As Grant Heuer surveyed his new office space at Gezellig Brewing Company, a smile emerged beneath his thick, brown beard. Sunlight cascaded onto the gleaming brewing equipment, and the fermenters were marked with the types or potential names of Gezellig’s new catalog of beers. The vast room was full of complicated machinery he was all too familiar with, and it was already beginning to smell like a brewery.
“So much room for activities,” the new head brewer of Gezellig said with a laugh.
Heuer admitted the Newton brewery is a welcomed change of scenery from his past work in Southern California, but there’s also a sense of familiarity. For instance, he may be one of the few people who actually knows what “gezellig” means without looking up the translation online. (For the curious, gezellig loosely translates to cozy.)
Yes, the head brewmaster of a brewery whose owners — Betsy Duffy and Mindi Vanden Bosch — have roots in Pella, and whose logo features a traditional windmill, actually speaks Dutch.
A 10-year stint in the Netherlands can have that affect on a person. Heuer and his family moved overseas when his mother, a chemical engineer, secured a job in the European country. When it came time to move back, Heuer decided he wanted to stay and finish his college degree in international business administration at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Huh? No double major in craft brewing? Sadly, no. Heuer was not committed to the art of beer making until he returned stateside. While he was settled in Austin, Texas, Heuer was practically making a living playing online poker, until the Department of Justice shut down all the major websites. During that time he and his friends would home brew their own beer recipes, which he quickly took a liking to.
“Work-life balance wasn’t much of a priority in the U.S. so it was really important for me to pursue something that I was passionate about,” Heuer said. “Originally, I wanted to start my own brewery, but I said, you know, let me go work with other people first. I’m perfectly happy to be a head brewer.”
Much like the culinary world, Heuer said the craft brewing business is very much a “pay your dues” type of industry. His first instinct was to enter brewing school, but there were three-year waiting lists from the options he had at the time, eight or nine years ago. Speaking with local brewers in Texas offered him some insight.
“How do I get my foot in the door?” Heuer asked them.
Local brewers told him, “Just find somebody that will let you show up and do all the grunt work. Eventually, if you’re reliable and you don’t kill yourself, somebody will put you on the payroll.”
A move to Las Vegas allowed Heuer to play poker again and earn a little extra cash on the weekends while he networked with brewers. The connections he made earned him an unpaid internship at a brewpub in Laughlin, Nev., a one-hour-45-minute commute from where he was living.
Then he got hired in Las Vegas, and then again in California. All the while Heuer began to notice his strengths in craft beer brewing, earning a few awards in the process. Barrel-aged, funky and sour beer and more experimental recipes seemed to click best with him. So much so that he turned down opportunities to move to bigger beer companies, preferring the freedom to make new beers regularly.
Which will fit right in with Gezellig Brewing Company’s approach to the craft. Duffy told the Newton Daily News in March craft beer drinkers are looking for “what’s new and what’s hot” on tap.
“So I don’t think we want to be tied down to a certain style or certain flavor or tastes,” she said.
Heuer added he and his fellow Gezellig brewers are working to “fortify (their) positions” in the Midwest craft brewing scene. Based upon his experience near the West Coast, Heuer said the Midwest and Iowa beer scene is no longer lagging behind the market or trends.
An influx of craft brew drinkers across the region may be partially responsible for that, which is enough inspiration for Gezellig brewers to play around with residents’ tastebuds.
“Locals really want to support locals,” Heuer said. “Brewing wise, I kind of want us to be known for being a jack of all trades. But I certainly do want to do some experimental IPAs, barrel beers, sour beers. There’s an element, for me, of you can only push the market so much and then you have to let the market pull you a little bit.
“Personally, I love a good West Coast pale or IPA over a hazy IPA, but if the people want orange pineapple juice hazy beer I’ll make them orange pineapple juice hazy beer … You have to brew what the people want.”
Heuer added he hopes he and his fellow brewers can “walk and chew bubble gum” and knock out a pile of lager beers and hazy beers but also develop enough buzz from out-of-towners wanting something wilder, yet still cozy.
“If people are beating down the doors wanting farmhouse and funky beers, as far as I’m concerned we can make as much as humanly possible.”
Gezellig Brewing Company is expected to open its taproom June 7.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org