Beer Careers

Ben Evans ’01 started homebrewing in college. In 2007, while conducting clinical research in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, he crossed paths with a congressional aide and fellow homebrewer.

The pair homebrewed together as hobbyists for almost four years before they realized they happened upon something that could be their future. The former microbiologist and neuroscientist soon left the laboratory life in favor of a larger science experiment — Hellbender Brewing. 

He clearly was not alone. From 2008 to 2014, the number of craft breweries in the U.S. more than doubled, and craft brew sales jumped 17 percent last year, according to the Brewers Association. Today, the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewery.

A number of Peddie alumni are contributing to the craft boom. Their backgrounds vary, from photography and economics to marketing and metallurgy, but there are commonalities that lured them to the craft beer industry in a variety of roles. These alumni have more than just a passing affinity for beer. They yearn to be innovative, and they possess the self-confidence to do it their way. 

Here, they share their stories.

Ben Evans '01

President and Head Brewer
Hellbender Brewing Company
District of Columbia

Favorite pairing: Hellbender IPA and wood-fired pizza topped with spicy soppressata, onions, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella, 
and spicy red cherry peppers

“Anyone can make a great beer with a decent amount of practice, but making that same beer exactly the same the next time is where all the science comes in.”

Hellbender Logo

What inspired the name, “Hellbender Brewing”?
A hellbender is an endangered species of giant salamander that is indigenous to this area. I wanted a name that was local without being obviously local, and the endangered species ties in very well with our focus on sustainability. We have and will continue to work with conservation groups to help hellbenders and other endangered salamanders. 

Ben Evans

Photo by Justin Stone

Can you talk about the importance of sustainability in your business?
Our biggest step toward a more sustainable brewery is our unique brewing system. We spent a lot of extra time and effort getting a Belgian-made mash filter system that allows us to use about 15 percent less grain and 30 percent less water per batch than just about any brewery in the country. 

We give all of our spent grains (up to two tons a week) to a local farmer who feeds them to his cows and pigs. He gets free food for his livestock, and we save hundreds of dollars a month on our trash bill by not requiring frequent pickups. 

We focus on sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. We make one of our seasonal stouts with freshly roasted coffee from a coffee shop down the street, and brew another with applewood and cherrywood-smoked barley from a distillery about an hour south of us in Virginia. 

We built much of our tasting room with reclaimed wood and materials, and we are working on installing solar panels across the entire roof of our building. 

Through a grant with the Department of Environment and Energy, we plan to create an irrigation system using rainwater from our roof that will run to a series of hop plants in 55-gallon drum planters on the side of our building. The goal is to brew a batch of beer each year with those hops that we can sell to some bars and in our tasting room, and donate to events to promote the importance of stormwater diversion. It’s a major issue here in DC.  

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
I’m usually at the brewery seven days a week. I hang out with my wife and my crazy Boston terrier most evenings when I’m not doing brewery events like new beer releases at bars and restaurants or serving beer at festivals. I also play guitar, cook or go for runs to clear my mind. 

How has Peddie factored into your current success? Are there any teachers that were influential?
I had a lot of great teachers at Peddie. Dave and John Leonardis were great wrestling coaches and mentors. They helped instill a good deal of the drive and work ethic I have today. I really enjoyed a two-term class on World War I and II taught by Paul Watkins. I love that a well-respected author was so passionate about teaching and even played goofy ancillary characters in some of the school plays. 

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
Get a home brewing kit. Anyone can make a great beer with a decent amount of practice, but making that same beer the same the next time is where all the science comes in. 

Mike Guarracino '99

Sales, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Petaluma, California

Favorite pairing: Grilled cheese and any beer

“Will work for beer.”

Lagunitas logo

Mike Guarracino credits Tim Trelease, former chair of the Peddie arts department, for his decision to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. Along with obtaining a BFA in photography, the East Windsor native discovered a fondness for craft beer during his time in Baltimore.

“The Brewer’s Art brewpub in Baltimore is where I realized I liked beer,” said Guarracino.

Several years later Guarracino landed a job as a “beerlanthropist” at a beer boutique in Asheville, North Carolina, but not before selling carpets and blinds in Georgia, kayaks in Maryland and advertising in Colorado.

“Brusin’ Ales in Asheville is where I realized I could get a job in beer,” he said.

In 2013, Guarracino moved north to Maine, where he worked as a brand and event specialist at a brewery famed for its Belgian-inspired beer. Here, his “ah-ha” moment came.

“Allagash Brewing in Portland is where I realized that I could pursue beer as a career.”

Currently, Guarracino works in sales at Lagunitas Brewing Company, one of the top selling craft breweries in the U.S. He is a self-described “Lagunator.”

What’s your favorite beer?
I’ve always said there is a beer for every chore. Shoveling the driveway beer. Laundry beer. Listening to music beer. Expense report beer. Celebrating your folded laundry beer. Shower beer. Vacuuming beer. Depends on the situation.

