Portrait of a Brewer: Chris Hotz, Societe Brewing

Whether you're talking about a straightforward helles or a guacamole beer, this R&D vet has the chops to get it done

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There are hundreds of talented brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the San Diego beer industry’s storied reputation. While these industrious practitioners share numerous similarities, each is their own unique person with individual likes, dislikes, methodologies, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer News’ Portrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce readers to local brewers, but dig in to help them gain a deeper appreciation for the people making their beer and how they have contributed to the county’s standout craft-brewing culture, all while presenting them in the finest visual light care of exceptional local lifestyle photographer Matt Furman.

Today’s featured brewer is…

Chris Hotz
of Societe Brewing

What is your current title? 
Quality Manager

Where did you grow up?  
San Diego, born and raised

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?  
My first beer was probably a Coors Light. but early on I started drinking a lot of St. Pauli Girl beers. After that I was always trying new beers and exploring the plethora of flavors that beer has to offer. I was the guy at parties that always brought my own beer rather than drink the macro stuff that took over the college beer scene.

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?  
I started homebrewing in 2004 and that really gave me an appreciation for craft beer. After that I started exploring breweries more often and paying more attention to the business of brewing.

What led you to consider a career in brewing?  
In 2012 I applied to the UC Davis brewing program. There was about a three-to-four-year waiting list and, in that time, UCSD began their Brewing Certificate program. I was part of the first group of students to start that program and, a few years later, I was part of the first class to graduate from the program. Going into it, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of going pro – I had a good job in IT – but my then girlfriend, now wife, encouraged me to take the leap and I’ve never looked back.

What was your first brewing/brewery position? 
Quality Analyst with Ballast Point Brewing

What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?  
I started working as a Quality Analyst at the Ballast Point Scripps Ranch location in 2014. In 2016, I was moved to Ballast Point’s Little Italy location, where I became an R&D Brewer for the next six years. In 2022, I began working at Societe Brewing as a Quality Manager.

Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?  
I worked closely with Aaron Justus, now the owner of East Village Brewing, as a Quality Analyst when he was brewing manager at Ballast Point Scripps Ranch. He later became my boss when he took over the R&D program and I learned a lot about the raw materials we work with everyday under his direction. I also can’t forget to mention all of my teachers at UCSD: Yuseff Cherney, Gwen Conley, Chris White, Nick Cain and Lee Chase. I learned a lot from every one of them.

What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?  
Brewing isn’t the most glamorous job and doesn’t make you rich…unless you get super lucky. Do it because it’s your passion. If it’s not, then you may want to reconsider. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?  
I’m happy with what I have achieved thus far. My goal moving forward is to learn more and help teach others in the industry. Whether that is through the Master Brewers Association of the Americas or other organizations, I just want to become more involved with the larger industry as a whole.    

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?  
As an R&D Brewer for six years, making 135 or so original beers a year, I brewed almost every style of beer and some weird concoctions, yet my favorite beer to brew so far has been a Munich helles. That style is one of the hardest to brew as it contains many nuances. The smallest changes to brewing techniques and cellar practices will make your Munich helles stand out above the rest. Details matter in that style as there is nothing to hide behind.

What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?  
I’ve been asked to make guacamole beer, sushi beer and everything in between. Some didn’t work out while others really surprised me, but I would have to say kettle sours are my least favorite to brew. They take up brewhouse space and the end result is an average-tasting sour beer. I always prefer a barrel-aged sour with more flavor nuance. 

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?  
I really enjoy the classics like Mosaic, Citra, Centennial and Nelson, to name a few. Sabro or any hop that brings a lot of coconut to the table is probably on my naughty list.

What are some of your favorite brewing ingredients that aren’t hops?  
I made a beer once with a ridiculous amount of saffron. It was a Vienna lager with saffron that gave it an amazing aroma and beautiful pink lacing. It was a collaboration with a saffron producer, otherwise there is no way it would have been profitable.

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?  
I would probably be a real estate agent or into real estate marketing since that was my career before brewing.

In your opinion, what non-brewing position is of great importance at a craft-beer company but often gets overlooked or less credit than those making the beer?  
The packaging team is crucial to putting out good quality beer. You can always fix errors on the brewing side, but packaging has to be able to package beer correctly the first time without introducing oxygen, the enemy of beer and beer stability. They deserve a lot of credit.

What is your favorite beer style? 
Any German lager, especially ones with some color like a Munich dunkel.

If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the earth, what would it be?  
Probably kettle sours. That said, while I love IPAs, I can’t wait for the industry to start accepting more varieties of styles. I’d wipe IPAs out if it meant other styles could be produced and sold around San Diego.

What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?  
Most of my influence as a brewer comes from making malt teas and rubbing hops. Picking the right ingredient is key to making a quality beer. That said, I tend to gravitate towards breweries that make beers to style. Breweries like Eppig Brewing, Rip Currant Brewing and Bagby Beer Co. have all inspired me to make the highest quality beer. It’s sad to see many of those breweries now closing.

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?  
If I had to pick one to join me on a desert island, it would be Pizza Port. They make amazing beers and really get to brew a lot of styles in their brewpubs.

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?  
Allagash and Avery Brewing would be my top picks outside of San Diego. Allagash does Belgian ales better than anyone in the States. And Avery makes amazing high-alcohol beers that get me drunk every time I visit them.

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?  
I really haven’t visited some of the amazing breweries north of San Diego. I would love to visit Sierra Nevada, Russian River and Firestone Walker Brewing. I really admire their leaders, Ken Grossman, Vinnie Cilurzo and Matt Brynildson.

What are your favorite local beer events?  
I don’t get out much with two young kids and all. When I do, it is usually to attend a QUAFF meeting or a BJCP-certified judging event for the America’s Finest City, National Homebrew or San Diego International Brewing Competitions.

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?  
I want to live in the mountains near a ski resort. Mostly likely I would be reaching out to the handful of breweries in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That is my retirement plan if everything goes well.

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?  
I’m a huge fan of Maynard James Keenan, so usually Tool or Puscifer. That said, I am listening to “Music for Airports” by Brian Eno right now. That’s a 180.    

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?  
Cleanliness matters as that is a good indicator as to how well you pay attention to details on the brewhouse or cellar. Details matter.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishments?  
Judging World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. Also getting the opportunity to teach the Raw Materials and Finishing Practices courses for the UCSD Brewing Certificate program.  It’s sad to see that program come to end. It was a real privilege to help others get into the industry.

What are you proud of having achieved in your personal life?  
Becoming a father to my wonderful girls. Everything else is a distant second place.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun? 
I love getting outdoors to hike or snowboard. And it’s also fun beating my five- and seven-year-olds at Mario Kart.

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?  
At home on my front porch. O’Brien’s is my go to spot, as well.

What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time? 
I’ve hosted my share of beer-and-food pairings. Funny enough, I can’t remember any of them, but they were all so good.

If you could somehow plan your last beer dinner before dying, what would you drink and eat, and who would you invite to join you? 
I’d invite my closest friends and we would eat Mexican food while drinking multiple styles of German beer.

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?  
I’m just a guy trying to be good. Everything else I hope falls into place.

If you’re a brewer at a San Diego brewing company and would like to be featured in our Portrait of a Brewer series, drop us a line at [email protected].

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