Interviews


Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing in California, is a man on a mission, a search for the authentic, no matter if it’s beer, food, or any other of life’s facets.  

“Mediocrity is dumbfounding to me,” Koch said. “One day, the thought of overly commoditized beer will be confusing for people. They’ll say ‘What? You actually drank that?’”

Stone hit the Twin Cities market in a big way this past week with a flurry of events and promotion around some of their decidedly non-mediocre beers including Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Ruination IPA, and the bold Stone Imperial Russian Stout. During a press event at the Happy Gnome I attended yesterday, Koch spoke on a variety of craft beer and industry topics, including preemptively addressing the room full of media by noting “in answer to the question that’s inevitably out there…they sold out years ago.” I failed to ask Koch what WAS his favorite Goose Island beer.   

Founded in 1996 in San Diego, Stone is the 15th largest craft brewery in the country, with international designs that include opening a full-scale production brewery in a yet-to-be named European locale (it’s down to Berlin or Bruges, according to Koch). The brewery is one of the fastest growing in the country, expanding production from a relatively meager 400 barrels in its first year to more than 115,000 in 2010. Not surprisingly, a “significant” amount of the brewery’s overall sales come from its home state, according to Koch. Yet with their rapid expansion, that number is presumably evening out with Minnesota marking the 34th state “to have the distinct honor and privilege of delighting” in Stone’s offerings, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the brewery’s famous “you’re not worthy” attitude and slogan. Tack on its wildly popular Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, an oasis of a gastropub in a sea of chain restaurants that Koch said has helped make a significant economic impact in San Diego thanks to increased beer tourism (ahem, Surly!), and it’s easy to see how Stone has made some huge ripples in the beer industry pond.

“Craft beer is a thing of joy, adventure, and creativity. I’m very proud to be a part of what we do,” Koch said.

Last year, U.S. craft brewers saw volume and sales increases of 11 and 12 percent respectively compared to 2009, according to the Brewers Association. It’s a continuing upward trend for the segment, despite the overall U.S. beer market remaining flat. Yet, craft beer market share by volume still hovers in the 5 percent range, with commodity brewers making up the vast majority. This doesn’t dissuade Koch, however, as he noted Oregon’s craft beer market share is nearly 30 percent, a potential window into what could be possible here in Minnesota.

“Places that do good business, do good business,” Koch said. “If a dozen breweries opened up here and the beer sucked, that would suck for all of us. If we operate on the artisanal side of the equation, the category will succeed. … As Sam (Calagione of Dogfish Head) likes to say, ‘together we are heavy.’”

Personally, I’m pretty pleased to see Stone here, as it saves me a trip to Hudson. Although, I’m having a bit of trouble squaring Koch’s nearly fanatical stance against the likes of Anheuser Busch Inbev while he simultaneously uses ABI’s local Twin Cities distributor to get his products to bars and retailers. Strange bedfellows, I suppose (and not sure what the alternatives might be, Stone is able to self-distribute in California). But with a deluge of out-state breweries flooding the local market recently (with more to come like Brooklyn), it remains to be seen if Minnesota beer drinkers will embrace these new offerings alongside their locally produced brethren, or be paralyzed by too much choice.

Advertisements

Hops can be a beautiful thing. Bitter, floral, and full of life. In fact, one of my greatest-ever fresh hop experiences took place one day on a golf course in St. Paul…at the turn I bought a hot dog and a Summit EPA on draught from a newly tapped keg. I took one sip, and the hops just exploded off the beer. I promptly threw away the uneaten dog, as there was no sense in confusing my palate. I wanted to completely enjoy the freshest tasting beer I had have ever come across.  

But we’ve all heard it before… 

“Nice IPA, but it’s been on the shelf for a few months and the hops have really faded.” 

I’ve certainly noticed this phenomenon in commercial beers, as well as my own home brew, and don’t doubt that many styles such as pale ales, IPAs and some lagers really do benefit from being enjoyed as freshly as possible to get that true hop bite and wonderful bouquet. On the flipside, other styles such as barleywines can benefit from aging to let the hops mellow out and fade into the malty background over time. 

But what’s the science behind it all? How much DO hops really fade over time? Does age have more impact on aroma, or does it also affect bitterness? At what point do hops start taking a noticeable nose dive…a couple weeks? a month? longer?

