It was March 18, 2020, and Alec Mull the VP of Brewery Operations at Founders Brewing Co. and I had a conversation about delaying the video shoot that we had set up for April 8 of the next month. With news of COVID and shutdowns, we said something along the lines of, “Let’s wait a bit and go from there, but we’ll leave the dates on the schedule for now.” Funny how the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” seemed to be penned for that exact moment. It would be nearly 2 years before that video shoot was to take place, but on January 7, 2022, it finally happened.
This trip was not to happen without some more challenges thrown our way. Wouldn’t you know through COVID, lockdowns, major changes to the beer industry…that on the way to the final approved shoot, it was a blizzard that nearly canceled it for a second time. But we were determined. With news of a major snowstorm blowing in from Lake Michigan directly towards our destination of Grand Rapids, MI, it was clear this was going to be one heck of a ride…but we decided to press on. If COVID didn’t stop us, then 16-20 inches of snow wouldn’t either.
Vinnie, the head of our video team, and I loaded up my trusty family minivan in Rockford, Illinois, with more video gear than he and I could carry ourselves (more about that later) and started the drive towards the wintery wonderland three states away.
Hours before us, Ron Schroder, Director of Marketing at Briess, with a car packed full of 350 lbs. of the best specialty malt you could ask for (we needed it for the shoot), left his home in east central Wisconsin and headed south to join up with us along the way. Penny Pickart, Senior Brand Consultant at Briess, first let us know just how bad the weather was because she had flown into Michigan the night before and was keeping us apprised of the weather…but we pressed on.
We drove the long way around the storm through north central Indiana about 50 miles out of the way, but finally arrived mid-afternoon on the snow-packed streets of Grand Rapids.
The view from the trusty family van in downtown Grand Rapids
The Incredible Employees at Founders
It quickly became evident the people that work for Founders are an amazing collection of good midwestern folks. A truck driver waited 15 mins and then climbed 3 flights of stairs to let us know in the kindest way possible (I’m not being sarcastic) that the snowbank where I parked my van was directly in the way of him exiting the brewery.
Some Founders employees were asked if they could find us a cart to haul our video gear, but instead grabbed fellow co-workers and all picked up what they could carry…making multiple trips up and down stairs and through maze-like corridors.
In the Centennial Room, where we filmed the main interview with Alec, it was Dave Powell that stepped in to pour some beer for us and nailed every single one like the professional he is, all the while with a smile on his face.
In the main brewery, we were able to talk brewer Leah Elzinga into playing a more central role than she probably thought she would. Then, as if that wasn’t giving enough, we quickly learned of a story that Alec insisted she tell since she was too humble to start it herself. It was a harrowing tale of how she rescued a young woman trapped inside an abandoned building. Those are the kind of people working at Founders.
The Man, the (fermentation) Myth, the (swimming) Legend
Then there was Alec himself…I know he will likely blush when I say this, but he was truly one of the most passionate, charismatic interviewees Vinnie and I have had the pleasure to work with. I feel like we just had to make sure the cameras and mics were rolling to capture the stories and magic he shared so as not to miss anything.
The hard part actually came later in the editing room because we had too many stories to choose from. So as a treat we wanted to share a couple that didn’t make it into the final video with you right here.
I won’t spoil the story of how Alec first caught the brewing bug, instead, we’ll let him tell it.
Alec learns about the science of fermentation
One thing I’ll bet a lot of folks outside of Michigan don’t know is that Alec is a legend in the swimming community…so we couldn’t leave without asking how swimming for him connects to beer.
Alec’s thoughts on how swimming is good for beer
So that’s the story of how a single-day video shoot can take nearly two years to make.
Special thanks to Ron Schroder and Penny Pickart for helping make this adventure happen and for bringing us along. When the pressure is on, that’s where the magic happens.