If you’re looking for the up-and-coming best brewmaster in Brooklyn, heck all of New York, then you wanna check out the work of Mike Kulha at Circa Brewing Company.
Well, he’s been at Circa for just about 2 years, and has already brought home a medal for the best wheat beer in the state at the New York Craft Brewers Competition and Governor’s Craft Beer Cup.
To be fair, there are a lot of great brewers and breweries right here in Brooklyn. The borough brought home 12 medals this year.
But it’s high time we sat down with Circa’s award winner and talk about beer.
“I wanna brew beer that people wanna drink, not just craft beer snobs, but regular people.”
That’s how Mike describes his beer ‘philosophy.’
“Beer is the egalitarian drink of the masses, of the people, for everybody. Circa is a neighborhood brew pub. Everyone comes in, from professionals to construction workers. We try to have something for all of them.”
Circa is definitely centered in the Downtown ‘hood of Brooklyn, the historic business center: still a hub of activity. Like Mike says, it’s a cross section of people. And Mike is brewing beer for all of them.
When asked how he got started in brewing, he says,
“Just like everybody, probably. As a home-brewer when I was in college. I liked to drink lots of beer. I figured it would be cheaper to just make it myself.”
Though he found that wasn’t entirely accurate—brewing is time-consuming and labor intensive—he was hooked. But that’s not what he went to school to study.
He actually started out as a teenager building sets for school and community theaters. So he went to college to study set design and welding. Then he took his degree and skills into the real world where he designed and built sets for about 10 years.
Eventually he grew weary of the work.
“I got tired of building things that would be in the dumpster in six weeks…”
He decided to give craft brewing a go.
His first professional job was at Bandwagon Brew Pub in Ithaca, NY, where he served as the assistant brewer for about 6 months, until the head brewer left.
The owners looked to Mike and said, “You look like you can do it!”
So he did!
He held that position for about another 2 years, but felt like he still had a lot to learn about making beer, so in 2014, he left to take a job in Baltimore, at DuClaw Brewing.
“I learned a lot there about producing good beer, from a lot of really great brewers. It was a great place to work.”
He left DuClaw to work at DC Brau, a craft brewery in the nation’s capitol. He felt that having learned to produce quantities of a limited number of beers in a large production brewery, he wanted to get back to making small-batch beer, where there was more experimentation.
He worked at DC Brau until February of 2020, when he left DC and moved in with his parents in Upstate New York while he pondered his next move.
Then Covid hit.
“I thought, like everyone else, It’ll only be a couple weeks. I’ll go see my girlfriend in the city. And I never left…”
Then one day, he was looking through a brewers trade site, searching for potential jobs, when he saw a listing for Circa.
He got the job, obviously.
That was in the fall of 2020.
“Somehow, we managed to survive the worst of Covid.”
He credits that to the family vibe at Circa, within the staff, ownership, and especially their neighborhood regulars.
They just kept coming, even when they had to pick the beer up from ‘The Window,’ a make-shift room extension Circa built out onto the sidewalk so they could serve their loyal beer-drinkers.
The Window is now gone: replaced with a covered patio area, but Mike and Circa won’t soon forget the support they got during the tough times of 2020 and 2021.
Circa Brewing is moving on, and it’s up-and-coming best brewmaster in Brooklyn is forging ahead with new flavors and new ideas.
The newest project is offering reserved beer tastings for small groups of people craving a sample Circa’s best, along with an education in beer and brewing.
Circa has an edge on the competition, because not only do you get to taste great beer, you get to do it with the brewmaster!
Yeah, Mike actually leads these tastings, in person. Very few breweries offer this anymore. Most brewers are just too busy to spend that kind of time with the public.
That’s not to say that Mike is slacking away in the store-room with tons of time on his hands. He’s plenty busy, but he believes the beer tastings are an important part of what he and Circa does.
That’s why he trained for and holds certifications as a Certified Beer Judge and Cicerone. That’s just fancy, industry speak for ‘he knows a lot about tasting beer and talking about it.’ But Mike is down to earth; he doesn’t let all those titles go to his head.
“Very few breweries do tastings anymore, because they used to be too pretentious, as if the brewers or servers were talking down to the customers. I don’t do that. People want someone who knows what they’re talking about, but also approachable.
We do a very relaxed tasting, like four beers at a time. I introduce each one, talk about it a bit, then we taste it, and then I answer questions.
I think it’s important to put a face on the product, so people know where the beer comes from. If we want more people to drink craft beer, then we have to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of ordinary beer drinkers.
And that’s what Mike and Circa are doing: winning hearts and minds, and palates, of course, one beer at a time.
Come on in to Circa if you want to drink beer from the up-and-coming best brewmaster in Brooklyn (and NY state).
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