To try and find some answers, I first turned to Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada and one of the pioneers of the craft beer industry in this country. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is considered by most to be the protoypical hoppy American ale, a hop bomb in its day that helped define an entire category and pave the way for literally thousands of other American-style pale ales and IPAs over the past several decades. Starting in 2002, the brewery began growing nearly three acres of hops on its own grounds, primarily focused on Cascade and Chinook used exclusively in their Estate Ale series, with a more recent four acre addition in 2008 that has made room for some experimental varieties.

According to Grossman, hop degradation is a complex mix of variables, at an early stage determined by how the hop was grown and handled prior to brewing.

“We actually have been focusing on hop aroma analysis and hop chemistry for many years, and have devoted significant resources in this area,” Grossman said. “Just to name a few variables, the crop year and harvest maturity can have a great influence. If you are using dried hops – rather than fresh picked  – kilning methods and temperature will have some influence on aroma. Storage conditions after harvest will also change the aroma characteristics greatly. Some of the ‘noble’  aromas in European hops are thought to be from warm storage and oxidation directly after harvest, and some types of hops develop ‘cheesy’ off flavors if not stored cold.”

Once hops are used in the brewing process, a whole different set of complex variables come into play. The bittering and aromatic characteristics of hops come from resins in the hop flower, which are made up of alpha and beta acids. Different hop varieties have different levels of each acid, making some more desirable for bittering as the alpha acids are isomerized in the brew kettle, and others better for lending a floral nose thanks to the beta acids left behind after boiling. 

“From addition times in the kettle, dry hopping, loss of oils from different fermentation temperatures,  and fermenter design, the list of variables impacting aroma and bitterness goes on and on,” said Grossman. “But in a nutshell fresh hops are better in our opinion, if you are looking for lots of clean robust aroma.”

Tom Nielsen, Sierra Nevada’s senior research analyst focused on hop degradation, says that their research has shown that after about two and a half to three months, hop aroma in a packaged beer, derived mainly from beta acids in the hop flower, has already started to diminish significantly. It’s a sentiment backed by Patrick Langlois at Great Divide in Denver, brewers of notable hoppy beers including their Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Titan IPA, and Hercules Double IPA. “Hops tend to dissipate in three to four months, which is why that is the recommended shelf life for most of our beers.” 

According to Nielsen, agitation during shipping can be a significant contributing factor to degradation in aroma. As a beer sits on delivery trucks and eventually finds it way to your local liquor store, the beer’s aromas can be kicked up through the head space and slowly forced out of the crown liner, a process Sierra Nevada refers to as scalping. Nielsen also says oxygen will destroy hop aroma very quickly, whether naturally over time, or through the bottling process.

“We’ve found the hop aroma of a fresh beer shipped overnight from Boston compared to the same beer that just sat here  in Chico was very much reduced,” said Nielsen.  “This degradation doesn’t noticeably impact bitterness. But since aroma plays a significant role in your perception of taste, it can greatly influence your overall enjoyment of the beer.”

Gerri Kustelski, director of quality assurance at Summit Brewing in St. Paul, agrees.

“Organoleptically, there may well be discernable changes,” Kustelski said. “Bitterness can be masked by oxidation and aging, and aroma even more so.  You begin to slowly lose the aroma imparted by dry hopping fairly quickly, possibly within several weeks.  Packaging and distribution processes including shipping and temperature control can affect the flavor stability of beer and, thus, affect the perception of hop aromas and bitterness.” 

The relative levels of alpha and beta acid compounds in a packaged beer also lends perspective to how sensitive and fragile hops can be.

“Aroma compounds are typically measured in parts per billion, compared to bittering compounds which are evaluated in parts per million,” Nielsen said. “If you lose half of your aroma compounds through agitation in shipping, that’s a much more dramatic degradation compared to bitterness. When you’re talking about aging a beer for many years, like our BigFoot Barleywine, the bitterness will eventually fade and change character, but generally speaking aroma is the first component to quickly fall out.”

Once the beer does arrive at your local bottle store or watering hole, some retailers take extra steps to ensure their beer loving customers are able to enjoy the product as closely as possible to how the brewer intended it.

