1. Where is your brewery?
We have 3 locations, the first was our original spot at Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, we still brew half of our beer out of there for now. The brewery at Peg's will be transitioning into our version of a side project called Orange Belt Brewing, headed by our lead brewer Eric Trinosky, in early 2015. The main tap room is the other half of current production called Cycle Brewing located in downtown St. Pete. The 3rd spot is our small warehouse currently under construction, we are expecting to increase production slightly but mostly focused on spirit barrel-aging, we do have a different warehouse for wine and brett barrel-aging as well but it is truly storage. Both warehouses are in or near the Dome industrial park in central St. Pete. By March 2015 we should be running 3 complete breweries.
2. What was the first beer you had that made you realize craft beer was going to be a bigger part of your life?
I would have to say that craft beer didn't draw me in so much as macro beer pushed me out. There was no epiphany and in fact I was very reluctant to try brewing. My interest in craft grew out of college parties with something that I liked to drink rather than choking down whatever cheap beer we could find, 30 'stones for 8 bucks anybody? I drank a lot of Guinness (a favorite of shotgunning) and Saranac, going to school in Potsdam, NY, that was what was available. I grew up in Iowa, lived in extreme Northern NY and then moved to Florida all at times when those were craft beer wastelands. When I traveled I would always look for something new to try and from there I would say I started really exploring craft beer without realizing that it was part of a trend or the movement it has become. The reason we turned Peg's into a brewpub was because I had a part time job at Starbucks working the drive thru and needed the extra money, it didn't become all about the beer for me until I was working full time at Cigar City bottling barrel-aged beers and drinking fresh IPA. After that it became a personal challenge to make my favorite beers and it was a bitter struggle for years, double IPA is still destroying my ego on a regular basis.
3. What is your favorite style to brew and why?
Favorite to brew is probably Fixie, simple, easy to hit consistent numbers and all that Simcoe smells pretty good. As far as favorite to create, that really varies, its not really a particular style that I like to work on as much as I find satisfaction in making what I set out to make. I find making great hoppy beer, IPA, Pale Ale, and recently double IPA to be some of the most maddening, there is so much to making hops really shine and as much success as we have had it still hasn't erased from my memory all of the failures and mediocrity I created of the dread of continuing to stumble in this vein that I desperately want to be great at.
4. If you were stranded on an island (with a working refrigerator that automatically replenished itself) and you could only have one beer for the rest of your life in that fridge, which would it be?
I would probably take something like Fixie, drink it all day, stay a little hydrated but able to get drunk enough to forget my plight by the end of the day.
5. What is your favorite music to listen to in the brewery?
Unfortunately, I am not a music listener when I work. I am generally happy with silence. I don't think it's a zen thing, I just think I get focused on my work and like it that way. If I can tune it out, classic rock or stuff that I have heard a lot, it doesn't bother me but Screamo and music I detest will actually drive me bonkers and distract me so the sound of pumps running or the burner howling is all I really want. A smooth running operation is music to my ears.
6. Which other brewery has inspired you the most? Why?
Lots of breweries have inspired me, it really depends what part of my career you look at. Oskar Blues was my first job, it was a laughably brief job, but I can't express how much I learned from and still respect my old boss there, Jeremy Rudolf, for teaching me all that he did. After that, Wayne Wambles at Cigar City, I worked with Wayne for several years and while I think we differ a lot in how we approach a brewery and even recipe creation he taught me a lot about creativity in brewing and pushing boundaries, not to mention I really learned all aspects of brewery operations there. I would say Hill Farmstead is the most recent, Shaun has had a great influence on my approach to certain styles and I really value his knowledge. Other breweries that I don't know well but I do get some inspiration from are Perennial and Side Project, wonderful beers and I like their business model; Westbrook, delicious boundary pushing beers and a Gose in cans, fuck yeah. I also get some inspiration from New Belgium, their QA/QC program is truly excellent, the sour blending - fantastic, and top of it all they're environmentally conscious growth and development on site is even more impressive than the brewery in my opinion - who builds a waste water treatment plant and methane recapture system? I would say the combination of all those breweries and more has helped me understand what kind of brewery I want to be in terms of size, beers, and ethic.
7. Single hop beer - which hops are you using?
Whatever I can get. Hops are the most infuriating raw material to source. A lot of our IPA's are almost single hop beers, to my palate, single hopping with the right hops can really give a bright hop character that almost always get muddled with blending. I worked at a brewery that was all about layering in different hos to create complexity but it turns out I have simple taste and generally prefer single hops or very limited blending. Fixie is mostly Simcoe, Freewheel is mostly Nelson Sauvin, Crank is mostly Citra, Hammer is mostly Mosaic, we also have a Unicycle series where we have showcased a few different hop varieties.
8. Where is your favorite place to get a beer after work and why?
Lately my favorite place has been at Cycle. Depending on the day, we weren't working down there so it's a change of pace and on top of that we have a lot of regular customers that are nice to see, sitting on the sidewalk on Central you never know who you will run in to.
9. What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone who thinks they want to get into the craft beer industry?
Depends what that person's goals are really. I hear from a lot of people looking to open a brewery and to them I usually say make sure you have a good product and can stay within yourself financially, opening a business is expensive and a brewery can be even more so, stainless isn't cheap. For folks just looking to work in the craft beer industry I say: work hard and be flexible, the brewery runs on the beer's schedule, not a persons. I got my job at Cigar City by volunteering for nearly 3 months, 20-30 hours per week just to be a part of it, it was luck that I had the kind of flexibility to do that, but I don't think I could have walked into any job there any other way. Brewing is work, it takes some physical strength but I think the mental fortitude to stay focused and mind the details in all aspects, especially cleaning is harder. In looking at staff, dedication is the most important factor for me, a trained chimp can run brewing process but a dedicated individual is hard to find.
Brewing to me is the best job in the world; there isn't much I would give it up for, there are so many wonderful aspects to this industry and if you aren't enthusiastic about that to the point where it seems perfectly reasonable of spend hours scrubbing the tops of tanks and the floors then maybe this isn't the right industry. For folks looking to be a head brewer someday, that most important thing I have learned so far was how to be honest with myself about what I create. It sounds so simple but I found it really challenging to criticize myself honestly (not the same as harshly), it is open depressing but I don't know how you improve and make a truly great product without that ability. Sadly, more often than not, at this time new brewers will share a beer they are convinced is fantastic and it is loaded with technical flaws. I am still not sure what the appropriate response is because I know I hate it when I get criticism I'm not prepared for, but it is clear to me that they are lacking any objective view of their beer and I worry about that trend.
10. Dogs or cats?