Brewer Profile: Will Lawson
In the latest in our occasional Featured Brewer series, we interview Will Larson.
Will recently moved from his native state of Michigan to Naples, Florida, where he is continuing to lay the groundwork for opening a new brewery by the name of Naples Beach Brewery in early 2012.
“I have for a few years now felt that the Florida beer scene is on the cusp of something big,” he said. “I hope to join forces with all the great current breweries to make Florida as craft beer friendly as my home state of Michigan.”
We’re looking forward to taking a road trip to Naples Beach Brewery as soon as it opens.
Name: Will Lawson
Where you live: Naples, Florida.
Family: Married with two kids – wife Rachel, daughter Avery, son Seth.
Day job: Brewer.
Any other personal stuff you’d like to add?
I grew up in Michigan and am a graduate of Michigan State University (2000). I lived in Naples from 2003-06 where I worked as a turfgrass manager at a local country club. In 2007, I completed the Diploma Program in Brewing Science/Technology at Siebel Institute.
How long have you been brewing?
Have you ever worked in a brewery?
Yes, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from 2008-09.
Did you start by homebrewing?
What is your brewing philosophy?
I guess my philosophy is sort of like the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The “Dr. Jekyll” is I’m a style guy. I love researching the history behind a particular style of beer, the geographical origin, time of year, traditional brewing practices, ingredients, water chemistry, etc. and then learning the parameters that have been set with which to brew that beer true to style. When I successfully brew a German Alt or a Bo Pils it’s like I have a personal connection to Dusseldorf or Pilsen. For me it is an experience and is what makes brewing special.
The “Mr. Hyde” is that I also enjoy pushing the envelope with high gravity brews and barrel aged beers. I’ve found that when you double a grain and/or hop bill or age a beer on oak it can really expand or change the drinker’s perception of what beer really is. This is a big part of what makes craft brewing so special.
What kind of brewing setup do you have?
My homebrew setup is a two tier 5-gallon electric system. The HLT and Kettle are both 7 gallon electric countertop fryer vessels and the MLT is a 5 gallon Rubbermaid beverage cooler. I am looking at starting Naples Beach Brewery with modest equipment, maybe a 3.5 barrel brewhouse with double sized (7 bbl) fermentation/serving tanks. My goal is to grow our brand(s) to the point where we would require a 50 barrel brewhouse with the appropriate number of matching fermentation and cellar equipment.
How much of your brews are “from scratch”? (Do you grow your own hops or grains, yeast cultures, etc.?)
Because I am familiar with open fermentation, over the past couple of years I have been working a lot with good top cropping yeast strains like Wyeast 3068, 3787, 1318, 1007, and to some degree 1272 and 1335 in order to complete a portfolio of house beers. Through this I have developed a nice system for harvesting yeast for repitching in subsequent batches.
What is your biggest brewing triumph?
Most definitely the time I spent working at Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. When I started there I was a novice homebrewer fresh out of brewing school at Siebel and hungry to learn as much about commercial brewing as possible. In a few months time I worked my way into a situation where I was very comfortable with the entire operation from lead brewing, monitoring fermentation(s), cellaring beer (beer transfers, fining, carbonating, filling kegs, filling casks, etc.), and taproom maintenance. When the time came for me to leave Grizzly Peak the head brewer there, who is a well respected brewer, told me I was one of the best assistant brewer/cellarmen he’d ever worked with. I’m very proud of and encouraged by that.
Your biggest brewing failure?
With all the different malted grains available out there I’ve been known in the past to “throw everything but the kitchen sink” into a grain bill which resulted in the finished product missing the mark by having a muddled malt profile and/or causing it to lack in drinkability. Over the past couple of years I’ve really implemented an attitude in recipe formulation that keeping it simple is best. Since doing so I’ve been very happy with the results and have found that a couple of my house beers have benefited from this change in approach.
What are you drinking right now (or just drank or getting ready to drink)?
I moved a decent amount of cellared beer from Michigan down here with me so I could say I’m drinking a Founders 2010 KBS, a Bells Batch 9000, or maybe a Sierra Nevada 30th Anny brew but right now I’m drinking a Swamp Ape IPA (DIPA?) from Florida Beer Company. Support Florida brewers right?
Besides your own brews, what are your favorite beers?
I truly enjoy all beers because it’s a right place, right time thing for me. Some of my most favorite styles are Porter (Founders and Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald are both stellar), Stout (Alesmith Speedway, Bell’s Expedition, Founders Imperial and Breakfast, Great Lakes Blackout, and the list could go on and on), IPA/DIPA (too many to even start a list but I want to mention Short’s Huma Lupa and The Liberator), Belgian Quads/Dark Strong (Westvleteren started this affair and two that I regularly buy are Achel and Chimay), German and Bo Pils (Jever and Urquell are extremely tasty), Munich Helles (I drank a lot of Augustiner when I was in Munich studying at Doemens Academy).
What are your goals for your brewing?
My goal as a brewer and a brewery owner is to present a portfolio of beers that is of the highest quality, offers variety, and at times challenges the perception of what beer really is.
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer someone who is thinking about becoming a brewer?
Visit your local brewery and see if you can volunteer to help out. It may not be as glamorous as you think behind the scenes but on the other hand if you can leave that experience excited and wanting more than you know you’re on to something.
What has been the most useful resource for your brewing (book, website, store, mentor, etc.)?
Aside from working in a brewery and learning from an experienced brewer I would have to say the Internet. There are so many great brewing forums and websites that I have yet to have a question that I can’t find an answer to. Some of my favorite websites are whitelabs.com, wyeastlab.com, probrewer.com, homebrewtalk.com, beeradvocate.com as well as the forums in supplier websites like northernbrewer.com, midwestsupplies.com, and morebeer.com. I also have a pretty complete brewing library that I fall back on as well. Books that I consult regularly are Brew Like a Monk (I told my wife to bury this book with me when I’m dead), Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation, Brewing Classic Styles, Designing Great Beers, How to Brew, New Brewing Lager Beer, and Technology Brewing and Malting.
Anything else you want to add?
There are very few things that can top a well made brew especially when it’s being enjoyed at the right time, in the right place, with the right people. Support your local brewery. Prosit!
Thanks to Will for taking the time to do this interview and sharing some of his story, which sounds like it’s still being written.