“We certainly do take extra steps to make sure the beer you buy is as good as it can be,” said Jason Alvey, owner of The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park. “We keep the store as cold as we can so even the beer that is not refrigerated is nice and cool. We eliminate sunlight and filter all our lights for U.V. which can of course create a chemical reaction with the hop acids and skunk the beer. But by far the one thing that has the biggest effect is product turnover. We do not have beer that sits around on our shelves for months and months, so the beer you buy from us is as fresh as it can be. Unless of course you are buying a vintage beer that has been carefully aged in one of our climate controlled cellar fridges!”

The bottom line: if you’re interested in getting that full-on, hoppy experience in both aroma and flavor, heed the advice of many hop heads out there. Fresh really is best.

For anyone who’s spent any amount of time fiddling with a fermentor or enjoying a nice cold homebrew on a summer evening, Charlie Papazian is a man that needs no introduction.

His continued and untiring efforts since the late 1970’s to promote homebrewing and craft beer in this country — which include founding the American Homebrewers Association in 1978, the Brewers Association in 1979, creating the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, and writing the seminal book on homebrewing in 1984 — have unquestionably made him one of the most important figures in the industry.

With the American Homebrewers Association’s National Conference hitting the Twin Cities this coming June, I recently had the opportunity to connect with Charlie about his perspectives on the growth in homebrewing, and how the craft beer industry has changed over the last several decades:

TC: The craft beer industry has undergone monumental growth since the early 1980’s. How has homebrewing played a role in this shift since you founded the American Homebrewers Association in 1978 and Brewers Association in 1979? 

CP: Homebrewers were and still are the foundation of the craft brewing community. Nearly all of the cutting edge and traditional styles of beer were elevated and championed by homebrewers.  They still are the vanguard of experimentation.

TC: What are your perspectives on how the Twin Cities – compared to other beer destinations on the coasts – has evolved as a beer culture the past couple decades?  

CP: I don’t have recent perspective on the Twin Cities beer community.  But I’m looking forward to the visit in June.

TC: Your book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, is considered by many to be the bible of homebrewers around the world. Since it was first published in 1984, how has homebrewing grown and changed in this country? What challenges or obstacles still exist in expanding homebrewing?

CP: Used to be you brewed because you couldn’t get a variety.  Now homebrewing is even more about the enjoyment of the hobby, and then going beyond that to make exactly the kind of beer you want to enjoy, as well as beer types you can’t get fresh otherwise.  Also, it’s damned fun!

TC: What’s been the most significant innovation in homebrewing equipment/technology/ingredients since you started? What kinds of innovations do you see having an impact over the next 20 years? 

CP: Quality yeast accessibility, no doubt.  Fresh hops and variety second, with variety in malt third.

TC: The Great American Beer Festival celebrated its 28th consecutive year this past September. How was your GABF experience this year? And what trends stood out in your mind?   

CP: It was fun. How can you really describe the Great American Beer Festival without actually being there! The biggest trend seems to be that increasingly more attendees are really serious about tasting all kinds of beer – and having fun.

TC: What have been some of your favorite, go-to recipes you’ve developed over the years?  

CP: Ordinary bitter a la Brakspears, Czech dark Lager a la U Flecku, Czech old style golden lager, imperial porter, cherrywood smoked malt lager, oatmeal stout, and a juniper chokecherry ale.

TC: What’s in the fermentor right now?   

CP: Lagering now, I have my Rogerfest cherrywood smoked lager #2, imperial porter, a Maerzen old style, and a Czech golden lager. 

TC: What advice would you give folks just starting out with their first batch of beer? 

CP: Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!

For more information and to register for the 2010 AHA National Conference, visit the American Homebrewers Association website.

DSC02967

In some respects, one could consider Michelob Anheuser-Busch’s craft brand (if you’d like to take it that far).

Sure, they pump out millions upon millions of barrels of watery, adjunct-laden fizzy beer like Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Ultra (yikes), and the ill-conceived Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus. But, like most of the larger brewers, they’ve flexed their national marketing clout and stolen a page out of the small craft brewers’ playbook to bring out a number of more flavorful beers, catering to what I’d call a transitional craft consumer…folks that reflexively walk into a liquor store to buy their standard case of [insert macro swill here], and instead walk out with a six pack of something like Shock Top. Are they realistically going to sway the 4% of the market that actively seeks out higher quality offerings from small, independent craft brewers? Unlikely, and it’s clearly not their goal. But the sheer volume of A-B’s captive audience makes the marketing proposition for the rest of the beer drinking public a good one for them.

