There is nothing better than kicking back on a Saturday afternoon with burgers on the grill, swapping war stories with friend, and knocking back a couple craft brews.
But what if, when you separated from the military, you could make beer for a living? Craft brewing is on the rise, with more than 4,000 breweries now supplying delicious and inventive small-batch beers to consumers across the country. And veterans are getting in on the action too.
Task & Purpose tracked down a few veterans-turned-beer-connoisseurs who opened their own craft breweries.
Veterans United Craft Brewery
Owner: Ron Gamble, U.S. Navy vet
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Favorite beer: The Raging Blonde
Ron Gamble, a former naval flight officer, found a hobby in brewing after his wife gave him a simple kit. He was working in the software world after he separated. It was there that Gamble learned about how to really manage a business, which ultimately prepared him for the launch of his own. In 2007, Gamble attended a brewer school in Chicago, before moving to Jacksonville, Florida, and founding Veterans United Craft Brewery in 2013. The brewery has since grown, is staffed mostly by veterans, and has four staple beers that it sells year-round: Raging Blonde Ale, HopBanshee IPA, Scout Dog 44 Amber Ale, and Buzzin’ Bee Honey Rye Wheat.
“Usually a brewery will start with two to four core beers,” Gamble said. “I wanted one of our beers to be very approachable, so I brewed a blonde ale.”
And that beer became known as the Raging Blonde, bearing a Rosie the Riveter aesthetic.
“I pushed the style to the blonde limit,” he added. “It’s actually our most popular beer, because it’s just such an easy-drinking, approachable beer.
14th Star Brewing Company
Owner: Steve Gagner, U.S. Army vet
Location: St. Albans, Vermont
Favorite beer: Paradise Found
CEO and head brewer Steve Gagner joined the Army at 17. Six years later, he started making soap and cheese for fun when the Army sent him to Rutland, Vermont. Bored and far away from his family, he decided to learn how to make beer. Gagner has since managed to turn 14th Star Brewing Company — named for Vermont’s status as the fourteenth state to enter the union — into a northeast staple. Gagner and his team brew three beers year round: Tribute Double IPA, Maple Breakfast Stout, and Valor Ale. The staff of Task & Purpose was lucky enough to try the all three 14th Star staple beers. I can confirm Maple Breakfast Stout is like breakfast in a can — that will make you drunk.
But he has somewhat of a favorite in one of the seasonal beers.
“A couple months a year, we brew ‘Paradise Found,’ which is a mango-coconut wheat,” Gagner said. “It doesn’t sound quite as masculine as you want it to sound, but it’s delicious, and we have just as many dudes who drink it as women.”
Fair Winds Brewing Company
Owner: Casey Jones, U.S. Coast Guard vet
Location: Lorton, Virginia
Favorite beer: Siren’s Lure
Casey Jones spent 12 years in the Coast Guard before founding Fair Winds Brewing Company in Northern Virginia. Though the brewery opened in March 2015, it has experienced tremendous success in the D.C. area, winning Washington City Paper’s Best Local Brewery in their 2016 Reader Poll in April 2016. Though not a brewer, Jones has an MBA and a mind for business. As a result, he made the smart decision to stack his staff with skilled master brewers. He also makes it a point to hire and offer discounts to veterans. Now, Fair Winds offers four core beers that are sold around the year: Quayside Kolsch, Howling Gale IPA, Sessions in the Abyss, and Siren’s Lure.
“I do have a special spot in my heart for one beer in particular, which is the Siren’s Lure,” Jones said. “That beer won the Great American Beer Festival gold medal.”
And, for Jones, that was the moment he realized he was doing something right. He likens Siren’s Lure’s victory to winning the beer Super Bowl.
Veteran Beer Company
Owner: Paul Jenkins, U.S. Navy vet
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Favorite beer: The Blonde Bomber
For Paul Jenkins, service was a lifelong calling. Having attended the Naval Academy and spending 14 years in the Navy, he attributes much of his success in business to the level of excellence that the military required of him during his time serving. When he left the Navy in 1995, he found that a lot of veterans were unable to find jobs or start businesses. By 2012, he had founded the Veteran Beer Company, which is 100% owned and operated by veterans — including Gregg Lewandusky, who spoke with Task & Purpose on behalf of the brewery. Now, Lewandusky said, the brewery has three staple beers: Blonde Bomber, Freedom Road, and Hooyah! IPA — all of which bear military-related names.
And Lewandusky made a recommendation for one particular brew, the Blonde Bomber.
“For me,” Lewandusky said, “if I’m just looking to pick up an anytime beer, Blonde Bomber always does well. It’s very good beer.”
However, he added, “I like them all.”