Crafted in Achatz: Environmental science alum brews up a business
September 22, 2017
Craft beers are the rage, and Andy Denton BS ’99, environmental science, began learning the science behind the craft of beer-making in Achatz Hall. A member of the first graduating class of the newly-renamed University of Saint Francis, he allied with a closely-knit and multi-disciplined group of Achatz students and professors. Now the owner of Perfect Brewing Supply in a Chicago suburb, he’s applied science, good business and a love of natural processes to resurrect a once-troubled enterprise.
His professional niche followed an exploration. He picked up a couple jobs and then headed to Hungary before arriving back in Fort Wayne to work for an outdoor gear and clothing company. Working for the family-owned business awakened his entrepreneurial spirit, and he formed Venture 4th Eco Educational Tours with his former academic adviser, Dr. Larry Wiedman, whose travel courses strongly impacted his life.
“The field studies classes were some of the most important classes I took at Saint Francis,” he said. “Spending days and nights outside teaches you more about yourself than any classroom will. The outdoors teaches self-reliance, group dynamics and how we are all intertwined in the universe. The tour company exists today, and I am still a consultant with the university for the field studies classes.”
After a couple years, his girlfriend, and now wife, USF alumna Angela (Kwiatkowski) Denton, got a Chicago-area job offer, so he changed course to try his hand in a new sphere. That led to his management, and then purchase, of Perfect Brewing Supply.
Good chemistry, again. “I moved to Chicago when the home-brewing addiction began,” he said. “I had been interested in craft beer before it was a thing, thanks to a cousin who was a pro brewer in the early ’90s. My father-in-law bought me my first kit, and I was hooked. A few friends of mine bought various pieces of gear, and we would meet at my house about every two weeks to brew beer.
“Brewing was a perfect match, bringing together my love of science, food and beer. I realized how much science goes into great homebrew. It combines microbiology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Varying combinations of enzymes, proteins, yeast, water and other organics yield different results.”
While beer making involves chemistry, USF and its students also share a powerful interaction. For Andy, the mixture of soccer and Achatz studies formed a stabilizing compound.
Andy was part of the Homecoming frenzy that placed soccer at center stage. “Bosco Hall looked like a Motel 6, and we had to chase geese off what is now Bishop D’Arcy Stadium,” Denton said. “The bonds and traditions created during my athletic career led me to help organize the men’s Homecoming alumni game every year.”
The Achatz experience also had a powerful energy. “Of the experiences that stands out is Culinary Club, a gathering of friends, family and faculty,” he said. “We would make spectacular food, drink fantastic wine and beer and talk about current events in science and anything else that seemed relevant. It was a great collective of like-minded folks who enjoyed arguing, but in retrospect, it shaped a lot of our lives. These were all people who roamed the halls of Achatz studying a variety of subjects, but would gather once a month to discuss ideas.”
As often happens, a natural symmetry established his life direction. “I had been in the outdoor industry for about 13 years, owned a few rental houses, and was ready for something different,” he said. “I started to look at other careers, and was writing my business plan to open a homebrew supply shop in the Chicago area. My local homebrew shop’s manager went pro and opened a brewery in the area. After he left, the shop declined so much it was out of business, for all practical purposes.
“I began picking up the pieces and turning it into something to be proud of. I purchased Perfect Brewing Supply in November 2015, expanded to include cheese, wine and cider, and it has been growing ever since. To give our schedules flexibility, my wife left her lucrative job to start a business in social media management. Apparently, the entrepreneurial mindset rubs off.”