Like most other daily activities for anyone who uses a wheelchair, gravity is only a helpful tool if items are within arm’s reach. For Dave Luskey, who damaged his T12 vertebrae in a fall seven years ago, using a wheelchair meant a huge life change. It also changed his award-winning home brewing hobby.
The accident and resulting life changes were significant of their own accord, but a key message at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was to keep positive and goal-oriented, emphasizing the power of hobby. “The therapist asked what I do,” Luskey said. “I said ‘I make beer’, and they said right away, don’t give up your hobby.” Instead, he simply had to imagine a new way to align old processes, to turn a corner and resume a normal life.
Luskey has always been drawn to brewing, walking past the abandoned Jordan Brewery building in his youth. He later collected breweriana before getting the homebrew bug along with his younger brother Jeff. He’s been home brewing since 1989, well before home systems were easy to find at retail stores. “I have had knowledge of fabricating ideas and making your own brewing equipment [since the beginning],” he said.
The accident put everything on hold.
“My life was all different,” Luskey said. “It’s hard to accept at times, [but]…you just have to accept it and do what you have to do to look forward.” He had to buy a new house, a rambler with an open floorplan, and it was there that the possibilities unfolded.
While most brewing uses gravity, he discovered that pumps, piping, valves, and other transfer systems can serve the same purpose, just with more lateral real estate involved. Luskey built a homebrew setup underneath his garage. It took time to re-engineer the process to suit in an efficient horizontal system, but Luskey made it work.
“The first brew was a little awkward, more a learning thing,” he says. “But it worked.” He’s moved to brewing batches back to back, lautering the first batch as he begins boiling water on a second batch, then working the two simultaneously. It’s a grueling process most able-bodied people would find challenging.
(Lautering is a process in brewing beer in which the mash is separated into the clear liquid wort and the residual grain. Lautering usually consists of three steps: mashout, recirculation and sparging.)
The most fun part of brewing beer is sharing it with others, so opening a brewery was a natural next step. Luskey first attempted to open Shakopee Brewing Company, but the business partnership dissolved. Luskey then teamed up with his brother Jeff and lifetime friend Kurt Fossen to form u4ic Brewing. The brewery recently opened in the unincorporated Scott County community of Blakely, in what used to be a creamery. The tiny village is near Belle Plaine. As an owner, chief operating officer, vice president, and a jack-of-all-brewery-related trades, brewing beer is no longer a hobby for Luskey it’s a job.
u4ic is currently rigged with a traditional, vertical brewing setup mostly utilized by his brother Jeff who specializes in more American-style ales. But they’re building a second system to make brewing their German-styled beers (recipes designed by Dave Luskey) more efficient as well as fully accessible. That would allow him to brew the Kolsch-style, altbier, and lagers firsthand. “It’s going to be unique … the first of its kind,” he says of the custom-built setup.
To visit u4ic Brewing, visitors turn off Highway 169 and drive through flat prairie before Scott County Road 6 turns a big curve and highlights a scenic valley view alongside the Minnesota River.