Interview with Van Havig of Gigantic Brewing Company

Some things just take longer: Interviews last longer than expected. Transcribing the interview takes longer than hoped. The duration of both was, let’s say of gigantic proportions, thus somewhat fitting for an interview with Van Havig of the Gigantic Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. The interview took place a few months ago, but don’t panic, we have put updates where updates were applicable. The interview also went on for about an hour. As Van had a lot of very interesting things to say, we did not radically shorten it. Thus, this might take a bit longer to read. So, get a beer, sit down, let’s go.

When you read about Gigantic, something that pops up quite frequently is music. For example you took part in the B-Sides project and you talked about how you’d like there being an original song in connection to your beer releases. Has that happened yet?

Well, we are still pretty young – we’re only five years old. It is something we are still working on. However, there’s this beer called “Kiss The Goat” that we released last January. That actually has a 7” record that goes along with it. It’s by a band called Sons Of Huns, who are playing heavy metal and sound a lot like Black Sabbath.
[Update: So this is a year old, and since then we’ve been working with the local record label Tender Loving Empire.  Now, each of our new releases has a QR code that links you to a song.  We try to have is somehow match the beer.  Either in mood, name or feel.]

How did that happen?

There was this short-lived festival in Portland called The Malt Ball. It was a local alternative weekly, matching up bands with breweries with them getting together to brew a beer. Then there would be sort of a beer festival and concert.
They matched us up with Sons of Huns. They are so metal and with that name, we just knew we had to make a black Bock and call it Kiss The Goat.
The name comes from a Coven record from ’68 or ’69. Coven was the first band to do the satanic thing. They were pre-metal, so their music was more psychedelic, but the lyrics were all about witchcraft and sorcery. On the end of their first side, they have the entire satanic mass. The culmination of the satanic mass is when the acolyte – and they got some British girl with the most innocent sounding voice – says that she’ll wed herself to Satan and the priest goes: “Hold the shavings in your hand, and turn and kiss the goat!” Apparently, that’s when you’re wed to Satan: When you kissed the goat.

That Malt Ball sounds like one of the most Portland things I’ve ever heard of.

Yeah, it was pretty Portland-y. We did it two years and got matched up with really good bands, actually. Sons of Huns is great. The other band was Summer Cannibals – they’ve actually started to get a little bit of press. They are young, two women and two guys, really influenced by Patti Smith. They are really cool and super awesome live.

I tried to figure what the equivalent of the way you brew beer would be in music. The best I came up with was that you compose a song, perform and burn it on a self-destructing CD and then never ever release or do the song again.

We would perform it for three months and then be like “I’m done with that”. I would be like Nick Cave: “I wrote well over 400 songs, I cannot remember them all!”

You’ve talked about doing a “Greatest Hits” for a while now. Will that ever happen?

Yeah, I think it’s going to happen this year. You know, the Eagles have done theirs after five years – so that’s the big joke. With this year being our fifth, honestly, the idea is to reprise some of the people’s favorite beers this year.
[Update: That is happening right now – we’re in the middle of brewing Axes of Evil and The City Never Sleeps, the first two seasonals we ever did.]

You always say that it’ll be the people’s favorites. But are there some that you want to re-do?

Clearly. People are going to vote. However, I don’t know if the UN is going to sanction those elections.
There’s definitely some beers that I want to make again and there’s some beers that Ben Love [co-founder of Gigantic – ed.] wants to make again. For various reasons, but mainly they are beers that we like to drink and some that we like to make.

Is this something that happens: You like a beer so much that a good portion of it will go into your own belly or basement?

