Problem Solved: Math Major Brews Up Success

A math teacher walks into a, wait, that’s not how the joke goes. But that’s the case for Alan Bukowinski ’09/G’12. He’s in his 11th year of teaching math at RHAM (Regional Hebron, Andover, and Marlborough) High School in Hebron, CT, and he’s the co-owner of Problem Solved Brewing in East Windsor, CT.

Bukowinski’s passion for brewing began before graduation when he bought a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit his senior year. He remembers bottling a pale ale in two-liter 7UP bottles that his roommates called “Buko’s Brew.” Once he got a job after college, he began to pour competitively and took frequent trips to a homebrew store in East Hartford, where he met his current business partner, who has a background in engineering.

The pair decided opening a brewery was a possibility and began searching for a location. After looking at a few places in Connecticut, they stumbled into their current building—the former home of Broad Brook Brewing. “I knew they were leaving and I thought, why don't we just try calling?” Bukowinski says. “Sure enough, they were vacating and no one picked up their spot. The rent was where it needed to be, so we started moving on that.”

Next came the tricky part: naming the brewery. Bukowinski and his business partner went back and forth, throwing lists of names at each other, and they could not find the perfect one. Then one day something clicked. “I said Problem Solved, because of our math and engineering backgrounds,” Bukowinski says, but it was originally turned down as an option. “A week later, he sent me a list back that had Problem Solved in it, not remembering he already said no to it. I thought, wait, we agree on something!”

Bukowinski handles the operations of Problem Solved, doing tasks he can do remotely, like ordering, accounting, scheduling taproom shifts, and managing the brewery’s social media accounts. During the school year, he’s pulling double duty. “I’ll have school all week, and then on a Thursday, I'll come in for a taproom shift,” he explains.

“I’ll drive from RHAM up here, be here for three o'clock open and then [work] three o’clock ’till like 9:00. Then at 9:00 I close up shop and start it all over the next day.” He works two taproom shifts a week and gives credit to his wife, who has supported him and Problem Solved from day one, and his business partner for handling the day-to-day brewing.

Although he didn’t major in brewing—how cool would that be, though?—Bukowinski has found many of the skills he learned at Western New England transferable to owning a brewery: “In terms of what I learned to become a teacher, I mean, you have to be very personable with owning a business. You have to be able to talk to people.” Additionally, the problem-solving skills he acquired through his math classes have been beneficial when challenges arise, whether it’s a broken part or finding the money for new equipment.

Algebra 2 Textbook Proves Valuable Outside the Classroom

His math background is also helpful when it comes to naming the beers. The goal is to keep the names as math and engineering-related as possible. “We do get a lot of people that come in here and kind of geek out a little bit,” Bukowinski says with a laugh. “They’re like, ‘oh, these are my people!’” Sometimes naming a beer is almost as challenging as solving a calculus problem. Bukowinski admits he’s opened his Algebra 2 textbook and picked from terms in there.

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A few beers include Base Case and The Origin. Base Case is from the proof of induction and The Origin is the initial point on the XY plane. It’s also the very first beer brewed at Problem Solved. Bukowinski says that they try to keep a balanced tap list so there’s something for everyone.

Merging the concept of a start-up brewery with the math and engineering theme as both a brand and a way of life started off as a puzzle that took form slowly, but now it seems that all of the pieces have fallen together. 

Problem Solved recently celebrated its first anniversary in September, and the name “Problem Solved” has already taken on a mind of its own, according to Bukowinski. “You know, oh, ‘Rough week at work? Problem solved!’”