Portrait of a Brewer: Brian Crecely, Kilowatt Brewing

Beer enjoyment inspired Kilowatt Brewing's headman to pursue brewing, and now he's teaching the next generation

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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…

Brian Crecely
of Kilowatt Brewing

What is your current title?
Head Brewer

Where did you grow up?
San Diego

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
Probably a sip out of my dad’s Budweiser. I remember hating the taste of it.

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
I was working at a restaurant in 2004 that carried Stone, Ballast Point and AleSmith beers. A couple of my co-workers were into homebrewing, as well. That was kind of the start of it. I had previously had beers like Sierra Nevada Pale ALe and Red Trolley before that, but I didn’t quite have the bug yet.

What led you to consider a career in brewing?
Getting into homebrewing was a big part of it and being in QUAFF at the time helped me to get better at homebrewing. The economy had tanked when I got out of college, and I didn’t really have a clear plan. I was burned out working in restaurants and wanted to follow something I was passionate about, so brewing beer for a living looked pretty enticing. 

What was your first brewing/brewery position?
Assistant Brewer at AleSmith Brewing

What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
I started out at the bottom at AleSmith and worked my way from packing beer to the cellar, to brewing and, eventually, to specialty brewer, until I took the position as Head Brewer at Kilowatt Brewing. The list is pretty small. I was at AleSmith from 2011 to 2017, and I have been with Kilowatt since then.

Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
I’d say in the beginning at AleSmith, Anthony Chen, who was my direct boss at the time, really taught me a lot. He is very detail-oriented and process-driven, and I think that helped me quite a bit. I will say, in the earlier days at AleSmith we had a pretty amazing group of people, many of whom are still great friends. They really helped to shape my whole career path in brewing. 

What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
If you are really serious about brewing, try to work for a small brewery that makes excellent beer. You will probably sacrifice some pay and benefits, but you will have an opportunity to participate in more aspects of the business and learn a lot more in a shorter amount of time than at a large production facility where you may be doing the same packaging-line job every day.

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
I would love to start my own brewery. I can’t imagine opening another brewery in San Diego though, especially with how the industry has been going lately. But trends and things change, so who knows what’s on the horizon.

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
It’s so hard to list just one. Some beers are just more fun to make based on the process and some are more delicious. I think the OB Bubble Dubbel might take the cake though. I really like brewing Belgian beers because they can taste so complex even though, often, the recipes can be rather simple.

What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
I was helping out a brewery who was in between brewers at the time and I brewed on their system to do them a favor. The mash-tun design had some issues that I wasn’t familiar with and I got the mash stuck. The day went several hours over what it would have been. I think the beer turned out OK, but it was a pretty awful day.  

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
Citra and Mosaic are always great, and I have been digging some of the experimental varieties coming out of Yakima Chief lately. It’s hard to pick a bad one since they all kind of have their own uses depending on what you are going for. That said, I’m not a huge fan of Summit hops.

What are some of your favorite brewing ingredients that aren’t hops?
Different fruits and spices are always cool to mess around with. It really depends on the beer you are trying to make. We do a lot of non-traditional beers: coconut, cacao, green tea, spices or beers with fruit puree. It’s hard to list a favorite, though I will say I’m always trying to find an ingredient that hasn’t really been used yet since so many already have been. Lately, though, I have really been enjoying playing around with different types of coffee. 

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
That’s a tough one. I’d like to think I would have gotten into a trade, but who knows.

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?
On the production side, packaging. I can’t say this loud enough! It’s the one job that can make or break your product and they are often the least paid. You can truly wreck a beer if it’s poorly packaged.  

What is your favorite beer style?
IPAs for sure, hazy or West Coast.

If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the earth, what would it be?
I’m sure a lot of my friends would wish I’d say hazy IPAs, but that’s not gonna happen. Honestly, I really can appreciate all “styles” but the really sweet pastry stouts out there – you know, the ones that taste like cough syrup – I’d be OK if those disappeared.  

What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
I got my start at AleSmith, which is what I know the most and the genesis for everything I have brewed since then.

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
It would have to be North Park Beer Co. They make some truly amazing beers.

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
The list is practically endless, but I would say Hacker Pschorr in Germany, and Rochefort and Cantillon in Belgium.

What are your favorite local beer events?
I’m a big fan of the Guild Fest. It’s always a great one. I know they stopped doing The Garden event at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, but that was one of my favorites. It was great to work at and even better to attend. You don’t see too many beer-and-food pairing events like you used to. I will say O’Brien’s Pub does have some amazing beer dinners, though, too.

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
Hopefully somewhere tropical and warm.

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
It’s gonna sound weird, but I don’t usually listen to music during the brew day. I always let whoever else is in the brewhouse play whatever they are into. That usually works for me. If I had to pick a few, I’d say The Beatles, Hawaiian music and reggae.

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Keep everything as sanitary as humanly possible and keep oxygen out on the cold side.

What are you proud of having achieved in your personal life?
I have been teaching at Mesa College’s brewing program since last year. I never thought I would have an opportunity to teach beer, so it’s been a really great experience so far.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
I love the ocean, surfing, swimming, diving and spearfishing.  

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
Pizza Port Ocean Beach, Fathom Bistro and the occasional mai tai at Bali Hai.

What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
A tall draft pour of Asahi and yakitori. The salty, smoky grilled chicken and a crisp ice-cold beer…it doesn’t get any better than that.

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?
Any good beer with friends and family would be perfect, even if it happened to be a tall can of Genesee cream ale and a Double Double.

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
Someone who likes beer enough to try and make a career out of it.

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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