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A Chat With Brian, En Route To CBC

We caught up with Brew Master Brian Hink this afternoon, while he was en route to Portland for the 32nd Annual Craft Brewers Conference. Here’s what he had to say about the upcoming week:

What are you looking at right now? I’m at the terminal in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor for a three-hour layover. It’s kind of lackluster as far as airports go.

How was part one of the flight? Very cool. I got to fly first class for the first time; I’m usually a pretty cheap traveler, but Ryan booked this. They offered me breakfast and I had three beers, Sam Adams Boston Lager.

Have you heard about the CBC’s welcome ceremony? Sounds like fun! If that’s tomorrow, I’ll already be in class, for an eight-hour crash course on handling yeast.

Eight hours doesn’t sound like much of a “crash” course. When it comes to understanding yeast, you’re looking at an education of many years. This particular class is being put on by one of the world’s two main yeast labs, White Labs Inc. Without these guys, we’d still be in the Stone Age when it comes to brewing. Think of them as the Bic lighter of yeast. Without this, we’d still rubbing two sticks together, hoping for fire.

What, exactly, will you do in yeast class? I don’t know. I think it will be more textbooks than lab coats and safety goggles.

Brian, doing his thang...
Brian, doing his thang…

What’s your goal? Mostly, I’m looking to reaffirm that we’re doing it right. I think we’re doing a great job now with, you know, harvesting and propagating yeast and everything. We’ve read the books and done the research. At the same time, we don’t have microbiology degrees. Honestly, I hope this class is a total waste of my time. That would be the best case scenario. If tomorrow I’m walking out of there saying, ‘Holy shit,’ well, that’s a different story.

What do you think the ratio of facial hair to non-facial hair will be among male attendees? I’m going to say probably about 60 percent with beards. Portland is the hippest of hipster cities.

Have you been there before? Just once for lunch while driving cross country, but my fiancé lived there for five years before we met and loved it.

What about CBC are you most looking forward to? You know what I’m most scared about? All of the extracurricular activities. Every night there are three or four different parties. A few years ago, I could drink all night long, but this is going to be rough on my 28-year-old self.

You’re getting old. I think the conference is going to be mentally exhausting. It’s not just tomorrow; I’ll take three different seminars on Wednesday, four on Thursday and four on Friday as well. Each is about an hour long.

Some people probably think this conference is probably just a big drinking party… Yea, just a beer fest. But we’re in school!

How do you feel about that? Oh I’m really excited about it. I’m always craving new opportunities, new learning experiences.

Are you nervous about Cape May Brewery brewing in your absence? [New brewer] Jake’s in charge. He’s learned a lot and very capable. But there’s no safety net. He’s up there on the highwire doing tricks, and if he misses a rung he falls to his death.

Um… But he’s very capable.

Why do you think craft beer is such a collaborative industry? I think it goes back to the early 80s, before you or I were even alive. Back then, the great grandfathers of craft brewing, Sam Adams and Stone and Sierra Nevada – they didn’t have any books like we do now. They didn’t have a conference like this. It was them, doing it themselves. So they made a little network. Obviously when someone else is doing a thing a better way and they pass that info along, you appreciate the hint and pay it forward. So I think the collaboration of craft beer goes back to the industry’s roots. It’s not us versus us, but all of us versus the big boys. The giants still hold 90 percent of beer sales in this country. It’s a tough challenge going after them, and individually we don’t have the resources. But collectively, we do.