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?
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
I remember drinking wine with dinner as a teen (I had a French mom) and then lots of wine coolers, beer and tequila in high school.
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale circa 1988. Also, Anchor Liberty Ale. Also, Amber Lager at Karl Strauss’ Old Columbia Street brewery in ’89.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
A love of beer and brewing. I had fun homebrewing for several years and then realized I might be able to make a living doing it.
Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?
I applied to all five San Diego breweries in ‘94. None were hiring, but the general manager at the Hops! in UTC sent my résumé out to a GM in Phoenix, and they flew me out for a “working interview”. I was hired at Hops! At the Biltmore in 1994.
What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
Brewmaster at Hops! In Biltmore, AZ from ‘94 to ’96, Brewmaster at Hops! in the Gaslamp Quarter from ’96 to ’98, Brewmaster at Hang Ten Brewing in the Gaslamp from ’98 to ’00, then Brewer, Head Brewer and Brewmaster for Karl Strauss from 2000 to present.
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
So many! Charlie Papazian, Fred Eckhardt, Skip Virgilio (AleSmith Brewing/Gravity Heights), Dr. Michael Lewis (UC Davis), Dr. David Ryder (Miller/Coors), Karl Strauss (Pabst/Karl Strauss), Charlie Bamforth, Doug Hasker (Gordon Biersch/Puesto Cerveceria), Mike Ramsey, every brewer I’ve ever worked or collaborated or judged with, and half the brewers in San Diego.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Know what you’re getting into before you make the life change to become a brewer. It’s not easy work and it doesn’t pay well, but there are certain “intrinsic rewards”. Be prepared for physical work, low pay and long hours.
What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
I just want to be liked by Brandon Hernandez. [wink]
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
Karl Strauss 21st Anniversary Belgian dark strong ale with old-vine Zinfandel grape juice
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
Hops! Raspberry Wheat
What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
Favorite: Centennial; Least Fave: Cluster
If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
You assume I would want to live if I couldn’t brew? I don’t know, maybe something near the ocean that’s centered around guitars and music.
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?
Production schedulers, raw-material buyers, brewery maintenance and engineers. Knowledgeable bartenders, tap-line cleaners, glass washers. Marketing. Sales. Customer service. Delivery drivers. Accounting. HR. It totally takes a team!!
What is your favorite beer style?
Oud bruin / Flanders-style red ale
If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
New Belgium….and Sierra Nevada Brewing
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
Pizza Port Brewing
What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
Brewery Ommegang, Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen
What are your favorite local beer events?
I loved Pizza Port’s Real Ale Fest and Strong Ale Fest back in the day. More recently, Collabapalooza and Guild Fest.
If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
Hawaii, Mexico, Australia or France
Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Dick Dale
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Control as many variables as possible. Clean, clean, clean. Pay attention to detail.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Hang with fam and friends. Also, all things music, surfing, disc golf, mountain biking and hiking
Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
Anywhere there’s fresh local beer served through clean tap lines into clean glassware. Good music and dogs are bonuses.
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
Fresh IPAs with fresh ceviche
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?
A Russian River beer dinner at O’Brien’s Pub with Dave Grohl. I’m easy.
Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
I am the eyes of the world (a Grateful Dead/Zen Buddhist reference).
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].