God no. I am an after work drinker: I have a pint or two after work here. I may take a little bit of beer home, but honestly, I don’t really drink beer at home.
At one of my previous breweries, during the 1996 World Cup – so this was like the height of my brewing career (joke)– the timing was great: I was working on the east coast and the tournament was in France. We could get to work a little bit early and mash in. Watch the first half. Start to lauter. Watch the second half. Clean up the tun. Get boil started. Watch the whole next game. Get knock-out started. Watch the first half of the third game. Get CIP started. Go back and watch the end. Like that we watched almost all the games. It was awesome. And at the end of the day, my assistant brewer was doing loops. So I could even watch those last afternoon games – which for you were the evening games – and have a couple of beers. So everyday after work we’ve had a few beers. And there was this one beer that we really liked at the time and that’s all that we were drinking. And we figured that we drank almost ten percent of that beer.
Now at the brewery, all we show on the TV is soccer. The sign below the TV says “This machine shows Timbers matches”, with Timbers being our local soccer team. If there’s an Oregon team in the playoffs of another sport, we might show that.

Here’s another Portland idea for you: Brewers Cup, where brewery soccer teams play against each other.

It probably would have to be foosball, because we couldn’t field a full eleven player team. Now if we could add some of our regulars, then it would work.

Sure, heck, if you can train your yeast to kick a ball, you can add that to your team.

True, we just need a Meura mash filter and we can take the spent mash and we can make clay golem brewery men.

Now, one thing you already mentioned, is that you brew a beer for three months. Meaning you don’t just brew one batch of one beer, but you brew the same beer for three months and then move on to another beer.

Yes. Typically, we do three or four fermenters for each beer that we do. We have a 15 barrel brewhouse and the fermenters are 45 barrels. So we are tripling into the fermenters.
So really, when we say we make one beer for a period of time, that’s anything from 9 to 12 kettle fills and three to four fermentations.

How far ahead of time do you know what you’re going to do, say, do you know what you’re going to do in six months?

In October to November we are figuring out what beers we are going to make the following year. We try to be six to eight months ahead of schedule. The main reason we do that is for the label art; we work with different artists for every label, for the most part. For that we need a long lead time for them to figure out what they want to do.
We have one 15 barrel fermenter  and there’s plenty of beers we make where we’re like “oh fuck, we gotta fill that tank next week. Guys, what do you wanna do?” Sometimes even as little as the day before.

But those don’t go into bottles.

Correct. Unless we really like the beer and decide to put it on the schedule at one point. To talk about Kiss The Goat one more time: The first time we did that beer was a couple of years ago. The beer was really good and we really liked it. So we concluded that at some point we needed to do it again.
Sometimes, with a beer like Kiss The Goat, when the name has a certain feel, the beer has a certain feel, sometimes you wait for the right artist to come up and you realize that artist would be perfect for that beer. Then we put it on the schedule.

How often do you brew per week?

We typically do six kettle fills per week, so two fermenters a week.
Our average week looks like this: On Monday we package IPA. On Tuesday and Wednesday we brew IPA. On Thursday we package whatever else we’re brewing. And then we brew whatever else we’re brewing on Thursday and Friday.

The IPA being your first “all the time beer” and the Double IPA your second “all the time beer”. When’s the third one gonna arrive?

We don’t really have time in the schedule for a third one. You can make the argument that Pipewrench, our IPA aged in Gin barrels, is the third year round beer. I would argue it’s not. From a production standpoint it’s a batch of the IPA that we divert into Gin barrels. Sure, there’s some process differences there and we have to dry-hop it a separate time. Therefore, in a way, it is a different beer, but from a production standpoint it is not.
In order to keep up with what we are doing with everything else, we cannot fit in another production beer.
The reason why we started doing an imperial/double IPA all the time, and this is the truth, is simply because we made a few of them, little batches, and everyone went apeshit for them.
[Update: So this has changed a little – we’re about to start brewing Kölsch on a regular basis, but just for the Oregon market – so still pretty limited, maybe 10 to 14 fermenters (450 to 630 BBLs) per year.  And we’re also about to make Ginormous a series of Imperial IPAs instead of just the same every time.]

Taken beernerds are a significant chunk of your customers and considering that beernerds are not likely to drink the same beer too often, you made necessity your business model.

