Interview with Redhook Brewmaster Kim Brusco

Posted on July 29, 2010 by

The third interview in the Brewery Highlight Series for Redhook Ales. Click the link for more articles.

Interview with Kim Brusco

In today’s interview we talk with Kim Brusco, Brewing Manager, of Redhook Ale’s. Kim is a lived in a house with some friends and became the house brewer. Who would have known this ex-musician would end up brewing beer for a nation hungry for craft beer!

I’ve cut the interview down to keep it interesting. To hear the full audio version click here.

Kim Brusco: Hey, Mike Kim Brusco, Redhook Brewing.

Mike: Hey Kim, how you doing?

Kim Brusco: It’s been a pretty good day. It’s been a little mellow, we are winding down for the week. So the brews done, cleaning up. We run 24 hours a day so its always a big week.

Mike: Wow. I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to sit down and do this interview with me.

Kim Brusco: Not a problem!

Mike: So what is your role at the Woodinville, WA Redhook Ale Brewery?

Kim Brusco: I’m the brewing manager. So I oversee all brewing, all cellaring and all filtration.

Mike: That’s cool. How long have you been at Redhook or at this type of profession?

Kim Brusco: I’ve been in 4 different breweries in 20 years.

Mike: Wow!

Kim Brusco: I had my first brewing position back in 1990 in a little brewpub in Pioneer Square. I went there to Pike Brewing, I was there 9 years, spent a year in a little brewpub in Tacoma and I’m on my 4th year here at Redhook.

Mike: One of my biggest questions is, did you do any homebrewing before you decided that you wanted to become a brewmaster?

Kim Brusco: Well sure. Absolutely! I was an avid homebrewer.

Mike: Do you still homebrew?

Kim Brusco: No…(laughing) Once you start making beer professionally, even in the small systems, like the first brewery I was head brewer or brewmaster of was a 7 barrel system. That was pretty much my homebrew system.

Mike: Nice!

Kim Brusco: I could always come up with something 7 barrel size that you didn’t have to worry to much about.

Mike: What was your favorite style to brew?

Kim Brusco: That’s tough…I love brewing IPA’s and Stouts. A good bitter or an ESB. I like British styles personally. I do enjoy Tripel’s. Greg really likes doing more of the lager styles.

Mike: How long were you a homebrewer before you started on your professional brewing path?

Kim Brusco: I don’t know, 5 or 6 years. Back in that time period, I had my first head brewing position in like 1990. A lot of homebrewers managed to get into professional brewing if they studied brewing science. They were good at homebrewing. A lot of us would culture yeast, ya know…I had only ever done one extract brew. I was an all grain brewer on my second batch. I did one extract brew and it didn’t cut it. I started brewing all grain. I sort of lived in a shared housing situation and I started brewing all the beer for the household. I was brewing once a week.

Mike: Yeap! So your living in this household with a bunch of friends or just strangers?

Kim Brusco: Friends, yea we were friends.

Mike: So, your the brewmaster of the house and your brewing once a week to provide beer for everyone. At what point did you decide, “Hey, I could do this for a living?”

Kim Brusco: Well, I was a musician during the day. I did pretty well for quite a while. I was in my mid-30′s and that’s what gave me a lot of the time to homebrew everyday. I did gigs 5 nights a week and my gigs would start at 9 o’clock at night. So I could spend the day brewing beer. But the income…I was in my mid-30′s, I was self employed…the life of a musician. You maybe knew where you were going to be playing before the rent was going to come for maybe a month at a time. I thought I may need some options.

I’d become a good homebrewer and I just started applying for jobs.

Mike: So you didn’t have any formal schooling for it?

Kim Brusco: No formal schooling for me.

Mike: At that time…

Kim Brusco: At that time, yea. Then, people getting started at that time would read all the publications, you learned through the trade kind of like an apprentice.

The first job I had was for an outfit. He had a deal going with Bass head brewer. They’d send one of their young brewers over to apprentice with me so these guys could see what it was like to brew beer on a small system. They would work the summer with me. I was there close to 7 or 8 years, 90 thru 97. They’d come over for the summer and I had a couple of them. I’d train them up on the system and before they left they had to design and brew a beer on their own. They had a lot of knowledge. The brewers over there working for Bass, its a whole different thing. So we shared knowledge there.