Allagash White works well for most chores. At 9.7 percent, ABV Lagunitas Brown Shugga might be enjoyed packing the wood stove after shoveling, and never while handling power tools. I have yet to find a chore that is not made easier with Lagunitas IPA in hand.

Mike LagunitasWhat are the challenges of the job and how are you facing them?
Time management is a challenge. Travel is a big part of my job so it’s crucial that I plan ahead. Remaining flexible and mobile are essential. 

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
Explore points on maps my wife picks out. Discuss trucks. Negotiate five more minutes for everything with our four-year-old son. 

What are some of your favorite Peddie memories?
The Principio Project, Blair Day, sledding on cafeteria trays, AP Art, and having the good luck to visit my Mom (Vera Wojtowicz, now in the Office of Admission) every day.

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
99 Bottles of Cheer. Because the class of 1999 is the greatest class on planet Earth, or any place else. 

How has Peddie factored into your current success?
Peddie is about people for me. And so is life. It’s always helpful to know a guy who knows a guy. My Peddie friends remain my closest friends.
I gained confidence at Peddie. I learned how to collaborate, how to be independent. I learned about discipline. Integrity. These skills helped me get to where I am today.

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
If you enjoy cooking, you’ll enjoy brewing. Visit your homebrew shop and have them help you select a malt extract recipe. Do not overcomplicate or overthink it, but keep things clean. 

Scott Kerner '93

Three Penny Taproom
Montpelier, Vermont

Good Measure Brewing Company
Northfield, Vermont

Favorite pairing: Moules Frites with a Belgian Witbier like Allagash White. Or, sourdough pretzels with a Kolsch beer from Cologne, like Reissdorf.

“Have fun … and share.”

Three Penny logo

Brothers Scott and Kevin Kerner opened Three Penny Taproom in 2009. Described as a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts, Three Penny attracts some of the most coveted beers in the world. Scott co-owns the taproom and his brother Kevin manages it. 

The pair got their start after college working at brewpubs. Kevin became head brewer at a brewpub in New Hampshire after the brewer and owner had a falling out. He had never made a beer in his life.

“I read every book I could find on the subject, including chemistry and biology books from the local high school, and experimented,” he recalled. “After a while, the blend of science and art really took hold of me.”

Meanwhile, Scott learned the ins and outs of beer making at a brewing company in Portland, Oregon. With experience under their belts, the brothers decided to capitalize on Vermont’s burgeoning craft beer scene.

Scott cited Three Penny’s success as giving him the creative freedom to launch Good Measure Brewing and Carrier Roasting, in nearby Northfield.

What’s your favorite beer you brew?
Our house Saison at Good Measure is called “Barn Coat,” and I am really proud of it. 

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
I enjoy spending the little time I have away from work with my wife, Erin, and our dog, Jesus. We try to stay as active as possible, but sometimes you just want to sit on the couch and watch a soccer match. 

How has Peddie factored into your current success? 
Some of the things that Peddie helped shape in me aren’t exactly tangible. Little things, like the fact that the tables in the dining room were round so no one felt inferior, helped me really grow into a good human. If I had to call on one influential person from my time, it would be Brian Davidson. He really got my style, and allowed me to find it. 

What are some of your favorite Peddie memories?
All of the great sports teams and matches. Having a show on the radio station. Walking to get wings in town. My first job at Stewart’s Root Beer on 33 in Hamilton. There are so many great memories; Peddie keeps a very special place in my heart. I had so many close friendships, and I’ve enjoyed watching everyone’s growth.

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
Ala Viva Ale. I mean, come on. My brother said he would make every customer who orders one do the fight song. 

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
Pick one style that you like, and make it great before moving on to new styles. Most importantly, have fun … and share.

Kevin Kerner '97

General Manager
Three Penny Taproom
Montpelier, Vermont

Favorite pairing: Paella (my favorite food in the world) and Saison DuPont, an eponymous Farmhouse Ale with a whole host of earthy characters. It blends well with the spices from the dish.

“Actually, I kind of fell into the business. It chose me.”

Scott and Kevin Kerner

Photo provided by The Bridge

What’s your favorite beer you brew?
It would probably have to be the one that I’ve had the most critical acclaim for, and the one that took the most of my patience. It’s a Barley Wine (a beer brewed to the alcoholic strength of wine). It underwent four different fermentations, all with yeast cultured by me. The beer took about four months to make and sold out within two weeks.

What are the challenges of the job and how are you facing them?
Consistency and quality are the biggest challenges. You can have a really bad beer surrounded by great people in a great place, and you’ll forget about the bad beer. But, you’ll have more success if you can nail all of the customer’s needs.

What do you like to do in your time away from the taproom?
I play guitar, run, hike and spend time with my dog, June Carter. 