DSC02969

At GABF, I had the chance to attend a private tasting with Michelob to sample a number of their new and experimental beers, including the recently introduced Michelob Rye Pale Ale, which just hit the Twin Cities market within the past couple weeks. Rye P.A. fits neatly into this oxymoronic category of macro craft, and to my own surprise, I found it to be actually pretty darn good.

DSC02979

According to Adam Goodson, their head brewmaster I spoke with, they brew with caramel and other specialty grains (he left out what I suspect is the main part of the grain bill…corn or rice), and you certainly pick up a very rich, toffee-like malt flavor that’s complemented by the spicyness of the rye. They also use five different hop varieties including Cascade and Columbus that put it on par with a number of more notable pale ales and IPAs on the market at 50 IBUs. However, I hesitate to call this a straight up IPA, as in addition to rye they also add grains of paradise for a nice pepper note in the aroma, and condition on a bed of juniper berries for a very faint acidic note in the finish. Overall, a pretty interesting beer.

In addition to the commercially available Rye P.A., I also sampled a handful of their experimental beers that aren’t on the market (and likely never will be), including a pear ale and a doppelbock. According to Goodson, at any given time Michelob has between ten to fifteen different beers working their way through the development cycle, with possibly one or two ever seeing the light of day. The pear ale was interesting, fairly light with just a hint of the pear in the aroma, but seemed more like some of their other standard offerings that had been gently infused with pear extract. The doppelbock was a winner, in my opinion, with a nice malty backbone and caramelized flavoring. Of any of the developmental beers, I’m hoping this one makes the cut.

While I perused the beers, I also chatted with Florian Kuplent, an incredibly nice and intelligent guy who leads Michelob’s yeast development group, and learned about the company’s ongoing research that includes a library of more than 300 unique strains, including a handful of Brettanomyces. Interestingly, they used one of these Brett strains for their single experimental barrel of Michelob Brett (seriously), one of the better beers I had at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting charity event during GABF (more to come on that).

DSC02970

DSC03095

Skipping your honeymoon to brew your first batch of commercial beer usually isn’t an auspicious way to start your marriage. But for Brian Dunn and his wife, co-founders of the very successful Great Divide Brewing Co., it seems things have worked out just fine. 

The welcoming aroma of toasty malt immediately struck me as I wandered up to the brewery, discretely tucked in an unassuming brick building that at one time housed a 1930s-era dairy. Just a cut-off throw from Coors Field in an industrialized area of downtown Denver, one might miss it if not for the small lighted sign perched on the corner of the facility, or the cluster of GABF attendees and regulars crowding the small sidewalk patio outside while I was there.

DSC03108The brewery took shape in 1994 when Dunn, after traveling the world and earning a graduate degree in environmental studies, realized he wanted to take his passion for homebrewing to the next level. He set about writing a business plan and securing funding from investors. But after coming up about $50,000 short on financing for the business, he made a deal with the city that enabled him to make up the difference in return for ongoing job development and cleanup of the surrounding neighborhood, a relatively destitute segment of the downtown district.

“It was a creative way to get the initial funding we needed, something I didn’t realize was an option going into things.”

The brewery itself is a gritty, cavernous labrynth of rooms, leading from the main brewhouse up front complete with a tangle of pipes connecting mash tuns and fermentation vessels, through a dark, low-ceilinged passageway to the bottling and packaging area, and finally into the cool warehouse lined with pallets of kegs and bottles ready for shipment.  

The brewery’s tap room, a relatively recent addition, greets visitors with some incredible beers like their Hoss, a Marzen-style lager brewed with rye that delivers a spicy, dark-fruit malt character, or the brewery’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale, made with fresh whole hop cones shipped overnight from the Pacific northwest. And according to Dunn, freshness is something he and his staff take very seriously.

“We invested about $100,000 in printing technology for the bottling line to stamp born-on dates on all the beers leaving the brewery,” he said. “Not all of our beers are necessarily meant to be consumed right away, but our customers will be better informed and able to decide whether they want to age the beer, or enjoy then and there.”

The brewery’s sixteen GABF medals (including three this year) are a testament to the quality of their beer, and indicative of their enormous popularity in Denver and markets like the Twin Cities with readily available year-round and seasonal offerings like Titan IPA, Hercules Double IPA and The Yeti.