Yeah, in a sense.
Have you seen Smoky and the Bandit? It is an important American cultural icon.(joke) The plot is as follows: It’s about 1975 or ’76. There are two rich guys in Georgia. Their birthday party is coming up and they need to drink Coors. In the seventies Coors was the beer, which is kinda hard to believe nowadays. And the reason why it was the beer,  was because you could not get it east of the Rocky Mountains; it was a western beer. As nobody was able to get this beer, those rich guys were willing to pay $80’000, which in today’s money would be around $320’000. Plus a new semi, which is about 150 grand, plus a Firebird Trans Am, which is another 45 grand. Add to that the cost of a trailer full of Coors and you get what they were willing to pay, just to have Coors at their birthday party.
Now, to loop back to your question: People were not able to get the beer, so they were willing to pay that much money. Smoky and the Bandit!

I know that you were already known in Portland, like with Ben working at HUB, but was something like this necessary in order to stand out in Portland?

No. It was just an idea to have a continually evolving creative brewery.
Draft craft beer is something like 70 to 80 percent of all the draft beers sold in Portland. If you take all the packaging, craft is something like 40 to 45 percent. We are a craft town. But if we only try to talk to beer people, that is like preaching to the choir. It’s boring and no-one gives a shit.
I have a lot of friends who are artists and Ben and I both appreciate art a lot. We realized that if we work with a bunch of different artists, then we can get involved in the art scene, which is outside of beer. We can use that to get involved with events in other cities, completely outside of beer.
That is much more interesting.
I don’t give a fuck about being in All About Beer magazine or Draft or whatever. It’s great if you are, it’s fantastic to have a beer blogger to talk to. But it’s a lot cooler that Juxtapose magazine wanted us to do an ad. Then we are doing something outside of beer. And I personally think that what beer allows you to do outside of beer, is more important to beer.
Part of that for us is music, part of that for us is having a community centered around the tap-room. Structuring the business this way it’s going to be better if we do all those things.

I can relate. Both my co-blogger and I are Doemens/Siebels beer sommeliers. And if I could chose between doing a tasting with beer nerds or beer virgins, I’d do the one with the virgins. I would expect the responses to be more excited and the impact to be bigger. In order for beer to go further, as you say, we need to go outside of beer.

Yes, you’re spreading the word.
Beer nerds are great. A lot of them are wonderful people. But too much of the time, beer nerds are too focused on the beer that’s in front of them, instead of who is next to them. If you give a tasting with a bunch of people that are not nerds, they get really excited and want to share their excitement with whoever they are with. This even happens with people that don’t know each other. And when they leave, they’ve made a connection. That to me is what beer should be about.

Which is also why I ban mobile phones at my place when we do a bottle share.

Same reason why our TV says: “This machine only shows Timbers matches”.
We are lucky here in our tap-room. We do get beer tourists, who come specifically to try our beers and they’ll be on Untapped or Ratebeer and it’s no big deal. But what’s awesome: Depending on the time of day and who’s here, half the time they get interrupted by our locals. “Hey, what are you doing?”, “Hey, who are you?”. The locals will be like “You should be talking. Do that later. Meet Scott, he’s really cool!”.

A Ratebeer rater, a great guy who is genuinely passionate about beer, he once told me that he doesn’t have time to drink the same beer twice.

He’s doing it wrong. That means he’s not enjoying anything.

I feel it becomes a chore. I actually stopped writing about music, because it became a chore to listen to music. I did not want that to happen.

I can see that happening, yeah. That’d be a huge drag.
I’ve been brewing for a long time now, more than twenty years. When I was a younger brewer, I used to worry about every beer, think about it. Most of the time when I have a beer now, I spend about three seconds acknowledging it and then the rest of the time I’m having a beer, because I like beer.

What I did notice however, one year at CBC we all wrote down each beer we’ve had and rated it. The next time we didn’t. And I have better memories of the beers from the first time than the second time.

