Editor’s Note: Domer Diaries is a storytelling series from the Alumni Association where members of the Notre Dame family tell their stories in their own words. This week’s Domer Diaries comes from Cameron Compton ’10, co-founder and head brewer at Midwest Coast Brewing in West Town, Chicago. The family-friendly and dog-friendly taproom opened in late 2019 and boasts a “mug club” membership program that sold out in both 2022 and 2023.
Name: Cameron Compton
Class Year: 2010
Residence Hall: Fisher Hall
Occupation: Co-Founder and Head Brewer, Midwest Coast Brewing
Local Notre Dame Club: ND Club of Chicago
How did you end up in your current career?
Brewing beer was never something I thought would be in the cards for me. Right after graduating in 2010, and I do mean right after, sometime in early June, my roommate and I (Aron O’Connor ’10) had moved to San Jose, California, to start our post-college lives. We were literally just looking for weekend hobbies. We figured we’d give beer-making a try! It was a traditional Irish red ale, and it actually turned out pretty good — probably because we bought a pre-packaged kit and followed the instructions to the letter. We got a little ahead of ourselves for batch two and tried coming up with our own recipe, cutting corners we thought were unnecessary. It was utterly abysmal. All five gallons went down the drain after we managed to stomach a bottle or two.
From the first batch, however, I was hooked. The brewing process gives off this wonderful bready aroma that I still get excited over. It fills the brewery and spills out into the street and I just love it. After serving for a few years in the Navy, I continued homebrewing throughout my post-military life, always thinking “some day” I’ll actually make the leap into opening my own brewery. I was looking to leave the company I was working for in early 2017 and was thinking of just heading to another tech company, but with the convincing of my older sister and then-girlfriend, now-wife, Suzie, we decided now was the time. After two and a half years of navigating Chicago politics to get the permits we needed to open our business and using that time to learn all about the professional brewing world from some excellent mentors around the country, Midwest Coast Brewing was ready to open in August 2019.
As a long-time Californian, what led you to build your craft-brewery career in the Midwest?
When we first started discussing putting together a plan for opening our own business in early 2017, the craft beer market in the U.S. was very different than it is today. California is considered by many to be ground zero for the craft beer boom over the last 15 or so years and that’s where I was first introduced to it, living in both Northern and Southern California my entire life up until age 28 — other than my time at Notre Dame. The craft beer market in California seemed incredibly saturated and we wanted to experience living somewhere else. Suzie and I started looking at anywhere we could put down roots for 10-15 years seeing as we were opening a brick-and-mortar business.
We briefly considered a few other cities, but ultimately Chicago seemed the obvious choice. We had a large built-in network of friends here due to its proximity to Notre Dame and in early 2017 Chicago seemed on the verge of exploding as a craft beer market. Turns out we were right. I believe Chicago currently has the most breweries of any city in the nation, although per capita it’s nowhere near the top of the list thanks to places like Portland, Oregon, and Asheville, North Carolina. It's a city that loves its beer and there are a lot of great breweries here making excellent beer. We’re thrilled to be part of such a great brewing community.
Why did you choose Notre Dame? Do you have any favorite memories of your time on campus?
Like brewing, I never considered Notre Dame growing up. I honestly didn’t know much about it, other than it was a great school and they’d off and on had some quality football. I grew up Protestant, I’d never seen Rudy, and I was pretty sure Notre Dame was somewhere on the East Coast. My first real introduction to ND was when my older sister began looking at colleges when I was in middle school. While I was confident I’d remain a Californian for life, she was confident she wanted to go to school anywhere else. She ended up attending Duke, but one school visit on which I tagged along was to Notre Dame. It was spring of either 2000 or 2001 and we showed up during the Bookstore Basketball tournament. The only team I remember seeing was dressed up like Jesus and the disciples. They were very bad — probably because Judas kept giving the ball to the other team. I thought that was hilarious, and while it certainly wasn’t why I attended Notre Dame, it’s a fond first memory.
A few years later, it was my turn to apply to colleges. I’d learned a lot more about Notre Dame and it was officially on my short list. When I was accepted, it was a difficult choice to leave the sunny and warm San Francisco Bay Area for South Bend, but it was easily one of the best decisions of my life. I wouldn’t trade my time at Notre Dame for anything. Many of my absolute closest friends to this day were on my floor as freshmen in Fisher. Shedding my coastal elitism for the Midwest is a decision I’ll never regret, although we do refer to our Mug Club at the brewery as the Midwest Coastal Elite.