“Running the brewery hasn’t always been easy…there’s been some very lean years where we weren’t sure if we were going to make it,” explained Dunn. “Our revenue is up 60 percent so far this year, so we’re feeling very fortunate. We’re very excited for what the future holds.”

DSC03097

DSC03099

DSC03098

DSC03107

DSC03111

DSC03212

The names Ben Miller, Michael Robinson and Jeremy White probably don’t ring a bell. But coming to a variety six pack near you in April 2010, their beers will be available as this year’s winners of the annual Samuel Adams American Homebrew Contest, more commonly known as The LongShot. 

The competition, which started back in 1996 with just a couple hundred entries, pared down more than 1,300 beers from homebrewers nationwide to four finalists, with two of those beers going on to be commercially developed and sold nationwide. The competition also included a separate employee-only segment that selected one winner from nearly 300 entries submitted by the Boston Beer Company’s non-brewing staff, or just about 80 percent of the company.

I had a chance to talk with Jim Koch, founder of the company and a key figure behind the rise of craft beer in this country, who explained his own Sam Adams Boston Lager started off as a homebrew recipe in his kitchen more than 25 years ago. But according to Koch, “compared to this year’s winning entries, it frankly wasn’t as good.” 

DSC03171With a majority of today’s 1,500 commercial craft brewers first learning the ropes on an amateur level, the connection between homebrewing and the craft beer industry is arguably one of the greatest contributors to the explosive growth seen in the segment over the past couple decades. And Koch sees the competition as a way to highlight the link.

“The diversity of beers at the Great American Beer Festival is mindblowing, and many of these styles are a direct result of homebrewers developing these beers in their garages and on their stove tops,” said Koch. “This competition is our way of celebrating these pioneers, and reminding everyone that the roots of the U.S. craft beer industry are in homebrewing.”

According to Koch, the GABF did not exist twenty-five years ago as the standalone, economically viable event that it has become today. Instead, it was attached (almost as an afterthought) to the last day of the much larger American Homebrewers Association conference. “They were gracious enough to tolerate this handful of nut jobs who tried to go pro,” Koch said.

The winning LongShot beers were, as expected, superbly well done. Interestingly, the two non-employee winners both brewed beers relatively similar from a stylistic standpoint, which had everything to do with the quality of the beers as opposed to marketing considerations, Koch explained.

Michael Robinson’s Old Ale
A malty, English-style ale with notes of dried fruit, nut and caramel. Michael, a homebrewer from New Hampshire, used five different malts in the grain bill, and a distinctively English-style yeast strain to give the beer its character. Coming in at 9% ABV, it’s definitely not your average session beer. Mike was also recognized as a finalist in last year’s LongShot competition, as well as the 2007 Samuel Adams Patriot Homebrew Contest.

Ben Miller’s Barleywine
A dark red beer boasting plum undertones to complement the distinct caramel malt flavor. Ben used five hop varieties to give the beer its citrus nose and bitter finish. This was Ben’s 100th batch of homebrew in just under two years (he’s been busy), and coincidentally just an hour after winning the LongShot competition, he also won a Gold Medal at the GABF for his IPA that he brewed with Jeff Erway, brewmaster at Chama River Brewing Co. in Albuquerque, for the Pro-Am portion of the competition. I’m almost scared to see what this extremely talented homebrewer will come up with next.

Jeremy White’s Lemon Pepper Saison
Judging by the quality of his beer, you’d never guess Jeremy spends most of his time working as a member of the Boston Beer Company’s IT staff. His saison is a beautifully balanced yeast-forward beer with hints of citrus and pepper in the nose, and a light malt character. A truly drinkable beer.   

DSC03169DSC03156DSC03165

At some point along the way, the thought creeps into the mind of every serious homebrewer.

Spend years perfecting your craft, churning out batch after batch to zero in on the perfect recipes. Develop a business plan. Revise the business plan. Make connections, and possibly consider outside investment. Convince your spouse that this is in fact not an insanely crazy idea, and yes honey, we will indeed have enough money to pay the bills and keep the kids in diapers (fingers crossed). Find a brewhouse, likely used, and a place to put it. Contract with a malting company. Navigate local city zoning ordinances. Figure out distribution strategy. Flip the switch, and pray that the beer lovers flock.

