Photo Courtesy of The Full Pint
New York (specifically Red Hook, Brooklyn) is lucky enough to house Sixpoint Craft Ales, a brewery with a full line of interesting and tasty craft beer output.
Shane Welch is brewmaster, founder, president, and owner of Sixpoint and was nice enough to answer some questions that I have come up with in order to gather information to hopefully help me in my homebrew journey. Check out this amazing glimpse into the mind of a master brewer:
1. What was your first beer experience?
Oh man…I think I may have had the earliest start of any craft brewer….you see, I have been drinking beer ever since I was 2 years old. Back in the early 80s my father used to drink Meister Brau. Here’s a little walk down memory lane.
Anyway, my father would sometimes leave a little bit of beer left in his ceramic stein, and after he had fallen asleep, I would grab the oversized stein with my two little hands and hoist that thing up over my head and chug the rest. Crazy thing is I remember enjoying the taste of beer ever since I was a kid. Something magical about the sweetness of the malt and spiciness and bitterness of the hops. My parents were shocked – and amused – by the entire ordeal so they took a photo of me. I’ll try to track it down and send it to you.
2. What/who inspired you to start brewing?
Its literature, language, art and poetry that is my weakness. Therefore, it was the indelible and captivating “The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian and its zany humor, hand-drawn images, and do-it-yourself vibe that had me hooked. Keep in mind that in college, I was a hippie nerd, so the combination of science, chemistry, and making your own beer was right up my alley. Combine that with a fun, informative style and approach, and I was hooked.
3. What is your favorite beer to brew and why? What is your favorite beer to drink (both your own creations and from other breweries as well) and why?
My favorite beer to brew is homebrew. The reason why is because the scale is so much smaller (5-10 gallons versus the typical 500 gallons in Red Hook, Brooklyn) you’re that much more up-close-and-personal with the beer. Everything is smaller – the amount of grain, water, and hops – the size of the kettles, fermenters, etc. And your yield is lower too – so every bottle is precious. I like that feeling of cranking out a small, custom batch…nothing tops it!
Favorite beer from our brewery to drink? That’s really hard because it literally changes every week or month. But recently the Bengali Tiger has been tasting the best it has ever tasted. But, if you would have asked me two months ago, I would have said the Righteous Ale.
As far as beer from other breweries go….oh man, there are SO MANY to drink, and so many good beers. What a great industry. We’re surrounded by all of these amazing colleagues (who in theory, are our competitors too) but they make such great products you just can’t refuse them. For some reason lately I have been obsessed with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. There has been anywhere from one to twelve bottles of it in my refrigerator at all times in the past 3 months. It hits the spot every time!
4. What is your favorite beer event to attend, and why?
Best feel-good event that represents what the craft brewing industry is all about? Without a doubt, the Great Taste of the Midwest.
Best global revelry and largest beer party in the world? Hands down – Oktoberfest in Munich. No one even comes close.
5. Have you taken any courses for brewing or beer tasting? What are your thoughts on courses for brewing and tasting- are they helpful or unneccessary?
Although I have no formal courses taken in beer brewing, I am BJCP certified and have extensive chemistry and physics background at UW-Madison, and I was also a math major. Without this solid foundation of knowledge and education, some of the brewing processes would be hard to grasp. However, I do want to emphasize my core competencies rest in the more theoretic fields – and that is why I loved chemistry so much – but people like David Liatti (our Operations Manager) is the more practical engineer.
As far as beer courses for brewing and tasting – they are not necessary, but a knowledge of science and the components of beer are necessary. In other words, you don’t need to go the academic route, but you must have a basic understanding of the causal relationships that take place during the brewing process, for that is how you troubleshoot and problem solve when issues arise. The more advanced your knowledge base is, the better your troubleshooting skills will be.
6. What advice do you have for homebrewers looking to get into the professional field of brewing?
Homebrew your ass off, pound the pavement, press the flesh, and keep the faith.
