It’s 9:30am and I’m sipping my first cup of coffee of the morning as I pull up to Bad Weather Brewing on West 7th Street in St. Paul. Inside, standing behind the half wall separating the taproom from the brewery, Andy Ruhland is also sipping from a coffee mug, but it’s apparent that this is a midmorning coffee break for him. The brew day is already is in full swing: The smell of grain steeping in the 20-barrel stainless steel mash tun hangs sweet in the air and Ruhland’s assistant brewers dart around a row of fermenters to tackle another task before transferring the wort to the brew kettle.
Andy waves, tops off his mug, and meets me at a table in the taproom. He’s wearing a brewery branded trucker cap over his long, wispy brown hair, and his sideburns, cut into Wolverine-style mutton chops, stretch three-quarters down his cheeks. With brew day under control, he turns to his other preoccupation: getting his house ready to sell.
“When I bought my first house, it was a hot mess. It needed some work,” Andy chuckles. Before he could even move in, he and his dad spent two months fixing everything from windows, floors, tile, and plumbing. “That’s the one thing I just despise doing, is plumbing—at least at home. Plumbing in the brewery is a little different,” he says, glancing over his shoulder at the vast network of pipes and fittings connecting the brewhouse. He acknowledges the irony with a smile.
For Andy, all the work he’s done to the house is about more than just sweat equity. Andy is a quintessential DIY-er: a problem solver who takes satisfaction in tackling projects with his own two hands, even when he’s not sure where to start. “I see it as a challenge to fix things yourself. And maybe there’s a stubbornness too, like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’” The process of learning through fixing drives him.
Andy says he gets the handyman gene from his dad. “He’s all about trying to do it yourself before having someone else do it, which can get you in trouble sometimes too. You can open a can of worms, and you’re like, ‘Shit! This is out of my league,’” he laughs. “That hasn’t happened here [at the brewery] yet. It’s been pretty good here.”
His journey to brewing began at the end of high school, when he realized that he had no idea what he wanted to do for a living. He enrolled at a community college and continued working as a mechanic and eventually a service manager at Erik’s Bike Shop. After a year of college and still unsure of a direction, he dropped out of school. His dad encouraged him to keep saving money and return to school when he knew what he wanted to pursue.
“I started homebrewing with an old roommate of mine shortly after I turned 21. That was just a hobby at the time, I just thought it was kind of fun,” says Andy. But when he heard that a former sales person at Erik’s, Mike Miziorko, was getting a formal education in brewing, it was a revelation. “I had no idea you could go to school for brewing. When I heard about that, I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to get an education in.’”
He researched brewing programs and landed an internship under Eric Biermann at Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka. After a year of interning and part-time work, Andy was hired on full time at Lucid and, shortly thereafter, entered the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering for Working Brewers program in 2013.
“It’s really intense,” Andy explains. The six-month, distance learning course included hours of video lectures each night, plus reading, quizzes, and exams. “You really need to keep up with the curriculum. I got behind one week, and was like, ‘I can’t do that again.’”
While it was a challenge to balance coursework and brewing, the program afforded Andy the unique opportunity to put theory into practice the next day at the brewery. “For me, that helps me better memorize or learn the process than just reading it or watching a video on how a filter works. There’s diagrams and all that stuff, but being able to use a filter the next day—I was pretty fortunate to be able to do that while I was working at Lucid.”
During his time brewing at Lucid, Andy met the two founders of Bad Weather Brewing, Joe Giambruno and Zac Carpenter, who started as an alternating proprietor at the Minnetonka facility, sharing equipment with Badger Hill Brewing and Lucid. In winter of 2014, Joe and Zac were finalizing their plans to open their own brewery in St. Paul and were searching for a head brewer.
“I met up with the guys for beers one night and I thought we were just going to go out for beers and once we sat down, I was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of a quasi-interview, isn’t it?’” Andy laughs. While both Zac and Joe had formal brewing training themselves, rather than splitting their time between sales, operations, and brewing, they knew they needed to hire a brewer to focus just on the beer.
Andy accepted the position, knowing that it would come with a lot of freedom to experiment with new styles. Up until that point, Bad Weather was limited to just a few recipes due to the limited tank availability at Lucid. With Andy at the helm of the new brewhouse, Bad Weather began releasing dozens of new recipes that continue to keep the taproom draft list chock-full, with anywhere from eight to 14 beers at any given time. Included on that list is always one cask ale served on a traditional beer engine, Andy’s favorite way to drink a beer. Like most other things Andy gets his hands on, real ale is something he’ll continue to tinker with until it meets his standards. “It’s incredibly hard to do, I still don’t have it figured out,” he admits. “You’ve really got to baby it.”
Aside from modest tweaks to recipes, it’s clear after two years in his role as Bad Weather’s head brewer, Andy is thriving. “It’s been a crazy ride. It’s busy and growth has been good. And we’ve been able to hire a couple brewers to help me out in back, which has been nice for myself to focus on some of the other things I need to be worrying about,” he says.
Like production and inventory management, troubleshooting and repairing broken equipment is part of the position, according to Andy. “Now that I’ve got some help, when stuff does break that’s my thing,” he explains. “You keep brewing, or filtering, or filling growlers—whatever you need to do be doing today—and then I’ll focus on fixing the problem.”
But mash tuns and fermenters aren’t the only things Andy fixes inside the brewery: he also uses his experience as a mechanic to repair his colleagues’ bicycles. Biking is still a huge passion of his, and while he doesn’t get as many opportunities to ride as he used to, working the gears of his coworkers’ bikes partially scratches that itch.
While it may seem like he can handle just about any DIY project, Andy does have an Achilles heel: electrical. “I was in the middle of mashing in one day and the auger motor stopped,” he recalls. After trying to troubleshoot the problem to no avail, he called in the electrician. The culprit? A loose wire in the motor. “One of the screws had come loose,” he smiles, “And I’m like, ‘Geez, I could have probably figured that out.’”