I've always been a bit of a history buff. I would read stories and sagas from the Norse countries about the Vikings and the Berserkers and their traditions of making nectars or ambrosias. I knew that no matter how much research I did, I would never make a beer that tasted exactly like what they drank a thousand years ago. We'll never know. We can't even really know exactly what beer tasted like a hundred years ago. People took terrible notes, and all of our ingredients, due to the methods that they're grown, handled and processed, are pretty significantly different. The best we can do is try to approximate those beers through a combination of historical reference, and recipes that we find, what people wrote about them and what they liked and disliked.
What's the biggest misconception about brewing?
That it's incredibly glamorous. A lot of people seem to think that I spend my day wearing a white lab coat, walking around with a clipboard making notes, taking small samples of beer from various tanks and holding them up to the light and sniffing and sipping and looking at the beers under microscopes. The other misconception would be the opposite—that we're all a bunch of crazy alcoholics.
What inspires you when creating a new beer?
Music inspires me a lot. I studied music as a student and had some training in music theory and composition and vocal performance. In particular, I'd say I've always been inspired by improvisational music, particularly late 20th-century jazz, a lot of the music that came out of the 60's that I guess could be termed more or less progressive rock, contemporary so-called classical composers—people that really look to the idea that the creative process itself is just as important as the end result.
Are there any downsides to your job?
Of course, I'm not making tons of money. I'm not fabulously wealthy. I should've gotten into computers when my dad told me to. Actually, I don't necessarily aspire to have scads of money, so it doesn't really bother me that much.
What is your advice for someone going into this field?
Run away. [Laughs] You're going to be asked to work really hard for insanely long hours for ridiculously low pay, especially for somebody who's just getting in as an entry level brewer. For anybody who's really serious about it, I would recommend that they spend their time homebrewing and reading every book they can find on brewing, particularly practical science brewing books. They should knock on a lot of doors, generally make pests of themselves, as I did 15, 16 years ago, and convince some local brewer that they should have the opportunity to get an internship, or see if there's a part-time job cleaning kegs or helping to empty the mash tun and work their way up.
What makes a great beer?