Friday, July 18, 2008

International Brewers Day- A Conversation with Ric Hoffman

Any excuse would be poor; I've known about 7/18 being tagged International Brewers Day by Jay Brooks since he announced it almost 2 months ago. But, I let it go...didn't even put up a banner for it until this week. Now, I'll attempt to make up for my tardiness.

This is a worthy way of recognizing brewers and the work that they do. So, to participate, I put together a list format of typical questions that could (hopefully) be answered by a willing brewer. I took all the brewer names I have in my address book, stuck 'em in a spreadsheet, and used a random number generator to select my profile.

Given only two days notice, I graciously thank well-accomplished and highly-regarded Ric Hoffman of Stewart's Brewing Company for agreeing to sit down and answer some questions about himself and his occupation. He went over and beyond in thoughtfully and completely answering my questions. Secretly, I was hoping that random number thingy chose Ric because in an industry full of great folks, he's near the top.

If you're not familiar with Ric's product, I've included an abbreviated list of products and full list of awards during his tenure at Stewart's Brewing Company in Bear, Delaware (and you thought Delaware only played host to that other crazy brewery...there's plenty of crazy to go around in Delaware!)

As you read through this, think about the last time you thanked your brewer for the work they do to provide you with the beverage you love so much. Send Big Cheers and Thanks today to all brewers around the world!

Dunkel Rico (GABF 2006 Bronze)
Stewart’s Barleywine (GABF 2003 Gold)
Stewart’s Irish Red Ale (WBC 2000 Bronze)
Stewart’s Oktoberfest (GABF 2007 Silver; GABF 2003 Bronze)
Stewart’s Smoked Porter (GABF 2006 Bronze; GABF 2001 Bronze)
Stumblin’ Monk Abbey Trippel (WBC 2006 Bronze; WBC 2002 Silver)
Windblown Blonde K├Âlsch (WBC 2008 Gold)

A few other Beers to list

Abbey Hoffman (Abbey Dubbel)
Lockjaw Double IPA
Pacific Coast Porter
Gudneitzenbock (Weizenbock)
Blue Rocks Pilsner
Mcbride's Strong Ale
Saison de l'Ours

Q&A with Ric Hoffman

TBL: How did you get interested and started in brewing?
RH: I was living in Tucson in 1996, working a phone sales job (read: minimum wage), and was really poor. I loved good beer, but my budget only included one 12 pack of Weinhard's per week. Obviously that wouldn't do, so I thought about making my own.

The first thing I did was actually wine: I had a pomegranate tree in my backyard, and you can only eat so many pomegranates... so I made 10 litres of pomegranate / apple wine. Not bad, but you couldn't really drink it day to day.

So, I walked into the local homebrew shop (Rillito Creek Homebrew supply, if they're still out there) and told them I liked Sierra and Anchor.... what could they do for me? I walked out with the basic 2 bucket kit and some extract and malt.

A year later, a friend of mine was running a brewery in North Carolina, knew I was homebrewing, and offered me a $5.00/hr job if I could be there in a week. I was a day late.

TBL: What was your first batch?
1) Amateur: (see above) California Common, fermented Tucson-style (80 degrees)
2) Professional: (my first pro recipe) English Brown

TBL: Was there anything memorable about it?
1) Amateur: So memorable. It was actually an OK beer, but the most amazing thing was opening that first bottle, hearing the carbonation, pouring the beer, seeing the foam form, and most amazing of all... IT TASTED LIKE BEER! IT'S ACTUALLY BEER! Like an epiphany.
2) Professional: Not so memorable (the English Brown). Pretty pedestrian, if not downright bad.

TBL: Do you still homebrew?
RH: I don't really homebrew anymore, if just for the fact that if I want to do 5 or 10 gallons, it's much easier to do it at work where I have more resources available to me. The last true homebrew I did was brewed was a 10 gallon batch in 2004 with my wife Natalie, a Double Chocolate Imperial Stout (the Double Lovin' Spoonful) for our wedding favors, in nip bottles. And we still brewed that out back of the restaurant. And, it must be said that she pretty much brewed most of that by herself, as I was actually brewing at the pub that day too (it's still drinking OK, believe it or not... some bottles are falling off a little, but some are surprisingly robust).

