It is freezing outside today in Charlottesville, so for the Brewer of the Week interview we head off to California, Woodland Hills to be precise.....
Name: Rob Nowaczyk
Brewery: Fireman's Brew
How did you get into brewing as a career?
Well that's an interesting story - I kinda backed into it in some ways. I had been homebrewing off and on for years, and then one day I was on duty (LA Firefighter) - and we were battling a brush fire up in Glendale. My partner and I were super thirsty and complaining about how we didn't have anything to drink, and the idea just hit us - why don't we make our own beer. Beer brewed by Firefighters for Firefighters – and everyone else. So from that point on the idea of Fireman's Brew just kinda stuck and we started working on it.
What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?
To me, brewing beer is really a mixture of art, science, intuition and taste, so the most important characteristics of being a good brewer is really a combination of those. Beyond that, I think brewers need to be a little daring at times, to try out new things and push the envelop and their comfort zone. But I also think that brewers have to be a bit selfless, because most of the time we're not brewing for ourselves and what we like to drink, we're brewing for the enjoyment of others – so the quality has to be there day in and day out.
Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?
Yes, I started off homebrewing and still make up a batch every now and then. Pretty much all of the Fireman's Brew beers (Blonde, Brewnette and Redhead) started off as homebrews. When we were first getting started, I would homebrew up a batch and test it out on friends, and then refine the recipe based on their feedback. Looking back, it actually worked out really great for us, because we were able to perfect our recipes before jumping into larger scale production.
If you did homebrew, do you still?
Rarely. There’s not enough time!
What is your favourite beer that you brew?
My favorite right now is our Brewnette – it’s a traditional German style Doublebock, made with imported hops and variety of malts. It’s a perfect beer for autumn & fall – with a rich chocolate / mocha finish to it, that’s still very smooth. All of our beers we make by hand, and the Brewnette is our toughest & most complex one to make, but also really rewarding – because it’s really a great example of what hand-crafted beers are all about.
If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?
I have not.
Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?
Favorite to drink is our Redhead. It’s our Amber Ale, and we’ve really worked hard to get the taste profile right. We use crystal malts in this one to give it a toasty malt base and caramel finish – but it’s not syrupy sweet. I have to say that this one is our most improved beer over the past year, as we’ve continued to refine it.
How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?
For us authenticity is key – we make all of our beers by hand and use only natural ingredients, so authenticity and quality of the ingredients are paramount. Plus, it’s what we’ve built our brand on – our beers have to stand up like you expect Firefighters would – strong, dependable, down to earth.
If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?
Wow, there are so many great ones out there – especially out here on the West Coast. We’re real fans of Stone, the guys down at Coronado Brewing Co., and Georgetown Brewing up in Seattle, but I’d have to go with Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River as my top pick for working with. Vinnie, give us a call – we’d love to team up with you!
Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?
Going back to the previous question, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.