For me personally, I never felt that writing down anything helps me personally. And to tell you the truth, there are a lot of beers out there that I think are really good, but they are not necessarily memorable.
Let me talk about a beer I really like: Anchor Liberty. I think it is a fantastic, delicious beer. But if you put it in a line-up with other beers, you wouldn’t really remember it, even though you know it was a good one. However, what’s important about it is: You can trust it.
There are a lot of beers like that. And I don’t want to mention any breweries names, because it feels like I am insulting them, even if I don’t. There’s a lot of breweries out there that produce a beer that I, whenever I drink it, notice that it is really good. But what stands out about it? Not much. But I can trust it. It’s delicious and I can drink it. And even at a festival like CBC there are only a few beers that you can taste and you’re like “woah!”.
Actually, I remember one beer that I had at CBC: Jacky O’s had a Ginger Lime beer, and it was “woah! Good job guys, this is fucking great.” It was very memorable, it was very well done and I really enjoyed it. Nonetheless, when the choice is between that one or an Anchor Liberty, I’m likely to choose the Liberty.

Would you rather have a bar that only has beers you like or that every time you go there has new beers?

Now, if there’d be a bar that only had new beers from breweries I knew and trust, I’d be okay with that. When I go to a bar and see a tap-list that I don’t know, I go brewery first and style second.
Sometimes you work closely with brewers or you’re just in the same town as them. Sometimes it is remarkable how much the brewers voice comes through the beers. My buddy John Harris at Ecliptic, oh my god, the beers taste exactly like the kind of guy John is. Or my friend Mark Youngquist who started Rock Bottom. He went off and started this tiny, tiny brewery called Dolores River Brewing in the middle of nowhere Colorado, really far from everywhere else. The first time I went there, Mark didn’t yet know I was there. Got a beer and after a few sips, my wife asked: “So, how is it?” – “It’s like Mark’s beer.” – “Is that good?” – “Yeah, it’s like Mark’s beer. I like Mark”. That is always remarkable to me, when certain breweries or brewers have such a clear voice.

Do you have that with your beers?

I would argue that I do. Or we do, I should say. But that’s a hard question. Ben and I do most of the recipes – and frankly, Ben does 75 to 80 percent of the recipe development; I am much more of a technical brewer’s brewer. I worry about getting it done. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years, so recipe development to me is like: “What do you wanna do? Okay, A, B, C and D. It’s fine. It’s gonna work.” Done. Everything else is much more important, interesting and challenging, like how are you going to deal with it process wise.
Anyway, so Ben usually takes care of the recipe. But the beers that I kind of took the lead on, and I ran it and blah blah blah, I feel they really taste like the beers I have always made. I always say every brewer has a bag of tricks and they use them over and over again, so you kind of get a voice.
Because both Ben and I are doing this, we kind of speak the same brewing language, but we are different people. So our beers are kind of very different. There’s a Portland beer blogger Jeff Alworth who, maybe a year ago, said: “Gigantic is the only brewery I know that doesn’t have a voice. Their beers are so disparate that you can’t peg them as Gigantic.” I argued with him for a little bit, but he held firm: “You guys always do such different shit all the time.” Well, if you say that, then sure. But in the choice of how the flavors come out, I think we do have a voice.

Is it that easy after twenty years that you can just go A, B, C and D and the beer will be good in the end?

I’m not joking. Both Ben and I came from pubs. When you work at pubs for sixteen years like me, you’re responsible for turning out twenty to thirty different beers a year. Or to put it differently: Would you be surprised if a chef says: “I wanna try a new risotto” and he just went and came up with a recipe for a new risotto?
I don’t think it’s uncommon for brewers to be able to design new beers like that. The beer public thinks that what makes the brewer so good is because of his recipes. I disagree entirely. Some people have the ability and the palate to design good recipes. But that is not what makes you a brewer. When you are making a production beer, the recipe is like one quarter of one percent of the time involved in what you’re doing. Process, keeping things consistent, knowing your yeast, managing fermentation, or even things people would never think about like plumbing and electrical work and knowing when to do maintenance, how to pay attention to your bottling line, repairs, that’s being a fucking brewer. That’s what we really do and where the real skillset is.
If you say: “I’m a great brewer, I can create all these recipes”. Then go to a brewery and see if you can fucking do it. And repeat it for three months and then I’ll tell you if you know what the fuck you’re doing. Brewing is skilled labor. Personally, I think it takes seven years to make a good brewer.

