Friday, February 4, 2011

Week #5 - John Haggerty

John Haggerty is the brewmaster at New Holland Brewery and someone who I have learned so much from over the last 2 1/2 years. John's brewing philosophy is largely centered around the idea of balance, which is a beauty in beer I hadn't thought nearly as much about prior to hopping on board at New Holland. John's experiences studying beer in Germany have resulted in lots of great stories as well as a very traditional approach to much of the beer brewed at New Holland. With cues taken from the old world German brewers, John's influlence on how I think about beer has been massive. And, as it turns out, he's a really fun guy too. A lover of soul music and good food, Hags brings an excitement to our company that always keeps things interesting.

John is in Philly right now for a string of events through the weekend. Catch us tonight at Iron Hill West Chester from 5pm - 7pm then at Kraftwork tomorrow night for a huge draft and soul music explosion, finishing up at South Philly Tap Room for a pre-Super Bowl Beer Brunch from Noon - 3pm. Come out and say hi.

Bring us up to speed on your brewing career, where did you study? Where did you get your first brewing jobs?

Well as you know, brewing is an accumulation of both practical and formal education. So I think that every brewing experience you have informs the final product. That also means that one continues to learn everyday from the new experiences that any individual should constantly be confronted with. In terms of formal education, I received my undergraduate degree from Miami University, Oxford, OH from the Fine Arts department in Architecture. I received my professional degree in brewing from the VLB (Versuchs- und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei), Berlin, GR – I graduated in 2002. My first professional brewing job was with The Big Time Brewery and Alehouse, Seattle, WA in 1993.

When did you come on board at New Holland and how did the opportunity come about? Do you remember what the job interview was like?

I started at New Holland around Labor Day of 2002, shortly after returning from study at the VLB. The process of getting hired was a little unique in that I didn’t really know anything about New Holland when Brett Vanderkamp contacted me. New Holland was a much smaller interest at that time. Anyway, I had sent a number of resumes out, like newly graduated students are wont to do, one of them landed on the desk of an old colleague, Dennis Holland, who I knew from my time in Washington (He was running the Leavenworth Brewing Co., Leavenworth, WA while I worked at The Big Time so we used to cross paths at festivals, etc.). At this point Dennis was working at The B.O.B., a Grand Rapids, MI based brewpub, and knew Brett and the New Holland crew. When Brett mentioned to Dennis that he was looking for someone to take over the operation of the production facility Dennis suggested Brett talk to me, which, fortunately, he did. So it goes to show you what networking can do for you. Anyway, originally I spent a lot of time speaking with Brett via email since I was in Germany and he was in Holland, MI. When I returned to the states we arranged to meet in conjunction with Brett’s other partners, Dave White (who is still with New Holland and directs our restaurant operations) and Jason Spaulding (who is no longer with New Holland). We discussed what they were looking for out of the candidate for this position and what they wanted for the brewery as a whole. A lot of what they wanted to achieve dovetailed with what I wanted to do – essentially, be heavily involved in the product development and growth of a craft based brewing interest. Anyway, we were all on the same page. The interview was quite informal with us sitting around a table in the pub discussing all sorts of things. In the end, we were talking about the fact that the new pub was being opened (the ‘new’ pub meaning our current pub which is only ‘new’ at this point if you happen to have been around for the ‘old’ one which had been located at the old facility on Fairbanks Ave. which is now Hope College’s soccer field) and that they really were already behind in making a decision regarding this position. My recollection was that we left the meeting more or less agreeing to work together and simply had to negotiate the compensation package, which, obviously, we did. Anyway, we worked it out and I jumped in with two feet – none of this ‘dipping your toe in the water’ stuff. It was full go from the beginning. I inherited one staff member, Jacob Derylo – so he and I ran everything at first. We would work 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day and then when Jacob and I got done making beer I would head down to the pub and put another 8 hours on the clock helping to build out the pub. It was a lot of work but it was great! I got to know Brett, Dave and Jason very well very quickly that way. Plus I was new in town and didn’t really have anything else to do so why not. Anyway, it was great and it has been great ever since.

How would you describe your philosophy or approach to designing and brewing beers?

First and foremost we are trying to create a sense of balance between all the flavor profiles that occur in the beer. Within any given style of beer that might mean that a given flavor may take the lead or fall back depending on what the style calls for. However, every flavor, every ingredient has its place and when done in concert with those that it is working with then we strike the balance that makes for complex, unique and quaffable beers.

What is one thing you wish more people knew or understood about Craft Beer or the beer industry as a whole?

