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 Gravity Heights
What is your current title?
Where did you grow up?
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
Probably a sip of my Dad’s Modelo Negra or Mom’s Margarita at Tio Leo’s.
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
I started discovering craft beer while I was in college in Boston. My roommate and I would pick out a different six-pack at the liquor store every time we went in and I started buying beer based on flavor rather than ABV (alcohol-by-volume) or price-point. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was definitely a revelation, as well as Harpoon IPA and Allagash Tripel.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
When I realized I didn’t want to pursue a career as a recording engineer in L.A. I decided to move back home to San Diego where the craft-beer scene was exploding. I ended up working at Brothers Provisions where the foundation of my beer knowledge was developed. My passion for beer kept growing and led me to pursue a career in brewing.
Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?
Benchmark Brewing. I started pouring beer in the tasting room and eventually worked my way into the brewhouse.
What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
Assistant Brewer and Brewer at Benchmark, Brewer at Athletic Brewing and Gravity Heights
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
Matt Akin (Benchmark Brewing and, now, Duck Foot Brewing) and Tommy Kreamer (Gravity Heights). Both have been, and continue to be, great mentors in all aspects of brewing, and have shown me the kind of a manager and mentor I aspire to be.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Find the right fit. Do you want to work your way up at a big production facility or wear a lot of hats at a small brewpub? Figure out your goals and find a brewery that will help you achieve them.
What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
Head Brewer at a brewpub
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
Dubbel on the Rocks, a Belgian dubbel steinbier we (Gravity Heights’ team) brewed at Rouleur Brewing with Nickel Beer Co. and The Lost Abbey. We loaded up a 10-barrel hopback with piping hot granite stones and filled it up with wort before knockout. It was such a fun brew day and pretty epic to have San Diego brewing heavyweights like Skip Virgilio, Tomme Arthur and Tom Nickel taking part.
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
Probably Athletic’s pumpkin beer.
What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
I’m a big fan of Riwaka lately, and I’ve never been a fan of Sorachi Ace.
If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
My current side-hustle of building and repairing guitar amplifiers.
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?
At Gravity Heights it’s the front-of-house servers and bartenders. They go through extensive training on our beers in order to better serve and educate our guests.
What is your favorite beer style?
Pilsner. I love that you can find nuance in them if you want to, or you can just relax and enjoy something crisp and easy to drink.
If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
Pastry stouts. I can’t stand overly sweet beer.
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
Alesmith Brewing via Matt Akin and Skip Virgilio. Beer-flavored beer.
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
Bierstadt Lagerhaus. I’ll have a helles while I wait for my slow-pour pils.
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
Orval, De La Senne, and Ægir in Norway, because drinking beer on a fjord sounds like a good time.
What are your favorite local beer events?
The Beer Garden event at The Lodge at Torrey Pines which caps off San Diego Beer Week, SoNo Chili Fest and Bagby’s Low & Slow lager festival.
If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. There is so much good beer up there!
Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
Usually something different every day. Tommy and I like to check out new releases on Fridays. Kurt Vile, The Traveling Wilburys and Sturgill Simpson make for good floor-scrubbing music.
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Find ways to be more efficient without sacrificing quality.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Study old tube-amplifier schematics, go birding or walk around the neighborhood with my wife and our dog.
Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
Eppig Waterfront Biergarten, Panama 66 and Fall Brewing
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
It’s hard to beat some good tacos with a hoppy lager like Clever Kiwi from Burgeon Beer Co.
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?
BBQ oysters at Nick’s Cove on Tomales Bay drinking Moscow Mules and Allagash White with my closest friends and family.
Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
A lucky dude who makes a living doing something that can stimulate both sides of the brain and provides endless challenges in a supportive and collaborative industry.
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].