Where did you work between Wharf Rat and Devils Backbone?
After Davis, I got a job at a brewpub called Virginia Beverage Co. in Old Town Alexandria. It’s no longer there, but I worked there for about three years. I worked at Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. in Ellicott City, MD, for about six months before the Gordon Biersch job opened up, and when I found out about that, I moved to DC. I was with Gordon Biersch for about six and a half years.
Then I saw a job announcement for this place. They wanted someone who was knowledgeable about German brewing techniques, because the system here was designed in Germany. I loved the job at Gordon Biersch and the people I worked with, but I missed some of the freedom I’d had in earlier jobs, so this was a good opportunity to come here and build something from the ground up.
You are the first brewer at a very young brewery.
Yes, we’ll be three years old in November. We’re a brewpub, first and foremost, but we’re building a production brewery in Lexington, VA. Hopefully that will be up and running for the first brews in January/February, 2012.
When Devils Backbone opened, what were the challenges?
It was kind of fun to put the system back together. It had been sitting here in pieces for about a year. It was amazing that we got it put together and it worked right away. Some of it was a jumbled mess. I was underneath the platform hooking up valves for about four days—really complex pipework—and after the first day, I just chucked out the labels and made them fit.
The brewery has done very well and won a lot of awards in just three years. How did you shape that?
I’m a big fan of very drinkable beers. I guess my philosophy is to have something for everyone, sort of a dream come true for me. I have four year-round beers and six seasonal beers at any one time, for a total of ten beers. Only four are ones I’m making over and over—a gold lager, a Vienna lager, a hefeweizen and an American IPA. Even though three of the four house beers are Germanic in nature, the seasonals often are not: I always want to have a dark beer, a Belgian-style beer, and a session beer. The rest are all over the place. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun. I figured out on our last anniversary that I’ve probably brewed 50 types of beer here so far.
Give me an idea of your typical line-up.
Right now we have a dunkel on draft, a Belgian-inspired strong golden, an English-style summer ale, and our Four Point Pale Ale—what I jokingly call my “imperial session beer.” It’s almost a light IPA, with a little over 4% alcohol and a ton of hops. We also have our house IPA, which is dry-hopped with a different hop each time. I have small 70-gallon tanks where I can take a portion of a beer and do something with it—dry hop it or wood-age it. Then I have my first foray into coca nibs with an English mild/Scottish ale.
This is the hardest I’ve ever worked, since I have such a sense of ownership about the beer. If this were a corporate job, I might not be here nights and weekends, but these beers are a large part of me, so I go the extra mile.