Up Close and Personal: The Brewers
In this blog series, Up, Close and Personal, we’ve been answering some of – what I’m sure are – your most burning questions about places in Marion. This is the fourth blog of the series. (Look back at all the ones you missed on the CVB, Pricketts Fort and Marion County History) Today, we’ll be taking an up, close and personal look at the brewers of Marion County.
The Rambling Root
‘Arbeit macht der leben suss.’
Co-owner of the Rambling Root Josh Clarke said the above sentence is his family motto, which means, ‘An honest day’s work never hurt.’ And that’s truly what they live by.
His family has been consistent in its passion for good food and entrepreneurship with places like Pufferbelly’s, Dutchman’s Daughter and others over the years. He and co-owner DJ Cassell decided to follow suit.
“I never had much of an interest in beer beyond, you know, what you would have growing up here: Bud, Miller and Coor’s or whatever,” Josh said. Going to college in Vermont, he had the opportunity to experience a wide selection of craft beer.
“I finally got to taste it and see that beer was more than that,” he added.
For DJ, that opportunity came ten years ago when his father started brewing as a hobby.
“We’d sit and brew a beer, and we’d do one of my recipes and one of his… I’m going to steal a couple recipes from him for The Root actually,” he added.
After learning so much about the subtle differences in beer, the more he came to enjoy it.
Learning a business, however, has been a different story than just brewing home beer. Trying to make time for his wife and mowing the lawn hasn’t been easy, and the lines between home and work have gotten pretty blurred, he said.
“I got into this originally you know for the same reasons that I’m still doing it: to kind of have a really cool spot and brew beer and help out the community,” he added.
Josh said that even though it’s so much work, “It’s just such a blessing and a dream come true every day.”
Mountain Dragon Mazery – Fine Honey Wines
Mountain Dragon Mazery owners Tom and Ruth Ann Maltby took a different route in getting into home brewing.
“It’s been wonderful. We’ve been seeing a steady growth. When we started, there were a whole lot of people saying, ‘Wait, you can make alcohol out of honey?’ Now, a whole lot of people know what mead is and they’re looking for it,” Tom said.
Mead or honey wine is fermented by honey and water. The Maltby’s add things like West Virginia Wildflowers and fruits, too.
Tom has been a beekeeper since he was three when his dad needed help in the apiary. (He said all his older siblings were too scared of the bees to help him.)
“I really like keeping bees. They’re an interesting creature. It’s a good harmony to have with them even if you don’t have a reason to want the honey,” he added.
Since then, Tom has always had bees, and he has put them to good use in his craft honey wine.
“When we discovered you could make a dry mead – and it was a European peasant tradition – we got excited and started making a small amount out of our home,” he explained. After that, it was just a matter of time until they opened The Mazery.
Tom worked as an industrial programmer and Ruth Ann worked at a co-op before the big gamble.
“We were both at a point where we were happy to change a 20-year career and step sideways and have an adventure. It’s worked out great,” he added.
Because their daughter was just born around the time of The Mazery’s conception, the Maltby’s are careful to only allow the business to grow as their family does. Now that she’s older, they plan to do more festivals.
With a focus on business and family, Tom has also had to focus on personal growth.
I was always someone who was happiest going into the woods for a month, that was my vacation. And then my work was thinking in logic loops for a computer.
He said having a front door requires a person to be a host and change perspective.
“You become part of the community in a different light,” he added.
Short Story Brewing
Other than drinking beer, co-owner of Short Story Brewing Aaron Rote said the business venture was truly his first foray into the industry.
“My jobs have often required me to travel, so I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of really good beers. But really, until two years ago, when we decided to do this, that was my entry into the beer industry,” Aaron said.
He met his “partners in hops,” Mike and Abigail Kopischke, at Boston College when craft beer was starting to catch on.
“We had a lot of friends who were more interested in the craft beer end of things than really, you know, just drinking a lot of Natty Lite. So we became kind of beer connoisseur-ish type people earlier I guess,” Aaron added.
Since then, Mike worked in law enforcement and consulting. Abby worked at Mylan. Aaron graduated with a degree in creative writing and worked at legal agencies. So the next logical step was, of course, entrepreneurship.
“We had had different parties and events at our house over the years, where people came and tried Mike’s home beer. And, you know, resoundingly, everybody said, ‘This is good enough to sell,’” Abby said.
With Aaron’s creativity, Mike’s passion for brewing and Abby’s business experience, she said she knew they could create something awesome.
Throughout the last year, Aaron said it has been a big learning curve for him.
“People have to like your branding, your marketing, your social media. Your creative muscles get worked in lots of weird ways you never thought,” he said.
Abby said for all three of them, they’ve had to embrace a new attitude.
“Maybe we’ve become a little bit more easy going but a little bit more intense at the same time… We feel like we can tackle anything,” she said.
Josh at the Rambling Root summed up what it’s been like to be an entrepreneur and craft beersman in Marion.
“It’s not about the beer. It’s about the people,” he said, adding he took the quote from his mentor.
He said the hours are long and it gets tiring, but there have been so many new people he’s met that, without The Root, he wouldn’t have.
“You’ll stand back and look at it at like 1:30 in the morning after we close. There are only a few lights on at the bar, and you just think, like, ‘Man, I can’t believe we did all this.’ You just sit and you’re proud of it for a second or two.”