Dick Cantwell Visits, Brews, Teaches
Guest Blog by Chris Shepard of Craft Brew News The clever craft brewer knows to look to the homebrewers. It’s the closest they can get to looking into the future of their industry. With an average of more than 1 brewery opening every day in the US, current brewery-owners are keenly interested in the homebrewers “going pro.” Via their trade association, the Brewers Association, these brewers task themselves with providing information and guidance to aspiring brewers. Enter: the second edition of The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery by Dick Cantwell. (A wealth of insight through every conceivable step of opening a brewery. $95 at B&E - a pittance compared to the price of opening a brewery.) And for the homebrewers of Brooklyn, those that call Bitter & Esters their beloved LHBS (local homebrew shop), on Thursday, Nov 14, enter: Dick Cantwell. And 5 pounds of experimental hop #366 pellets. (I’ll get back to these beauties.) Dick came out to B&E to sign copies of the book, but also agreed to brew a pale ale on the shop’s 31-gallon brew-on-premises system. Douglas & John, proprietors of B&E, have worked with Tim Stendahl of Union Distributors for its popular Brew Like a Pro series (BLAP!), connecting homebrewers with professional brewers and their recipes. Dick’s visit was sort of an ultimate BLAP, where those of us in the crowd got to brew with a pro, and also got a taste of some of the expert advice he lays out in the book. (B&E’s brew system is more high-tech than some licensed nanobreweries I’ve heard about. Dick too apparently: “I’ve been to some sketchy nanos,” he told us. “I worry about that.”) Dick treated a crowd of beer lovers, homebrewers and aspiring brewers to a short history of Elysian Brewing, the brewing company he co-founded in 1995. Elysian began as a brewpub and grew into 3 brewpubs, a production brewery and new restaurant coming next year, all in Seattle. He also treated us to some of Elysian’s tasty beers. (“We love IPAs.”) (We also got to try the totally-innovative He Said 4-pk of 2 different canned pumpkin beers, a collaboration with 21st Amendement. Some have referred to Dick as “the pumpkin king” - Elysian’s hosted an annual pumpkin beer fest since 2005, “partly to be hilarious and partly because we saw an opportunity.”) Something “absolutely true and absolutely wonderful” about the brewing industry, in Dick’s opinion, is that “no one person knows it all.” He spoke of the “camaraderie” in the brewing industry, the knowledge-sharing, Elysian’s work with New Belgium Brewing, and bringing in many collaborators for the brewery’s annual pumpkin beer festival. It’s with this spirit of collegiality that Dick shared “aphorisms” he “cooked down” from chapters in the book, like “squeegee less than your competitors” (on flooring), or his acknowledgement that “it was embarrassing” for him and his co-founders “how unsophisticated we were” in terms of working with distributors early on (no longer). (“There’s been a real quickening” in craft beer growth in NYC, “there’s a lot happening.”) But let’s talk about those hops. The Northwest is the hop capital of the US. So the relationships Dick’s cultivated with hop growers over the years means that he’s been able to brew with experimental hop strains that farmers are growing before they’re more widely available. Experimental hop #366 isn’t named yet, though it has been used in a few commercial beers in small batches. (Elysian brewed a pair of pale ales, one with #366 and one with #291 for its brewpubs in Seattle to see what its customers thought of the new hops.) Dick packed up 5 pounds of #366 in a large zip-lock bag with his business card and “Hops” written multiple times (so the TSA would leave them be). We were all pretty excited that we weren’t using all 5 lbs for the brew and got to take home a couple ounces to use in our own homebrews. Dick’s visit to the shop, while perhaps the most memorable, was really just the latest example of the high quality education myself and other local homebrewers have gotten at B&E. And educated homebrewers are exactly the kind of homebrewers that craft brewers like to see. Chris Shepard has been homebrewing since 2011 and learning about homebrewing at B&E since it opened. He’s an assistant editor for Craft Brew News, a trade publication.