He’s simply so incredibly conspicuous.
– when I saw Erin for the first time at the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, it was more like an apparition.
What’s a bearded American brewer doing with a traditional Bavarian hat full of hiking badges?
But when I went up and talked to him, it left me well-nigh speechless – and not because he speaks nearly perfect German. He almost speaks Bavarian! With an American accent! A curiosity indeed, and so it came to pass that I was suddenly curious to learn his entire life story. In the interview, Erin always refers to Bavaria’s state capital Munich as “Minga” – just like a genuine Bavarian!
Erin, please tell us a bit about yourself – how did you come to be a brewer?
I was studying German and spent close to four years living in Bavaria. That started when I was in the 9th grade. I did four exchange groups in high school and fell in love with Bavaria. I developed a love for pale wheat beer, and that sort of thing, but I had no background in science because I had only been studying German. However, all of that experience in Bavaria eventually led me to think that I should pursue a career in beer. After studying for a masters in German language and dialect at the LMU (Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich), I realised that academia really wasn’t my end-game. I love learning, but I am much more hands-on.
At this point, I began looking for a job in the brewing industry, and also using the academic skills I had learned to focus my studies on beer, brewing, history etc., everything possible about beer. Once I started, I didn’t stop. I found a job as a bartender in a brewery and said to them “I’m only taking this job with the intent of becoming a brewer”. After about nine months, I was promoted to assistant brewer, and I have been brewing professionally now for a year and a half. I’m still learning and constantly looking for ways to better my craft skills. This profession is where I have personally been able to really combine all of my talents and creativity and make a living doing so. Mein Herz schlägt Boarisch, aber es schlaegt auch für Bier! (My heart beats for Bavaria, but it also beats for beer!)
So you spent some time in Germany even before training as a brewer; how did that come about?
I got a scholarship from my university to study again in “Minga”. But, as I’ve said, I had already been to Bavaria quite often beforehand, mostly to Deggendorf in Lower Bavaria.
Did Germany as a beer-drinking nation influence you in any way in your decision to become a brewer?
Yes, of course. When you’ve first learned to appreciate good beer, you want to drink good beer for the rest of your life. The beer gardens were a huge influence on me. I feel almost at home in a beer garden. I thought to myself, perhaps I can take this tradition back to America with me. But that’s not so easy, and then I hit upon the following idea: when I first learn how to brew decent beer – and to be more precise a good fresh pale ale, then I’ve already got the first part of my beer garden. And the rest will look after itself. Schau ma moi. (Bavarian for “let’s wait and see”)
You’re thoroughly familiar with the beer scenes in the USA and in Germany. What are the differences?
Well, first of all, everything’s open here. Yes – we sometimes do obey the German Purity Law, but we brew everything that’s possible. Because our tradition is so young, we’ve been able to absorb influences from all sorts of different countries. Almost all breweries in America brew beer types from Belgium, England, Germany, Czechia, etc., and we put our own twist on them – for IPA in our case. But our influences go further back than that. There are a few breweries, for example, that are swimming against the Bavarian brewing tradition in Minga, like Crew Republic. They mostly make American-influenced varieties of beer, but some older tradition-steeped breweries like Schneider are also making craft types, like hopped wheat beer. Perhaps in a few years’ time all the breweries in Minga will be making an IPA, who knows!?
Another difference is the training. There are a lot of autodidacts here, who have never attended a university or technical college. They started off as home-brewers, and practised incessantly, or they were (like me) hired as apprentices and learned on the job. As I understand it, in Germany you have to do a lot of studying and learning in order to qualify as a brewmaster.
Tell us a bit about the region where your brewery is located. Colorado is regarded as a Mecca for small breweries. Will there be too many of them at some point? Or can there never be too many?
My brewpub “Colorado plus” is located in Wheat Ridge, not far from Denver and the downtown district. There are probably more than breweries within less than ten miles’ distance. And nearly all of them are very successful, even though two or three are within walking distance from each other. This is possible because the small breweries are not competing with each other, but are pinching market shares off the bigger breweries. At some point, there may indeed be too many of them, but that will take a bissl (Bavarian for “a little bit”) longer. At present, there’s a new brewery opening almost every week in Colorado – and all of them are successful.
Where are you working at the moment, and what are your plans for the future? Do you intend to come to Germany again?
I am working for Colorado Plus; we hope to be expanding in the next few years, and to be building a new brewery. I’m sure that some time or other I will be back in Germany. What I would like is a short spell working in a German brewery. As a kind of internship. It would be a great experience – for perfecting my pale ale and my beer garden …;)
Are you actually a home-brewer?
Not any more, I used to be, but now brewing is part of my profession, I no longer have the time.
How did you like the Brewexpo in Portland, and what were your most important impressions?
The Expo was great. The best thing about it was meeting up with so many people from inside the sector. It’s also good to know that there’s so much technology available for breweries, not that we could afford it in our small brewery, but you never know, do you? And I find I learn a lot more when I spend a week exclusively with other brewers.
Which beer and what hop variety are your favourites?
DIPA or Russian Imperial Stout. And I’m still a big fan of Chinook.