A brewing hobbyist-turned-master, Will Meyers of the Cambridge Brewing Company in Massachusetts brings an innovative approach to American beer-making. The American craft-brewing industry, still in its infancy at a mere 28 years old, is all about ingenuity, and Meyers is at the forefront with his award-winning experimental beers, incorporating unusual ingredients like heather flowers, jasmine and lavender. His heather ale The Wind Cried Mari won Meyers a gold medal at the 2006 Great American Beer Fest, and his Great Pumpkin Ale is a local favorite. He tells Smithsonian.com what it takes to make a great beer. Cheers!
From This Story
How did you get into this line of work?
I started as a homebrewer about 17 years ago. I had just turned 21 and had always had an interest in homebrewing. I had an uncle who brewed beer when I was a kid, a grandfather who made wine and a dad who had a taste for all different sorts of beer. When I had my first couple of batches of homebrewed beer and they turned out quite well, I was quickly smitten. I found myself pretty much obsessing over the hobby, brewing almost every weekend. It morphed along to the point where eventually I figured I had to find out if I could get someone to pay me to make beer.
What's the most exciting part of your job?
The conception and production of a new beer, particularly when we have an idea to make some new, unusual, experimental beer—something that's potentially never been seen on the face of the earth, or something that somebody else has done that I think I can engineer to be even better. Probably my second biggest thrill would be in taking such a beer and explaining it to somebody and serving it to them and having them like it and understand it.
Why is a beer's back story so important?
If you make a beer and say, "Here, try this. It has no hops in it, but it's got heather, lavender, sweet gale and yarrow," people are going to look at you like you have two heads. But if you explain what's going on—that it's styled after a beer brewed by wild Pictish warriors in the Northern British isles long before the Middle Ages—they become intrigued by the story. Their brains tell their palates that this is something cool.
So what is your creative process?
I don't begin a beer by thinking of a recipe and a scientific formula. I think about the beer that I want to hold in my hand and what it's going to smell like and taste like and feel like on my palate, and the reaction I want other people to have to it. Then I just kind of run through my mental catalog of ingredients that will contribute what I'm looking for—different yeast strains, different methods of fermentation and aging. I kind of end up working backwards and coming up with a recipe that way. I think that brewing has an incredible history. For well over 5,000 years we've had documented civilization with recipes and hymns and prayers to various gods and goddesses of harvests and brewing, and I think that puts a lot of weight on a contemporary brewer's shoulders.
You seem interested in the history and traditions of brewing.