What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?
I have a fairly good life. I work to make money; I live when I’m not working. I’m surrounded by mountains and have a pair of legs that lets me climb them. Can’t get much better than that. 

What are some of your favorite Peddie memories?
I have nothing but great memories about my time at Peddie. The experience that sticks out most in my mind is the Principio Project. It’s hard to put into words the advantages that experience gave me.  

How has Peddie factored into your current success? Are there any teachers who were influential?
It’s probably the biggest reason for my success. At Peddie, I learned how to be self-reliant, how to figure out a problem and not wait for someone else to solve it for me. Patrick Clements and Jim Ealy are my biggest influences. Mr. Ealy taught me to believe in myself, and to look inwards for happiness and success. Mr. Clements showed me the trails and taught me that everything is poetry. And, he taught me how to play civilized championship baseball (just kidding).   

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
Scott and I agree on this one: We’d name it the entirety of the Ala Viva. As in, every word. 

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
Show up at a brewery and offer free help; it’s always hard to turn down. Wash kegs, clean things … that’s the surefire way to show someone you’re willing to work. If you’re serious about the science, there are a couple of programs out there that will help you get a bigger foot in the door.

Make beer at home. Buy a kit and go for it. The home brewing kits out there today are no different from making bread. The instructions and details are fairly easy to follow. Start small. Just like everything else, it only becomes complicated from there.

Mike Mrlik '76

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom
Greater Denver area 

Favorite pairing: A Pale Ale or Pilsner with Old Chicago pepperoni rolls. The carbonation and hop bitterness helps cut through the delicious pepperoni grease.

“Talk straight, right wrongs, create transparency, show loyalty, confront reality, and most importantly, get better.”

Old Chicago logo

Known for its handcrafted pizza and distinctive taproom fare, Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom is also the second largest on-premise craft beer provider in the country.

“We take pride in making sure we have the best selection of national, regional and local craft in each one of our restaurants,” said Mrlik.

Mrlik has more than 20 years of experience developing and revitalizing companies, including Mr. Gattis, Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Boston Market and Sarku Japan. He joined Old Chicago in 2013 to help expedite growth opportunities. Today the franchise operates in 24 states and has more than 100 locations nationwide.

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom was founded back in the 1970s, when the craft beer revolution began. How have things in the craft beer industry changed since then?
The craft beer industry has been through multiple transformations since the early 1970s. It’s gone from something that was seen as a rebellion to a mainstream product that the consumers demand, and a segment that is taking share from the big guys year after year.

Mike MrlikWhat makes Old Chicago the “craft beer authority?”
A lot of competitors in our space look at their beer menus regionally, and place their handles in a geographic region, which tends to limit you to specific partners who can hit distribution. We look at each restaurant individually. 
If there is a brewery down the street from an Old Chicago that is beginning to make noise, we’ll look at giving them a permanent or rotating handle. 

In addition, because we have over 100 units we have some buying power in the market. We are able to talk to some of the larger breweries in the country and work with them on collaborations to have beers made exclusively for Old Chicago.  

What else is Old Chicago doing to support the local craft beer industry?
We have rotating lines at each of our locations so that our restaurant and bar managers can put on the new hot beer in the market or respond to requests from customers. We also are getting ready to launch a “Local Brewery of the Month” promotion, where each Old Chicago will pick a brewery that is local to their restaurant, and we’ll give that brewery two handles for the month and have featured promotions with them every Thursday night. We realize that our consumers’ definition of “local” is a shrinking radius, and we’re doing our best to make sure we’re delivering on what they want to see.

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
I have two: Blue and Gold IPA. The colors are rich in tradition and speak about Peddie’s rich traditions.
The Wilson Hall American Pale Ale. This building was the original Peddie building that served the needs of the school until 1976.

How has Peddie factored into your current success? Were there any teachers or classmates who were influential?
Peddie taught me many core values that I use in business today: talk straight, right wrongs, create transparency, show loyalty, confront reality and most importantly, get better. Harry Holcombe, Coach Monaghan, Dennis Hartzel, Herb Mariboe, and Coach Von instilled these guiding principles that I use in business — and in life — daily. 

Michelle Conklin Williams '90
Tom Williams '90

Michele: President and CEO
Tom: Managing Member
St. Pete Brewing Company
St. Petersburg, Florida 

Favorite pairing: Bacon and beer is our favorite. There is nothing more refreshing than a taste of beer after a crispy bite of bacon!

“Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just beer!”

St Pete Brewing logo

In 2011, Tom and Michele Williams debuted their St. Pete Orange Wheat at a craft beer tavern in St. Petersburg. Three years later, the husband and wife team opened St. Pete Brewing Company in the midst of a craft beer explosion in the region.

“Tom was financing a lot of microbreweries at his company, eLease,” said Michele. “We bought a building and the idea to open a brewery kept gaining momentum.”  

