Interview With The Incomparable Adam Avery 2

I am 99.9% certain that I was in rare form when I met Adam Avery during the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference. And by rare form, I mean that I had been drinking (moderately but consistently) for about 10 hours straight. Which essentially means, The Wench was happy. After taking the Goose Island party by storm and galavanting around some other events, we found ourselves at The Publican — where I ran into Rob Tod of Allagash and Dave Buhler of Elysian.

And poor Adam Avery just happened to be sitting with “my boy” Moose (aka Buhler) that evening. You see, there are these rare circumstances, usually during a full moon, when I have just the right amount of beer and this weird “girly girl” side of me comes out. (Those of you that know me well, know that I tend to be a little “rough” around the edges).

Needless to say, I was instantly enamored by Adam (can you blame me?) and I am pretty sure that I told him and everyone in the city of Chicago that I was. Whether my candid personality flattered or frightened Adam, this I do not know. But he did agree to be interviewed by me, so either way whatever I did or said worked to my advantage.

Last week I had the opportunity to call up Adam Avery and talk for a substantial amount of time (much to his dismay … somebody should have warned the kid that The Wench is a talker. Alas, Adam learned the hard way). I was quite surprised to learn that Adam grew up in the Midwest — Decatur, Illinois to be exact. Being that I spent 6 years in Ohio, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest.

But, having been born in Denver, I have a softer spot in my heart for Colorado.

Adam’s story is oddly familiar: Boy moves to Colorado. Boy falls in love with craft beer. Boy becomes brewer. Boy starts brewery. Boy dedicates whole life to craft beer.

If Colorado was a person, it would be the “Pied-Piper of Craft Beer.” Nowadays, craft beer is almost everywhere. But back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the industry was small and a significant portion of it was centralized in Colorado. The craft beer industry in Colorado has been growing rapidly ever since, and it has served as a source of inspiration to hundreds of craft brewers worldwide.

Enter Adam Avery, a young 26 year old fresh out of college, working as the Assistant Manager at Eastern Mountain Sports. Just around the time Adam hit age 27, he experienced a mini quarter-life crisis. The result? Adam took the LSATs and started submitting applications to law school. Naturally, being the brilliant man he is, Adam got accepted to Denver University Law School. And if all things went according to plan, Adam Avery would grow up to be a big bad attorney.

But Adam’s friends would not let that happen. A couple of his buddies that had gone through the long and tedious law school process advised Adam that if he could do anything else for a living, that he should do it. And it was these same friends who told Adam to brew for a living.

And the rest, is history.

BW: How old were you when you had your first beer?
AA: 8 months old. There is photographic evidence.

BW: What is the first beer you remember drinking?
AA: Probably Stag. I have a soft spot in my heart for Stag. It was my grandfather’s beer.

BW: What about your first craft beer?
AA: First craft beer was probably Boulder Beer when I was a sophomore in college — 1985 — “The Ugly” beer from “the goat shed”. Just remember lots of sediment in the bottom. Homebrewish looking. Maybe a Porter? I think that would be the first one that I had. The one that I really remember.

BW: How did you get into homebrewing?
AA: My old boss at Eastern Mountain Sports was a homebrewer. He brought me his homebrew brown ale and it blew me away. I could not believe how good it was. So I went straight out and bought my own kit.

BW: Before creating Avery, did you attend any formal brewing schools?
AA: Nope. My friend Jim Hall, at the time he was Assistant Brewer at Boulder Brewing, helped me learn how pumps work etc… He came in for a couple of weeks and helped me learn how to operate a brewery. Wish I had some more background. But then, I would not have started Avery when I did.

BW: Why did you chose Boulder?
AA: Went to school in Denver and I was a rock climber. I was in Boulder just about every day. After college, I moved to Boulder and got sucked.

BW: What was your first “commercially produced beer?”
AA: There were three, actually. Red Point, Ellie’s Brown Ale, Out of Bounds Stout all came out at the same time.

BW: Avery is known for producing eccentric ales that defy style categories and guidelines, why did you decide to go down this road instead of playing it safe?
AA: Because playing it safe, isn’t playing it safe. Other industries (food, wine, cocktails, etc…) were creating better flavor profiles, and I noticed the trend. I thought, why wouldn’t people want it in beer?

Dad and I didn’t make money for 5 years. We were trying to make “regular” beers (yet, still big for their time). So I said, “If we are going to go down, I’m going to go down making the beers I want to make.” At the time, I was drinking a lot of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and decided I wanted to make a big beer.

HogHeaven was born in 1998. That beer more completely turned our mindset around. It got attention from distributors and other brewers. I remember this ‘snot-nosed Solano Beach kid’ kept calling (Tomme Arthur). He wanted HogHeaven for his Strong Ale Fest. He kept saying “I need to get it.” But we had no distribution there. So someone picked up a keg and brought it out. Another guy, at the Strong Ale Fest the next year, drank it (Greg Koch). He had his own distribution network and wanted to distribute it. When I told Greg HogHeaven is a 100% Columbus hopped beer, Greg said it couldn’t be it because he didn’t like 100% Columbus-hopped beers. I told him that it was and I knew it because I brewed it start to finish and dry-hopped it myself.

Reverend in 2000 sparked us again.

I must admit that Avery’s HogHeaven was my first Barleywine experience. It was right around the time I became a hophead. I was constantly searching for bigger, bolder and hoppier beers. I had already fallen in love with Avery’s Maharaja and when I stumbled upon HogHeaven, it was love at first sight. It is pretty apparent why that particular beer launched Avery to the next level.

