From time to time I like to mix things up a little on this blog and do some interviews with brewers that some of you may not know. With the huge boom in the local brewing scene there are a lot of unsung heroes out there crafting all those great beers for your pleasure. Today we talk with one of Surly's newer brewers, Derek Allmendinger, a great guy who I met several years ago while judging at a homebrew competition. I think he has some great insight to offer on brewing and some good background on exactly what a brewer does day to day at the great and mighty Surly Brewing. You may want to crack a Furious or Bender to drink while you read this...
1) Tell me a little about your history--where did you grow up and what was your path to get interested in beer?
I grew up in Jasper, Minnesota which is just south of Pipestone in the southwest corner of the state. That’s where I started drinking evil beer. In 2000 my family visited relatives in England which really opened my eyes to all sorts of new beers. Upon my return I began searching out beers that reminded me of those I had across the pond.
2) What did you do professionally prior to joining the Surly crew, and what brought you to your current position?
I was in banking for eleven years before switching to brewing. In 2009 I attended the American Brewers Guild which led to an amazing four month internship at Summit Brewing. That experience helped me get a job at August Schell in New Ulm. After almost two years Schell’s I took my current position at Surly to be closer to our families upon the birth of our first child last October.
3) Many of my readers are homebrewers and we always like to know if pro brewers started there too. Did you homebrew before starting your professional brewing career? And if so, what was your favorite style to brew?
My story is similar to many. My wife (then girlfriend) bought me a homebrewing kit for my 30th birthday and it took off from there. I spent a ton of time and money brewing at home… and she still married me. My favorite style to brew was my “Simcoe Chocolate Porter”. It was the first beer I ever brewed that wasn’t from a kit. I was aiming for something like Bender. I brewed that beer more than any other and in a blind tasting once people actually confused it for the real thing. It was a proud moment. Now that I know the Bender recipe, I laugh, because mine is soooo different.
4) Tell me what you do on a day to day basis at Surly. What is the best part of your current job?
I’m one of a team of five shift brewers on a rotating schedule. We handle wort production, grain handling, yeast harvest and pitch, fermenter set-up, etc. There’s always dry-hopping to do and casks to make. And never ending cleaning!
The best part of my job? I love being part of a great brewery that has so many exciting things going on right now. I’m very excited to be part of a major brewery construction. I love festivals and release parties and being able to talk beer with our fans.
5) I love to know what beers brewers like the most. What is your current favorite Surly beer and also your favorite "other" beer to drink?
Right now I am drinking as much of our Mild as I can. It’s such a great tasting beer. The toasty bready flavors are amazing. I hope someday we package this beer so I can bring some home. Otherwise I’ve been drinking a hell of a lot of Summit Saga lately and you can always find something Belgian in my fridge.
6) Are there any interesting stories or events that you can tell us about from your time at Surly?
Last year Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe came in. He’s a craft beer fan and big Surly fan. I had just finished my shift when he came in and got to help show him around. He was so enamored during the tour. He’s such a stand-up guy and really made us feel like the celebrities that day.
7) Is a love of heavy metal music a prerequisite to work at Surly?
Ha ha, no, but it does help. We play a lot of metal at work! But you’d be surprised how diverse our music selection is during the average day. It’s not uncommon to hear jazz, dub-step, bluegrass, 80’s rock, punk, Beastie Boys, and even country. On Friday evenings you might even hear Jock Jams.
8) Do you have any advice or thoughts for the homebrewers or budding pro brewers out there?
Keep it simple. I know it sounds cliché but when I first started homebrewing I immediately bought all sorts of accessories and tools that I thought would make my beer better. I should have been buying books. Master the basics first. Read as much as you can (from reputable sources; you’d be surprised how much bad information is out on the interwebs). And never take it too seriously, that’s when it stops being fun and starts becoming work.
Thanks so much to Derek for taking the time to respond to this interview and for continuing to get those great Surly beers into my greedy little hands (and belly.) I think everyone who brews has a bit of new information to share, and always appreciate hearing more!