In one year I went from thinking I should be making documentaries to crowdfunding my way on board a train across the country to create a series of them.
April 2014. Chicago. The Purple Pig.
The Purple Pig is one of those places that doesn’t post its menu prices on its website. It’s not a place where you find yourself at 2 p.m. on a weekday with a journalist’s salary unless you were me, someone who was in a quarter-life crisis and didn’t know it.
I was meeting with a former professor of mine, someone who has come to be a mentor to me. I had meant for the conversation to be a chance to catch up. But as are most meetings with your mentors, it turned out to be about life instead.
“Purpose” was our topic of conversation, in particular, what mine would be. This was not a new subject for us, as she had helped me figure out my senior year of college whether I would move with my friends to NYC to pursue acting, or continue down the path of journalism. Ultimately, I picked the latter, and was working as a Capitol Hill reporter in Washington, D.C.
“Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Eventually I’d like to move into documentary work. I want to be telling stories that inspire people to act.”
We were killing time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin waiting for my sister’s plane to arrive, so my parents decided they wanted to take me on a tour of the Miller Brewery. We get there by about 3:15, and when we ask the woman behind the counter when the next tour departs, her eyes fall.
“Our last tour was at 3,” she says. “I’m so sorry!”
My dad mutters something angrily to my mom about not checking what time the place closed and we turn around and head back to the car. She searches on her phone to find another brewery and reads a few out loud, but sees they’ve also already closed.
“Oh here’s one that looks like it’s still open,” she says, “It’s not too far from here. It’s called ‘Brenner.’”
We park in front of a storefront that looks more like a converted warehouse and head inside to a spacious bar with high ceilings and good natural light. There are a few people enjoying drinks at the bar and I notice that next door is a small modern art gallery. I walk around looking at the art on the walls of the brewery while my parents inquire about tours.
“Let me just finish up here and I can take you in back,” says the tall man with the large belly behind the counter.
I wander into the art gallery while my parents play a game of corn hole that’s set up next to the bar. After a bit my mom comes to get me for the tour. We circle around the man, who introduces himself as Mike Brenner, the owner and founder of the brewery.
“Before we go on the tour,” Mike says, “I wanted to tell you a little about how this brewery came to be.”
Mike tells us that our visit marked the third official day that the brewery was open. Six years ago, when he was working four jobs in the arts and sleeping on a blow-up mattress, he realized he had to make a change. So he went back to school, and had recently earned his Executive MBA degree and his Master Brewer certificate. But he didn’t want his brewery to be just another beer house in the great beer drinking state of Wisconsin. He wanted to incorporate his passion for the arts into the concept.
He pointed to the walls of the brewery. “Each of these four artists showcased on the walls have designed a product label for our beers,” he tells us. “And above us are 20 artist studios. The artists-in-residence also work shifts as our bartenders.”
Brenner Brewing Co. is working on developing more partnerships with the arts community in Milwaukee, hoping to cater at performances or bring live performances to the brewery to promote the arts and beer.
After Mike showed us around the back my parents sat down to try a flight. I asked the girl behind the counter, Hayley, if she was one of the artists in residence.
“Yeah! I do performance art. It always has a scientific aspect to it.” Hayley Eichenbaum shrugged. “My parents don’t really get it.”
Maybe, I thought. But maybe more people will get it if this brewery can start to bring the beer world and the art world together.
It’s a cool concept, and I hope it does well. If you’re ever in Milwaukee you should check it out, and let me know how it’s doing. Also my parents would love another growler of their bacon brew.
I think the only reason adults get tired of spending time with their family is because they realize that they can’t control them, and they get frustrated. Siblings hold each other accountable for the dreadful boy band the other was into in high school. Parents reveal quirks about their grown children, or tell stories about the time their children did something stupid. Not being able to stop your family from embarrassing you is frustrating. Any effort is impossible and it’s a worthless preoccupation to try.
When I went to Wisconsin to visit my dad’s side of the family, I didn’t really have that experience. I was on full vacation mode. Nothing was going to get in my way of relaxing and reconnecting with myself and what matters to me. And I’m really glad I did. Check out my Instagram to see how I documented some of the memorable moments of the trip. Including this photo, which captured the moment I was trying to get my dad to take the perfect picture of me at my happiest, eating ice cream from the Windmill. Somehow at every turn there was my sister, determined to mess it up.