Brewer Profile: Steve Finnie, formerly of Grand Rounds Brewpub

Grand Rounds Brewpub - Steve Finnie 4

Steve Finnie, former head brewer at Grand Rounds Brewpub // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

To Steve Finnie brewing beer is a privilege, and not one to be taken for granted.

The basis for his belief becomes obvious as we sit at his favorite table, a round booth in the corner of Grand Rounds Brewpub, and he explains how a Scottish physical therapist ended up in Rochester, Minnesota, brewing beer. Steve is a stout man with a graying beard that accentuates a strong jaw. His deep, gravelly voice and Scottish brogue may sound gruff, but Steve has a warm, waggish personality.

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For the past year and a half, Steve’s days have been spent cleaning stainless steel fermenters, loading sacks of malted barley into a grain mill, and brewing small batch beers. But he knows how lucky he is to have been able to pursue the opportunity in the first place.

From a practical standpoint, he would never have been able to afford to leave his job at the renowned Mayo Clinic to helm the brewhouse at Grand Rounds and still provide for his two young boys without his wife Dawn’s financial and moral support.

“My wife was very supportive. I was leaving a pretty damn good job at Mayo—supervisor in the sports medicine department, great colleagues, great place, great physicians, but it was like, ‘No, I’ve got to do this.’ So I left Mayo after 15 years of working there,” he says, the import of the decision still hanging heavy in the air. But Steve’s dry wit instantly relieves the weight of the conversation. “I had just got parking—it takes 13 years to get parking at Mayo,” he jokes.

The ability to lighten the mood with humor is a reflection of Steve’s steadfast optimism and gratitude in the face of life’s most sobering moments. Perhaps that comes from his seven years treating traumatic brain and spinal injuries, where he saw firsthand just how fragile life is and learned not to take health for granted.

“Working with brain and spinal cord injuries, you’ve got people that are living their life one day and the next day it’s changed drastically from a car accident to end-stage cancer—that really makes you appreciate life,” Steve explains. “And when you come home at the end of the day and it makes you think, ‘God, I’m pretty damn lucky.’ It also makes you think life is short, so do what you want to do while you can.”

But perhaps his perspective on brewing, and life in general, can be traced back even further, to an event from his childhood in Scotland. Steve grew up in Newtonhill, a small fishing town in northeast Scotland, just 10 miles south of Aberdeen. Growing up, the town had just 2,000 or so residents. “Pretty small, but they had two pubs,” Steve chuckles, “and a little grocery store and a post office. That was it. […] But we didn’t have sheep running through our garden, and we did have roads.”

Starting at age 11, Steve began practicing judo and quickly fell in love with the martial art. “I think, if anything, that taught me a lot of respect from an early age, and a hard work ethic.”

By age 16, Steve was becoming a decorated judoka in the UK. “I worked hard and was Scottish champion, and a British silver medalist, and I did go to the European Championships at the time—didn’t place or nothing,” Steve says. As he built up experience in competitions, he began to think more seriously about his goal of the Olympics. But, after a string of injuries, Steve suffered a back injury that forced him to quit the sport. Like the patients he would one day come to treat, the injury changed the trajectory of his life.

Next Page: From the UK to the USA

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About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the managing editor, writer, and photographer at The Growler Magazine. His column "Now Open (Or Damn Close) keeps you up to date on the newest breweries in Minnesota.

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