In his latest blog, Greg talks about what it’s like to be a high school outcast in his hometown of Pataskala, Ohio, and how he’s still an outcast there nearly 40 years later. Yes, there’s beer involved...lots of beer.
I grew up in a small town in central Ohio called Pataskala. In Middle School and High School I was a social pariah. An outcast. I was so unpopular that others didn’t want to even be seen near me. At that age apparently, the ‘unpopular’ was contagious.
To be fair, it was my fault. But not really. But really.
Without getting too personal, let’s get too personal. I was a very late bloomer. Life is awkward as hell as a teenager, and late blooms don’t help. Communicating with other kids was like some game I didn’t understand. I figured if I just tried hard enough those rules would become clear. So I was the hardest tryer. The great thing about trying the hardest is that it almost always makes things worse.
The elementary school I attended. The historical building managed to be both creepy and normal for me at the same time. The latter is how it feels when it's all you know.
As the saying goes, suave is skin deep, but awkward is to the bone. I’m proof.
By the time I finished college, I’d decided to hell with popularity, and to hell with imagined rules. As I came into my adult years, I found I had become inherently dissatisfied with status quos, norms, and socially approved constraints.
So I started a craft brewery of course. One that celebrated rather than shrank away from our inner rebellious nature. At the time, craft beer felt like a rebellion. It celebrated weird. I belonged.
It was scary as hell, but Steve and I dove in. Hard.
Over time, other folks who were outside of the norm gravitated toward us. Whether they were socially awkward themselves, or just go-against-the-grain types that found themselves unsatisfied with ‘normal’ (I was both), they sussed us out. Maybe they just thought mainstream beer tasted like wet, bubbly air. Or maybe they loved outsider culture, too. Maybe prom wasn’t their best night.
I related to these people. They were my people.
They didn’t care about the fact that I thought and behaved different than most. They even lauded it. Craft beer was a tribe. My tribe.
Then, about eight or ten years into it, the weirdest thing ever began to happen. Our outsider thing became popular. People who didn’t invite me to things started inviting me to things. They asked me to speak to groups of people, to companies, at conferences.
I thought I’d arrived, washed off all that Pataskala-born outsider pain. And I was wrong. I was pulled home again by a letter from a 15-year-old high school girl named Ally. She explained that she lived in Pataskala with her parents, siblings, grandparents, and pets. She was in the marching band. She attended the same school I had, Watkins Memorial High. And she felt socially awkward among the “normal” kids.
Ally explained that marching band had brought her solace, given her a tribe. And it was going to be cut. The voters in Pataskala had their concerns, and funding Ally’s tribe wasn’t one of them. They’d voted against the levy to fund it, as well as some sports and school programs like foreign languages. “Hurumph,” I thought. “C’mon, Pataskala. Don’t be the place where learning a foreign language is seen as useless frill.”
Ally explained that a former band boosters treasurer had embezzled $75,000 from the marching band. Quite honestly, I was skeptical. Teenagers are inspiring and teenagers can embellish. It was true, I Googled it. They’d been swindled.
She said her dad was a fan of our beer, he’d read an article about me, and he thought I must be a smart businessman to come from being an outsider to being a success. They both thought I’d know what to do.
Well, I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue. This girl could really, really write. Three pages, handwritten, and not a single misspelled word, cross-out, or synaptic error. Pure, unadulterated well-written realness. She intimidated me a little. I read the letter again and again over several weeks pondering, feeling helpless to do anything that would have any real impact. She’d called me a smart business man, and I wanted to prove her right. The idea of letting this young, articulate girl down gnawed at me. I’d not only be failing her, but also a dad who’d cared enough to send his daughter to me for advice.
Sure, I could write a check for a couple grand, but I knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything other than allowing me to not have to pick up the letter and re-read it every two days. That wouldn’t have been cool. That would have been letting Ally down. I didn’t know her from anyone, but I did know her letter struck a real chord, and I didn’t want to let this articulate young woman down.
She’d said in her letter that the third-and-last-chance-that-was-it levy vote was coming in a couple months. Then it dawned on me.
I figured out how to contact her parents, told them about the idea. They were in. They got Ally on the horn with me and she said to count her in too. Awesome.
We contacted the news, and they were gracious enough to let me say what I had to say. Which was, essentially:
“Hey Pataskala, I’m Greg, I make beer, and Pataskala raised me. Both of us have grown up quite a bit since. You haven’t been passing this important levy, and we all know it’d help our kids, and our kids build our community. I promise if you pass it this time, Stone will create a special beer for Pataskala. We’ll name it Pataskala, and we’ll distribute and sell it in Pataskala. We’ll donate 100% of the profits from the beer to the band program at Watkins Memorial High School. We can do it together. Help us make it happen.”
A couple months later the levy passed. I’m not taking credit. Pataskala’s full of good, hard-working people who care about kids. All I know is that a kid who felt awkward in Pataskala reached out to a guy who used to be a kid who felt awkward in Pataskala, and we figured out a way to show up for Pataskala. Together.
Greg with Ally and her parents.
Ziggy’s Bar & Grill in Pataskala hosted our release event for Stone Pataskala Red X IPA, and I was thrilled to be there. Ally showed up with her parents, her siblings, and her grandmother. I remember how impressive this young girl was, how much more together she seemed than I was at her age. She might be struggling on the inside, but outwardly she was awesome. Some of the folks I went to high school with even showed up. They pretended to forget the degrees of my unpopularity they’d known all too well some 30-odd years previously. I pretended too. We’re all a bit older, not quite as awkward any more, and we decided showing up was important to us.
Greg getting interviewed by 10WBNS.
Read the full interview and watch the video here
The passage of the levy, in addition to the other important programs, had raised the needed money for Ally’s marching band to be able to continue. We added a healthy amount on top of that.
Later this month I’m going to make a stop by the region. I thought it’d be special to do a night with Stone and Pataskala once again, say hello to old and new friends. I talked with our sales rep from Cavalier Distributing, our awesome wholesaler in Ohio. I asked him which Pataskala bar was our best customer. Which one could I support by rallying our Stone tribe to show up.
“None of the bars or restaurants serve Stone,” he replied. “They don’t really support craft beer in Pataskala.”
I had to laugh. No matter how far you feel you’ve come, how much work’s been done, life will humble you. I’m still an outsider in my hometown. Which feels oddly normal. Comfortable even.
So, well, I’m going to Granville just a bit yonder. Sure, when I was growing up in Pataskala, Granville was our rival. Truth is, it’s an awesome town. It’s got a craft culture. They like weird things like farmers’ markets, the arts, organic food, artisanal things, their local liberal arts university. And craft beer.
There’s a local craft brewery called Three Tigers Brewing. They're opening up their home to me and our beers. I’m excited for the new friends, the new people, and hanging with my tribe.
I hope my past, current and future friends in Pataskala will make the 14-mile drive down the road and join us. We can call it Pataskala-adjacent.
Plan on coming out to the event at Three Tigers Brewing? Times and details available here.