The keg connoisseur
Wales man turns college hobby into brewing equipment business

By Brandon Anderegg

Jan. 24, 2019

 Spike 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.
Brandon Anderegg/Freeman Staff

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 stool.

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 Co-Op.

“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.”

Home-brewing fun

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.”