GABF Interview: Andy Mitchell, Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company

GABF Interview: Andy Mitchell, Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company, 4.7 out of 5 based on 10 ratings
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GABF Interview: Andy Mitchell, Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company

I’d be remiss to attend the GABF without taking some time to talk to some of the brewers. I was able to catch up with Andy Mitchell, a brewer at New Belgium, and pick his brain on brewing and beer.

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Brew Beer Blog: What’s a typical day at New Belgium like for you?

Andy: I work in the brewhouse. In a typical day I will monitor about four brews in process at once and see four brews to completion, meaning I’ll mash, lauter, boil, and knockout four times. I’ll make as much as 800 barrels of wort per shift.

 

Brew Beer Blog: What kind of brewing education have you had?

Andy: I don’t have any formal brewing education. I began learning about brewing, like many other homebrewers; reading The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian and How to Brew by John Palmer. Forums like homebrewtalk.com and my local club the Liquid Poets were also really helpful (and continue to be really helpful) in expanding my knowledge. I’ve picked up a number of other books and tried to pick apart as many pieces of the process as possible to learn what makes good beer and then apply it to the beer I was making at home.

 

Brew Beer Blog:: What’s your favorite beer that you’ve ever brewed (home or professionally)?

Andy: I’ve been involved in a lot of really fun beers over the last few years. If I had to pick one it would be a hibiscus saison I made that won a gold medal at National Homebrew Competition in 2012 and inspired a beer we made for Valentine’s Day at Funkwerks called Roselle. (Authors note: I’ve had Roselle and I can attest to the wonderfulness of this brew)

 

Brew Beer Blog: How have the recent fires and flooding in Colorado affected the brewery and the brewing process?

Andy:: We have always independently tested our water quality at New Belgium and continue to do so. The city has processes in place to handle any runoff from the burn areas such as not pulling from the Poudre River after rain storms or when the water is turbid. They are the first line of defense for all business and residential users in Fort Collins (we all get the same water here) and they have done an outstanding job of keeping the quality absolutely peak.

 

Brew Beer Blog: What’s your least favorite task in the brewing process?

Andy: I’m probably with most people when I say cleaning my kettle after brewing at home isn’t my most favorite thing. Cleaning floors isn’t a ton of fun either, but a clean workspace is important to me whether at work or at home and makes the whole process a lot more enjoyable.

 

Brew Beer Blog: As the market expands the beers and ingredients are getting consistently weirder. What’s the oddest ingredient you’ve ever brewed with?

Andy: Oh man, so many crazy things. We really like to have fun with non-traditional ingredients at New Belgium. The soursop we used in Rolle Bolle is probably the weirdest. I’d never heard of it before we made that beer. It has a really good flavor and I love how it came through in the beer.

 

Brew Beer Blog: What’s your favorite/most useful piece of homebrewing equipment?

Andy: Hands-down my fermentation chamber. I added a temperature controller to a chest freezer, attached a probe to the outside of my carboy, and use that to control the temperature during fermentation. Controlled fermentation temperature is key to making good beer. There’s no way my beer would have turned out as well without the fermentation chamber.

 

Brew Beer Blog: What kind of changes did you experience moving from a small local brewery like Funkwerks to one of the biggest breweries in the country?

Andy: It was definitely a big move, and I’m having a lot of fun. Wrapping my head around making as much wort in one shift as I used to make in a year was mind boggling at first. The biggest challenge has probably been figuring out how all the piping and valves interact. Working with a high level of automation has been awesome and has really been fun. It allows me to interact with the system efficiently and focus less on turning valves and more on the overall process.

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Brew Beer Blog: Not counting New Belgium or Funkwerks, what’s your favorite brewery?

Andy: Another really hard question. I’m going to have to go with Drie Fonteinen. My absolute favorite beer is their Oude Gueuze. I wish it was easier to find!

 

Brew Beer Blog: Any advice for home brewers looking to break into the professional brewing industry?

Andy: You have to realize first and foremost that brewing is as much a lot of work as it is a lot of fun. Lots of long hours and late nights. Lots of cleaning. You aren’t always going to be hanging out with rockstar brewmasters at events sipping the latest sour or barrel-aged stout (although that does happen from time to time!). You have to be willing to work hard and make sacrifices. Yeast doesn’t work 9-5. That being said, if that sounds fun get as involved in your local brewing community as possible. Visit breweries, share your homebrew, get involved in your homebrew club, and look for opportunities to volunteer and get experience. Focus on continually making better beer at home and consider entering competitions to get blind feedback and hopefully win some medals! If you have a good understanding of the brewing process, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you’re well on your way.

 

Andy Mitchell is a brewer at New Belgium and former brewer at Funkwerks. He is also an avid homebrewer and has won numerous awards including the gold medal at NHC that he mentions above. If you run into Andy in the wild I suggest buying him a beer and talking brewing with him, he will drop some serious knowledge on you.

New Belgium Brewing Company is located in Fort Collins, Co and soon in Ashville, NC.  Their website has info on tours, beers, events, distribution, and more.  The Fort Collins taproom is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10AM-6PM and is a ton of fun to visit.  If you’re in the area I highly recommend you stop by.

Skål.

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