An interview with Jen and Jake Duensing from Great Escape Beer Works
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
With the way things are going currently, the American Dream sounds like a hard thing to come by these days. In fact, it sounds more like a one in a million shot. But sometimes miracles do happen against all odds and snares. Take Jen and Jake Duensing’s story for example.
Transients and adventurers turned parents and brewers, you may recognize Jake and Jen from behind the counter of their owned and operated Great Escape Beer Works in Springfield. Today, you can find their brews all over town, but not too long ago that was a different story.
A decade ago they were just two people trying to turn their passion for brewing into a living during one of the worst economic recessions in American history. Sounds a bit like a story of two moonshiners, huh? Except this story is a bit happier and doesn’t end with anybody going blind or getting shot at by the feds. It’s an underdog tale, but the story of Great Escape Beer Works is one of two people never giving up and handling whatever life throws at them together.
For the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux chats with Jake and Jen about their love of the outdoors, beer, and what it takes to build a dream from your garage.
If we want to get technical, Jake has been brewing beer since he was a kid. Seriously.
“I remember I was 12 years old. My sister had a homebrew kit from some friend or something as a gift and gave it to me. So, my dad let me use it,” Jake says. He remembers his dad laughing his head off at the idea of his 12-year-old son brewing beer.
In college, Jake met his partner Jen, where they bonded over hiking and trying out new beers together. It became their tradition to visit breweries and swap pints after a nice hike.
After school, the two moved to Colorado where they really started taking their brewing seriously. With the wide variety of breweries in Boulder, Jake’s imagination went wild.
“I fell in love with beer out in Colorado,” Jake says, “Also I kind of wanted a hobby and I also figured I could brew good beer for cheap.”
To get some more hands-on experience, Jake got hired on at a startup brewery in Boulder where he learned the ropes of the trade and made some great memories.
“It wasn’t a well-paying job but I’ve never seen him so happy,” Jen says. “This was also during the time that Kesha first came out. No kidding, they made up dances on the canning line to her music. So yeah, I think Jake had a really good time there and he was able to persevere and work his way up.”
Even with all the beer flowing and Kesha blasting, the Duensing’s welcomed their first child, George.
Seeking a fresh start, the family moved to Seattle next where they loved the outdoors, but absolutely hated the traffic and cost of living. That still didn’t stop Jake from trying to start a brewery in his garage which honestly required a ton of hoops to jump through. Long story short, the county told Jake no. After their second child though, the Duensing’s wanted to settle down a bit so they put their sights on Springfield to raise their family and open their dream project, Great Escape Beer Works.
“We've had this dream forever and even the name of the brewery for about seven years. Probably more than that honestly, but I knew that was our ultimate goal and what we wanted to do,” says Jake.
“Oh, yeah,” adds Jen, “We don’t do anything easy. I mean, Jake practically built the entire brew house himself.”
All of Jake’s time back at the other small breweries had paid off. Not only did he know how the business worked from behind the scenes, but he had a pretty good understanding on how to build a brewery from the ground up.
Located right off the trails in Sequiota Park, Great Escape certainly lives up to its name, especially in the tradition of Duensing’s post-hike beer tradition. With great beer comes good times and great friends, and Great Escape is all about building up that communal feeling.
“So this place sounds a bit more than just a brewery,” says Lux. “You want it to be an escape from anything, whether that’s going outdoors, reading a book, or riding a bike, whatever. So, how have you guys gotten involved with building that in the community?”
Jake explains his partnerships with running clubs and mountain biking programs to provide a bit of a landing pad for adventurers. At the nucleus of Great Escape is certainly a sense of home.
“The difference between a brewery and a bar is perhaps the community,” Jen adds. “It’s about bringing people together. In this day and age when everybody’s on their phones or tethered to a computer, it’s nice to get back in tune with the outdoors and one another.”
“That’s what drives us to do what we do as much as we possibly can,” Jake says.
Though there are always bars and breweries popping up all over town, Great Escape certainly has its own unique vibe and feel, complete with a warm and earthy atmosphere that channels the great outdoors. It’s not a dark, dank pub or sports bar, but a place for conversation and adventure.
Sitting at the center of this great experience is Jake and Jake themselves, reaping the rewards of all their hard work over all those years.
“It’s surreal that our beer is out in the market, but we’re still so extremely humble yet excited of course,” Jen says.
Jake admits that though there were times he wanted to throw in the towel, he encourages anybody chasing their dream to not give up so easily.
And of course, it helps to have a supportive partner.
“I kept pushing him on this dream because I knew if he’s passionate about something it will come to life,” Jen says proudly. “Nobody ever believed that we were going to open up a brewery. So, to Jake’s point, just keep on going until you figure it out.”
At the time of the interview, Great Escape Beer Works had celebrated its first anniversary. Though after some setbacks, a few cross-country moves, and plenty of planning, the Duensings had persevered. But they’re not getting comfortable anytime soon, says Jake.
“Oh, we’re just getting started.”
If you ever find yourself on the Sequiota trail, swing by Great Escape Beer Works for any of the Duensing’s great craft beers, located in the Galloway neighborhood on 4022 S. Lone Pine, in Springfield, Mo. Also check out Great Escape on their socials via Insta @greatescapebeerworks and on Facebook.
Listen to the full Life in Motion episode if you’d like to hear more about what it takes to brew beer, the joys of Oktoberfest, and why the traffic in Seattle sucks so much. It’s all there on the Life in Motion podcast with Jeremy Lux on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.