Head Brewer at Pinthouse Pizza Brewpub
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series in which we scoured the country to find 30 innovative brewers and beer professionals under 30 years old, each of whom hopes to further the scope and breadth of the American craft beer scene.)
Joe Mohrfeld, 29
All About Beer: Tell us about your brewery.
Joe Mohrfeld: Pinthouse Pizza is a brewpub located in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin, Texas, that serves up both our own beer and nearly 40 different local and regional craft beers. As a brewpub, in addition to tasty beer, we serve up a variety of classic American style pizzas. Our 7-barrel brewhouse is open to the restaurant, offering people a unique glimpse into how we brew our beer. Patrons are able to see myself brewing, smell each hop addition as we add them to the kettle, and watch the fermenting beer bubble away. We are driven by maximizing quality over maximizing capacity, and we strive to provide our part of Austin with beers inspired by the drinkability of English pub ales and the creativity of hop-forward American ales.
How did you first get into brewing?
I started homebrewing in college but did not start brewing professionally until after graduate school when I was 26. I got my start as a volunteer at Odell Brewing Co. and was eventually hired on as a packaging team member. I feel very fortunate to have worked in all aspects of the brewery while at Odell; from the keg line to the brewhouse, from running the filter to developing beer names and from managing the brewing and cellaring operations to working with our product development team in planning our upcoming releases. All of these experiences have taught me about the importance of every aspect of producing world-class beer.
What was the first beer you ever brewed and where did you do it?
The first beer I was able to brew professionally was on the infamous pilot system at Odell Brewing Co. called (…) or Ellipsis. Ellipsis was an American Barleywine I aged in oak barrels for a period of time with a strain of Pediococcus. It was this wild experiment with Pedio and a barleywine and it worked out really well. The first true production beer (bottled and sold outside of the brewery) I was a part of, and still my favorite beer I have been a part of, is Deconstruction. I have a background in philosophy and cultural studies and thought it would be fun to incorporate Jacques Derrida’s theory of Deconstruction into brewing. Myself and Zach Turner created this crazy post modern, golden ale with a wild yeast we harvested locally—we named it The Fester, a wine barrel from a local vineyard that Zach traded beer for, and the imposition of this crazy timeline of brewing pilot batches and aging them all differently to achieve desired results. In fact, we published the whole statement of process so you can read all about how we did it online.
What’s your favorite beer style?
American strong pale ales, or basically what they called IPAs a couple years ago.
Do you have a mentor in the brewing world?
Doug Odell and Brendan McGivney are huge influences on my brewing style. They both taught me the importance of producing beers that are both incredibly drinkable and simultaneously complex and flavorful. I never thought I would appreciate the idea of balance so much in beers, but they taught me that all beers, regardless of style, should be balanced respective to there style, and that balance is what allows complexities to shine through and is the mark of a talented brewer. But if it wasn’t for Jeff Doyle, one of the brewers at Odell, I may never have gotten into this industry. Jeff is who I volunteered with at Odell and has taught me the importance of passion in this industry. Jeff is hands down the most passionate brewer I have ever met and it is hard not to be psyched whenever you are brewing with him.
What inspires you when you’re brewing?
It can come from a lot of different places. Sometimes it is a beer I tried that showed some intense creativity or process perfection, but more often than not comes from the art, music and literature world. I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from the writings of old philosophers and cultural theorists (my B.A. and M.A. are in philosophy and cultural studies) and often think how a philosophy or theory translates into a beer. Lately, I have been reading a lot about the origins of punk rock, and it has got me thinking about my approach to recipe formulation through an entirely new lens, and I am pretty stoked on that.
What do you attribute to your success?
I have been fortunate to work with great brewers and mentors that have allowed me to try some crazy concepts and help develop some unusual beers that happened to be pretty tasty. I think the good fortune of having people like Brendan and Doug who recognized my abilities and provided opportunities for me to develop as a brewer and my passion for the craft beer industry in its entirety.
What do you think drives the popularity of craft beer?
There are a lot of factors driving the growth in popularity of craft beer. On one hand the trend toward more flavorful and experimental food and drink is still going strong. On another hand people are continuing to trend to locally produced products. But I think the biggest driver in craft beer’s growth in popularity is cultural. People want to be a part of what this industry is. More value is being placed on the craftsperson and supporters of craft beer are becoming more attached to their brewer. The story is about beer but, and maybe even more importantly, about people’s connection to the brewer and the brewery.
In general, how do you think the next generation of brewers will shake up the craft beer world?
I think the opportunity we have is to keep the spirit of the craft beer founders as we continue to grow this industry. I think it is the culture of this industry that has made it not only desirable to be a part of but also exciting to support. We are growing rapidly as an industry and there seems to be some murmurings about the industry becoming full or becoming more cutthroat, and as a generation we need to realize that it is the culture of the unemployables that founded the first wave of craft breweries that has help make the industry what it is. I am not sure we need to shake anything up, but rather we should work hard to both maintain and evolve the culture of craft beer, the camaraderie of craft brewers and to remember we are in this together. It is up to us to maintain craft beer as the subculture that it is. We are far from stagnant but I also hope that growth numbers aren’t the first thing brewers talk about when they get together.
In particular, how will you contribute to that shake up?
Particularly in Austin, as a brewpub, we hope to work together with other local and regional brewers on beers, to serve the exceptional beers our friends in the industry brew and to provide a space for our community of brewers to display the works of the industry’s best artists.
Last one: Cascadian dark ale or black IPA?
Wait, I didn’t think we had to worry about styles as American craft brewers.
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