Sunday, August 02, 2009

Old Rasputin Clone & Being in the German Army

I've been trying to decide on a recipe for my next batch of homebrew and have been leaning toward trying to clone my favorite stout, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

I have found the recipe to be extremely difficult to pin down since there are competing versions and the exact ingredients are not easy to find. Of course, the greatest obstacle is the fact that I am a novice who doesn't really know what the hell he is doing.

But if I am going to put in all the effort required for homebrewing, I want to put it towards something I really like to drink, so I have been searching for all the information I can find. I've gotten some good tips, such as Ted's conclusion that one of the background flavors comes from Licorice Root, which is not listed in any of the various formulations discovered so far.

I also found several excellent homebrew websites, like Tasty Brew and Home Brew Talk. Then I came across a gem, totally unrelated to my original quest, at Brew Monkey: A 2005 interview with the brewmaster at Dogfish Head, Andy Tveekrem. There is some great stuff in that interview for people who would love to learn more about how Dogfish Head is able to deliver such fantastic beer.

My hat is off to the interviewer, he did a great job. And Andy's answers are generally straight and to the point, exactly what you might expect from a craftsman who has spent most of his life meeting impossible production deadlines. But when the interview got around to his bio, he came up with a perfect description for the time spent at the job he liked the least,

Q: Every brewer has high and low points... what are yours?

A: The high point was getting hired at Great Lakes and realizing I could make my hobby become a life-long career. The whole Frederick thing was a low point.
It was like being in the German army... no matter how well you fight the battle, you're still going to lose in the end.

I think most of us working stiffs can relate to that feeling.

Andy is still the brewmaster at Dogfish Head, which may be the most daring, creative and successful craft brewery in existence, making Andy one the top brewmasters in the world. However, when Andy took the job at Fredrick Brewing Company in early 2000, he had been working in relative obscurity for nine years at Great Lakes Brewing, a micro-brewery in Cleveland. Frederick Brewing had already made quite a name for themselves in the craft beer industry with their 1997 launch of Hempen Ale and Hempen Gold, the first legal U.S. beers brewed with hemp seeds.

The brewery subsequently received even more press when Drudge posted the rumor that President Clinton allowed Hempen Gold to be served on an Air Force One flight in February of 1999 (nothing to click on the POTUS story, cuz Muddy no linky stinky Drudge).

The move would seem to be an indication that Andy has always had a penchant for out of the ordinary places to ply his skills. But when he joined Frederick, the original founders had sold the business to the Snyder International Brewing Group of Cleveland Ohio. In any case, it must have been exciting for Andy to land the Frederick gig, with its $8 million dollar, three years young,, state of the art plant.

Perhaps Andy should have been tipped off by the prominently grandiose "International" in the company's name. Maybe Andy's folks never warned him to never trust anyone who only uses the first letter of their first name. In January 2004, Andy's boss, C. David Snyder was characterized in a WaPo piece as a high-tech entrepreneur from Cleveland with lots of cash and a taste for full-bodied beer, who dreamed of building a new Anheuser-Busch. But by then, the company was in receivership. There is even a quote from Andy that illustrates how Snyder larded up the business with overhead,

“There used to be six vice presidents over me. And they were all in Cleveland,” said Andrew Tveekrem, the plant’s brewmaster.

Going from what he thought would be a dream job, to a nightmare scenario in less then three years must have been tough. But he got out of that hell-hole, landed at Dogfish Head and now has what I would consider the best brewmaster job in the world.

Good for you Andy Tveekrem, and good for us!

Andy is the the one with the beer the tall one the tall guy with the long hair.


KC Hop Head said...

I'd love to try some Old Rasputin clone if you get around to it.

Muddy Mo said...

If I go with it for my next batch, it should be ready around Thanksgiving. I'll put some aside for you.

KC Hop Head said...

12th Anniv Old Rasputin is at the crazy Vietnamese liquor store. I think you know which one I'm talking about. I still haven't decided to get one because it's $20!