A beer connoisseur and beverage industry expert, Michael helps breweries of all sizes build their brands – and in the process, he travels widely and chronicles his experiences at Good Beer Hunting, offering us all a front-row seat to the explosion of our nation’s craft beer business.
Michael’s passion is destined to pique your taste buds’ curiosity – whether you’re a beer lover or not. Check it out:
First off, you’re clearly passionate about beer. So much so that it’s contagious—and making us thirsty. So what’s all the fuss about? Why do you love beer so much?
Well, I’m hardly patient zero when it comes to the passion in beer-making. So many brewers have inspired me to see beer in a completely different light than when I was just drinking the stuff.
They get excited about beer just like we do, but they also look at a glass and see a process that mystifies them as much as they wrestle with it to try and pin it down scientifically. What did the yeast do in this batch? Could I change the rate of hop additions? What did it taste like in the barrel in month one versus one year out?
Beer is as much a natural phenomenon as it is a technical process, and that mystery will always draw people with a curious, tinkering mind. It makes brewing feel constantly new and fresh, even when you think you’ve figured it out. I guess that’s why it captured my artistic inclinations, and inspired me to start telling stories and capturing amazing photographs that share this lifestyle in the way that I see it from the inside, now that I work with breweries on a daily basis.
There’s just so much adventure to be had.
Do you see any exciting trends in the world of craft brewing right now? What should we be watching for?
We’ve finally reached the point where old is new again, and that’s exciting for me. For a decade or more, we’ve chased down the hoppiest, strongest beers we can figure out how to make, and it’s been fun.
But now we’re digging into the back catalog of beer history, making goses, a salty, tart wheat beer that essentially went extinct as a German style. Alt biers, honey ales, just beautiful, more subtle beers that had a place in our history. And they have that place again as more and more people get intrigued by beer. That being said, Americans never stop exploring, and right now, it seems like the saison style is our obsession. We’re reinventing the rustic, French, farmhouse style, and we’re getting some unbelievable flavors out of it.
Mmm. Please tell us that you’ll be bringing some such beers to the Unison event.
You bet. One of Chicago’s best brewers, and a bit of a beer historian in a way, is John Laffler and Dave Bleitner from Off Color Brewing. Their first beer in the market last year was a gose called Troublesome. And since then, they’ve gone on to brew a number of subtle palate pleasers that taste unlike anything else on the market today.
I’m going to bring two of their beers that I think exemplify this sophisticated approach: Scurry, a dark, toasty honey ale in the style of a Kottbusser, with a little molasses in the finish. And their newest beer, Ellie, a honey saison made with gin spices. This might be one of the most unique beers I’ve heard of in awhile, with lemon zest, lemon juice, juniper, coriander, chamomile, and rose hips.
I think people are going to love them.
So, what next?
Like I said, beer in America is all about exploration. And just when you think a trend has reached its logical peak, someone adds a new twist. Barrel aging is one of those things.
We think of barrel-aged beers as those big, dark imperial stouts aged in bourbon barrels. Amazing stuff. But now, we’re going in a dozen directions at once with barrels. We’re using wine barrels to impart completely different flavors, either that dry oakiness of a cabernet, or the silky quality of chardonnay. Or liquor barrels like fernet and rum, or whole barrel-aged cocktails like a Manhattan.
It’s a completely different way to think about beer recipes, and as always, we’re getting some amazing flavors from the process.