Mike: It seems there is a lot of competition for anyone that wants to get into the industry and you need to have a bunch of experience.

Kim Brusco: Pretty much now you have to have a lot of experience, quite a few years under your belt and be sort of proven. OR you have to have gone to one of the schools, UC Davis, Siebel and what not.

Mike: That’s cool. It seems like one of those jobs that once you get into it you never want to leave it.

Kim Brusco: Yea, you gotta like it. It’s free beer ya know!

(Laughing)

Kim Brusco: I’ve never met a brewer that didn’t enjoy what he was doing. It’s hard work, especially in the smaller breweries. Your digging the mash out, filling kegs one at a time, it’s definitely a job filled with passion.

Mike: I was actually sent a bottle of your Expedition 8-4-1. Could you tell me a little about that? I think its an interesting concept. Eight brewers, 4 teams of 2, to make 1 beer.

Kim Brusco: It was fun! Greg the brewmaster comes to me and says, “We’ve got to come up with a Spring limited release.” A year ago it was are award winning tripel. We got a gold medal for that beer 2 years in a row at the NABA, the tripel we do here. We decided to do something different. “We need a recipe for the limited release. I want you to get all the brewers you can.” I jokingly said, “All just have them all write a recipe and we’ll put them together.” It was just fun. Greg and I were in the office we started just laughing and decided to do some brainstorming about it and we came up with the concept that that wasn’t such a bad idea. We figured out some parameters because we couldn’t have it be a free for all, we had to actually produce a beer. The concept was we had 8 brewers, and myself and I of the brewers formed a team, and Greg and one of the brewers formed a team. Everybody was involved, we wrote, each two brewers wrote and named a recipe.

It had to be between 30-35 color. It had to be between 40 and 60 BU’s. It had to be 9.5% ABV. It had to use one special ingredient or one special process. Those were the parameters. The 4 teams wrote their recipes and submitted them all to Greg. We used exact percentages of every ingredient and every process was used in the beer and the percentages they were on the original recipes. So everyone hit their parameters and we brewed this thing up. We had three different kinds of sugar in it, belgian candi sugar, brown sugar and honey. The special process was that we aged it on oak. It was just a lot of fun.

Mike: Yea! Sounds like it!

Kim Brusco: And it turned out really good.

Mike: I haven’t tried it yet. I’m kind of excited.

Kim Brusco: Oh, you should try it!

Mike: What can I expect out of it?

Kim Brusco: It’s definitely a Strong Ale. Leaning toward Imperial Brown, only but not really. For one, its got pretty good hops in it with a solid 52 BU. I personally categorize it as a Strong Ale. The oak comes through real nice. Its got heat from the high alcohol. Its not high fusels, its not bad alcohol. It’s just that you can taste it. It’s strong. It’s got a very complex flavor.

Mike: Excellent!

Mike: So the Redhook ESB is the signature beer of Redhook isn’t it?

Kim Brusco: That’s the flagship. We got a gold medal at GABF for that beer this past year.

Mike: I saw that. Were there any other awards at the GABF for you guys?

Kim Brusco: We got a silver for Treblehook, Redhook’s Barley Wine which was actually formulated by the brewers in Portsmouth. It won a gold the year before. Then we brewed it out in Woodinville this year. That was our last fall release. We sent it to the GABF again and it got a silver the second year. We got gold one year, silver the second year. I think the only reason we didn’t get a gold two years in a row is because it wasn’t quite timed right. It was still drinking like a really strong Imperial IPA, we hopped the hell out of it. It hadn’t quite enough oxidation yet. The Treblehook got a Silver medal, it was damn good, but it was a bit fresh still.

Mike: A little young yet?

Kim Brusco: Yea, the hops were still quite assertive.

Mike: Is there anything about Redhook, that in your experience, is different or signature to Redhook versus any of the other breweries out there?

Kim Brusco: The one thing about Redhook, and a lot of smaller brewers out there think larger brewers cheapen the process or something. But at Redhook we age our beer. We don’t send young beer out the door. I’ve worked in many breweries and Redhook has a lot of integrity. We really jump through the hoops, and a lot of big breweries do to, like Sierra Nevada and Deschutes. You gotta have a lab. If your going to put the beer out there in bottles and send it to Montana, you gotta spend the money. You gotta go through the process to make sure the consumer is going to get best product. So, that’s not really unique. You know, we have a proprietary yeast strain and we have some special processes that I can’t really just share.