How would you translate that to a homebrewer?

Homebrewing is a hobby, it’s not a job. It’s not a profession and as such completely different.
Look, I love cars. I do very, very small time car racing. I once made a really, really fast Toyota Corolla. But you know what? You couldn’t sell a single one of those to the public. And it also doesn’t mean that I’m a fucking automotive engineer. It means that I was able to tinker around in my garage to get the right spring rate, the right shock rate, and the right suspension, so it made the car do turns really fucking fast. And I knew how to drive it. Homebrewing is like that. It’s a hobby. You have a skillset there. But it has nothing to do with being a professional brewer. Zero. Zip. None.
Michael Lewis, academic at the University of California in Davis, once said my favorite thing about brewing ever. He said: Brewing is not fun, it’s a profession, it’s hard work.

Van Havig of Gigantic Brewing Company

When you have identified something that is really important within the context of a professional brewery, what would you identify within the hobby of homebrewing to be important in order to make good beer?

If you get to know one yeast really, really well, you can do a lot of things with it.

You just said that brewing is hard and it’s not fun. But you are consciously staying small with the consequence that you will have to continue brewing.

Yes. Yes. Arbeit macht das Leben süss. [German for: Work is what makes life sweet – ed.]. That’s what I tell everybody in the brewery.
Look, I don’t say that cute little German phrase lightly. I was an economist, a graduate student, a PHD candidate. And I fell out of love with that. At that time I’d been homebrewing. The thing about homebrewing to me is like, I’m a terrible cook. But when I was homebrewing, everything made sense, instantly. For some reason, right away, I had this innate understanding.
I say that I feel called to brewing. It is my vocation in a non-religious though Lutheran sense of vocation. It is what I am supposed to be doing. It doesn’t mean though that it is fun time for me. Fun at a brewery is left for: “well, we did a good job today, let’s sit around and have a beer.”
Once in a blue moon you do something fun in a brewery. But making a different beer, a new beer, there’s nothing fun in that to me. It’s a new beer, and all I want to do is nail the process on it. I gotta focus and I gotta be a professional. And when in the end the beer comes out well, guess what, I get to have the beer, it tastes great: Arbeit macht das Leben süss.
I get it, I get it: Everyone else in craft beer will be like: “I’m having fun, look what I do for a living! It’s amazing!” Sorry, I’m a Norwegian American, I can’t help it.

I had a similar experience when I was working as a music journalist. Everybody’s perception is that it must be the best thing ever, going to all these concerts. But you go there, you wait for hours for the musician to show up, oftentimes they are a drag to talk to because they are forced to talk to you. Sure, every now and again, you’ll meet somebody who you get along with great and in the rarest of cases you even become friends. So while there are fun aspects to it, it’s still and mainly work.

And you enjoy the work, but it’s not fun. Ever since we started the brewery we get asked: “Are you having fun yet?” What the fuck are you talking about fun. This is fucking work!

When you say that it is your calling to be a brewer, has your motivation changed over the years?

Yes, it has. I am much more concerned with people that work for me than I was when I was much younger. When I started, it was all about beer. I have people that work for me here now, obviously, but I used to train brewers at Rock Bottom already. That has become a much more important and satisfying part of having a brewery and being a brewer. As I said, I was a doctoral candidate; I was a teacher, essentially. And I find that teaching brewing is very rewarding to me, coaching people, managing people in the sense of helping them develop new skillsets, helping them grow. That I actually find enjoyable. That is actually fun and it’s enjoyable to me to see other people have successes.

Considering you saying brewing is work and considering Jean of Cantillon saying he wants to see passion in the people for beer. Would you encourage passion or a dependable professionalism?

