Portrait of a Brewer: Winslow Sawyer, Pure Project Brewing

What inspired a well-traveled young brewer to settle down and thrive in San Diego

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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 NewsPortrait 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…

Winslow Sawyer

of Pure Project Brewing

What is your current title?

Founder / Brewer

Where did you grow up?

I moved around a lot as a kid, but mainly Berkeley and LA.

What brought you to San Diego?

Following love. And the brewery I was running in Santa Cruz burned down. RIP Boulder Creek Brewery

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?

My dad gave me a sip of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale when I was four. We were living in Pittsburgh at the time and it represented home to him.

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?

When I got to college, everyone was drinking light beers and tossing dirty ping-pong balls into them. I knew I had to get some better beer going.

What led you to consider a career in brewing?

I’ve had a lot of jobs, everything from line cook to janitor, bartender and security guard. Brewing was the only one that I was able to keep for more than three months.

Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position?

Boulder Creek Brewery in the Santa Cruz Mountains

What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles?

I started as a cellarman at Boulder Creek Brewery when I turned 21 and I was lucky enough to become the head brewer the following year.

Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?

Tim Clifford was the front-desk person at the local homebrew shop when I started brewing. He was crazy enough to let an 18-year-old me borrow a grinder to make my first keggle, and he got me his job when he left the shop to start Sante Adarius. I think my biggest beer hero is Lee Chase. I want to be like him when I grow up and I find myself asking, “What would Lee do?” a lot.

What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?

Get your boots on and go get dirty. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?

Make an estate beer and malt my own grain.

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?

Lief, our methode traditional three-year blend. It was the first beer we brewed at Pure and it took over three years to finish for our third anniversary.

What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?

A Kentucky common that smelled like someone’s puke after eating a bowl full of pops.

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?

Hallertau Mittelfruh is my favorite because it’s so elegant and flowery. My least-favorite is bad Galaxy. It tastes like peanut butter.

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?

I had to make a choice between being a ranger at Big Basin State Park or working at the homebrew shop. I like to think I would still be doing that.

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?

The warehouse and delivery teams are absolute champions.

What is your favorite beer style?

English bitter

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?

Sierra Nevada. Their dedication to sustainability and beer quality is astounding. I don’t think this industry would exist without Ken Grossman.

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?

I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Pizza Port.

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?

Drie Fonteinen

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?

Timothy Taylor’s, Sapporo and Brasserie DuPont

What are your favorite local beer events?

Guild Fest during San Diego Beer Week

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?

On a farm with fresh, clean spring water

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?

Devil Makes Three, Mac Dre, Bad Brains and The Sonics

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?

“Let the ingredients speak for themselves”, and “if you aren’t breaking equipment then you aren’t innovating”.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?

Fishing, scuba diving and working on old beat cars

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?

Turf Supper Club and Live Wire

What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?

About ten West Coast IPAs and a Cali Burrito 

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? 

I would want to cook some kind of truffle extravaganza for my family. Like fresh, fresh, straight-out-of-the-ground truffles with some gangster cheeses and fresh-baked bread. The best beer is the one you are having with good company. Maybe a bottle of Chateau Margaux, too. (wink)

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?


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