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“American craft brewing has bucked tradition and forced brewers around the world to be more open-minded about ingredients and flavors and overall reconsider how they’ve always made beer."

American Craft Beer Week: Craft with Brandon Greenwood

It’s American Craft Beer Week all this week, and to celebrate, we caught up with Vice President of Brewing Operations and craft beer OG Brandon Greenwood for a look at his experience in the industry. We’ve got a lot of ‘90s babies on the team, and uh, Brandon’s been killing the game since before many of us were born. 

You’re not going to want to miss this!

Depending on how you want to measure it, American craft beer is only thirty or forty years old. We’ve been a part of this crazy, booming world for the past ten of those years. Brandon remembers when many of the brew styles we enjoy now hadn’t even been imagined yet.

Settle in for a story, kids!

It was a turning point in his life that led Brandon to craft beer. “I was looking at going back to college to get a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, and at the time, I’d been traveling in Europe. This was the early ‘90s, and I had some spectacular beer while traveling around England, Germany, and the Czech Republic.”

Those brews, you ask?

“Ayinger in Germany, and from England I really enjoyed the Scottish beers and things that came out of a little brewery called Caledonian. In the Czech Republic, it was all little brewpubs, but the best beer I’ve ever had came out of the Czech Republic. It was a dark beer. Tasted like a warm chocolate-chip cookie right out of the oven,” he says.

(Um, hey, everyone? Where’s our suggestion box?)

I thought to myself, wow, why doesn’t this beer exist in the United States? So, when I returned, I started to look into brewing schools,”he says. “I wasn’t even aware of the craft beer movement at that point. There wasn’t a lot of craft beer. You had Anchor and some of the early pioneers, but there wasn’t really a huge craft brewing scene in 1992.”

(Ed. note: For some perspective, Anchor is one of America’s oldest breweries, located in San Francisco, and they celebrated their 125th year anniversary this year. Yep, you read that right. They’ve been around since 1896!)

“I asked my mom what she thought, and she thought it was a great idea,” he says.

For everyone out there who also has a cool mom, and is considering making a big leap, take note! 

“I wrote some letters to different schools and wound up getting my master’s in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland,” he says.

We would definitely watch that TV show. Rolling Scottish hills, a distinguished school for brewing . . . it writes itself!

It would be some time before he worked in the craft industry directly, though. “My first job was not in craft at all, but it was a great experience because it taught me how to brew beer the right way. From there, I returned to the Philadelphia area and that’s when I started to jump into craft.”

At that time, if you wanted to learn brewing in America, one of the largest and most successful programs was in California. It also happened to be funded by one of the big corporate breweries, so a lot of grads went the big brew route. However, many of these grads own successful craft breweries to this day!

“I’m not going to list all the breweries I’ve worked with over the years,” Brandon admits. He’s been with a fair number, after all, and we’re certainly glad he found his way to us! 

While working for the larger brewing industry, Brandon discovered that he really missed the craft beer side of the industry. “Honestly, I just missed brewing the kind of beer that I like to drink,” he shares. “I also missed the people and the camaraderie. I’m not really cut from the corporate cloth. I do much better in the craft world.”

We’d definitely say so!

“In the infancy of craft, there was a sense of, ‘Hey I’m going to make a German-style pilsner, or I’m going to make an English brown ale.’ It was all about attempting styles for the first time. If you got it right and it tasted good, it was easy to sell because there wasn’t a lot like that being brewed in the U.S.,” he says.

So what is craft beer like now?

“Today, it’s: What new and exciting ingredients can we add to the beer? How can we make it different? There are so many options out there today, and it’s about making things super exciting and interesting. It’s also hyper-local now,” he says.

You can see that in your favorite haunts, and in all of the new microbreweries starting up and local breweries flourishing. It’s one of the reasons we’ve taken up residence in our corner of Jersey, working with local ingredients and enjoying being a part of this incredible community, bringing fresh brews to the region. 

“When I started, there were a couple hundred breweries, and now there’s thousands,” Brandon says. 

All the more reason to support your local favorites! 

Like many others before us, we’ve done some pretty cool things with our brews, like combining hops and chocolate to make Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Milkshake IPA.

However, we still make time for honing in on classic styles, like our Helles lager collaboration Boat Ramp Champ, one of Brandon’s recent favorites. He’s also looking forward to our upcoming Berliner-style Weisse, Black Cherry Sour.

And for good reason!

Brandon is actually the pioneer of that style here in the U.S. As in, he brewed it the very first time the style was made by an American brewery.

“I was, I believe, the first person in the U.S. to be making a traditional Berliner Weisse. Back then, it was a ‘neat’ beer. You added either raspberry syrup to it or something called woodruff, this herb in Germany that they make a solution out of and add to the beer,” he says. 

(Ed. note: If you haven’t checked it out already, we dive into this style in our Black Cherry Sour blog!)

We did some digging, and because this was the first Berliner Weisse made in the U.S. at the time, and it was never bottled, craft brew lovers descended on Philly in droves to try it firsthand. 

We knew we had an all-star on our team, but it feels pretty special to be celebrating American Craft Beer Week with him at the same time as the release of our first take on a Berliner Weisse since Tower 23

As far as what American craft brewing has helped contribute to this centuries-old craft, Brandon has a lot of admiration and praise for these plucky new folks. 

“American craft brewing has bucked tradition and forced brewers around the world to be more open-minded about ingredients and flavors and overall reconsider how they’ve always made beer,” he says. 

Not only has it fostered some healthy competition, but it’s also helped protect some pretty awesome beer styles: “It’s revitalized styles that were almost dead, like the Berliner Weisse. The scene here is one of the most exciting in the brewing world, and it’s certainly inspired brewers to emulate what the U.S. craft industry is doing,” he says.

Like any student worth their salt, they reach a point where they start challenging the masters. American craft brewers may still be relatively new, but we’ve come a long way. It’s pretty incredible to see just how far craft beer has come, and what exciting options lay ahead.

“I’m still glad to be part of the industry,” Brandon shares. “I still love what I do and I very much enjoy making beer. I’m very fortunate to have had such a long career in the industry. I get up every morning and get to come to work and make beer.” 

(cue audible jealous sighs from the rest of us)

Thanks to Brandon for sharing more of his story with us, and we hope you’ll join us this weekend as we celebrate the history (and the current innovation) of American craft beer with our Tasting Room-only Berliner-style Weisse Black Cherry Sour. If you’re reading this from afar, make sure to choose some of your favorite local brews on draft when you’re out at a bar or restaurant, or pick some up from the store to show your local craft brewers some love this weekend. 

Cheers!

Comments

  1. Welcome, Brandon!

    I am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of your passion.

    – By the way….

    Whatever happened to Turtle Gut? It was an enjoyable sour that seemed to evolve in texture and taste over time. – At one point, it resembled a prosecco.

    Would it be possible to get Turtle Gut back on the production schedule?

    Cheers!

    – Buck Russom

    1. Cape May Brewing Company

      Hey Buck! Thank you for reaching out! Turtle Gut is a classic. Unfortunately there are no plans to return that particular brew to the schedule at this time, but we do have some sours in the making, and may have some great sour brews in store for everyone later this year, so stay tuned!

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