The inspiring story behind brand-new Mass. brewery Gilded Skull

The first beer from the metal and punk-inspired brand is Gilded Empire, a 7.2 percent ABV New England IPA.

Amy and Neil Kade
Amy and Neil Kade –Courtesy Neil Kade

Neil Kade answers the phone mid-streamer, pausing to chat amid hanging signs and decorations for a baby shower the following day.

“We’re doing a distance-conscious drive-by,” says Kade. He and his wife, Amy, are expecting their first child later this month.

The Kades are founders of Gilded Skull Brewing and Blending Co., a brand new Massachusetts brewery that released its first beer last week. It’s a happy moment for the couple on several levels, and one that almost didn’t occur.

Back in 2012, Neil, a scientist by trade, started geeking out on home-brewing.”I basically came home one day with stuff you’re not supposed to start with — oak barrels and $500 graduated cylinders — and haven’t looked back,” he says.

By 2017, the couple had engaged a lawyer, putting the concept of Gilded Skull to paper.

“Then I got sick,” says Kade, describing symptoms ranging from respiratory distress to severe acid reflux to a swollen abdomen and weight loss. “And I never got better.”

Lots of doctors ran lots of tests. In January 2018 an abdominal scan revealed a mass.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m done. I’m gonna die,’ ” says Kade.

Kade’s diagnosis was cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer. The mass was within a few centimeters of his vena cava. The doctor wasn’t sure if he could get it. Even with surgery, the survival rate for that kind of cancer is below 30 percent; it’s nearly nonexistent without it.

“I found out the day after Christmas if I was going to be a candidate for surgery or if I was going to die,” says Kade.

The news was as good as it could be. Kade was a candidate for the surgery, and he underwent a successful operation, removing the mass with clean margins. Many of his symptoms, though, remained, and Kade is still not in good health. He knows the chances of his cancer returning are high, and that those of his long-term survival are low.

“My life was great,” Kade says of his life before the diagnosis. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I suffer from anxiety and depression, which a lot of people do. I spent a lot of time stuck in my work life doldrums, the hour-and-a-half commute that I had. As soon as you get something like that, that’s the only thing you can think of: That life has been so good, and it just started.”

The metal-inspired Gilded Skull logo. —Courtesy Gilded Skull

The Kades are making the most of his time. Though conditions aren’t perfect, the brewery is a go. The first beer from the metal and punk-inspired brand is Gilded Empire, a 7.2 percent ABV New England IPA hopped with Lotus, Citra, and Cashmere hops. It’s being made at Castle Island in Norwood and distributed throughout Massachusetts through Craft Collective.

“Buying your beer in the store is the weirdest feeling but so cool,” Kade posted a couple days ago on Instagram, holding up a 4-pack.

Kade doesn’t know what the future holds, but says he’s aiming for a new beer release every two to three months.

“There is only now,” he says. “You have to do it now.”

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