Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Interview with Rock Bottom Head Brewer Pio

At the December Rock Bottom Holiday Brewer's Dinner I got to meet the new brewer Tim Piotrowski (or Pio for short.)  He is a very approachable and pleasant young man who obviously loves what he does.  At Rock Bottom I find that the brewer is often very much behind the scenes and thought that the Minnesota beer geeks would benefit from getting to know more about our recent addition to the local beer scene.  It doesn't hurt that he is putting out very tasty beers!  Pio was kind enough to take the time to respond to my interview questions:

EW:  Tell me a bit about yourself:  Where you grew up, and what previous training and brewing experience you have had.

Pio:  I grew up in Stevens Point, WI.  (Go Packers!)  Graduated from UW-Stevens Point with a Business Admin major and Camp Management minor.  I spent the next 4-1/2 years in California directing a YMCA Camp...and home brewing.  That's when I decided to sign up for the American Brewers Guild's education program.  I completed that training with an apprenticeship at Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado, and was hired on in packaging.  When I didn't see my future with that company, I interviewed and was hired by Rock Bottom.

I started by splitting time between the Walnut Brewery (the "first" Rock Bottom) in Boulder and the ChopHouse in Denver.  After about 6 months, I was transferred to RB Westminster full time.  I worked with Senior Brewer, Scott O'Hearn, to get as much preparation as possible for a Head Brewer role, and I realized that about a year later in Minneapolis.

EW:  How hard was it to transition over to the new brewhouse and take over after Bob left?  Were there any unusual circumstances or stories about getting used to your new equipment?

Pio:  After arriving in Minneapolis, I worked three of my hardest weeks ever.  The equipment was new, but that just took a little getting used to.  The big challenge was setting up the brewery, supplies, ingredients and processes in a way that made the most sense to me.  At the same time, we were in our busy season and I needed to keep house beers on tap and add some of my own new recipes.

I made it through that transition period, and I think we can all agree it's been quite the tasty experience!

EW:  I noticed that all the beers you served us at the Holiday Dinner were fairly dry on the finish, even the the historically sweeter brown ale and Irish red.  Is this part of your brewing philosophy/personal style? 

Pio:  Yes, I think so.  Sweet, thick beers tend to provide a one-and-done experience.  There is definitely a time and place for sweeter styles.  However, in a brew pub like Rock Bottom, I think that most customers enjoy having two or more beers over the few hours they spend with us.  A drier finish to the beer helps prevent taste fatigue, in my opinion. 

EW:  Did you start brewing as a homebrewer?

Pio:  Sure did.  I started in college, continued at camp in California on an off.  I always enjoyed the process of turning water into beer.  It's intoxicating!

EW:  Any bits of brewing advice you would like to spread to us homebrewers?

Pio:  Never stop trying new beers.  You'll always have your favorite brands or styles, but there is a whole world of beer out there.  (Having so much access to RB beer, I have to remind myself of that from time to time.)  New beers can provide just the inspiration you need for your next recipe.

EW:  Do you have any unusual beers in the works that we can look forward to? (Note: this interview was done earlier in the year so the beers may be long gone by now but Pio's take on these styles is worth reading...my fault entirely!)

-Big Horn Nut Brown is back.  I like the idea of paying tribute to the beers that got us to where we are and celebrating the amazing brewers that came before me.
-1/10, we're putting out a Belgian Grand Cru @ 7.8%
-1/16, tapping Double Down IPA @ 8.5% and 100 IBUs

Generally, unusual beers are not my style.  I much prefer to make amazing beers that guests keep talking about and coming back for.  I have found that in beers such as Paranoid IPA and Coconut Chai Stout.  

When a beer appeals to only a very small crowd, it sits in the serving vessel for long time.  I prefer fresh beers, changing styles frequently.

Thanks so much to Pio for talking with us!  I hope that you the reader has learned a bit about this "new" brewer and will check out what he is doing over at Rock Bottom Minneapolis.  

Next Up on JABlog:  Brew In A Bag

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