Before I began brewing, I worked as a bike mechanic in the summer and ski instructor in the winter. This wasn’t the worst start. I’m mechanically inclined enough to keep a bunch of Italian packaging machines running and I feel okay about training people.
I guess you could classify my journey into brewing as non-traditional. But then, isn’t everyone’s? When I’m with a group of my peers, I’m not just hangin’ with brewers. I’m rubbing elbows with engineers, biochemists, ski patrolmen, college profs, marketing guys, English majors and other sorts of social misfits. And, more and more women too; thank the brewing gods!
My own brewing career began under the careful tutelage of a woman. Twenty-something years ago, Mellie Pullman was the brewmaster and partner at the newly-opened Wasatch Brewery. I was the first male on the crew. The kegwasher was my station. We were fiercely proud of our independence as small brewers. We did everything we could to distance ourselves from the big guys. Before organic certification became huge, we were so proud of our label that said “no additives, no preservatives.”
To be honest, my career has been defined by “place-based” brewing. I’m not out to climb the industry ladder. I’m interested in living someplace beautiful with outdoor activities and working out the job details afterward. I’m still just a mountain bum at heart and thank God that every mountain town has a brewery now. You brewers in Chicago, L.A. and Philly will never have to worry about me trying to steal your jobs.
Snake River fills the place-based requirement perfectly! On powder days, the bottling line might not start up until 3pm. Numerous times, we’ve ridden our bikes the 75 miles to the North American Brewers Fest in Idaho as one big brewers’ peloton. A few years ago, about 20 of our staff summited the Grand Teton on the same day!
You just can’t have the quality of wilderness and variety of topography we do here and only have a so-so brewery. We brew beers to match the scenery. The surroundings drive us to try harder. Also, the locals won’t let us slack. I’ve never seen a more loyal, well-educated (beerwise) group of mug clubbers and townies than we have in our pub.
Thanks in large part to Cory Buenning, our head brewer; we mostly brew true-to-classic styles, and lots of lagers. We’ve been somewhat reluctant to hop on the extreme beer wagon, though we’ve brewed it from time to time. Balance and drinkability are always on our minds when we formulate. We also spread the creativity around. All of our brewers have their own signature beers. That keeps the whole family in the most fun part of the loop.
Nothing has given me more pleasure than to see brewers I have worked with go off to become head brewers on their own. The one thing about my job that continues to puzzle me is how did I get so lucky?
Learn more about Snake River Brewing Company.