Brewer Bytes with BrewDog
An Interview with Stewart Bowman, Head Brewer
Posted on 1/16/2015 by Chops
Beer fans with adventurous palates know BrewDog's "beer for punks" motto all too well. BrewDog is the quintessential batshit crazy brewery. How crazy do you ask? Try a 41% ABV Imperial IPA called Sink The Bismarck, or a 55% ABV monster brew called The End of History that comes in taxidermied squirrels. This is the insanity these chaps bring to the table, and beer fans cannot get enough of it. This Scottish outfit was founded in Fraserburgh in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, who themselves have become households names (think BrewDogs on the Esquire Network). Needless to say, we were all very excited when Head Brewer Stewart Bowman agreed to offer up some Brewer Bytes.
What inspired you to get into brewing?
Easy, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I found it in a shop in Inverness (in the Highlands) in the late 90's. That vibrant green label just jumped out at me so I had to give it a whirl. The fresh grapefruit hop hit and bold bitterness was unlike anything I had ever tasted.
Do you have a fond memory about building your brewery?
Just a general sense of not letting anything get in our way. Pump was broken? Fix it. Glycol pipework needs altering?Here's some pipe and glue, go do it. It was the fastest learning experience of my life and one that really shaped how we operated as a company.
Do you have a not-so-fond memory about building your brewery?
The stress of trying to run the original plant, learn all the new equipment yourself and train up others all with the existing staff level. Never again.
How do you feel about your overall success today?
Proud and humbled in at the same time.
Where do you see your brewery in the future?
In the forefront of European brewing in terms of beer quality and business practice. We continually drive ourselves to improve everything about how we operate, from the beer that we make to staff welfare. I would like to see BrewDog being a role model for other companies.
What is your favorite beer or style to brew?
I love brewing ESBs. Something about that malt/hop balance that can be so elegant. It's something I've been working on for a while and still have not perfected. Yet.
What is the most challenging beer for you to brew?
Any beer that we only will, for whatever reason, only brew once. We brewed 65 different beers 2014, and I would say 75% of them were one batch wonders. That's always tough, knowing that you won't get another shot at it.
What was your worst brewing experience?
I think we've all had those days when stuff goes really wrong, but we distinguish ourselves as Brewers by how we deal with it. Losing our cooling system at 0300 on a Saturday morning really sucked, especially when no-one would answer a phone to come and fix it. You've got a counting clock ticking down, and your beer getting hotter by the hour. So we ripped open our glycol system and pump cold water through the tanks one at a time so we didn't lose any fermenting beer.
What was your best or most rewarding brewing experience?
Those moments where you can pull everything back from the edge. See the above. :)
What is something surprising you learned about brewing?
How most aspects of brewing comes down to striking a balance. It is a very delicate and dynamic system. Change one variable and watch something unexpected react...
What breweries do you respect the most?
Any brewery that works hard at being the best. Sierra Nevada's commitment to minimize their environmental impact is certainly very inspirational. Also, I've never had a bad beer from them. Can't say that about a lot of breweries.
How do you feel about beer reviewing and its impact on the industry?
I think It is a very useful tool and important that people get an idea about a beer/brewery before they buy. Maybe it peeks their interest, maybe not. But it helps to educate the consumer. However, it never fails to sting a little when you see a really good beer review badly just because it isn't earth changing. Since when is drinkable/sessionable the same as boring/dull
How does it feel to have your beers reviewed on sites like BrewChief?
It's always great to see our beers showcased to the public by people who are as interested and passionate about all beers as we are. When you spend as much time and effort working on something it is very gratifying to see someone else fly the flag.
What would you say to a beer snob who is hating on your brews?
Mate, we're all just searching for that perfect pint. You don't like it then move on, just don't get in my face about it. I would never be so impertinent to bash something that someone cares about as deeply as I care about our beer.
What advice would you give to a new home brewer?
Get to know your local homebrew shop hangouts or guys in the homebrew groups. I learnt a huge amount from the collection of homebrewing ne'er do wells at the shop in Edinburgh I bought all my gear from. Always around with a handy piece of advice or encouragement.
What advice would you give to a new craft beer fan?
Don't be intimidated by the myriad styles, beers, flavours and vocabulary that we use in the industry. Be inspired by it. Find a friendly face who can help you through this amazing new world.
What is the best thing about being part of the beer industry?
The People. Everyone (almost without exception) that I meet in the industry are good people. Easy going, friendly and always open for a frank discussion about the industry and their brewing experiences.
If you could change one thing about the beer industry, what would it be?
I would pull back that curtain for the 90% of people that think beer is a watery, lifeless stop gap.