Three engineers walk into a bar and… Nope, we’re not going to tell a corny joke, but we are going to tell a pretty cool origin story. Technically, it’s about two civil engineers and a wastewater utilities expert whom everyone mistakes for an engineer, but anyway…
So the guys in question show up at Bone Hook Brewing in North Naples on a Thursday evening. They’re all in their 40s, all in casual button-downs, and all work for different divisions of the same firm, Barron Collier Cos.: David Genson, Barron Collier senior vice president and director of development; John English, the senior project manager for Peninsula Engineering; and the aforementioned utilities expert, Jason Vogel, senior project manager for the Ave Maria Utility Company.
They enter without ceremony, grab drinks and settle down at a table notably not designated in their honor. These are Bone Hook’s founders, three pals who started messing around with craft brewing in Genson’s garage and ended up establishing what, by all appearances, is blossoming into a Naples institution.
“It all started probably in 2012, I think,” begins Genson. “John was in my office, and at the organization we are really, really busy and it seems like we’re going, going, going all the time. John and I were talking about the craft beer thing.” They’d been tip-toeing away from the Buds, Millers and Mics and into IPAs and lagers and ales. “We thought maybe that’s something we could do—let’s brew beer!”
The fundamentals of beer-making are pretty basic: brew, ferment, bottle. The actual process of beer making, well, not quite so simple.
Cue dramatic music… and enter Vogel to the rescue.
“I became deeply dissatisfied with mainstream beers in college, which is unheard of,” Vogel says.
“So I was drinking high-end beers and donating plasma to buy good beer.”
That’s not hyperbole. “You can print that. It’s the truth,” Vogel says, earnestly.
Anyway, Vogel had started brewing beer way back in 2000. “[After college] I landed in Stuart, Florida, running wastewater systems for the city. Right down the road, as fortuitous as could be, there was a home brewing shop. I walked in one day and said, ‘I’m in. What do I need?’”
Pretty soon, his concoctions were on a par with or exceeding those of home-brewing vets. When pals Genson and English decided they “were in,” Vogel led the charge.
Their first purchase, a “BrewSculpture” standalone home brewing system, went to live in Genson’s garage in Naples. Their first brew? An American pale ale good but, whew! Double-IPA strong. Soon enough, with the precision you’d expect from a bunch of technical experts, the trio had become proficient—and then downright good—at their craft. Part of their secret? The water.
“Water chemistry has such an impact on the quality of the beer,” English says. “Most people don’t have the depth of understanding of how to manipulate the water like [Vogel] does. That brought a lot to the equation.” Vogel had access to water that had not been treated with chloramine, a disinfectant added to municipal drinking water.
“That was a key signature of what we could accomplish because we did not have to fight that off-flavor,” Vogel explains.
Word got out. The trio signed on for a craft brew event at the Landsdowne Street bar in Bonita Springs, and their kölsch—a German-style beer— was gone in “five minutes.” On brew days, neighbors and friends flocked to Genson’s garage, cups in hand. Eventually, the hobby caught the attention of their boss, Barron Collier CEO Blake Gable. They say he was impressed—both with the beer and the passion of the brewers. Breweries aren’t exactly in the Barron Collier Cos. portfolio, but Gable saw potential and offered to take the idea to board, which agreed to provide funding.
And that’s how Bone Hook made the leap from the garage to its prime commercial location, at the corner of Goodlette-Frank and Immokalee roads. They opened up in late 2016 in a 3,000-square-foot space, most of which was brewing equipment.
These days, microbreweries dot the Southwest Florida landscape; at the time Bone Hook opened, there was just one other in Naples.
“The problem is the market down here is really difficult—it’s all about light beers. The craft market is still small in comparison to the overall beer market,” says Genson. That’s true even now, he says, in spite of their growing presence. “That was something we recognized, and it was something we wanted to help change in Southwest Florida and get people to start drinking better-quality beer.”
Bone Hook is dedicated to keeping the IPA crowd happy, but it brews plenty of light, smooth beers as well—“stepping stones,” English calls them. “You have to have approachable beers,” he says. “Don’t scare ’em away. Let them get in the door, let them have a taste here while they are having their light beers. It’s an acquired thing.”
The founders never intended brewing to replace their day jobs, and from the start, they recruited experienced professionals, including decorated brewmaster Josh Deitner, based in Shanghai when they brought him in. “It is not lost on us that my rudimentary brewing prowess plus my water experience is not enough to make it work at this level,” says Vogel. “[Deitner] has the most brewing accreditations of any person in South Florida that I’m aware of.”
A year ago, Public House restaurant, adjacent to Bone Hook, closed. The founders leapt at the chance to expand. They decided to bring on a partner, Phelan Family Brands (the company behind Texas Tony’s, Pinchers and Deep Lagoon), and expand into a full-service restaurant. Dan Bilzor now manages the restaurant portion of the business.
As for the founders, they’re more in the background now than the forefront, more patrons than crew. And that’s fine with them.
“In the end, I think we just want it to be successful,” says Genson. “I’m proud of what we did, the three of us, to get it to where it is. Ultimately, as it goes forward, it’s not necessarily in our hands, but our spirit is behind it and we want to see it succeed.”