Brewing with passion

Student’s hobby of homebrewing beer

He is under 21, but he loves beer. In fact, he loves it so much he makes his own. Beer is his passion and his craft.

Ryan Pearce, senior, started his passion for home brewing before he was even in high school at age 13. His relatives introduced him to the process of brewing beer on a small scale for personal, non-commercial purposes.

“I’ve been interested in chemistry and math. I didn’t know how to bring it all together, but home brewing is a meeting point for those things,” Pearce said. “School is kind of rigid in that way, but [home brewing] is something that is a little more relaxed. I saw my relatives doing it for fun and when they had free times would do it as a hobby. I really enjoyed that and taking that [hobby] and making it into a career is what got me really interested into it.”

Now as a senior, Pearce plans on going into fermentation science as a major, which is only offered to a handful of schools in the US. Because of his age, Pearce waited until sophomore year when he was “an age almost appropriate” to say it was what he wanted to do for a living.

“[Sophomore year] was a low point career-wise because my grades were not that great and I didn’t want to do the things I thought I did, like engineering or being a lawyer or something really boring. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do either of these things, and I am probably not smart enough to do them anyways so what am I doing here?’” Pearce said. “I was walking by the craft beer aisle in the grocery store, and there was all this cool artwork and quirky stuff that [brewers] were doing, and I was like, ‘that stuff is awesome. The people that do that are awesome. It’s such a great thing, and I’d like to do it.’ I literally told my dad in the checkout aisle”  

Realizing that home brewing was his passion and future, Pearce tries to get as much as experience as possible, which proves difficult because of his age.

“There are brewing groups,” Pearce said. “I called one of them and they said, ‘we checked, but we had to call our insurance company, and we can’t have you at the meetings or anything like that.’ It’s weird. Sometimes when I go to talk in breweries they are really open or really not open. Some say, ‘you can meet our brewmaster, this is so cool!’ and then I get to sit down with really cool people, but others say, ‘This is weird, I don’t like this at all.’ It’s one or the other.”

Both cooking and brewing are an art and a science, but brewing is more of a science. It’s pride in distilling something and turning a lot of effort and time into something small and refined.”

— Ryan Pearce, senior

Visiting other breweries along with getting feedback from other people are important parts of homebrewing. Especially since Pearce has never tasted his product, he said.

“I have other people taste it. Honestly, personally because of a pallet of a kid, it’s disgusting because it is so bitter. As a kid you do not have the pallet. If I were to consume it, it [would be] disgusting,” Pearce said. “There are a couple of clubs in Chicago and we take it around to people who are really good at tasting beer and say, ‘What are your thoughts? What does this need more of?’ Just based on the feedback you can change it.”

Another huge help to Pearce in the homebrewing process is his father, Michael Pearce. After Pearce plans out the recipe, him and his dad purchase the necessary ingredients and work on making it together, he said.

“There is an art to recipe designs as well, but there is a science in putting all the ingredients together and the right proportions and the steps in the right order to produce something that is a good product. I think that is the part of it that [Ryan] really finds fascinating,” Michael, said. “He can spend probably four or five hours with a textbook designing recipes and tweaking all the numbers just to get all of it right. He came up with a recipe that wasn’t really anything I have ever seen, but boy it was good. So he seems to have a knack for it just based on doing the math and running the numbers.”

Although Pearce mainly homebrews with his dad, he said his family has been really positive even though Pearce’s passion may be “unusual.”  

“It makes me really proud to see him passionate about something at this age,” Michael said. When I was his age I had decided to get into computer science, and I was really passionate about it. I still enjoy my job, and if he can still enjoy what he is doing when he is 50 I think that’s a great outcome. Is it unusual for someone his age to be passionate about this particular thing? Yeah, probably, but I would rather him be passionate about something than be sitting around at this age now when he is looking at colleges and not have any idea on what to do.”

While it may be a unusual career choice for a high school student, the brewing industry has experienced much growth according to the Brewers Association. The BA report also says craft brewers provided more than 135,000 jobs in 2017, which is an increase of 6,000 from the previous year.

“The industry has exploded in the last couple of years,” Pearce said. “I try to talk to people whenever I can by touring and visiting breweries. When I ask where they got their education the answer was always “I took a 6 week course and then I jumped in,” That’s how new the industry is, people don’t have degrees for this, they are just going out and trying it.  It makes me really positive to get the four year degree and get a lot of training and then go attack it.”