Co-founder and Brewmaster at 7 Seas Brewing
(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.)
Travis Guterson, 29
Co-owner and Brewmaster
Gig Harbor, Wash.
All About Beer: Tell us about your brewery.
Travis Guterson: 7 Seas Brewing Co. has been in business since 2008. We just celebrated our third anniversary this past July. Myself, and my business partner, Mike Runion, started the company. He [is 28] by the way. We purchased an 8.5 BBL brew house from a brewery in Seattle that closed down and began producing 7 Seas Beer in Gig Harbor, WA, about an hour’s drive South of Seattle. We were the first microbrewery in Washington State to package our beer in cans. We brew six year-round beers and usually have one or two seasonal offerings as well. We have a tap room that we sell pints, growlers and merchandise from. The local community of Gig Harbor has completely embraced us and we are super fortunate that way. We topped out at about 1,200 BBLS per year on the 8.5 BBL system and have just moved our brewery to a new building downtown. We now operate on a 25 BBL, three-vessel system at our new location and initially anticipate a production of about 3,500 BBLs per year, but have room to grow and add more tanks so we see our production increasing in the years to come. We have a staff of nine people, including Mike and I, and all of us are under the age of 30, except for one guy, Bryan (our sales and delivery dude, formerly of Red Hook). We are a small, local brewery, producing a premium product, and the South Puget Sound area has really supported us. We are grateful for that. We would like to continue to grow 7 Seas, but that is very incremental for us. Slow and sustainable, yet also ambitious is paramount for how we do things.
How did you first get into brewing?
I made my first batch of beer when I was 16. My dad had dabbled in homebrewing so there was some random equipment in the basement and I thought it sounded fun and interesting. My parents are cool like that. They didn’t like me getting drunk off cheap, shitty beer with my friends in high school, but never seemed to mind me making 5 gallons of extract brew on my mom’s kitchen stove. I fell in love with the transformation of basic, fundamental, rudimentary ingredients and turning them into something magical. Brewing beer just grabbed my attention from an early age and it never let go. I didn’t choose for my life to revolve around brewing beer. Somehow it chose me.
What was the first beer you ever brewed and where did you do it?
My first batch was an oatmeal pale ale. Sounds ambitious, but is was 5 gallons of extract brew and the recipe looked intriguing and somehow sophisticated, if not whimsical to me at the time. I brewed it on my parent’s stovetop. Typical 5-gallon carboys, corn sugar for bottle priming, and I even made my own labels by drawing some odd little skeleton creature dancing around a cauldron. I had a lot of fun and was so excited to see it bubbling away. I remember thinking that it was great, but realistically I’m sure it was kinda’ shitty at best.
What’s your favorite beer style?
My favorite beer style? I don’t have an answer for you on that one. I look for perfection. I like many styles, but I like great beer more. Strive for quality and consistency and everything will be okay. I do enjoy challenging myself in the brew house. Any beer that requires tweaking over and over again eventually becomes something I’m super proud of. It doesn’t matter if I’m brewing it, or drinking it, I love variety, both in beer and in life. Life is too short though to settle for the docile, passive, and banal. The same is true for beer.
Do you have a mentor in the brewing world?
I was very lucky in my brewing career to work for some incredible head brewers. Before starting 7 Seas, I worked at the Pelican Pub and Brewery (under Brewmaster Darron Welch) and the Lompoc Brewing Co., and then at Silver City Brewery (under Brewmaster Don Spencer). Having no formal education in brewing, such as a fermentation science program, or a UC Davis, or an American Brewers guild certification most of my knowledge has been empiric. I had a different experience everywhere I worked, but to this day the guy that I respect the most as a brewer and who I will always call when I have questions is Darron Welch at the Pelican Pub and Brewery. Even though I only worked there for maybe a year (cleaning kegs and capping bottles) he really set an example for me. His attention to detail and how meticulous he is, showed me that there is indeed a right way and wrong way to do things in a brewery. He instilled that in me from an early age and I strive to run my brew house they way he runs his. It’s all about the details.
What inspires you when you’re brewing?
What inspires me most when I’m brewing is that I feel like I’m doing something good, pure, righteous, and carrying on a meaningful tradition. I’m doing work, but there is something divine and much reverence attached to it. I feel like I’m contributing something in one way or another. Brewing beer has given my life meaning, direction, and purpose … just like the best kind of relationship can do. Brewing beer makes me feel like I am somebody contributing to a better community. Sounds weird, but that’s how I feel. I dropped out of the University of Washington at the age of 20 to pursue my dreams. There is nothing else that I know how to do anymore, other than brew great beer, and continue to get better at my craft.
What do you think drives the popularity of craft beer?
I think the popularity of craft beer can be explained quite easily. That is to say, that it tastes great, it’s real, genuine, and often times when it’s super local, customers can attach a face and person to it all. The market might eventually get saturated, but good beer will always resonate with people even if it costs a little more. People love seeing the big stainless steel vats (even if they’re just 20 & 40 BBL tanks) and somebody back there connecting hoses, clamps and gaskets, making beer. This American culture has gotten so cookie cutter and full of bullshit products, craft beer grabs people’s attention on a variety of levels.
In general, how do you think the next generation of brewers will shake up the craft beer world?
I don’t know if my generation of craft brewers will really shake things up. Our 7 Seas model is to be doing this for a long time. Again, that takes planning, good business sense, and quality, consistent beer with an eye towards marketing. I think that if you go to work every day, put in good long hours, know what you’re doing, give a shit about what you’re doing, be proud of your brand … well then good things can happen. I figure, do that and let the chips fall where they may. The rest we simply can’t control, we can only do and will do our best and continue to improve on that notion. We will just have to wait and see how 7 Seas contributes to that ‘shake-up’.
Last one: Cascadian dark ale or black IPA?
Cascadian dark ale without a doubt. I have the letters NW tattooed on my thumb. I was born and raised here, and have always lived in the Northwest. This style was conceived here so I like to see a little recognition to this area, especially with all the hops our Yakima Valley grows next door, just east of the Cascades.
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