I don’t think saying “not fun” equals lack of passion. Me personally, I get very passionate about “this needs to be done fucking right!” It’s all about how your passion manifests itself and there isn’t just one way for it to manifest. Just because I don’t go to every new beer release in town, doesn’t mean that I’m not passionate about beer. Just because I don’t always want to drink mixed fermentation sour beers, doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in those beer styles. Being passionate about beer in brewing means you’re passionate about your job. And understanding that what we do here is important. Beer is important, culturally, in the history of humanity. Beer is important in terms of getting people together. Beer is important for having a flavor creative expression for human reason. Beer is important for a lot of reasons. Therefore you need to be there every day.
You wanna talk about passion? Fuck. There are breweries out there that think they are the fucking shit. And when you ask them where they are on Christmas, you know where they are? At home! You know where I am on fucking Christmas: Here. Cause someone has to be here. The beer and the equipment don’t know what day it is. So if you’re so fucking passionate, make the fucking commitment. It’s not fucking fun time. Arbeit macht das Leben süss! It’s a real fucking thing we do here.

Passionate, you’re getting passionate now!


Now, I’m not sure if you’re passionate about hops, but I was told you know a lot about hops.

Well, I have a lot of experience with them.

So are you passionate about hops?

Uhm, am I? Yeah, yeah I am. Because I feel that it is really important to learn everything you can know about them. And there is a lot to know. Thing is that it is very difficult to learn about them, because there are many people that try to prevent you from knowing.

In what way?

I’m sure you know all the basic stuff: hops are clones, all Cascade are Cascade, blah blah blah. Do you know that hops sort of have terroir? That they vary, depending on the farm, the region, blah blah. Well, I am here to tell you that it’s not just location. For example, the date is crucial. Drying method is crucial. There’s a whole bunch to it that’s crucial and the thing is, the hop farmers and hop vendors – not bad people – they have a very vested self-interest to keep some information to themselves. The reason for that is simple: When you’re trying to grow, say, 20,000 acres of Simcoe, you have to convince, frankly, the brewing public that there’s a reason why you pick some Simcoe early and some Simcoe late. You have to convince them that none of the hops are shit. However, I am here to tell you as a guy who has done hop selection for sixteen years: There’s a right pick date.
To some extent, brewers get to choose what they want: Do I want my Simcoe to taste like weed, like cat pee or like tangerines? But in order for you to do that, you’ve got to work at these guys a little at a time and every time you talk to a hop vendor, you listen to everything they say, because once a year someone slips up and you get to learn something.
Hops are fascinating that way; there’s so much to them. Malt is fascinating as well, but malt is much more a process than it is an agricultural product. It clearly is an agricultural product, but good maltsters can take barley of varying qualities and can turn it into the same malt. But you pick a hop on September 10th and on September 20th and I don’t give a fuck who you are, it’s going to be different.

Now, if there are such vast differences, isn’t that why they try to sell you hop extracts?

They do that because at some point the hops go to shit and you can still get extract out of them and they don’t lose the crop. That’s truth. They tell you: “We do it, because various people give you various times.That’s bullshit…. And now I will have a bunch of hop-growers mad at me.

One of my pet topics is forgotten hop types. Everybody is running after the next hype, while they forget about all these great hops that were all the hype just a short while ago or have never stopped being great.

Yes, like no-one gives a shit about Brewers Gold, which is a great hop.

Or Warrior.