“If anybody answers with a beer other than their own, they need to start brewing other beers. That’s what happened with HogHeaven. I stopped worrying if people liked my beer and started making beer that I wanted to make. That’s when we started taking off.”

-Adam Avery on his favorite beer

BW: What is or has been your favorite style of beer to brew?
AA: The easiest one to brew [insert laugh]. Brewing is a lot of hard work. I liked brewing the IPA and Hog Heaven cause they made the brewhouse smelled great.

BW: What is your favorite Avery beer to drink?
AA: It’s like asking you to pick your favorite kid. Depends on my mood. If you were to ask me if I was marooned on an Island, what beer would I take? I would say HogHeaven. Ice cold its like a Double IPA and as it warms up it becomes a Barleywine. Big fan of Columbus hops, the dank resin without the tropical aromas. The beer I drink the most, though, is the IPA. Lately my favorite beer is the new Pilsner … a hoppy 4.7% Pilsner. Satisfies hop desires but with low alcohol.

BW: What hops do you use for the Pilsner?
AA: Heresbrucker. Doesn’t have a fruity essence. And not really earthy. Just smells like hops. Can’t really explain it any other way. It just smells like hops. I like the purity of its aromas.

Avery’s new Pilsner is slated to hit store shelves this summer. Stay tuned….

BW: How long have you guys been dabbling in wild yeast beers? Why did you decide to venture down that path?
AA: We have been playing with brett and bugs for at least five years. I love lambics and gueuzes. I have friends that are good with barrels — Tomme and Vinnie. They were inspirations. We just wanted to learn as much as we could.

BW: Every craft beer enthusiast has at least one pinnacle craft beer experience that completely changes ones perspective on beer. I refer to this mind-blowing moment as a “craft beer epiphany.” What was your first craft beer epiphany?
AA: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — it was the hoppiest beer I had ever tasted. It was heads and shoulders above anything else at the time. So extreme.

BW: Who are some of your greatest mentors in the industry?
AA: I don’t think I have mentors. More like heroes — that I aspire to be like and inspire how I run my company. Ken Grossman, for the styles of beer he produces and that he had the “kahonies” to produce an extremely hoppy beer for its time [Pale Ale] His beer was head and shoulders above all others. It is remarkable that he could sell over 500,000 barrels of that beer.

Kim Jordan runs a really cool company. Employee owned. She is so worried about her employees and how she takes care of them. New Belgium is not just about making money and great beer, but the corporate culture. Kim has done a good job.

And another guy would be Jim Koch. He has been doing it from day one — with a suitcase full of beer, hitting the Boston streets. He is the “Big Daddy”. It is really cool to see someone as down to earth as he is — he still has the homebrewer mentality.

Beer is a profession of passion and not just a profession of dollars and cents.” –Adam Avery

For those of you who have not had the honor of meeting Adam Avery in person, take my word for it when I say that he is a very good looking man (for an OLD man, that is — JK Adam, you aren’t THAT old). Adam is a member of the small group of “fit” brewers that you look at and say “WTF!!! How the heck can someone who drinks beer for a living being in that kind of shape?!!!” It’s just not fair …

Adam’s svelte figure comes from being an avid rock climber for over 25 years as well as from surfing as much as he can (can you say frequent “business trips” to SoCal?). Almost all of his vacations have been based around rock climbing or surfing. Up until 3 years ago, Adam was a hardcore basketball player. But then, as with all athletes, his body broke and, as a result, he took up road biking. Needless to say, Adam does a very good job of balancing out his beer drinking with physical activity!

Although Adam doesn’t really cook (he prefers the grill), he does have a sincere appreciation for great food & beer pairings.

BW: What is your favorite beer and food pairing?
AA: One of the most amazing ones I have had was beach short ribs, super smoked, with Kaiser (Imperial Oktoberfest Lager). Another was duck confit, super fatty with Sui Generis (or any sour) Really enjoy something really fatty with something really acidic. Or really good ice cream with a sour. Once, someone made duck fat ice cream. Sounds gnarly, but it was so good. The good thing about food and beer but its really hard to fuck a pairing up. There is much room for beer with food pairings because beer has a larger flavor profile. At least something in the beer will match up with something in the dish.

As with many founding brewmasters, Adam rarely brews anymore. Instead his time is consumed by being the face of the brand and doing lots of traveling.

BW: What are your top beer destinations?
AA: Obviously Belgium is a badass place to go drink. I’ve only been there once, but I went to do just one thing “drink as much sour beer as possible” — mission accomplished. San Diego, Philly and Boston as great beer places. Philly is the best beer town as far as number of gastropubs and beer bars. Same thing with Boston. And I love the brewers in San Diego.

No Beer Wench interview would be complete without my random “off-the-beaten-path” questions …

BW: If you were a style of beer, what style would be an why?
AA: I guess I’m super bitter so I would be a Double IPA.

BW: You were caught smuggling beer illegally, which has now been made punishable by death. Right before you are sent to the executioner, you are offered one last beer. What beer would you chose and why?
AA: It would have to be HogHeaven.

BW: If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
AA: OMG REALLY? Drink as much as I want with no ramifications.

BW: What are your thoughts on bacon?
AA: If somebody asks me if you want bacon on that on that, I never say no.

A man after my own heart … And for all of you ladies out there, take heart in knowing that Adam has never been married and, as of yet, he has not spawned (such a waste of a great gene pool!)

Special thanks to Adam for subjecting himself to my (very lengthy and long winded) interview! Hopefully, I will get another opportunity to visit Avery in the very near future! Cheers!

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