Interview of Doug MacNair of Redhook Ale Part 1
Posted on July 21, 2010 by mike
The second interview in the Brewery Highlight Series for Redhook Ales. Click the link for more articles.
Today’s interview is with Redhook Ale’s Doug MacNair. Doug has been with Redhook for a long time and shared a very unique story of how he got into brewing and eventually ended up with Redhook.
I’ve cut down the interview to keep it interesting. If you’d like to download the full audio interview click here.
Mike: Hey Doug, this is Mike from Mike’s Brew Review dot com. How you doing today?
Doug MacNair: Pretty good! How bout yourself?
Doug MacNair: Your punctual.
Mike: I try to be. Your time is important.
Doug MacNair: So, what can I do for ya?
Mike: Well, I was just going to ask you a few questions, kind of do an interview to get some more information about you and kind of just go from there.
Doug MacNair: Well, whatever you’ve heard, its gotta be wrong.
Mike: So, to start out, could you discuss a little bit about your background information. Where you grew up, where you went to school, are you married, those kinds of things?
Doug MacNair: Its not very particularly interesting. I grew up out in the Seattle area. I got my degree over at Whitman college which is a small college over in Eastern Washington. You know, Walla, Washington. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest as much as I can.
Got out of school, worked for a couple of years. Made FABULOUS money doing something that I hated doing. I quit my job, bought a one way ticket to Europe about a year bouncing North Africa, Europe, just kind of bouncing all over the place. I ended up, cuz my pride goes before whatever I ended up running out of money. So I took a job in a small brewpub in Germany. I went back up to Germany and said, “I’ll work for free, feed me and house me, and I’ll work for free.” I worked for them for about 4 months, it wasn’t long. But I was then able to do an internship at one of the larger breweries in Germany for 5 months and got kind of a bootstrap education in brewing in Europe. Came back to the states, this was back in the mid 80′s. Back the there weren’t a whole lot of breweries out there, just the Bud’s and Coors of the world and a couple of little guys on the west coast.
Doug MacNair: Anchor was around. Sierra was around. Redhook was around. Then there were a couple others like Hale Ale, which is a west coast brewery, a real small one. Anyways. Knocked on the doors of everybody and Redhook was in the process of moving out of an old transmission shop which was duct tape and bailey wire for brewing. And they needed someone to hold the fort down, brewing, bottling, racking and whatever needed to be done. So I started with them in the original brewery over in Ballard. Then worked at the new brewery which was an old building in Fremont, which is a suburb of the district of Seattle.
Doug MacNair: A little Scandinavian, yea sure ya betchya, where all that came from. Ended up running that brewery. Then we built the Woodinville brewery and I ran that brewery then we decided to expand to the east coast and we built one back here and I came out to help build this one and now I’m running this one.
Mike: So you’ve been with Redhook for 20 some years then?
Doug MacNair: Yea, I started in…87 I think. Eighty-seven or 88, somewhere in there.
Mike: Wow, so you started off bottling and packaging…
Doug MacNair: Ah yea! Any small craft brewery…it was anything from washing the kegs to mucking out the sumps where all the spent grain, rags flowed outside into a concrete nasty bin…(laughter) to scrubbing the whole copper brew house back then. The brew house was built in 1889 or something. Anyway, it was cool! The old goose neck brats and all that. Was polishing that with the D.E. and every thing that goes into being the little guy. But it was a great hands on experience and helping build all the breweries since then has been a lot…
Mike: Had kind of helped you a long the way.
Doug MacNair: Helped me along the way, absolutely!
Mike: Right on. So before you started in a brewery, you said you headed over to Europe, before you started working in a brewery, did you have any experience doing homebrew?
Doug MacNair: I had been a homebrewer since I was in college. No other professional brewing experience.
Doug MacNair: Actually when I went to work over there I didn’t even speak German.
Doug MacNair: That’s how, you know, when you 20 something you can be blindingly arrogant. But hey, it worked. I frankly talked my way into the door and proved myself worthy I guess. They kept me on. It was a great experience. It was fun. We always made lagers. We did eight barrels. It was a little tiny brewpub in a village in rural Germany. The brewpub was owned by…in Germany the brewmaster is less of a position, its more of a status…its like being a doctor. If your a brewmaster you’ve got a four year degree from Reichstag or one of the other brewing academies. He was the brewmaster of the bottling hall for one of the 10 largest brewery’s in Germany. One of the big ones. Which is great. I ran the brew pub for him…actually what the deal was, his son was back at school getting his brewing degree and was so buried in the academia world that he couldn’t be around enough to brew the beer in the brew pub. So between the son and the father they taught me how to brew. During the day I’d brew beer and at night I’d work the bar.
