After a decade of homebrewing, I got my start brewing beer professionally in 1994 at the Huntington Beach Beer Company. Prior to this life-altering career move, I was on the verge of burnout wearing a suit to work as a brand manager for a giant toy company.
My biggest frustration with the toy business was that it took a year or two for a new product to get to retail, and by that time, any influence I had on the design and marketing of a successful product became so diluted that it didn’t feel like it was mine. But beer was a different story! After just a few quick weeks from grain to glass, I was getting instant feedback on the ales I created. Since this pub brewery was a one-man operation, I felt like the beers were 100% mine. In my early brewing days, there was nothing more satisfying than the compliments I got from across the bar.
Over the next few years, I got involved with starting three more brewpubs in Southern California. I was still a homebrewer at heart, so this presented me with many more opportunities to experiment with new beer styles and create new beers. I’ll be the first to admit that I made mistakes and dumped many barrels of bad beer or beer that simply didn’t sell. But just like any good homebrewer, I learned from my mistakes and made fewer of them with experience.
By the time the BJ’s Restaurant chain hired me in 1995, I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. For one thing, I knew what beer styles would sell, so our standard beer lineup was a no-brainer. I also knew that craft beer drinkers were looking for more variety and increasingly flavorful beers. Beyond that, I knew how to take all my collective knowledge about a style and brew something even better than I’d brewed before. I would say that BJ’s hired me at the right time.
The BJ’s story is a pretty amazing one and I’m proud to be a part of it. When I started with them, BJ’s operated just eight little restaurants specializing in deep dish pizza. The two passionate restaurateurs running the company weren’t beer drinkers, but the craft beer movement inspired them to pair BJ’s pizza with BJ’s own handcrafted beers. BJ’s first brewery (Brea, CA) was sized to supply the surrounding restaurants with beer, so by chance we fell into a “hub & spoke” brewing model that has been a key strategy for growth over the years.Centralizing our brewing operations is cost-effective, and the biggest advantage from my perspective is quality control. Today, we have grown to over 90 restaurants across the country! Although we’re a big restaurant company now and my job has changed radically from the days when I brewed beer on a daily basis, I can honestly say that I am more passionate than ever about being a craft brewer. What excites me most is R&D. We’re always looking for more variety in our beer offerings and new beer experiences for our guests. It seems I’m still a homebrewer at heart.