After graduating from Peddie, where she met her future husband, Michele attended Rochester Institute of Technology and majored in food marketing. She has worked for Fresh Express,, Catalina Marketing, and Dole and currently serves as vice president of sales for Taylor Farms.

Following Peddie, Tom attended Boston University where he received a bachelor of arts in economics. He has been an entrepreneur since 1995 when he started eLease. 

Why did you choose Florida to open St. Pete’s Brewing Company?
We moved from San Francisco to St. Petersburg and there were no breweries in the city. We loved St. Pete and wanted to be part of the fabric of its growth. We wanted beers as interesting and creative as the people who live here. 

Michelle Conklin Williams and Tom WilliamsWhat’s your favorite beer you brew? By others?
Our favorite beer is the St. Pete Orange Wheat, which is our most popular beer. We also love DogFish 60 Minute IPA.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
We have two amazing kids and we enjoy getting out boating often. 

What are some of your favorite Peddie memories?
Peddie challenged us in so many ways. We loved studying hard and interacting with the faculty. We had some of the best teachers at Peddie.

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
Ala Viva! We actually own the brewery in Ala Viva LLC! It would be a refreshing beer with a hint of bitterness at the end because we can’t go back to those days at Peddie. Saying the Ala Viva makes us smile. It reminds us of friends, memories, and being the best we can be. I think we will brew it!

How has Peddie factored into your current success? Were there any teachers or classmates who were influential?
We both are more confident from our experience at Peddie. We learned to never quit and to trust ourselves. Harry Holcombe helped both of us come out of our shells with public speaking and Bill Hill taught us to appreciate music and lyrics. Peddie is still a huge part of our life as we both shared the unique experience.

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
Just do it. Don’t be intimidated; beer is a natural process. Try a style and flavor you think you would enjoy. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just beer!

Matt Gallagher '96

Head Brewer and Co-Owner
Half Acre Beer Company
Chicago, Illinois

“It’s an awesome feeling to drink your own beer.”

Half Acre logo

It’s a tale of an artist and an engineer, two New Jersey natives who bonded over beer and in 2006 started one of the first breweries in the Chicago craft beer scene. Today, Half Acre Beer Company is one of the most beloved breweries in the Midwest.

Matt Gallagher met Gabriel Magliro while he was working as a metallurgical engineer at a steel company in Chicago. Magliaro had moved to the area to attend art school. 

“I was surprised there weren’t many breweries, especially in a city this size,” said Gallagher. “So I guess that got the seed planted.”
Gallagher said that he learned valuable life lessons at Peddie that have factored into his current success. “Peddie gave me the freedom to find my own way. That was invaluable to me, and I think in some ways gave me the confidence to do what I want,” he said.

Half Acre was one of the first breweries in the Chicago craft scene. Now you are one of the go-to beers in the city. What has the journey been like?
We were fortunate to get started when we did, and have been able to grow with the beer scene here. Back in 2006, there weren’t many breweries in Chicago. Now there are too many to count. We’ve learned a lot along the way and have gotten better and better at what we do and that shines through in the beers. We always fall back on authenticity and creativity and we’re lucky that we’re able to translate that throughout our beer and breweries.

Matt GallagherCan you talk about your relationship with the NRDC and commitment to sustainability?
Karen Hobbs at the NRDC started the Brewers for Clean Water program and she’s based in Chicago so that made it very easy to get involved. She did a fantastic job harnessing the popularity of craft beer and translating that into tangible results in terms of strengthening the Clean Water Act. Obviously, water is crucial to the brewing industry, and you can see the challenges that some breweries in California are experiencing due to lack of water. We’re lucky to have access to the Great Lakes in Chicago, but if something were to happen to that water supply and quality, we’d be in a 
tough spot. 

You’ve expanded to include the Balmoral brewery. Tell us about that.
In early 2015, we got production started at our 60,000 square foot facility on Balmoral Ave. As a result, we’ve doubled our annual production over the last two years. It’s also created so many more opportunities for us as brewers to continue to evolve and innovate, as well as opportunities for our staff to grow with us.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
My wife and I enjoy getting out of the city and spend as much time as possible hiking and camping around the Midwest, and out West when possible. Now that American beer is popular around the world, we get many opportunities to travel outside of the country as well.

If you were to name a beer after Peddie, what would you call it and why?
Ala Viva, for obvious reasons.

What are valuable life lessons that you learned at Peddie? 
The freedom and trust that Peddie gives to its students cannot be overstated. As you grow older, the vast opportunities that Peddie provides come into clearer focus and you can get a better sense of how important they can be later in life.  

What is your advice for those in the Peddie community who would like to start brewing their own beer?
Just do it. Get a book or find a friend who brews and get going. It’s an awesome feeling to drink your own beer.