Easier said than done, of course. And entirely oversimplified.

But this is the long and winding path taken by many brewers, including Eric Biermann, founder and brewmaster of what, if he has his say over the next year or so, will eventually become the Twin Cities newest microbrewery, Lucid Brewing.

Anyone named Biermann almost doesn’t have a chance to do anything BUT brew craft beer. And brew craft beer he has…hundreds of batches over the past 10 years refining his stable of recipes for what he hopes will be a core line of balanced offerings with potential for artisan-style seasonals. Lucid is proof positive that, despite the Minnesota state legislature’s best efforts recently with its proposed (and failed) brewery excise tax, brewing culture and industry is still strong and thriving in the state.

I had a chance to talk with Eric recently, and discuss what it’s like taking the plunge into the world of microbrewing entrepreneurship.

THE CAPTAIN (ME): Tell me about Lucid Brewing…what sparked the idea and what’s your vision?

ERIC BIERMANN (EB): I’ve been homebrewing for about ten-ish years. It all started when my friend Jeff and I went to happy hour at the Old Chicago in Apple Valley. Old Chicago became our hookup for our new gateway drug known as craft beer. As a matter of fact, our addiction had us finishing our first World Beer Tour in a little more than a month. Amazing…spend a bit more money on your beer and get some awesome flavor.

I ended up moving to Uptown and started frequenting the Old Chicago there and the peanut bar at Williams. Then out of nowhere, Jeff comes over to my house with a beer kit. What, you can make your own beer? It’s legal? The next thing you know I’m buying an all-grain system from a guy named Collin at Midwest Supplies (by the way, a few years later, my path crossed with Collin again…he’s the guy making the awesome beer I often drink at Barley John’s). The all-grain system has grown more complex, as has the beer. I’ve always had a passion for cooking, and brewing beer is just another form of cooking. The Minnesota Home Brewers Assocation has been great for beer – I have gotten to know a lot of local brewers and have learned a lot.  I also took a Beer Judge Certification Program course a few years back which really introduced me to the technical side. Over the years, I’ve just gotten more and more interested in all aspects of beer production: the ingredients, flavors, body styles, and clarity you can create.

As for venturing into the commercial side, the idea really took hold at a bar in California (surprise, surprise).  My wife and I were skiing and snowboarding in Tahoe and we were working our way through a local brewpub’s sampler.  They had a variety of beers that were pretty good, not anything particularly extreme – unlike what you see in a lot of beers today – and they seemed to have a good business going.  I started mentally comparing them to all the beers I have made and just realized that my brews could stand up against any of these.  You can do the wild, extreme beers, but also do great beers that can appeal to a broader audience that may normally gravitate to macro-produced beers. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of friends and family to test on. My trick was to create a beer that appealed to them, without muting its flavors, but by balancing the different aspects of the beer and by changing some of the ingredients to round out the flavor. I knew my recipe was where it needed to be when both my macro-produced beer drinking friends and my home brew friends both really liked the beer.

ME: Are you working with anyone else to get things off the ground?

EB: Currently, this is a venture between my wife and me. We are open to other partners depending on what they bring to the table. Friends and family have been supportive, but some think we may be somewhat on the crazy side.

ME: What types of beers are you planning to focus on? Any particular styles, historical approaches, seasonal considerations?

EB: I cannot say for sure which beers Lucid Brewing will begin brewing first. This final call will be made when we are closer to being in production. Lucid Brewing will be offering a variety of styles, some of which may not meet any particular style. The main line of beers will not be extreme in nature, but more balanced and well-rounded. Lucid Brewing does have plans to offer a second line, which may be our seasonal offering, that will be more artisan in design and method. Don’t be surprised if you see a few open fermenters in the brewery or a few other old school items. We’d like to experiment with local ingredients or organic, if possible.  

ME: What influenced these stylistic decisions? 

EB: We just love having fun with beer.  We brew all kinds of styles as well as experiment off the “defined” style guidelines.  The basic criteria is that it has to use good quality ingredients, taste good and be fun. And we hope that gets across to the people that drink it.  We are looking more to complement a good and growing Minnesota craft beer market.  I think people are always thirsty for something new and different, and we can certainly offer that.  We also hope to offer some great alternatives to macro-drinking consumers.  We weren’t necessarily looking for gaps in what’s currently out there, but we do have a few ideas – it’s early yet.  