TBL: Favorite book (or other resource) related to brewing
RH: Randy Mosher's Brewing Companion; I still use it.

TBL: Role model in brewing; Role model in life
RH: There are a lot of brewers I look up to, I'm just not sure I want to be like them or make beers like they do. I guess the same is true in life.

TBL: Worst advice ever given regarding brewing:
RH: I can't really think of any.... The standard answer you give an aspiring brewer is 'don't bother, you can't take it', and then you see if they come back the next day. I had the good fortune of not knowing any professional brewers until it was too late.

TBL: Do you attempt to follow market trends when deciding upon the next new brew, or do you follow your own preferences...hoping the market follows you?
RH: We're the restaurant that started an all-you-can-eat pasta night at the height of the Atkins trend, are you kidding? So no, not really. The one concession I made was 'Double IPA'. I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard of at first, and I resisted for two years or so, but I went ahead and did it eventually... and now it's one of my favorite beers; go figure.

And if we followed local market trends, we'd make lite beer. Now they drink Oktoberfest like Bavarian fishes. So no, definitely not local trends, and probably not so much industry ones either.

TBL: Favorite book, not beer
RH:The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (I have to say something, right?)

TBL: Favorite beer movie
RH: If Strange Brew doesn't count, and I hope it doesn't, I'll have to say American Beer, if nothing else than for Dave Hoffmann's stellar performance.

TBL: Favorite movie, not beer
RH: Any and all Star Wars, Cool Hand Luke, Barfly

TBL: Music to brew by
RH: I like it quiet so I can hear the pumps, but I let Eric (assistant brewer Eric Boice) play his death metal when he needs to.

TBL: Music to party with
RH: Whatever Jam is happening at my house at the moment. Also the Grateful Dead, always and forever.

TBL: You're at the bar buying the next round and faced with only "non-craft" beers to choose from...which brand do you choose?
RH:Bourbon, Tequila.... I like wine a lot too. I guess if it was a beer that I had to choose, it would be Original Coors, just because the guy who trained me would only drink that if nothing else was around. But no, I'm going to say Bourbon or Tequila.

TBL: Least favorite style to brew
RH: Honestly, they all brew the same. Maybe you just care a little more if you know it's something you'll love to drink, but for the most part, the work is all the same.

TBL: Least favorite style to drink
RH: Golden Ale, Irish Red, boring malty beers. (Don't get me wrong, I like interesting malty beers.)

TBL: The perfect beer trip/vacation consists of...
RH: Drinking beers from tiny breweries I can't usually get, and seeing mega production sites that blow my mind.

TBL: Which accomplishments/awards are you most proud of....& why?
RH: Really, just being able to make anything on the piece of crap brewery (maybe a nice way to say it is 'on the limited equipment') I have to work with (Sorry Al, but you're due for an upgrade). We've won some awards, but they don't pay the bills, or my salary.

The cool thing is that in our area, we've opened a lot of peoples' eyes to real beer, people who never would have tried anything if we weren't the corner bar. I've got people who drink Coors all year until Stumblin' Monk comes on tap, and then they can't get enough of it.

That being said, the major awards are a nice affirmation. Especially for lager styles (or anything but a Ringwood traditional English Ale), which by all rights we shouldn't be able to brew, right?

TBL: What advice do you give a young aspiring brewer?
RH: If you're smart enough to do it, you can make a lot more money in another field. If you're tough enough to do it, go join a union, and make a lot more money. If you're still here tomorrow, here's a deck brush. Show me what you can do.

And on one last note, Here's a happy picture over at Stewart's website

1 comment:

Dr Joel said...

Solid reporting Mr. Kolesar, good reading man.

Long time no see, hope to bump into you soon.