Interview with Chris Boggess, headbrewer at 3 Floyds Brewing Co.

Chris Bogges von Three Floyds Brewing

They are loud and dark. Known for Heavy Metal, Dark Lords and Warpigs. Everything else that you need to know about 3 Floyds you can read in our interview with headbrewer Chris Boggess.

Which of your beers would you have served Michael Jackson?

Uff. He actually came here in the very early days, the mid-90s. He visited Nick and the brewery when we were in Hammond, when we were still using dairy tanks. It was a step above homebrew, but Nick made some great beers and Alpha King just came out, so it was probably ‘96/97.
He really enjoyed Alpha King, so I would continue to serve him Alpha King and see what he thinks.

That was twenty years ago. Have you been with 3 Floyds since then?

No, I’ve been here for eleven years.

That’s a long time. So what are the benefits of working at a world-renown brewery?

You get to take some chances, which is cool. You get that customer base that likes to try new things.

You think that doesn’t happen at a less renowned brewery?

I don’t think you would get as much leeway. You would have to bring it every single time. We obviously think we can bring it every single time when we do something new. But people might not try it a second time again, if it was a dud.

Which means we already got the headline: “Chris thinks 3 Floyds produces duds”.

[laughs] Don’t misquote me. I said “if”. Oh my gosh, is this the way the interview is going to go?

You weren’t warned?

I’ve been set up. I’ve been set up!

Another perk must be that you can ask any brewery for their beer and they will send it.

Sure, there’s certainly all kinds of free beer involved. We also get to travel and we are lucky to get to check out experimental hops, all those good things.

Maybe to ask differently: What would you miss if you were to work at a brewery with less of a recognition?

Good question. But I guess all the things I’ve mentioned. I like how this opens a lot of doors and allows me to try different things. I guess I would miss that the most.

How often do you get to travel?

You usually get seasons, like August to October is pretty heavy for me. Then for some reason, the first part of the year until March. That’s not just for festivals. We’ve been travelling all over Germany and Slovenia, looking at hops. And we get to use them and put them in a beer before they are even available on the market. We’ve also been sourcing our brewing equipment in Germany, because they tend to make the best equipment.

You mentioned some things that seem to be responsibilities of a headbrewer. That’s your title, right? So what are other duties of a headbrewer?

A lot of paperwork. I do recipes and stuff, source hops, talk to employees, basically watch production, packaging, be around to help and kind of guide people. I take on quite a bit of new business duties. I know that sounds ambiguous.
And I do a lot of paperwork.

Another one of your responsibilities is apparently running the barrel-aging program.

Yeah, that’s definitely part of it. We’ve just emptied a ton of barrels for Dark Lord Day. But we don’t have a huge barrel programme, just because we don’t have a lot of room.
Which is why we are looking to expand. We’ve tried to have a hop field, but where it was planned wasn’t really ideal. So instead that’s where we’re going to expand our brewery.

Van of Gigantic said in his interview that you can often taste the personality of the brewer in a beer. That a voice comes through. Now, to what extend is the character of a brewery dependent on the brewer?

I agree with Van, for sure. When you’re making beers for twenty years or whatever, with the same kind of methods, your beers will taste similar, like there’s a house flavor. That’s probably what Van was talking about.
I’ve noticed with some brewers who go to different breweries, sometimes it takes them a while to find their rhythm, to get their name back – not really their name, but their style where you will recognize them as their beer.

So what would happen if you were to leave 3 Floyds?

Before 3 Floyds I thought I was making good beer and if I’m somewhere else I think I make good beer. I probably would make better beer than when I first came here. I’ve learnt some things here for sure, through Nick and the whole dynamic here.

In what way would 3 Floyds change or the character of 3 Floyds if you were to leave?

They’d still make great beers and do cool stuff without me. Just not as well [laughs].
It would change if Nick Floyd left.

It was reported that Todd Haug left Surly, because, among other things, he didn’t own any shares in the company. Do you own a little bit of 3 Floyds?

Yes, I got a little bit of equity. I’m a small partner.

So, we don’t need to be afraid of you leaving.

[laughs] Well, if I make Nick mad enough, I could be gone for sure. It would be hard though, or more difficult to get rid of me.

How nice is Munster, Indiana, the city where 3 Floyds is situated at.

It’s great. It’s a suburb of Chicago. Indiana is pretty friendly to businesses and certainly factories. It’s an old rust-belt part of the world.

Did you grow up in the area?

No, I’m from Oklahoma. I moved around a quite a bit and then moved to Chicago from California eleven and a half year’s ago. Remove “pretty”.

Is Indiana considered a step up from Oklahoma or the other way around?

[laughs] I’m getting set up again!
I think it is probably a push. At least in Western Indiana the weather is not as good as in Oklahoma, because, you know, it’s cold up here. In Oklahoma you’ve got the whole Cowboy and Indian thing that you don’t have here. In Indiana you’ve got good breweries.
But in general, it’s a cold and a warm version of the same thing, minus the Cowboys and Indians.