ME: How long have you been working on the recipes?

EB: Some base recipes go back several years and are where we want them to be. Other recipes have only been brewed once. It’s exciting to see what you get from a recipe you had for years, that makes a very tasty beer, and change one thing to find out what type of overall impact it has on the beer. More exciting is when a recipe is completely created from scratch, something that has never been done before, does not meet a particular style, just doing some research and applying what you know about ingredients and putting it together. Sometimes these new recipes come through needing only a minor tweak and other times they make me rethink the entire recipe. This is something I can do currently on a small scale to make sure the recipes are in order when the production brewery is online. Most exciting is when someone tries your beer and has the Frank the Tank response, “Fill it up again….!”

ME: I see on your blog you’re planning to attend brewers school early next year.

EB: I’m currently taking a chemistry class and will be taking another this fall. In January I start brewing school with the American Brewer’s Guild, which will wrap-up the following summer with an internship.

ME: Where are you in the process right now with the actual facility and brewhouse?

EB: Right now I’m doing a ton of research on equipment size, pricing and availability. We also have been scoping out several locations. Once we narrow down the location selection, we will begin procuring production equipment. We have ordered our pilot brewhouse, which should be delivered the end of August.

ME: Any consideration for location?

EB: The for sure thing is that the location of the brewery will be in the Twin Cities metro area. I personally want to locate the brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. The reality of this depends on many things aligning, including a few planets. We briefly explored Wisconsin, but even though I grew up in rural Minnesota, our family really likes living in the “city” and we do not want to move to a more rural area to take advantage of Wisconsin’s friendlier brewing laws.

ME: What kind of advice or consultation have you sought through this process? Talk to any other local or national brewers?

EB: I have chatted with many brewers that have been generous in their advice to me. Most of my consultation has been with brewers of recently-opened breweries or soon-to-open breweries. Other consultation has come from a few equipment suppliers. As we get closer to ordering equipment, I will be seeking the services of a professional brewery planning consultant.

ME: I notice on your blog you’ve attended some industry events, like the recently held Craft Brewers Conference in Boston. What was your experience there like?

EB: The overall experience was awesome. The craft brewing industry as a whole has been doing quite well and the energy at the conference reflected it. My wife and I went on numerous brewery and brewpub tours and sampled many different beers. The days were long, but the knowledge gained from the seminars and networking was invaluable for someone in our position. We talked with brewers from as close as Brooklyn Center to as far away as Norway and many more from all over the United States. Some of the connections have been great resources in helping to make some difficult decisions and others have been great for just chatting and comparing ideas. I’ve also attended a few classes held locally by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.

ME: What’s your general timeline for being production-ready?

EB: Original target is fall of 2010, but don’t be shocked if we’re pushed back to spring or summer 2011. Unexpected things are expected when starting a brewery.

ME: How are you packaging?

EB: We’ll initially be available only in kegs, but hope to get bottling within a few months. Of course, we will be filling growlers and bombers from the start.

ME: Distribution strategy?

EB: This is still up in the air, but we are leaning towards starting with self-distribution. Lucid Brewing will make sure its capacity can fulfill the local market demand before distributing to regional and national markets.

ME: What’s been the most rewarding thing about this experience so far?

EB: I am apt to say it’s the learning process. It is a big step to move from the home brew size up to the production brewery level. There is a ton to learn and thankfully there are resources available to get the necessary education.

ME: How about the most challenging?

EB: Being able to decipher through an equipment supplier’s bid and figure out what is and is not included. Then do the same with another equipment supplier’s bid and attempt to compare the two.

ME: Any unexpected hurdles or roadblocks?

EB: So far so good but it’s still early. Keep your fingers crossed and wrapped around a good beer.

ME: What’s in your beer fridge right now?

EB: Well, mainly stuff I’ve made: 100% Willamette hopped IPA, Schwarzbier, Classic American Pilsner, Mayan Chocolate black ale, Cherry hefeweizen, American hefeweizen, Saison, another IPA, cream ale, Russian Imperial Stout, and a couple cans of Colt 45 (It works every time). I’m sure there are a few other items I bought tucked in the beer fridge somewhere.

Check out the Lucid Brewing blog at www.lucidbrewing.com.

Next Page »