Chapter 4 - Luke Shropshire
The first member of the team outside of the owners, Luke is an integral part of what’s happening at Sonder and building a team with people like Luke will be what propels this brewery forward
Sonder Brewing’s Head Brewer, Luke Shropshire, sits down with Justin and Chase to talk about his past life before Sonder, how he got here, and where he’s looking to be going in the future. Luke was the first person to join the Sonder family outside of the four owners, and he joined the team in August of 2018.
His background starts with experience in the service industry, he got a Hospitality Management degree from the University of Cincinnati, and started out at hotels and catering. Looking at getting into bar management, he took an interest in craft beer and pursued a cicerone certification. As someone who learns by doing, he taught himself to homebrew as a way of advancing through the cicerone process. He fell in love with it quickly, and six months after starting to homebrew he entered the Malt Infusers America’s Best Homebrewer competition. He entered a key lime gose, and won the entire show out of 350 entrants. This opened a lot of doors for Luke, and kick started his brewing career by landing a brewing job at Mt Carmel Brewing. After 14 months at Mt Carmel, Luke helped launch a brand new brewery, Streetside Brewing on the East side of Cincinnati. Mt Carmel was crucial for building up the problem solving and brewery management skills, and Streetside was where Luke was able to grow as a commercial brewer creating unique styles for the masses.
A memory that has always stuck out for Justin was when he attended one of Streetside’s can release of their New England IPA. Justin loved the beer, bought a case, and stuck around with a friend to drink the beer on draft at the brewery. This is where he saw Luke walking around and shaking everyone’s hand that bought the beer, a true testament of the pride that Luke got from people enjoying what he created. Months before ground breaking, Justin brought Chase and others to Streetside, and Justin was already talking up Luke as a good brewer, not really with any thought of the Head Brewer position in mind being so far away from opening. Spoiler alert, Chase did like the beer. Luke had no idea how big of a win that was at the time, but it paid off.
Luke was pursuing other positions, no one was hiring in Cincinnati at the time so he was looking into positions out of state and having conversations with his girlfriend, Hayley, about what moving would look like. He found the Sonder Brewing Head Brewer listing, he had some interest in the job, he remembered meeting Justin and Chase, but was concerned about going from a neighborhood brewery to a larger scale production brewery. Justin and Chase talked frequently about what a good fit would look like, they weren’t going to target anyone locally, and just see what interest the job posting garnered on its own.
Luke responds to the posting, and the story is funny now hearing about both of them “playing it cool” from their ends, very similar to two people interested in dating each other but not wanting to come off as desperate. Luke ignored the first phone call to seem busy, and Chase knew the job couldn’t be passed up after he saw the brewery, they were two peas in a pod and they didn’t even know it yet. Within thirty minutes of the actual interview, Luke knew he wanted to work at Sonder, and this was driven by the immediate impression Chase gave off. Luke was a talented brewer already and grew up quickly in the industry, but he knew he could learn a ton with Chase as a mentor. Luke was a true believer in the vision the owners had, and it was ultimately a no brainer.
Once Luke accepted the offer, he knew some work on the brewery still needed to be done, but he didn’t expect three months of additional work before brewing. It wasn’t ideal, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way because of all the heartache and stress that came with it. Luke admitted that he, “cried to his girlfriend one night because of the stress and being afraid of the unknown. It got bad.” The process drew him closer to the company, people, and vision. It also grew the relationship between Chase and Luke much quicker. Once everything seemed like it was good to go and the grand opening was announced, another setback happened where the brewhouse was unable to reach a boil. Twenty seven days out from opening, the brew staff wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to make beer. Luke at no point ever thought that he had made the wrong move or thought that this wouldn’t work, but the situation was still grueling and not as easy as he thought. Luckily Quality Tank Solutions was able to eradicate the problem, and the team was able to actually start doing what they were brought on to do, brew beer. Chase and Luke knocked out seven beers in 19 days. It took twenty hour shifts for nearly three weeks to ensure we’d be pouring beer at our opening, and Chase actually spent the night at the brewery. Chase would always offer to let Luke go home, but he always responded with, “I’m not your Assistant Brewer, I’m your Head Brewer. I’m sticking this out with you and we’re getting this shit done”. One night Justin even decided to be there with them when they were brewing, and he made it to about 4am before he fell asleep on the futon. If we ever name a beer about something related to a futon, you’ll know why.
None of it went as expected for Luke when he joined the team, but it ultimately made him feel more ingrained within the team through blood, sweat, and tears (literally). He wasn’t with them from the beginning, but he at least got to experience the do or die beginning. Again, he wouldn’t have done it any differently.
Chase and Luke’s first official interview was three hours, and the two clearly hit it off right away and it’s translating into the beers. When talking about the relationship between them, Chase talks about how much of himself he sees in Luke. He always wants to learn more, improve on his skills, and progress further as a brewer. Transparency has always rung true with the both of them. Luke even admitted to wanting to own his own brewery when Chase asked him what his future goals are. You would think that this would be problematic for Chase, but he appreciated the honesty and knew that he’d make this job so good for Luke that he wouldn’t ever want to leave. Even if Luke were to decide to leave to start his own thing, Chase and Justin admit that it would be something they welcome and support 100%. Luckily Chase is taking it as a personal challenge to always keep Luke at Sonder, and the two mixing their experiences and talents should continue to test the boundaries and limits of what can be done with beer.