Mike: That’s ok.

Kim Brusco: Keeps the beer unique. The other thing we do here is that we brew a well attenuated beer. Even our Imperial IPA. It won’t knock you over with sweetness. It’s well attenuated. We’ve got yeast, we’ve got processes that when beers start at 18 Plato, it going to finish at 3 instead of at like 5 or 6. I don’t know if you’ve tasted some of the Imperials, some of the big IPA’s, they have so much residual sugar.

Mike: Yea, so in all the time you’ve spent at Redhook, is there any one moment that you can remember, a funny moment, something stupid, just something funny that happened?

Kim Brusco: Not really. It’s a pretty well run plant.

Mike: So no.

Kim Brusco: I’m drawing a blank.

Mike: That’s cool.

Kim Brusco: Stuff happens that’s peculiar. It’s not very funny. Three years ago, we tend to lose our power out here. We’re in a valley and if the wind is coming out of the southeast it knocks the power out. Once our power is gone…we’ll be right in the middle of brewing something and we’ve had to destroy a lot of beer because of a power outage.

Mike: Ouch…

Kim Brusco: It’s a shame. One time the power went out and we had 5 brews in progress and the whole system just stops. We had to clean the whole system out, it was a mess.

Mike: That stinks.

Kim Brusco: Yea…that’s not that funny. We’ve gotten better and better out here. The guy who heads our maintenance department is really good with the computerized systems. We’ve got some backup power and stuff. We can survive better than we did in the early days.

Mike: I appreciate your time. Is there anything you’d like to add at all?

Kim Brusco: No, we covered a lot.

Mike: I appreciate it! Have a good day.

Kim Brusco: Take care, you too!

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  • http://twitter.com/billybroas billybroas

    Great interview and series Mike. I like what Kim had to say about their quality checks – having a lab, aging the beer, not taking shortcuts. It was also interesting to hear their focus on attenuation. I'm interested now in doing a side by side with their beer and another brewery's. Thanks to you and Kim.

  • http://twitter.com/ilyafeynberg Ilya Feynberg

    @Mike,

    Awesome interview man! Loved it!

    When I first moved to Seattle some years back (I'm back in Dallas now though) I never even heard of Redhook. Of course everyone up there raves about it. I couldn't understand why until I tried some of their styles. Now I know why, and it's virtually impossible getting any of it down here in Texas.

    I love just about all their styles and have had most. Their ESB is a staple of course, and I love their IPA's. Though I was not a huge fan of their Tripel honestly.

    What I took away from this interview more than any thing else though has to be the entire breweries passion and love for what they do. I've followed what they've been doing since I moved up there years back and it's very obvious that their beer, and their customers come first. Everything else is second to them it seems. That's what the entire craft beer culture is about in the first place. I love seeing this!

    Cleaning out those tanks though after the power failure could not have been a fun task. :/

    Ilya

  • http://twitter.com/ilyafeynberg Ilya Feynberg

    @Billy,

    Let me know when you do that side by side! Just hit me up on twitter or shoot me an email. I haven't their beer in a few years now since I can't get it easily at all down here in Texas, but I miss it greatly.

    Is it easy to get your hands on it up there in Colorado?

    Ilya

  • mikebiewer

    Heck yea!

    I really enjoyed their IPA. Most IPA's I've been drinking lately are to malty for my taste. This one was nice, clean and dry. Really enjoyed it. I attribute that to the attenuation factor. In fact, if you taste most of their beers they all have a crisp, dry finish.

    Have you had any of their beers lately?

    Mike

  • mikebiewer

    IIya

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    I was really fun talking with the brewmasters about their experiences. I do have to agree about Redhook. I never even bothered to give them much of a try because they are so main stream. You know how it goes, if all the “cool” kids are doing it, I don't want to do it. Shame shame on me…After reading about how they had their humble beginning to making their way to the top, along with getting some brewing notes from the brewmasters has turned me into a bit of a fan.

    In fact, as I go through all their beers again, tried them long time ago, I am excited about it. I'll admit, they are not amazing beers, nor do they reinvent anything. However, they are solid. It is hard to find a good craft beer that you can go to when you can't pick anything else out. That is Redhook to me.

    Another brew review is coming up this week. It surprised me…

    Mike

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