Friday, October 12, 2012

Brewer of the Week

This week we head north to Minnesota. The name Kristen England is no doubt familiar to many homebrewers, he was the Education Director at the BJCP, collaborates with Ron Pattinson on his 'Let's Brew Wednesday' historic recipes, provided the recipe for this year's International Homebrew Project and so on and so forth. Well, now Kristen has his own brewery, so in the immortal phrasing of Ron, 'time to let Kristen take control'...

Name: Kristen England
Brewery: Pour Decisions

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Hmmm…well it’s still not actually a career, 2nd career I guess? It’s another form of science which got me hooked…science begets science, as it where…is. Do I have to get paid for it to be a career? If so, this is definitely not a second career.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I don’t think there is a single one. I think there are a lot of comparisons between chefs and brewers. There is definitely a set that they both share. Thick skin is a huge one. You get better by learning from your failures. Accept them and move on. Being able to ‘kill your babies’ is important. You may make the world’s best soufflé but if people don’t dig it, it doesn’t matter. Yelling at people that something is perfect when they just aren’t buying it, no matter how much you are right or love it, is a sure way to 1) alienate your peeps and 2) to fail in a giant flaming fireball. Passion is probably the most important. Wait, I mean bullocks. Yes, that’s it..big old bullocks. Passion is a tag line…or a tasty delicious fruit. That word ranks up there as one of the worst words in the history of time with me. Everyone is passionate about everything. ‘Well Jim, you have more passion than anyone we’ve ever seen but, I’m not sure that’s enough to let you drive the battleship…’ Passion says nothing about a brewer than a tag line. Ask any chef or brewer that when they’re 16 Red Bull’s in and they’ve been up 20 hours trying to fix broken the boiler/oven what passion does for them. Persistence, love and pride are vastly superior. You keep at it, no matter what, until it goes right because you have pride in what you do, in yourself and your brewery. That being said, I think if passion in beer were measured in units, I think they would have to be called Calagiones and measured on a log scale. Screw this base 6 stuff… ‘Oh, you think your beer is good, suck it buddy. Mine has 4.3 Calagiones! That destroys your meager 2.9! BRING THE PAIN!!! TASTE THE PASSSION!!!! Chicka pow!!!’ Seems Ruhlman agrees.'

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I started home brewing about 9 years ago and like everything else I pick up as a hobby it got carried away. I’ve made well over 1000 batches of beer in various sizes over that time. As a scientist, I experimented with every technique and ingredient I could get my hands on… even weird or esoteric ones. Oh yes, from peanut butter to those little sacks that make up a piece of orange to natural red dye that, apparently, turns your pee bright red. Not something one is prepared for when waking up at 0630 to get to work after a mean pissup the night before! I’ve made so many different recipes and then versions of those recipes I have lists of beers in pretty much every style I want to make at the brewery that seems to be ever growing. The hardest part is to be calm about what I want to brew and not try make everything at once. It’s something I thought was extremely important with regards to starting a brewery. I knew at some point I would be involved in a brewery. The amateur days are the times where one can do whatever they want, learn as much as they can, compete against some of the best brewers in the world. Challenge yourself…all the while drinking beer.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

I won’t be home brewing, per se, any longer. The wife is extremely happy to hear about that as the vast majority of my stuff is still in boxes when I moved in with her 7 years ago. Now the stuff I was able to unpack will get moved to the brewery. So basically she’ll have all the room back she used to keep uncluttered (read empty). I’ll still be ‘brewing’ mead, wine and cider though. Man can’t live on beer alone…gotta combine that with all different types of liquor to keep the old liver guessing! We’ll be using my old home brew kit at the brewery to teach classes on and let some of the home brew guys have a little fun on. They’ll get to do their favorite recipes and share them with the world (branded of course). It’s one thing for your friends to say they love your beer, it’s a completely different thing to put it out there for the world to taste and comment. Bascially letting them share their favorite things with our fans. If the beers do well, we’ll definitely put them in the rotation! I also have a 2.5bbl pilot system that I can use to do some fun one-offs. Basically a nicer, larger home brew rig. Lots of cool stuff planned for the tap room.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Wow, a favorite to brew is really hard. I would say I have two. My Berliner Weiss takes the least amount of time to make of any beer but the sour, puckering awesomeness you get out of something so simple is extremely gratifying. The other would be a traditional Czech ‘Desítka’. Triple decocted, 100% floor malted Bohemian pils malt, 2+hour boil and 100% Saaz hops. If you take most current literature into account, making a triple decocted 1.040 beer is pointless. Today’s malt is fully modified and doesn’t need it. You are wasting time, energy, blah blah blah. Rubbish. You go ahead and tell me that the numbers are same. The mash efficiency, the hop BU’s and so on. I’ll point to the Czech brew masters that have been doing it the same way for over 150 years that say they would love to quit triple decocting if they could. But they can’t. The beer suffers and the patrons complain. How do I justify making a beer for my customers I know could be better just to save myself time? The time and energy that goes into it that makes a product so thoroughly enjoyable is worth it. As it was explained to me in Jihlava by an 80+ year old bar goer (translated). “A properly made Desitka tastes like Jesus massaging your tongue.’ I would agree.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?


Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

This is definitely a loaded question. Every brewer is supposed to say, ‘ALL OF THEM!!!’ I won’t say Desitka as I just lamented on it. Both the Pubstitute and Patersbier I can drink year round. A few Paters and then switch to the Pubstitute as you can have tons of them over conversation and not turn into a wonky twat…the wonky part anyway. The AK (pale mild/golden bitter) we’ll be coming out with shortly called ‘The Actress and The Bishop’ would be close as it is suicidally quaffable. That’s one beer I have to keep off tap at the brewery when we are working as both the beer nerds and ‘normies’ drink it dry. In the winter, I can murder a double stout. Something big and rich to get me started for the evening. In the summer, Berliner Weiss with fresh raspberry syrup. I mean, Berliner’s on their own, are excellent. Chuck in some raspberry and the things are sublime! Really, really bloody marvelous...

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

Authenticity is a relative term. There is so much rubbish out about beer styles and their history it depends who you talk too. Current literature is troublesome with all the circular referencing. A brewery focused on ‘tradition’ can easily get their asses handed to them for following one story when another is true. In the world of beer, you’ll find many wonderful stories ruined by fact.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in the glass. When I do something ‘traditional’ I ensure that it’s massively researched, probably overly so. A lot of beer styles are just snap shots in time. When I say IPA, what do I mean? If I put IPA on the label people are going to get angry here in the Midwest if it’s not strong and bitter. We have vernacular for a reason. If I want a bacon cheeseburger and you bring me a veggie ‘not dog’ I’m going to be pretty pissed about it. The need to preface traditional things is of vast importance. Making an authentically shitty beer for its own sake is asinine. If they filtered through a sheep’s bladder, it doesn’t mean you have to also. Make the best possible product but be open about what you are doing and changes if they matter. Meaning don’t tell me you made a ‘traditional’ Gose and just add salt to a witbier. I just think it’s a case of putting the cart before the horse. Spend more time in the brewery, less time at how to ‘spin’ the beer and everyone benefits.

I think the most important thing about authenticity in brewing is being authentic with your consumers…and I guess yourself. From gypsy brewers to ‘brands’, the world if full of ‘breweries’. A business address does not equal a brewery. If your product is made in northern California, it is not a ‘local’ product in Eastern Guatemala just because the business is based there. If someone brews your beer, puts it in cans, you are a beer company, not a brewery. If you contract someone to brew your ‘recipe’ and you have no hand in the process, you are not a brewer or a brewery. Everyone has a different idea of their business model. I personally don’t care what your plan is as long as you make a great product. That being said, I will always support local. All things being equal, I think it’s very important to spend my dollars on things around me. However I won’t put my local blinders on if the product isn’t up to par just because it’s local. I think it’s important for a company to receive honest feedback as if you keep your locals happy, you’ll be happy. The problem is in today’s brewing world, people have gotten away from this. It’s sometimes impossible to find where something was actually made. Every time I pick up a new brand, I turn that can or bottle or look at that keg collar and see where it’s really made. “Brewed and bottled by Thrusty Passion brewery, Western Kreplakistan.” Hmmm…yet the front of the bottle says, “Crotch Crescent, Oxford” (and yes, I’ve been to Crotch Crescent). I think it’s simply a matter of people not liking to be misled. Honesty, above all else = authenticity to me. On a similar vein, I love this tweet by Greg Kock of Stone Brewing, “If your beer isn't actually brewed there, why do you spend so much time, energy & money trying to convince people it is? How about #honesty”.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

All your questions open ended aren’t they!? Collaborations to me should be about what each person brings to the table and not just about marketing or because it sounds cool. There are so very few collaborations that kick actual ass that it’s something that really needs a lot of thought put into it.

Does it have to still be in operation? I say no. I would love to have done collaborated with Guinness Park Royal. My granddad used to run their men’s club for years and the stories my mum tells would be a great tie-in. Oooooo, or the old Courage brewery…oh yes, that would be sweet! Breweries around today? Another hard one! Depends on the type of beer we’d be doing. I would love to do a historic collaboration with Fullers. Ron’s been doing them with John for a while and I’d love to add my $0.02 (US). I could drink their stuff all day. I would really enjoy doing something with Pivovar Kout na Šumavě. I think they are one of the best breweries in the world. A little place in Hungary near where my wife’s family is from called Rotburger would be really cool. If you make me choose the US, doing a historical IBSt with Russian River aged in some nice barrels would kick some major ass (hope Vinnie is listening!). Doing one of the first IPA’s with Stone’s Mitch Steele would be a great continuation from what we’ve done in the past (I helped Mitch with historic IPA recipes in his new book. IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Buy it!).

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Invented…depends who you ask invented what. I would probably have to say something like the Czech Desitka…yes yes I’ve talked about it before. You don’t really see them in the US so people don’t know how awesome they are and what they are missing!! It’s such a simple beer that started with suboptimal ingredients. You have water that lacks so many minerals it’s nearly distilled, malt that was of low quality and hops with little bittering ability. The amount of time and energy into making a beer so wonderful is staggering. Coming up with so many rests, how to get there, what to do, what to add, its massively difficult when you have the roadmap, inventing it, that’s just bloody brilliant. Rain man brilliant. Oh, and I guess the second would be malt liquor. Billy Dee and I would have been best friends and I would be been luckier than Nigella Lawson’s knickers with more street cred than Grand Master Flash! That would’ve been sweet…

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