Is the Cowboys and Indians thing something you miss?

I like being from there. And I do miss my friends. And I miss the laid back atmosphere that’s there. But I’m not really homesick anymore, no.

Which somewhat ties in to the question Van told me to ask you when he nominated you for this interview. So his question is: What is it about wolves?

I love wolves! They travel in a pack! They are badass. You know, there’s only two animals on the list of badasses and they are wolves and tigers…. oh, and dragons too, but they are made up. They are cool, but they are made up. Those are on my list of badass things.

Have you heard about the impact it had on Yellowstone when wolves where re-introduced, how the whole equilibrium of nature came back into shape?

Yeah! It’s pretty fascinating. But I think the wolves are having a tough go up there, with them venturing out the park and getting hunted again.

Speaking of dragons. There’s a video of you talking about playing Dungeons & Dragons.

[Laughs] That was at Nick’s house. I can’t claim to be a big D&D guy. I certainly like it and I love fantasy and heavy metal and all that. But I’m more of a headbanger than a D&D guy. Nick Floyd, our founder, he’s super into it. And I played with those guys a few times. But now, with the wife and kid, I can’t play every week with those dudes.

They play every week?

Yeah. They don’t have children. They don’t have wives.

Well, they have Dungeons & Dragons; they don’t need children and wives.


The video got me thinking: What’s the ratio of nerds to jocks in the brewing industry?

Wow. The ratio is so heavily nerd. I’d say 90 percent nerd, easily. Brewing is a nerd’s game.
But what’s interesting, the jocks are finally coming around to good beer. Which is great.

Do you know a brewer that used to be a jock?

There’s plenty of brewers that are studs. But jocks? Not really.

While I consider myself to be safely fitting the nerd category, I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons.

Well, I’m sure you do other things where other nerds disappoint.
But I could imagine a game of D&D somewhere in the mountains of Switzerland. That’d be pretty badass. I think you should organize a game.

Alright, deal: Next time Nick’s in Europe, we’re going to drag him to the Swiss mountains and set up a game for him. You’re welcome to join.

That’d be awesome.

You’ve been to a different part of Europe several times, namely Denmark, where you have opened the brewpub Warpigs in Copenhagen with Mikkeller. In what way is this a 3 Floyds/Mikkeller operation?

We’ve been going over to Denmark since 2007, making beers with Mikkeller. We decided to partner up and it’s a 50:50 venture. But we are doing zero of the day-to-day.

To circle back to our question about character: What of 3 Floyds’ character and what of Mikkeller’s character is in Warpigs?

I would say the simpler logo design is much more Mikkeller than 3 Floyds. We are much freakier. Not to say Mikkeller isn’t freaky, but we take it to another level. The things we are doing day to day at the brewpub is more Mikkeller style. Whiskey sours on tap etc.

At what point does Warpigs outgrow being a venture of two breweries and become its own identity with its own character?

It’s already heading the way of becoming its own thing, for sure. Obviously 3 Floyds and Mikkeller are on the packaging, so it’s always going to be a part of it.
But the goal is for it to be its own thing. The brewpub is now open for a little more than two year’s. Now we are starting to make some Warpigs beers in the US, to launch the brand.

But it’s not like every Warpigs beer is a collaboration between 3 Floyds and Mikkeller.

No. Nick, Mikkel and myself wrote all the opening recipes. And the headbrewer there, Kyle Wolak, was trained here and was a 3 Floyds brewer. But now that Kyle and Lan-Xin Foo have kind of found their groove, they are able to make their own recipes and explore their vision what Warpigs beers should taste like. And with a brewpub you can do kind of whatever you want. Which is nice.

Did they ever brew 3 Floyds staples there?

Yeah, that was the whole point. For us to get very American, very hoppy 3 Floyds’ style beers in Denmark, because those are obviously pretty rare in Europe. Obviously that’s changing and has been changing over the years, but that has been the draw, along with Texas barbeque.

But have they ever brewed a Zombie Dust there?

We tried to do some 3 Floyds beers over there. We got kind of close, but they are just a little different. The brewery, the kit, the water, the tank dimensions and geometry, everything matters.
But we have beers there that we think are just as good. The recipes can be pretty similar, but there’s no Zombie Dust being brewed there.

You have mentioned the distillery before, what’s the status of it?

We should have our license in the next two weeks. It’s built and we’re chomping at the bits. It’s way overdue.

How will having a distillery change your beers or have an impact on them?

I don’t think it’s going to change our beers much, but I definitely see an impact in the distillery though. I definitely see us moving barrels back and forth for aging and whatnot. Obliviously we’re going to distill some beer and have beer schnaps. It might influence the beer in the brewery when it is designed for the distillery, but we’re still going to pull it off as a beer.

