Cape May Brewing Company can feel like a melting pot sometimes, with everyone from college students to retirees filling out the Brew Crew. Our newest Barback/Brewtique Associate is one of the latter: a recent retiree of the Delaware State Police.
“Mike felt like a natural fit for the Tasting Room with his laid back vibe and love for Cape May,” says Tasting Room General Manager Chris Costello. “Mike brings a great work ethic and professionalism to the Tasting Room. His positive energy follows him into the Tasting Room every shift.”
Welcome Mike Austin!
Mike entered the Air Force after high school, doing a four-year tour, spending three years at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. For his fourth year, he was transferred to Osan Air Base in South Korea.
This was 1988: for those of you with an extraordinary memory, you may recall that the Summer Olympics were held in Seoul that year, and Mike was lucky enough to attend.
“That was a cool, little diversion,” he says. “Very different from Delaware and Texas. We can somewhat assimilate when we go to Europe, but going to Asia was a totally different animal.”
Mike says that many people in Korea speak English as a second language, but the change in culture was a challenge. And, while Mike wasn’t assigned to the Demilitarized Zone — the DMZ — that separates North from South Korea, he did get to visit.
“I was able to walk to North Korea,” he says. “It was tense, but it’s interesting to see what goes on there day-to-day. That was very interesting and eye-opening, for sure.”
In Panmunjom, the city that sits on the border between North and South Korea, Mike explains how apparent the propaganda from the North can be.
“It’s really a cardboard box,” he explains. “There’s nothing real that goes on there, but they have actors that play out daily routines so it appears that there’s a fully functioning city right there on the border for the South Koreans to see. It’s propaganda at its best.”
He was able to visit the Joint Security Area which contains buildings erected on the border between the two still-technically-warring countries.
“There’s a line that goes right through the table so everything’s 50-50 — you can’t cross a certain line,” he says. “There are stories, anecdotal stories, of people making a run for the border.”
From the Air Force, Mike joined the Delaware State Police, serving the First State for 31 years, from the age of 24 to his forced retirement at 55.
“I turned 55 in June,” he says. “I didn’t have any say in the matter — once you turn 55, you are done with the Delaware State Police.”
Mike wore a few different hats while with the Delaware State Police, including in the K9 unit and flying on the helicopter as an aviation flight paramedic. He ended his career as a Public Information Officer, frequently updating the press.
“That was pretty cool,” he says. “You know, you’d see Vernon Odom on the news, and, all of a sudden, he’s there, asking me questions. That was pretty cool.”
He was also a member of the Delaware State Police Pipe and Drums, playing bagpipes.
“I can’t say that I played well, but you don’t really know if you’re playing well or not,” he jokes. “I’ve been on hiatus since I retired — we are able to go back as retired members –, but I still play and plan on going back.”
Mike says that it opened a lot of doors for him throughout his career.
“We’d do a lot of high-profile functions,” he says, “most of which, unfortunately, were funeral services. If you’ve ever been in a full police officer, line-of-duty funeral, and you’re the one playing bagpipes graveside, it’s humbling.”
Along with his wife of 27 years, Susan, a teacher, and daughters Taylor, 25, who is in commercial real estate in Manhattan, and Makenna, 21, a junior at the University of Delaware, Mike loves outdoor activities, including spending time at the beach and engaging in typical beach activities.
“I surf, my kids surf,” he says. “I’m not going to say I’m a surfer because that would insult some people, in this company, specifically. I’ve transitioned into the old-guy paddleboarding. A lot of running, cycling. It was survival for my job to stay fit, but now my goal is to be actively retired longer than I actually worked. If I get to 86ish, I’ll be happy.”
On a trip to Costa Rica, Mike got to spend some time surfing with one of the biggest names in the sport.
He attempted homebrewing once, about 25 years ago, mainly due to the unexpected opening of a homebrew store near him. But, much like surfing, Mike wouldn’t call himself a homebrewer, either.
“I did one batch,” he recalls. “I had a 20-gallon barrel in my living room, gurgling and burping. It was drinkable — I can’t say it was good — but I got it into bottles and gave it away and people laughed at me.”
When asked about his favorite music, Mike claims, “I’m not a music guy. I’m not a movie guy,” he says, “so I’m lost in a lot of the conversations around the water cooler.”
During the release of Ties the Room Together, Mike missed many of the references to The Big Lebowski.
“But, there were enough clues on the can that I was able to put it together.”
These days, he’s trying to put together all of the pop culture education that he’d missed over the past 35 years.