7. Do you still homebrew? If so, what are you currently brewing or what was your latest creation?
I do homebrew. But I’ve become a bit of a recluse with it sometimes because I like a clean, sterile, and quiet environment without distractions when I homebrew. Its really meditative for me. I can’t stand a soiled or dirty environment, or one where someone is interrupting me every few minutes. I like to immerse myself in the beer. Figuratively, of course. :-)
I’ve also been teaching people how to homebrew lately. A few weeks back, I taught my good friend and executive chef at Prime Meats/Frankies Spuntino Willy Prunty how to make some beer. His knowledge base was already super solid, but we took it to another level. Its a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
8. What has been your hardest challenge with the creation and continued success of Sixpoint? What has been your greatest success/ defining moment with the creation and continued success of Sixpoint?
The creation side has been rather easy…as the creative juices and spirit has always flowed freely with me. Regarding “continued success” I would say that is a subjective critique! But thanks for thinking so. But we have a long way to go…and that is where the struggle comes in. I’d like to see us making better beer, with stronger ties to our community and customers, and better customer service. I also would like better communication within the company…tighter controls…more efficiency. So many things to do! That is the key…to never get lazy or content. Stay fit! :-)
Greatest success or defining moment? I’d like to thing the chapter on that has not yet been written! But I’d have to say – above all else – is the innumerable amazing relationship I’ve been able to forge as a result of starting Sixpoint. I’ve met so many helpful, thoughtful, kind, talented, fun, and appreciative people through this business…I’m eternally grateful. I feel blessed.
9. Tell us your most fun beer story.
Before I started the brewery, I was living on my friend Aaron’s couch for a few months while I homebrewed every single day. I had turned his kitchen into a bona fide mini brewery. He lived on the second floor of a two-unit flat. On the ground floor was a dude named Pat, who was a 40 year-old “retired poet” who was very idiosyncratic. Anyways, he apparently had moved in several months before but still had his stuff packed in boxes.
I started brewing and one day there was a knock at the door. It’s Pat. He said, “what are you doing up here? Its smells like you’re making candy.” I said, “Don’t worry. Just making beer. That’s the malt – it smells sweet.” Pat then replies, “Uh……ok. It sounds dangerous…..” I said, “Nah…I’ve done it hundreds of times. Its easy.”
Flash forward a few days, and I’m making a batch of American Amber on the stovetop. Then, I get a phone call. The reception is poor, so I go out onto the balcony. I’m talking to my friend, and then I hear a knocking at the door – its Pat! Uh-oh. Apparently there is a RIVER OF BEER coming through the ceiling and dripping onto his book in the living room.
I rush to the kitchen to find out I had a boil over. Shit! Yep, it ran down the side of the kettle, and all over the stove, and then down the gas line through the linoleum floor. It goes through the floor and comes out the ceiling below and is streaming all over Pat’s books, still freshly packed in cardboard boxes. What a sight….a river of hot brown beer coming through the ceiling!
Just like Poltergeist. Haha.
10. What is your take on the craft beer community? What is your favorite thing about it? What could stand for some improvement?
The craft beer community is awesome, and it is probably my single favorite thing about the entire industry. Interestingly, its not just the community of brewers….not even close. Its the community of craft beer drinkers, craft beer bar owners, craft beer writers, craft beer bloggers, craft beer distributors, and craft beer website owners. Its a gigantic and ever expanding craft beer universe! :-)
My favorite thing about it is it is so different from other industries….like take, for example, Wall Street. There is less of a “every man for himself” and “dog eat dog” mentality and more of a mentality of “a rising tide lifts all boats” and cooperation.
As far as improving the industry…I would say there could possibly be some regional centers within the Brewer’s Association…since the country is so large. I think every major city should have a craft beer week…and it would be nice to get some sponsorship and support from an organized source. If the Brewer’s Association really threw their weight behind a coordinated effort to get all 50 states rocking craft beer, the sky is the limit! :-)
Shane has that refreshing a relate-able style that we see with a lot of brewmasters, and that is what I love so much about this industry. There is competition, for sure, but brewers are constantly encouraging others to join in the game and get to brewing- the passion is everywhere, and it certainly is contagious.
With that, I say to you, go out there and talk to your local brewers. Hopefully, (and I have a hunch they will be,) they’ll be as insightful, smart, experienced and willing to chat as Shane was.