Mike: Right on!
Doug MacNair: Then when I got off shift I’d go up to my room I would translate…they loaned me an old German brewing text book. You know I was the only American around I would translate the German brewing textbook. I was just teaching myself with this German textbook. I kind of figured it out.
Mike: That sounds…(laughter) really interesting.
Doug MacNair: It was really fun!
Mike: It’s a story of passion. I’m curious. How did you know that you wanted to spend all that time in Germany and learning to brew?
Doug MacNair: I didn’t! When I went over there, that was not on the radar. It just wasn’t. I liked making beer, yea, I’m definitely going to spend some time in Germany, yea I definitely want to drink some good beer. I did that all over the place, Czechoslovakia, I was just all over. When I got back to Germany, I was trying to give you the Reader’s Digest version, I actually did start thinking about it. I was in Germany, pretty soon I was without money, I wanted to stay and I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life.
Doug MacNair: The very first thing I did, again just being widely optimistic I guess, I knocked on the door of of Reichstag, which is one of the most prestigious brewing schools in the world. And to this day I have no idea, and God bless him for doing it, the Dean came out, I don’t know if he was having a slow day or what, the Dean actually took 20 minutes to meet up with this scrappy American kid. I’ve been traveling in the same clothes for 9 months, I was probably a little rough around the edges. And he took the time, you know, and he talked with me because I was like, “Hey, what is it going to take for me to get into this school?”
“Hey this would be cool, I’ll just go off to brewing school.” What a great idea. I’m not thinking it through. It’s $30,000 dollars a year, and you gotta have some asking for you…I hadn’t thought of that.
Doug MacNair: But he sat down with me and said, “Look, you ambitious, that’s great. I encourage you, its a great industry, fascinating to get into. Tell you what. Why don’t you go get a job and go work for a while and figure out if its something your interested in. If your really interested, comeback and talk to me.” He was very polite and that got me going “Hmmm, alright. I guess I gotta go work. That makes sense.” Kind of like when you go off to get your business degree. Most schools don’t want you right out of your undergrad. They want you to get some business experience.
Doug MacNair: Then you go and get your Master’s. I get that, that makes sense. So I went and looked for a job. Landed the job. Once I got into it…my background…I got my degree in Geology. I’ve been a science guy all my life, and I just immediately dug that brewing is chemistry, its microbiology, when you deal with the brewery itself, its physics, hydrodynamics, there is all this different stuff that comes into play. I’ve got to admit, all these years later, it was good going into brewing because you never know what your dealing with and your usually dealing with 3 or 4 things.
Doug MacNair: Whether its a mechanical with the process, or I find that really challenging. Its what I find interesting about it. Then there is the whole artistic side of it. We’re a production brewery, we’re a big brewery, and for me, a lot of people interpret things differently. A lot of people in our case would be out there with these canoe paddles stirring the mash and I get that. That’s cool. To me the art is being able to take all the pieces you’ve got and all the science that you’ve got and really be able to do exactly what you wanted to do.
Doug MacNair: And the thrill of…I don’t know…I’m not a big gear head I’ve got to imagine in some ways that there is a little piece of it that is kind of like being a race driver. Having just a really high performance machine under you and really knowing how to make it fly. There is a thrill on that side of it to. At home I’m a furniture maker, I’m a bread maker, I just got into making my own cheese, I mean I love all that cooking aspect, and there that side of it to just putting the flavors together. But I equally like all the science sides of it as well. Bringing the temperature down half a degree, what’s that going to do to the yeast catalysm and are the ester profiles and I find that fascinating as well.
Doug MacNair: One long answer, bottom line is once I got into it over there…the cool thing was this father and son team even through the language barrier really got me to understand that that stuff was there. I was in a brew pub level to ease me into it but then when I got into the internship with the bigger brewery that is when I really got into it as a profession. Its bottomless! The more you think you know the less you do and the more there is to learn. That’s cool!
Mike: You open one door and it opens into a room full of other doors.
Doug MacNair: Yea and again and again and again…Yeap.
Doug has so much good information I had to break it into two articles. Tomorrow we will discuss the Portsmouth expansion and get a little more candid. Be sure to check out the Interview with Doug MacNair of Redhook Ale Part 2 tomorrow!