Portrait of a Brewer: Kevin Dougherty, Societe Brewing

From scrubbing floors to brewing to spirit-conjuring and serving as a brewery Swiss army knife, he's right where he wants to be

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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…

Kevin Dougherty
of Societe Brewing

What is your current title?
Director of Facilities

Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Diego, but we moved away when I was very young. I grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills in a little mountain town called Colfax. I went to high school on the East Coast, then moved back to California for college.

What brought you back to San Diego?
My family had migrated back here, and I was already working in craft beer. so I knew I’d have no problem finding work.

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
A craft stout. I can’t remember which brewery produced it.

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
The very first sip.

What led you to consider a career in brewing?
I kind of just stumbled into it. It was never my goal to become a brewer. I was driving a forklift in the warehouse at Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Oregon. I had begun homebrewing and a brewer position opened up, so I thought, “why not?”

What was your first brewing/brewery position?
Scrubbing floors and operating a five-head manual five-liter mini-keg filler.

What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
Widmer Brothers Brewing – Brewer; Bear Republic Brewing – Brewer; Division 23 Brewing – Head Brewer; Cutwater Spirits – Director of Distilling; Societe Brewing Company – Brewer, and now Director of Facilities

Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
I had great mentors at Widmer and Bear Republic. At Cutwater we had a stellar maintenance team and I learned a ton just from being around them.

What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
It will never be easy. If you don’t thrive in challenging situations and enjoy problem-solving, you will not enjoy this work.

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
I’ve already achieved it. I’m right where I want to be and doing what I want to be doing.

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
My favorite homebrew was a really nice English pale ale I brewed with some Goldings I grew in my backyard. I used to brew a coconut porter that, while not typically a style I like, I was very proud of. I brewed a smoked California common once that all my brewery friends loved, but the general public did not go for at all. It was definitely a “brewer’s beer”.

What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
Hard to say. I really don’t enjoy drinking sours and they are a ton of work, so maybe that?

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
My favorite is Centennial. For me it is the paragon of hops. If I had to introduce somebody to hops and could only use one variety it would be Centennial. It’s hard to pick a least favorite. In general I dislike wet-hop/fresh-hop beers. I feel like the kilning and conditioning that goes into pellet hops really helps give cleaner and brighter aromas.

What are some of your favorite brewing ingredients that aren’t hops?
I’m a Simpsons Malting fanboy. Their Crystal Medium is my all-time favorite crystal malt. I used to sneak it into just about everything.

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
This question scares me a little. If I hadn’t lucked out and stumbled into the beer industry, I don’t know what I would be doing. I have an interest in controls and have dabbled in PLC programming, but I don’t know how I would have discovered this interest without working in craft beer to begin with. I was considering going to welding school at one point.

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?
Packaging. They are the last line of defense. You can make the best beer in the world but end up sending a bad product to market if your packaging team isn’t on point. Packaging inefficiencies eat into the beer’s profitability like nothing else. Wort is relatively inexpensive. Packaging materials and brite beer are expensive.

What is your favorite beer style?
West Coast IPA and Pilsners

If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the earth, what would it be?
Anything with milk, pastry, donuts, frosting, sprinkles, etc., etc. I just hate gimmicky beer.

What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
I can’t single out one. Any brewery that focuses on making clean, true “beer-flavored beer”. This is why I was so excited to join Societe.

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
Besides Societe? I love Swami’s and always go for whatever is new from Pizza Port.

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
Wayfinder Beer in Portland is making incredible lagers.

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
I’ve still never been to Sierra Nevada Brewing, so that’s a must. I’d like to visit a large macro facility. I feel like it would be eye-opening. I’d also like to visit international breweries to see what they do differently and what is universal.

What are your favorite local beer events?
Sono Fest and weekend brunch at Fathom Bistro.

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
I loved my time in Portland and still go back to visit for vacations. I love the nature and camping in Arizona, so that’s also a candidate.

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
Heavy music, stoner/doom metal, blues like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Primus. If I’m stressed out or something is pissing me off, grindcore.

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
If a valve doesn’t need to be open, close it! Always be thinking, “What can I do now to make things easier for me later?” Use all your senses to brew. Is the pipe getting hot? Does this smell the way it should? Your ears will usually be the first thing to tell you if something is wrong. Whatever you do, don’t panic.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishments?
Everything I accomplished with the team at Cutwater. In many ways we were making something new, we didn’t have all the literature and resources to draw on that the beer industry has. We had to figure everything out ourselves. Here at Societe, transitioning to the maintenance role. I am the department head and also sole mechanic for the entire facility. It was a big shift in responsibilities and, frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful, but I’ve been able to handle it and learn a ton along the way.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Cooking. Camping and off-roading. I consider myself a bit of a pinball wizard. I have a bunch of fancy Japanese kitchen knives and I get real nerdy about sharpening them.

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
West-Coast IPAs and gin-and-tonics. I like tiki bars and I make a mean Mai Tai. When made right, it’s not the fruity sugar-bomb people tend to think of. It’s actually a really balanced and nuanced cocktail that lets all of its ingredients shine.

What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
Raw oysters on the halfshell with a spritz of lemon and a scant dash of Tabasco paired with a German Pilsner.

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?
Chilled seafood, bavette grilled medium-rare, yakitori, Buffalo wings, artichokes, charred broccolini with hollandaise, deviled eggs, charcuterie…I’m just listing my favorite foods. I would probably host at the brewery, so drinks would be IPA fresh off the brite tanks. Hopefully we’d have some Heiress Pilsner in the tank, as well. I’d invite all of the awesome friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way, as well as friends, family and dogs.

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
A perpetual student. A driven professional. A connoisseur of hot sauces. An instant noodle enthusiast. A dog lover.

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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