Brewing welder Jason Meyer points out the difficulties
of welding tri-clamps onto a kettle that Keith Lyons is
using to practice his welding. Welders will practice on
several test kettles before working on customized
kettles for clients.
MILWAUKEE — When the dust settles at a college party and
the keg is finally tapped, what happens to the keg?
Most college students would return the keg to a store
and reclaim their deposit while the more forgetful left
their investment in the basement of a college house
where it embarked on a new journey as a chair or a foot
For Wales native and Spike Brewing owner Ben Caya, the
forgotten kegs may have been empty, but they were still
filled with opportunities.
Caya, who graduated UW-Milwaukee with a mechanical
engineering degree in the mid-2000s, spent many days as
a college student collecting kegs from friends and
selling them on Craigslist.
“Someone just came to my college basement and gave me
$50 bucks,” Caya said.
Caya didn’t at first realize his clients had been
cutting off the tops of the kegs and repurposing them
into homebrewing equipment. As demand began to ramp up,
flyers posted around campus soliciting kegs from
classmates wasn’t enough anymore.
Soon after, a semi loaded with 50 kegs was backing into
the alley of his Farwell Avenue college house. Before he
knew it, Caya became a keg connoisseur in his own right.
What started as a college hobby turned into Spike
Brewing, a nationally recognized brewing equipment
business and brand operating out of a 22,000square-foot
facility in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.
“I think when I saw the kegs in my basement, I thought
‘Oh, those have to be worth something, put it on
Craigslist and see where it goes,’” Caya said. “I never
imagined it would turn into this.”
Spike Brewing manufactures brew kettles, conical
fermenters, brewing systems and other homebrewing
accessories. The company also specializes in custom
kettles that are welded in house, Caya said.
The facility houses an engineering lab, showroom,
warehouse, a test brewery and an employee tap room with
employee-brewed beers. The company has worked with
several local brewers including MobCraft, 1840 Brewing
Company, Gathering Place Brewing and New Barons Brewing
“A perfect way to test prototype equipment is to
encourage local breweries around town to use it,” Caya
said. “Many do and some of these pilot recipes end up
being brewed commercially at these breweries.”
Caya sells some of his kettles to commercial companies
who would like to test recipes without mucking up their
commercial brewing systems. But most of his clientele
comprises at-home brewers, and he said many of them are
technical and hands-on individuals who enjoy the process
of making beer.
“People obsess over this (brewing), so they are very
particular,” Caya said. “I think these people really
enjoy the process of making something themselves and
sharing it with family, friends and other beer nerds.”