Here’s the other thing and you have to remember – that Brewer demand can only do so much. Because at some point you’ll run smack into the agronomics of hop growing. You can only keep a certain hop in the ground if brewers want to pay for it. And there aren’t a ton of people that are using Warrior for anything but bittering. So as a farmer you’ll switch over to something else that is cheaper. What they grow usually has to do with yield, mildew, cold resistance, pick ability.
Something most brewers don’t know about hops, the agronomics are crucial. There’s an experimental hop known as 527 that we made a beer with over a year ago. It is great! We love this hop. It smells like strawberries, like good, fat, juicy strawberries. We love it. Thing is, they do trials and they like it: it grows really well, so you’d think they’d keep it in the ground. But no, because there’s a problem: Sidearms. You know, the sidearms come out of the stem and the hop cones grow on them. Now, when the sidearms pop off, it’s really difficult to separate the hop from the sidearm. And that’s a problem.
So, even though everyone really likes this hop, it’s probably not gonna go anywhere. In the same way, the same thing can happen to these old hops. There will be a new hop that meets very similar criteria that has much better agronomic characteristics.
There are hops like Liberty, which is a phenomenal hop, but it’s hanging by a thread. Frankly, Hallertau is hanging by a thread. At least in the US; I don’t know if there’s any US Hallertau left. US Golding is probably disappearing. They yield a thousand pounds per acre. In 2015 they got brutalized by sleepy hop syndrome. It’s rough sometimes.

Space is finite, so if something new comes in, something old has to come out.
Now, I actually forgot to ask you our regular first question.

So the interview is starting now?

Yes. But what we usually ask first is: Which of your beers would you have served beer hunter Michael Jackson?

We made this beer in 2015 called “Ume Umai”. Which in Japanese means “Plum yummy”. It was a beer with 50 percent black rice, a bunch of plums, almost no hops. It was definitely a beer, you could taste it and you would never mistake it for anything but beer. However, it was a beer that had no malt flavor, really no hop or yeast flavor neither. Instead it was a balance between this earthy, mushroom-y, tea-like black rice and this fruity, slightly tart plum flavor. It was a beer with a balance that tasted like beer, but no balance that was beer like.
A lot of times you make those oddball beers and people call them stunt beers or festival beers. People taste it at the festival: “Oh, neat!” – Do you want to have a pint? – “No!”. This beer was the opposite of that: “What is it?” – Black rice and plums. – “Huh…. Wow! It’s fruity, it’s interesting!” By the time you had tasted a hundred milliliters, all that mattered was that the beer was really refreshing and light and fruity and delicious. Instead of becoming crazier with every sip, it actually became more drinkable. People would want another one.

Which takes us right to the question we end interviews with: Which five beers should people drink before they die?

Budějovický Budvar Černé. It’s kind of a simple beer, but I had that and was blown away. The malt balance is so incredible and so clean.
I’m a sucker for Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux. It’s a beautiful, balanced beer and it gives you a good idea of what yeast strains can do.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen by Brauerei Heller. Hefeweizen are not really my jam and neither are rauchbiere. But you put it together and it’s so fantastic. It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of beer: It’s a candy with chocolate and peanut butter inside and it tastes better than either of them separately.
Maybe you should have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Because it started this whole, goddamn thing and you should respect it.
The last beer you should have before you die: Whatever your fucking favorite beer is.

Do you have a favorite beer?

Of course I don’t. That’s a ridiculous statement.
Okay, so if I’m really going to mention a fifth one: You really need to have a really small English bitter. There’s a ton of them out there that are really good and I’m trying to think of a good example. What you need to have is something like Black Sheep Best Bitter when it’s fresh on cask, say, at the tap-room.
Especially American brewers are woefully inadequate at working with three ingredients at a time. American brewers are really good at working with two ingredients at a time. In other words, and I’m going to ignore water here for a second, because my personal belief is that you should work with your local water, because it is the only local thing you have. Now, most American brewers can do a great job working with like malt and yeast or malt and hops or maybe even yeast and hops. But to do all three together, they are fucking bad at it. While the British are fucking genius at it. Their beers are little and delicate and they don’t have big flavors, but they have flavors that all come through: a little of malt, a little of hops and a little of yeast. It’s beautiful.
So either that or Früh am Dom Kölsch. Because it does the same thing: A little of malt, yeast, hops.
Where all those other beers I mentioned don’t. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is typically American: It’s all hop and malt, with only a little of the clean yeast strain. Budvar Černé is a malt beer. Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux is a yeast beer, Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen is a yeast and malt beer. None of them do all three things. But Früh or a lovely English bitter do all three. Surprisingly rare in this world.

The interview took place on 1 July 2016 via Skype.

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