Brewer Profile: Simon Nielsen of Central Waters Brewing

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Simon Nielsen // Photo by Ellen Burkhardt

There’s a certain art to perseverance. Pursue too eagerly and you’re a nuisance. Tiptoe too timidly and you’ll be forgotten. It’s all about timing and persistence, observation and steadfastness. And patience. Lots of patience.

Simon Nielsen knows well what it means to persevere. The 29-year-old has already navigated more detours and hurdles than some people do in a lifetime. You’d never know it upon meeting him, though. Soft-spoken, smiling, and unapologetically polite, Simon, head brewer at Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, Wisconsin, exudes a sense of calm you’d assume could only come from an equally tranquil life. But that’s hardly the case.

When Simon was 16, his father passed away from a sudden brain aneurysm. Senior year, he dropped out to tour with a couple bands as a drummer. It was a low point in his life. “I didn’t need to drop out of school to tour, but I was bound and determined,” Simon says. “It was just an excuse for me to not go to school. I hit my bottom not too long after that, fixed what I needed to fix, then went and tried to figure out what I wanted to do.”

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Photo by Ellen Burkhardt

All Simon knew for sure at that point was that his future career had to involve some sort of craft. In August 2009, three years after dropping out, Simon enrolled at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, a nonprofit widely recognized as being one of the top furniture-making schools in the world. But woodworking ended up being more of a hobby than a career. Back home in Appleton, Wisconsin, new skills and high school diploma in hand (he’d finished via a homeschool program in Maine), Simon took a job at a plastic factory with his older brother—a placeholder until he found what it was he really wanted to do.

Related: Central Waters takes over The Growler’s Instagram feed for #GrowerDayintheLife on Friday, March 11

Over the next couple years, Simon kept searching for an outlet for his creativity. The answer came unexpectedly when his brother got him to watch “Beer Wars,” the 2009 documentary about the craft beer industry, as a way of convincing him to homebrew. It worked—they bought a homebrew kit that afternoon. It also revealed to Simon the ideal outlet for his craft-driven perfectionism.

Soon after making that first kit, Simon started looking for ways to brew full time. His top choice: Central Waters. Really, it was his only choice—not because he couldn’t go somewhere else, but because his heart was set on it.

Next page: Getting his foot in the door

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road, seeking out good food, drink, conversation, and fodder for her next story.