginning — and I’m beyond excited for the road ahead.