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 BattleMage Brewing
What is your current title?
Where did you grow up?
Carlsbad, but we moved around for my dad’s work…Arizona, Mission Viejo and Kentucky. We moved back to Southern California when I was 11 and I’ve lived here since then.
What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?
Pyramid Apricot Hefeweizen
What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?
Dan Love from Mother Earth Brew Co. got me into homebrewing when they opened their homebrew shop in Vista. The first recipe was fun, but the kit sat in my closet for several months before I used it again. Something clicked on the second recipe and I got the bug. Ever since that point I’ve been juggling several fermentations.
What led you to consider a career in brewing?
I had spent several years in restaurant management. We were doing a company retreat up in Big Bear and I had brought some homebrew. I was so excited and proud of this beer because it was one of the first beers I had put into a competition. My boss told me he wished I was as excited about the restaurant business as I was about brewing, and I knew from that moment on it was time for an industry shift; time to mesh my passion for brewing and my love for the service industry into the amalgamation that would eventually become BattleMage.
Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?
My first job in the brewing industry was at Ballast Point Brewing’s original location at Home Brew Mart.
What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?
Ballast Point was the only brewery I worked at prior to opening BattleMage. I was a homebrew advisor, and the job felt like a dream come true. I got to work with tons of talented brewers and truly learn the craft of which ingredients to select to write a variety of recipes.
Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?
Dan Love at Mother Earth got me into brewing and gave me great critical feedback on a lot of my early homebrews. If I hadn’t stopped in his homebrew shop one fateful afternoon, my life would be very different. Doug Pominville was a homebrew advisor at Ballast Point when we first met. Dougie has been the brewer I have gone to for advice the most throughout this adventure and has been a great mentor. He helped me specifically start to hone in recipes that would win competitions, and I got to brew my first beer on Ballast Point’s pilot five-barrel system with him. Rick Blankemeier is always a wealth of information, and has more knowledge about beer than any other person I know. All of the Society of Barley Engineers members have given great feedback over the years, particularly Andy Gamelin, Peter Perrecone (Belching Beaver Brewery), Paul Sangster (Rip Current Brewing), Ryan Reschan, Chris Banker (Barrel & Save Brewing) and Robert Masterson (Resident Brewing) all helped me grow. And last but certainly not least, the other half of BattleMage, Chris Barry. My childhood best friend and partner in crime has been a constant inspiration while we battle against barley, yeast, hops and water.
What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?
Homebrew as much as you can. Recipe development is one of the more challenging parts of brewing, and while you can learn some great skills being a production brewer, the trial-and-error of writing your own recipes will give you some of the best growth and understanding about the magic of brewing.
What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?
Open a medieval modern-themed brewery. Wait, what was the question? My ultimate goal is to never lose that magical feeling I get while brewing. Brewing is my happy place, where I get to become a modern day alchemist and turn raw materials into a product that brings people joy. I never want brewing to feel like a task; thousands of brews later, each batch still feels like meditation. I hope to never lose that.
What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?
Our English brown ale, Verses of Victory.
What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?
Mango Divine Light, because I’m allergic to mango and had to listen to everyone say how delicious it was for weeks.
What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?
My favorite go-to hop is probably Citra. It packs so much flavor, and year after year has been an outstanding hop. My least favorite would probably be Sorachi Ace. While you can get a decent lemon character in small amounts, too much of that hop and the beer just screams dill.
If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?
Probably a failing Twitch streamer that would be trying to prove there was somehow a way to make money playing video games. When that didn’t work out, maybe something with solar since renewable energy is something I’m passionate about.
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?
I think beertenders play a crucial and often overlooked role. They are your front line and face of the product. A good beertender can help a customer explore the vast options available to them besides just the beers people are generally comfortable with. I think it’s crucial for beertenders to have some practice in the brewing process so they can take some pride in the product they are serving and understand all the steps that go into creating a great beer. In the end, it’s the beertender that interacts, educates and helps expand the customers palate. It goes both ways, too. I remember one time when a customer asked for a lager, and the beertender responded that they didn’t have any on, despite having a pilsner on tap. You may have great beer, but if your front-of-house staff isn’t educated about it, they might not actually direct your customers towards the journey they want to take.
What is your favorite beer style?
I rarely meet a beer style I won’t enjoy, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be something malty, probably a doppelbock, English brown or an old ale.
If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?
Smoothie anything. I love smoothies and I love beer, but not together.
What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?
Rip Current comes to mind because of something Paul Sangster once said. In San Diego you’ve got to have some great IPAs to be competitive, then you can brew lots of other styles to get people to venture out of their comfort zone. My former employer, Ballast Point, had a similar perspective. It’s good to have a diverse lineup of beer. Customers are always going to want different things, and while IPA’s have been the favorite for years, having diversity gives you a better chance of having something for everyone.
What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?
That’s a tough question when there are so many great breweries here, but a couple of my current favorites are Craft Coast Beer & Tacos, Rip Current and Burgeon Beer Co.
What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?
Hair of the Dog (Editor’s Note: This Portland, Oregon brewery has since closed)
What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?
Russian River Brewing because I’m basic. Also, Ayinger in Germany and Samuel Smith in England.
What are your favorite local beer events?
The Vista Viking Festival is my favorite San Diego event…good drinks, awesome music and great people.
If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?
I’ve always liked Portland, but anything with a bit of nature and some culture would do.
Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?
These days it’s usually some genre of metal. Gloryhammer, Unleash the Archers, Manowar and Alestorm are all in the normal rotation.
What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?
Keep it simple, keep it clean. I always like to learn new techniques, but if it works, no need to break it. If you are brewing a German hef, you don’t need to break the mold and throw in seven specialty malts. Just keep it simple. There’s a reason it has been working for thousands of years. I tend to brew a lot by intuition also; how something tastes, smells and feels. If the mash looks like it’s an oatmeal consistency, it’s just fine.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?
Any activity where I get to spend time with my family. My daughter is almost two and I simply adore her. Outside of that I like hiking, video games, reading and shooting. I’m just starting to learn how to play piano also. I tend to have too many hobbies and then usually a few end up sticking.
Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?
Being a new parent, I don’t make it out as much as I used to, but I’m a sucker for those birria tacos and any beer at Craft Coast.
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?
Any cheese with any beer.
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 big steak with malty beers and a variety of cheeses from around the world. I would enjoy this feast with my family and throw in a couple famous people from ancient Greek and Roman history…maybe Caesar, Augustus, Socrates and Plato.
Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?
I’m the wizard warrior known as…”The BattleMage”, just a modern-day alchemist trying to bring some smiles to the masses.
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].