By Kim Lyle
If history is correct, the Babylonians were the first humans to ever brew their own beer. In fact, they took their alcohol so seriously that if you brewed a bad batch your punishment was to be drowned in it.
Luckily, times have progressed, and working at a brewery no longer means you’d have to love the golden liquid more than life itself. However Ed Steckel, the chief imagineer at the Bayou Teche Brewery, comes pretty close.
“I grew up in breweries,” noted Steckel, “so it was easy to decide what I wanted to do as an adult.”
It all began when he was given a job at Angela’s Brewery in California. Since then, Steckel has lived in almost all four corners of the United States while working with the amber nectar. He even holds a certificate of Brewing and Fermentation Sciences from UC San Diego. But long before you’re aware of his impressive credentials, his beer crafting genius is easily spotted.
Steckel leads the last brewery tour of the day and arguably the most informative. It starts at 5pm and often ends in the Tasting Room, where visitors flood him with more questions. His expertise and dedication to a single craft are both humbling and inspiring. The magic created when you’ve spent your entire life mastering one trade is contagious, and Steckel happily shares his unique lens to the world on the tours he gives.
Throughout the walkabout, Steckel effortlessly spurts out intricate details and lesser-known facts about the industry and beer making process itself. The highlight is the in-line bottling machine that looks like it’s escaped from a high tech chemistry lab. There are slots for spinning bottles, rotating levers, and one too many shiny knobs.
Steckel sighs: “This is where the most costly mistakes are made.” If you’ve ever seen that episode of I Love Lucy in the chocolate factory, this is what he’s talking about. But thankfully, Steckel is highly trained with this machinery and has accounted for no errors since he’s been at the brewery. He can even guess the exact number of bottles that will be produced from any one vat of beer.
While Steckel has only been in Louisiana for a year, he’s quickly making a name for himself with visitors and within the family-run business – not to mention, reveling in the Louisiana weather. “I knew it was time to go when it snowed three feet in Detroit one year,” he says. And go is what he did. He found an ad in the beer brewers’ equivalent of Craigslist, packed up his family, and the rest is history.
He hasn’t yet regretted his decision to make the move down South, and with consumption of microbrews increasing across the country, the Bayou Teche Brewery has never been more relevant. Just don’t try to test Steckel’s expansive brewing knowledge on one of his tours because you’ll be sorry you did.
Visiting the Bayou Teche Brewery (53 miles from Baton Rouge)
The Bayou Teche Brewery is only an hour’s drive from Baton Rouge, just near the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge and all it’s hypnotizing beauty. It’s located adjacent to an old railroad car that was once the brewery’s humble beginnings. Be sure to make conversation with any one of the three Knott brothers, as it’s their creative minds and intellect that sprouted the delicious business.