“All music is new to me now,” he says. “And with Pandora — my kids laugh at me because I don’t know what Spotify is, but I’m a Pandora guy. It’s a slow transition, but all of that old music is new to me. The James Taylor station. I’m appreciating Pink Floyd, now. But it comes back to the beach thing: some Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet, Jack Johnson is a cool vibe. But I’m appreciating some Amy Winehouse, some Shaggy.”
Mike had been preparing for retirement his whole life, and, as a “summer local,” ended up in Cape May with his family.
“The kids kind of laugh at me, because they’ve already been through this,” he says. “They’ve already had jobs at places like Harry’s, Uncle Bill’s, Congress Hall, so they’ve been through the hospitality thing. They think it’s hilarious that I’m doing it now.”
Regardless, Mike has spent a lot of his 55 years visiting Cape May, as his mother’s family owned and operated Seashore Campsites, right up the street from the brewery.
“We’re fortunate to have a house on the island,” Mike says. “You cross the bridge, and you’re in a different world. It’s really amazing. We love to walk or bike everywhere. It’s such a nice combination of the Victorian thing and the laid-back vibe, but there are enough bars and restaurants that checks all of those boxes.”
And he loves all of the year-round activities that Cape May has to offer.
“Fourth of July on Congress Hall lawn is something that’s a destination vacation for some people,” he says, “but we get to do it every year. The West Cape May Christmas Parade goes right by our house. Every month, there’s something like that going on.”
So, when Mike retired, he knew that he’d be spending a lot of his time in Cape May. He made a shortlist of places he’d like to continue working, including selling hot dogs on the beach.
“At this point,” he says, “I want to do something totally different. You know, 35 years in that climate of occupation, I wanted to do something totally different. I’ve never worked in retail, I’ve never worked in hospitality, I’ve never done those kinds of jobs, so this is all new and foreign to me.”
He’s been a fan of Cape May Brewing Company since we opened our doors in 2011.
“We know the area very well and we know Cape May Brewing Company very well — since it opened its doors,” he says. “And it’s always been the same vibe: very friendly and very inviting. It’s always been a cool place — and, even though we weren’t huge craft beer people at the time, the vibe was good and we just liked hanging out.”
In his research for a new place to work, Mike stumbled upon our Core Values, and they seemed to align with his own.
“Specifically, Have Fun — take what you do seriously, but not yourself,” he says. “That’s what I was looking for. And Be a Good Neighbor. Those two things really resonated with me, because that’s what I do. I mean, money’s cool, but that’s not what it’s about at this point.”
Mike says that he was leaning toward charity work with one of the many worthwhile non-profits we have in the area, but Cape May Brewing Company resonated with him a little more.
“But Cape May Brewing Company checked all the boxes,” he says. “This is exactly what I want to do: come in, have fun, and it’s all new to me.”
And he’s been loving the fact that everything is new to him. He’s been here for about two months, and, once the new-guy jitters passed, he finds himself fitting right in.
“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve figured out the big pieces,” he says. “But it’s exactly what I was looking for: you walk in, people are hanging out, having fun. Obviously, the jobs are getting done, but it’s a cool atmosphere.”
He’s also enjoying the diverse ages of people who work in the Tasting Room.
“There are retirees like myself, but then there’s the younger generation,” he says. “You know, because whether you’re a young trooper or an old trooper, you all come from the same mindset and mold. But, here, there are a bunch of different personalities and different perspectives.”
“I’m not disappointed in any way,” he says. “The job is exactly what I was looking for. It’s been a great ride so far.”
He’s enjoying some of the perks, too.
“Coming from a state entity, a government agency, on the taxpayer’s dime, there’s no Christmas bonus, there’s nothing free, there are no little perks,” he says. “So, things like that, it may seem small to some people, but it’s huge, and it does go a long way. Lunch on Thursdays? It goes a long way.”
Obviously, these weren’t things Mike knew before he started working here, but he could tell that Cape May Brewing Company was a place that took care of its employees.
“I knew that every time I came in here, the employees were happy and friendly and they were happy doing their job,” he says. “That’s huge.”
Being a summer guy, it should come as no surprise that Mike points to Tan Limes as his favorite beer.
“Tan Limes is a mindset,” he says. “And that’s another thing we love, the little things that make you love a place, it’s the artwork on the cans. It’s phenomenal. And Tan Limes is that state of mind.”
But, with more exposure to our portfolio, Mike has expanded his horizons, enjoying Captain May IPA, as well.
“It’s creeping up on my list,” he says. “I’m not a huge IPA guy, and Captain May is more along the floral, fruity side, rather than the bitter side of things. It’s a good balance. It’s a good drink. I was always a big wine drinker because I could come home and sip it for a while, and I never did that with beer. But with these, especially Captain May, you can sit and sip and unwind.”
Be sure to say hello to Mike the next time you see him in the Tasting Room!