Mad Men meets Breaking Bad at Category 12 Brewing

Brewer and scientist Michael Kuzyk drinks in craft beer success

  • Dec. 11, 2018 9:40 a.m.

Brewer Michael Kuzyk among the tanks at his brewery Category 12 Brewing. Don Denton photography

– Story by Erin McPhee

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

The last thing Michael Kuzyk wanted to feel was regret.

Having devoted a decade of his life to research and the academic world, culminating in the successful completion of a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry, he followed that up with another 14 years of professional work, applying his scientific expertise to a variety of fields ranging from infectious disease and cancer research to software development.

Clearly no stranger to stick-to-it-iveness, it was therefore not the easiest of decisions to step back from his hard-earned career and embark on an exciting new vocational venture, which to some, might have seemed like worlds apart. But to Michael (and his partner in the new business and in life, wife Karen), it made all the sense in the world — scientific or otherwise.

In 2014, the Kuzyks launched Category 12 Brewing, a stylish and innovative microbrewery and tasting room on Keating Cross Road in Saanichton. What is proving to set Category 12 apart from its peers is the application of the very science background that Michael, in some ways, chose to leave behind.

His experience with experimentation, meticulous record-keeping, interest in working with different yeast strains and brewing techniques, and overall dedication to driving innovation forward, have all contributed to the brewery’s early and continued success. It has also inspired Category 12’s retro branding and even resulted in the brewery being commonly described as, “Breaking Bad meets Mad Men,” a caricature the Kuzyks find immensely flattering and continue to have fun with.

Category 12 currently employs 12 full- and four part-time staff members and is expanding its reach throughout Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland as more and more craft beer drinkers savour the delicious year-round and seasonal brews creatively crafted by the passion, perseverance and technical skill of its head brewer.

“It’s never too late to make a change,” says Michael, 45. “I always tell people, ultimately, it comes down to you to make a change for the better in your life. No one’s going to do it for you. Hopefully you’ve got people around you who are supportive. Nothing ventured nothing gained. You don’t want to be decades down a path that you regret and then wish you had done something different. The only way to find out if it’s the right way to go is to actually embark upon that new path.”

Brewer Michael Kuzyk takes walk among the tanks at his brewery Category 12 Brewing. Don Denton photography

Michael’s decision to open a brewery with his wife, who serves as co-owner and head of branding, isn’t one that happened overnight. He first got into homebrewing in the 1990s while studying at the University of Victoria. In some ways, his early interest was simply due to the “financial realities” of graduate studies, he laughs.

Regardless of his initial motivation, those early years gave Michael an opportunity to hone his skills and experiment with a variety of ingredients and methods, ultimately opening his eyes to the creativity inherent in craft brewing.

“The sky was the limit,” he says.

Michael was often told by friends that his beers were so good he should consider brewing professionally; however, a few more pieces of the puzzle would have to fall into place before he would listen.

“Working with the biotech sector, that took me down to San Diego a lot,” he says. “Getting to see the scene down there is what started to pique my interest that someone with a day job that’s completely unrelated to commercial brewing could make the leap and do it.”

On one such trip in 2011, Michael happened upon Mike Hess Brewing, a nanobrewery launched by its namesake who had previously worked in finance.

“He was making amazing beer and had a packed little taproom. It was probably one of the first things I kind of filed away and thought to myself, ‘There’s something here, maybe,’” he says.

Michael started considering a career change more seriously after a round of layoffs in his office. While he survived the layoffs, he realized having a Plan B would be wise and started applying for other jobs, including one position in Paris, France. Although he didn’t get it, his family had been on board, ready to pack up and embark on a new adventure abroad together. With that mindset now a possibility, Michael and Karen decided it was now or never and finally moved forward with Category 12, launching it four years ago with the tongue-and-cheek tagline: “We make beer worth leaving your career for.”

Brewer Michael Kuzyk looks over the tanks at his brewery Category 12 Brewing. Don Denton photography

Michael is pleased to house Category 12 on the Saanich Peninsula, as he grew up in the area. His first job was at The Butchart Gardens and his first post-doctorate position was at a biotech firm just up the road from the brewery.

He and Karen and their two boys, 17 and 14, currently live a few kilometres south in Saanich’s Strawberry Vale.

While over the years, Michael has spent his fair share of time indoors in countless science labs and these days can regularly be found within the walls of the brewery, he has long maintained a passion for the outdoors, something he enthusiastically shares with his family. Mountaineering, biking and camping — most often up-island and frequently in eastern Washington — keep the Kuzyks entertained during their off hours.

Michael has a number of exciting plans underway for Category 12, including adding a kitchen and expanded lounge area and at top of mind, is his commitment to being even more innovative.

“I’m not satisfied with just creating another beer style that’s similar to someone else’s beer of that style. I want you to know that you’re drinking Category 12 beer because there’s something unique and interesting about it,” he says.

“We have about 20 different yeast strains in the brewery and half of them I haven’t even had a chance to release a beer with … I’ve just got so many ideas still,” he adds.

Yopu can find Category 12 Brewing here.

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