There are hundreds of hard-working brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the storied reputation San Diego’s brewing scene has earned over the past several decades. Some have risen to great fame among industry pros and craft-beer enthusiasts. Some ply their trade in obscurity (and are more than happy to do so). Some are Instagram famous, trendsetters with cult followings that would rival social-media influencers. And while they share plenty of similarities, each is their own unique person with their own likes, dislikes, methods, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer News‘ Portrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce you to local brewers, but to have some fun delving into the aforementioned areas so you can get to know them a little better and appreciate them and their contributions to the county’s standout brewing culture. All that plus stellar portraits from brewery lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Matt Furman.
Today’s featured brewer is…
of Karl Strauss Brewing
What is your current title?
Where did you grow up?
Mission Viejo in south Orange County
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
The first craft beer I ever had and the one that got me interested in craft beer was Green Flash’s Hop Head Red.
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
I’m a big science nerd. My degree is in Chemical Biology, and as I got into homebrewing and learning more about beer at the brewery-restaurant I was working at, it just really fascinated me how much chemistry and biology was involved in brewing.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
I had applied to medical school twice and been rejected both times. The next natural step was to start a career in brewing.
Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?
I got my start in the brewing industry as the assistant brewer at San Diego Brewing Company.
What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley, where I worked on restaurant side but eventually was in charge of beer education. San Diego Brewing Company, where I worked on the restaurant side then transitioned over to the brewing side full-time, first as an assistant brewer, then as a brewer. And at Karl Strauss, I’ve been a shift brewer, a small-batch brewer and, now, an R&D brewer.
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
Adam Howe and Kyle Nelson at Pyramid Alehouse helped foster in me a love for craft beer. Jeff Drum, Scott Stamp and Matt Navarre gave me my start at San Diego Brewing and encouraged me to keep going. And Karl Strauss Head Brewer Chris Sullivan has been an idea soundboard and brainstorm partner.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Be persistent and get your foot in the door. Hands-on experience is so much more valuable than book knowledge.
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
Probably a three-way tie between Psycho Pilsner New Zealand-style Pilsner, Miel Bock Honey Maibock and a key lime pie-inspired hazy IPA called Whose Lime Is It Anyhaze?
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
A blueberry Belgian wit. Not sure if the blueberries I received were not great or something else went wrong, but it just did not work.
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?
Hands down, the logistics department, which covers the warehouse, delivery drivers, etc.
What is your favorite beer style?
Red IPA or imperial red ale. I love the balance between malt and hops.
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
Pizza Port Brewing
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
Sierra Nevada Brewing. I like their approach and their dedication to tradition. I also like how much they give back to their community. The liquid is pretty good, as well.
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
I’m a big lager guy, so it would probably have to be a visit to Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver. Otherwise, I just like to visit anything local to where I am.
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Never give up, never surrender.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Spend time with my wife and three children, go to and serve at my church, watch sports and drink beer. I’m a simple man.
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].