Why does a brewery also want to be a distillery?

Nick wanted to do it because it was legal for us to do it. He always wanted to have one, the stars collided, we’re doing it.

Is this an extension of “we’re brewing what we like to drink” to “we’re distilling what we like to drink”?

Exactly! Then again, I don’t drink much beer at home. So once we start distilling, I guess, I will start to be drinking wine. I’ve been drinking spirits, so it all gets me in the end. Maybe I’ll just circle back to beer.

You mentioned before that you’re a headbanger. So the music that plays at Dark Lord Day is the music you listen to at home?


Is that also the music that’s being played when you brew?

Back in the day, when I was more on the brew schedule, yes. Now, we think we’re a little bit open-minded, so we let people play whatever they want. There’s still a bit of metal in there, but not as much as there used to be.

Was there ever reason for an intervention via staff meeting to discuss the choice of music?

[laughs] Yes.


This person is going to know exactly what I’m talking about. But when they are playing My Morning Jacket or Fleet Foxes, then I’m totally out. I can’t listen to that music. But conversely that person probably can’t stand to listen to Rat or Cannibal Corpse or other bands that I like.

Even though those two bands would be considered rock music?

I think they call it that. But they are too sensitive and thoughtful.

How was Dark Lord Day this year?

It was great. The weather was amazing. The bands were great and the crowd was good.

What is a fair trade value for a Dark Lord?

You’ve gotta factor in the difficulty of getting the beer. Then we sell it for, I think, 20 bucks a bottle. So maybe double the price?

What beer would you trade in a Dark Lord for?

I’ve traded Dark Lord for Westvleteren 12.

The 3 Floyds moto is “It’s not normal.” What’s the most normal about 3 Floyds?

I guess that would be that we make beer in a factory. That’s about as normal as it gets. There’s no magic. It’s people working hard. Some people punch a clock, they start their shift, make beer and go home.

What do you do so that this workday is not just normal?

We’ve got a lot of fun things to look at. We like to think the environment is pretty loose. Some people would argue that it’s too loose, as we are not very corporate. Yet. I think that if we get more corporate, we’re going to get more structure and that might change things. But it can also calm people down too.
We have a bend but don’t break thing happening here.

How many people work at 3 Floyds?

We have around 30 people in the brewery and 70 people or so in the pub.

I guess that means you’re brewing 24/7?

It is basically going twenty for hours every day. We are not brewing for four hours at the end of Sunday. We brew up to about 2am.

When you say you’re using what was supposed to be the hop field for expansion, is that extra beer for the US market, say Oklahoma?

[laughs] That is not on our shortlist.
We are going to more than double our brewing capacity. So yes, we can open up new markets, but we’ll also deliver more to markets we’re under serving. But it’s the US for sure. You obviously don’t want to have to ship the beer around too much.

Knowing the effect that shipping and heat and all those things have on the quality of beers, I can understand that. But it still breaks my heart a little bit whenever I hear it.

[laughs] You know what’d be cool? We always thought about opening a brewery in Europe somewhere. That’s just a throw an idea against the wall. But it is one that we’ve thrown against the wall more than once.

Or you talk to Mikkel about brewing at De Proef.

Yeah. We’ve been there. We’ve done a couple of our Mikkeller-collaborations with Dirk.

Would that be anything you’d consider, to outsource some of the brewing?

We definitely talked about something like that, but we think it would just be better to brew our own beer.

If you’d get the option: Would you want to brew in the US or in Europe?

I like the US and I am from here. But I would consider making beer over there for a while.

Van was talking about his time at Rock Bottom. I know you used to work at Rock Bottom and so did Todd. Did you all work together?

No. Separate breweries. But we all met each other in 1997 at a convention as colleagues.

Now here’s an idea for you: Rock Bottom Alumni Sixpack.

That’s actually not a bad idea. We’ve actually formed a group, it’s really informal, we never made it formal, but we probably should, called “The Order Of The Black Phoenix”. That’s all ex-Rock Bottom guys.

That name is pretty nerdy. So who else is in that group?

Man, people are going to get mad if I don’t mention their names. Well, Pete Crowley at Haymarket. Marty Mendiola of Second Chance Brewing. Davin Bartosch down at Wiseacre, Clay Robinson of Sun King is in the group. Dave Colt of Sun King. Brian Thomas would be in the group. Kevin Reed our former boss. There’s a bunch of dude’s I’m missing.

That starts to sound like a twelvepack.

Yeah, I know. It’ll be a case.

Which takes us to our last question: Five beers people should drink before they die.

I guess you’ve gotta have a Westy 12 and a Dark Lord, since we’ve already mentioned those.
Orval, you’ve gotta have an Orval.
Budvar from the source.
What’s my last beer? You know what, I like Pliny The Elder. That beer is good.

This interview took place on 24 May 2017 via phone.

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