As a medical student in the 1990s, BioWare cofounder Greg Zeschuk told his future wife that if he could, he’d make video games for a living. But he knew better than to plan his life around it. “It was a pipe dream,” is how he put it back then.
The story of how the pipe dream became a reality—one that saw BioWare turn out blockbuster games including Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before being sold to Electronic Arts along with another company for $860 million in 2007—is something of a folk legend in Edmonton, Alberta, where Zeschuk has spent most of his life.
Now Zeschuk, 53, is living another dream: He’s started a brewing company, Blind Enthusiasm, and he runs two microbreweries, the Market and the Monolith, along with a restaurant, Biera, which is considered one of the hottest eateries in his hometown.
Zeschuk always liked beer, and long before it was considered cool to visit craft breweries, he made a point of doing so whenever he was in the United States. However, it wasn’t until he began spending extended amounts of time at BioWare’s Austin, Texas, office in 2007 and 2008 that he developed a genuine passion for brewing as a business.
The craft beer scene in the Texas capital was exploding, and during the rare time Zeschuk wasn’t working on games, he checked out local breweries. A naturally curious person, he soon began interviewing brewers and posting the videos online as “The Beer Diaries.”
In 2017, the PBS affiliate in Austin approached him about doing a bigger, international version of “The Beer Diaries.” Zeschuk had been retired from BioWare for five years by then; running a company had run him into the ground, especially the near-constant travel that kept him from his wife and children in Edmonton.
Still, he wasn’t ready to settle down. He was considering saying yes to PBS. Then his wife pointed out the obvious.
“You quit games because you were traveling so much, and now you want to do a show where you travel around the world and interview brewers?” she asked.
Forced to reassess his priorities, Zeschuk opted for a different angle. “I thought I could make beer,” he says. “I could build a business that made beer. And that’s kind of what happened.”
Alberta is an ideal place to brew. The province’s barley, one of its main agricultural exports, is among the world’s best. Hops grow like weeds, though the market for the Alberta-grown product isn’t nearly as established as that for hops from neighboring British Columbia and the northwestern United States.
For years, the provincial craft beer industry was constrained by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, whose stringent regulations made it nearly impossible for small brewers to gain a foothold.
“They said you had to make 5,000 hectoliters a year to start a brewery,” recalls Zeschuk, whose two facilities currently make around 1,000 hectoliters a year. “All the little startups, the ones with two people working in a storage warehouse, they couldn’t do it because they weren’t big enough.”
That changed in 2013, a year after Zeschuk retired. The handful of small craft brewers who had managed to make a go of things—some by brewing their products in British Columbia—had formed a professional organization, the Alberta Small Brewers Association. They were looking for an executive director. Zeschuk was looking for something to do.