Hmm, that is a tough question. There are a lot of things that I think are misunderstood about what actually goes on in a brewery. For example, it seems that there are a lot of people who think that using modern tools or techniques makes what you produce less than if you are producing according to processes or techniques that are centuries old. I don’t know if I buy that. I think sometimes using older techniques can be interesting but to enslave yourself to those ideas I think is a mistake. But is that “the one thing” I would want to discuss, I don’t know. I guess in the end I would like everyone to know that it is as rewarding as they think it is, it is 100 times harder than they ever would believe it is, and it is nowhere near as glamorous as some people might try to make it out to be. But in the end, I love it so here I am.

Tonight's event at Iron Hill was a direct invite from brewer Larry Horwitz. How do you and Larry know each other?

Well I know both Larry and his wife, Whitney, who works for Victory Brewing Co. Both are just fabulously fun, great people. Anyway, we have shared a number of meals together over the years at various events/conferences. We were introduced to each other via a mutual friend, Lauren Salazar, of New Belgium Brewing. Anyway, I think this all started out from the fact that we all like to drink great beer and eat great food so I guess Larry figured we would be good company to invite out to his pub to share I pint or two with his clientele. I am glad he did and I am really looking forward to it!

We're pouring Cabin Fever at the Iron Hill event. Where did the concept for the beer come from? Why is it a great winter seasonal?

Well, that’s kind of a long story but I will see what I can do to condense it down. . . . .

It started with the sales team requesting we make a ‘brown ale’. They felt that a hole existed in the lineup and what we needed to fill that hole with was a ‘brown ale’. I use quotation marks around ‘brown’ because when I asked Fred, our sales director, if he meant he wanted me to make an actual Brown Ale to style or if he simply wanted a beer that was simply ‘brown in color’. He responded with the latter. That was perfect for me as I have not really been a fan of traditional Brown Ales. I find them to be a little boring frankly but that is me and I certainly do not expect anyone to quit drinking or making traditional Brown Ales simply because I don’t care much for them. Anyway, there were a number of different things I was thinking about at the time that kind of came together in this beer. The first was the fact that we really wanted to try out this new Carmel Rye malt. It has this great raisin-like flavor to it. I had been searching around for something to replace the Special B that De Wolf Cosyn used to make before being sold to Cargill who rolled it into Dingemann’s – which makes great malt by the way, it’s just that the Special B changed when they did that – so, anyway, I found this Carmel Rye malt from Simpson’s that I thought had potential to do that and I thought it would be great to give it a run in this beer. I mean, essentially I could make it taste like whatever we wanted because we weren’t trying to hit a style at all – just a color. So, we had that going for us. We were also looking at a lot of fermentation techniques in regard to lager yeast strains. I had been reading a lot about how Belgian brewers will use lager strains but ferment them warm or even hot in order to get some weird flavors out of them. So we wanted to try that. And finally, we used another Belgian technique of increasing the kettle gravity through the use of sugar. So in the end we found a way to marry all these things together. The beer is really quite big but can drink a little lighter than it might otherwise appear if we used an ale strain. It makes it slightly deceiving. Originally, we fermented it really hot in order to try and funkify it. But after some messing around we found that fermenting it at a more traditional ale temperature actually made the beer much more pleasing. The lager strain really makes a clean beer even in the mid to high 60’s F. So that is where we have left it. It has been a bit of an experiment from when we first introduced it but we seem to have come into its wheelhouse over the last couple of years.

Is there one beer for you that you see as perfection? That one beer that the first time you discovered it just really floored you?

If you mean: do I see any particular brand of beer as perfection then I would say no, that doesn’t exist. At least not every time. I think perfection is very fleeting. You might have a beer paired with the right food to be taken with the right company and it is all occurring in the right atmosphere under the ideal circumstances. At that point that beer might represent perfection. But when I drink it the next day while watching the ball game then maybe it is just a beer. Follow? So perfection is something to strive for and, maybe if you are lucky, achieve for a moment but it isn’t something that you can hold and possess. Now, having said that, I have had beers that during given moments in my life I have been profoundly impressed with (i.e. perhaps they floored me). Do they still continue to do that? I don’t know, but I know I still drink them when I have the opportunity. For example, I am heading to Cigar City Brewing in Tampa during my vacation in order to have a pint of their Humidor IPA (hopefully it will be on tap!) because I had it at the 2010 GABF and it was my favorite beer of the event. It was unique and drinkable at the same time – that can be a very difficult thing to pull off. So, I figure I need to at least pay them a visit and see what is going on over there.

What percentage would you rate the chances of people seeing your dance moves at the Soul Shakedown Party at Kraftwork tomorrow night?

Better than fifty-fifty (you are the DJ after all Joel)

I know it's been a while since you've been here, but do you have any great Philly memories to share?

My friends Guy Hagner and Tom Clark of Berwick Brewing Co. (this was previous to its opening as One Guy Brewing) taking me out for cheese steaks at some random neighborhood Philly joint. How can you beat that?

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