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Strange brew: Businessman combines aviation and beer makingStrange brew: Businessman combines aviation and beer making

Strange brew: Businessman combines aviation and beer making

By Nathan A. Ferguson

Sometimes things in life come together in mysterious ways. Ben Cook of Redlands, Calif., managed to capitalize on flying and beer drinking, two typically incompatible endeavors, at least when done together less than eight hours apart.

Lately he’s been working ridiculous hours, toiling away in a warehouse building near Redlands Municipal Airport. With all the plumbing, chemicals, and strange noises emanating from the 4,640-square-foot facility, you’d think he was building a spacecraft. Instead, welcome to the Hangar 24 Craft Brewery.

Cook, 27, opened the business just last month after following a straightforward, yet circuitous route to arrive here. Here is described thusly for pilots: “Look across the street from the airport on your downwind leg for the large white Malt Silo in front of the brewery. Can’t miss it!”

Some seven years ago when Cook was a biology student at CSU San Bernardino, his future wife, Jessica, saw a microbrewery ad. Being a “big science geek” it piqued his interest, so they went to San Diego and bought a home-brew kit. As they got better at it, Cook said he fell in love with the whole beer-making culture. Perhaps, more importantly, he began to draw parallels between it and college lab work.

“It makes school a lot more interesting,” he said.

After school he worked in quality assurance for the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys. While he says he learned a lot from a company that has deep pockets for research, he was looking for something more hands-on and creative. Next stop the prestigious master brewers program at UC Davis where art and science merge. Afterward in 2006, Cook and Jessica got married and went on a honeymoon tour of all the beer-drinking countries in Europe.

Cook also was interested in learning to fly, but he wanted to do his training in a tailwheel airplane. He bought a 1946 Commonwealth Skyranger and spent three years on a restorative odyssey. He flew it for a year until one day last summer he and a mechanic had an engine problem near the airport. A rough encounter with a ready-mix materials plant left the two of them fairly beaten up and the airplane in much worse shape. Totaled, actually.

Undeterred, Cook went flying again two weeks after the incident. Although he still doesn’t have his private pilot certificate, he plans to complete his training some day.

Now back to beer making. Space freed up near the airport when the Mission Aviation Fellowship moved its headquarters—and bibles, of course—to Idaho. Call it a divine intervention. Once he had the space, Cook secured brewing equipment from the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Thanks to his aviation experience, Cook was able to draw on existing airport talent, mostly in the form of volunteer help. Need metal work? No problem, just ask the kitplane builder. Need a floor that’s up to military specs? Just ask the civilian contractor. Cook, his father, and the volunteers worked long days to refurbish the building.

Cook is starting with pale ale and a series utilizing local fruits, herbs, and spices. Eventually, he plans to get more experimental and offer unique styles. Most of the beer business will come from local bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. But for those who drive or fly in, you can take a tour where passengers can have a taste in the tasting area. You can also buy beer in two-liter glass growlers for $32. Bring it back and get a refill for $9. Kegs are also available with bottles in the six-pack format to come.

The airport itself seems happy to see new business. The couple may one day open a restaurant. Cook said his brewery will draw people from the community who would otherwise never venture out to the airport. And he aims to convert as many to pilots as he can.

April 24, 2008

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