And you still weren’t old enough to drink? You hadn’t had time to experience much of the world of beer personally.
I admit I procured myself identification that said I was 21 years of age, and I’d go to Beverages and More, this amazing beer store in California with an incredible selection. I’d go pick and choose individual bottles. I wasn’t supposed to be drinking, but I was drinking good beer. It was research and development!
Can you remember the most eye-opening beers?
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. I remember my freshman year in college getting a fake New Jersey ID and going to the local shop with a couple of my friends. They were buying 20-packs of Bud, and I spent $38 on a case of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and they thought I was nuts. I peeled off a label and it’s still attached to my homebrew log, which I still have, listing every batch of homebrew I ever made.
The greatest inspiration was just reading Michael Jackson’s books. The way he wrote about beer—even beer I’d never tasted, the lambics, the Trappists, German alt and Kölsch—they sounded so interesting, I wanted to try everything I read about.
My senior year at Davis, we went on a field trip to Sierra Nevada. After the tour we had a tasting in the pub, and I said to the head brewer, “Wow, this is the most beautiful brewery I’ve ever seen in my life. It must be pretty hard to get a job at a place like this.” He said, “We’ll be expanding soon, Send me your resume.” By the time I graduated, I had a job waiting for me.
Your parents must have been delighted.
They were ecstatic. Right out of school, and I was at Sierra Nevada. Ken Grossman is a hero of mine.
What brought you back east again?
Like any homebrewer, I had a dream of opening my own place. I’d been in California for six years, but it was time to go back. I didn’t have a job lined up, so first I wanted to go to Europe. After I left Sierra Nevada I drove across the country and stopped at a bunch of breweries—New Belgium being one, New Glarus being another. Then went to Belgium, Germany and the Czech republic.
For my summer internship at Davis, I spent six weeks at Adnams in England, learning about real ale: everything from cleaning the casks to riding with the salesman and everything in between, including delivering the beer by horse-drawn carriage. Real ale blew me away. It tastes like so much more than a 3.2% beer; they really can pack the flavor into those little beers.
I worked at a brewpub in Danbury, CT called the Colorado Brewery and Steakhouse for the last six months it was in business, and that was the first time I had carte blanche with the whole brewing process, got to write my own recipes and get feedback directly, and that was very rewarding.
When they closed, I put together a business plan, got some loans from family and friends, and opened Captain Lawrence in January of ’06.