Interview with Doug MacNair of Redhook Ale Part 2

Posted on July 22, 2010 by

The second (part 2) interview in the Brewery Highlight Series for Redhook Ales. Click the link for more articles.

Interview with Doug MacNair

Continued from yesterday’s “Interview with Doug MacNair of Redhook Ale Part 1
I’ve cut down the interview to keep it interesting. If you’d like to download the full audio interview click here.

Mike: That’s cool. So let’s kind of talk about the Portsmouth Brewery. What was the driving factor for Redhook to…

Doug MacNair: Build here? So, we’re a West Coast brewery, we always have been, that’s where we always were. We wanted to grow, we wanted to go national. We were absolutely committed that…if you let the bean counters do it, the thing that would make the most sense is to build one big ass brewery in Kansas. Right in the center. The company has always been really dedicated to doing things right. So instead of building a 500 barrel brewery in the middle, we had the two breweries on the West Coast and decided to build one on the East Coast. Obviously the beer scene was there, Boston, New York, those are big markets on the East Coast. And not only that, but Seattle and L.A. on the West Coast. You wanna be near the people. So, originally we had looked at, well maybe down in Virginia, Delaware, somewhere where you were hitting D.C., New York, that kind of stuff. But you can’t just look at where the road is, you…a big one is you gotta find the water. And for us, being a Seattle based company. Seattle is 100% snow melt off the Cascade Mountains. Very, very soft water. Most of the Eastern Seaboard has pretty damn hard water…

(laughter)

Doug MacNair: And  you get down in the South and you get a lot of carbonate, there just a lot of stuff going on. Portsmouth was particularly interesting, its right on 95, yea it’s way up in the Northern end, but that was kind of the downside of things. But it was right on 95, it was very near Boston, which was one of the target markets and for New England, it has pretty soft water. Your a brewer right?

Mike: Yeap.

Doug MacNair: Alright, you can build water up to anything you want. You can add calcium sulfate, you can do whatever you need to do. But if water had just a boat load of carbonate in it or a bunch of iron, god knows what, it’s a hell of a lot harder to take that stuff out.

Mike: Yeap.

Doug MacNair: So you want soft water and Portsmouth has relatively soft water. We could take the water here and be able to match the water profile that we have in Seattle. Redhook, in general, makes a lot of English Ales. We do some other stuff to, but…we make a lot of English Ales, so we’re adding a fair amount of bertinizing salts if you will. Seattle water is softer than here, but both breweries are able to bring the water to where they need to. I find it a little harder water here, but if you add a little less calcium sulfate and the brews are the same.

So that was the big reason. The water was a big one. Right behind it was access to the market because if we are going to make a fresh, non pasteurized beer, you’ve got to be able to get it to market quickly. That’s the name of the game.

Mike: So I’ve been wondering, along with people on my website, with these dreams of becoming a brewmaster or becoming part of the brewing process. Once you’ve reached your status, what do you dream about?

Doug MacNair: Ahhhh, you know. I guess I would back up and say that the point that I am at in my career I don’t give a damn what my title is. What gets me out of bed every morning is the challenges of, like I was mentioning earlier. It’s the challenges that are there everyday of running a facility like this. The challenges are surmounting problems, but then also when we come up with just a ringer on some of these small beers…its been, I don’t even know how long, 23 years or whatever it is. There is nothing better than when I walk up in front of the brew house into the pub and I’m just in my Joe Schmo, no Redhook attire, nobody knows who I am and I can sit there and hear a couple people talking about the beers. They are just taking them apart and saying, “Hey, you know, maybe they used a little bit of black strap molasses,” or something like that…that’s great. It’s something I’ve made that is making somebody happy. They are enjoying it. That sounds corny but still to this day, that is just a really great feeling.

Mike: I think that’s kind of the fundamentals of being a homebrewer. I know some of the most enjoyment that I have making my beer is when I finally open it up and I’m sitting there with 2 or 3 other people and they are like “Hey, this is really good!” And I’ve made it.

Doug MacNair: Yep! It’s very, very satisfying. It’s hard to describe. It goes a long, long ways. Points of wisdom for people getting into the industry. There are a lot of reasons…but if you look at the brewing industry analytically, is it a high paying industry? Ummmm…no. You missed the boat on that one. Is a spring board to a higher career? Well, I don’t know, not really. Its kind of a thing in and of itself. The vast majority of people, I think its why I tend to really like that are in the industry, I know I’m being kind of homer right now…The vast majority of people that are in the industry are in it because its what they really want to do. It’s not so much that it is a means to an end to buying a fancy car or a big house or that kind of stuff. It’s because this is what they want to do. They enjoy it and take pride in it. And that’s kind of cool because that rules from the guy washing the keg to the guy out in the cellars pitching the yeast to the brewers to someone like me, this is what people want to do. What that tends to do is…I have a lot of friends that work in industry, manufacturing and you just don’t see the comradery. You walk up into our pub on any given evening. Chances are you going to see someone from the administrative offices having a beer with one of the brewers and the two of them may be having a heated discussion with me, the top of the food chain inside our little organization here and when we are having a beer, everyone is an equal. We can have our differences and discussions about the subtle points of a beer…”Oh yea, we need more hops in this!” Or whatever it is and I don’t know of any other industry where you see that happening on a regular basis. It’s pretty neat. I encourage you to go to a car show and have the Ford engineer hang out on the back bumper with the GMC engineer shooting the shit about solving an issue with the ball joints. You just don’t get that.

In brewing you do. I had a brewer a half an hour ago, a guy from down in Delaware, I never met him before but he called me up and said, “Hey, I’m having this issue and I just want to have someone with experience to bounce off of.” And absolutely, I took 20 minutes to sit down and give him a hand. I pointed him in a couple different directions to look at. That’s the great part of the industry, no where else you can have that.

Mike: Yea everyone seems very willing to share information.

Doug MacNair: Everyone seems to look out for each other.

Mike: Well I don’t want to take up to much of your time but I have one very technical question that has very much to do with brewing beer. Do you have a beard?

Doug MacNair: Do I have a beard?! I don’t…I’m one of those guys endowed with the lack of…I can grow a really good goatee, but that’s about it. I just look like an axe murder with this miserable thing. The only time I wear a beard is when I do a lot of back packing. If I come back from a couple weeks backing trip, I guess you can call it a beard, its more of this miserable scruff cover.

(Laughter)

Mike: Right on. Thank you for your time. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Doug MacNair: Good luck to you. I think its kind of an interesting angle you are trying to do. What better way to get to talk with a bunch of people in the industry than what you are doing…If your actually looking at it for a career, it is a brilliant move.

Mike: Awesome, I appreciate it.

Doug MacNair: Good luck and I encourage you. Its a long road. Its a hard industry to get into in some ways. Its like a baker, your up at 4 in the morning and they are long days. But after all these years, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Mike: That is exactly what I wanted to hear.

Doug MacNair: Good luck to ya, if anything comes up, by all means, give me a shout and good luck!

Mike: I appreciate it. Have a good day!

Doug MacNair: Talk to you soon! Bye!

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