What do you do at Rhinegeist and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been here for three years. Not really sure what I do... *laughs*.
I’m the Lead Brewer. So I’m responsible for scheduling shifts, running the BrauKon brewing system, running our inventory and procurement of brewing goods. I also order grain and hops and get the spent grain out of here in a timely fashion. Just basically keeping the brewhouse moving.
What did you have for breakfast?
A donut. It’s Donut Friday.
What do you have for breakfast when it’s not Donut Friday?
I don’t eat breakfast. Sometimes my first meal is dinner. Or maybe some chips during the day because I’ll forget to eat usually. Sometimes I’ll have lunch, but usually I’ll forget it at home, because I just leave. I forget everything.
How’d you end up here?
The year before I started here, I left Arbor Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI) to go work at Crankers Brewery (Big Rapids, MI). But, to do that, my wife stayed at her job in Ann Arbor, so I moved 2 ½ hours away. After a year of doing that we decided we wanted to live together again *laughs*! It’s a novel idea, really.
My wife’s from Cincinnati and she has family down here, so we came down to visit them at least once a year. So I saw the brewer job at Rhinegeist and I texted her, “haha what if we moved to Cincinnati?”
I actually didn’t even finish my cover letter to Bob [Bob Bonder, Co-Founder] ‘cause I was at Buffalo Wild Wings on my phone, thinking “I’ll just shoot them my resumé.” So I attached my resumé and started typing the cover letter, then my food came. I looked up said, “thank you,” looked down and the email was gone. I don’t think I even finished a paragraph, didn’t sign off at all!
But then Bob called me two days later, I was down here the next Friday interviewing, then two and a half weeks after that, I moved down here. Been here since.
What are some of the challenges that get thrown your way?
Jim Matt (Chief Science Officer) *laughs*. Scratch that.
Just ever-changing schedules. Sales needs, things breaking, keeping up with the changes and then coordinating trucks coming in to fill the silo, or spent grain, or changing everyone’s schedule and seeing how it’ll work. The trickle down effect of one little mishap.
Do you have a spirit animal?
Do you have a nickname? We feel like with your last name those come pretty easy.
Yes. In high school, me and my group of friends had a group based on the Wu-Tang Clan and I was Ghostface Strykah. It was the Nuf-Tang Clan. There was Dirty B-Rad, Trey-Quan the Chef, Method Dan. Yeah, high school was silly.
What’s your favorite Rhinegeist beer?
Other than Stryker?
No, I’m pretty sure it’s Stryker.
Talk about that beer. How did it come about?
Three months in, Jim [Matt] and Bryant [Bryant Goulding, co-founder] approached me and said, “You’ve done good work, we have an open slot, do you want to come up with a beer?” I’m like, “Yes, of course!”
So, the next day we sat down, they said, “What do you want to brew?”
I said, “Roggenbier!” It’s a Rye Hefeweizen, essentially, half rye, uses a hefe yeast, a hipster brewer beer. You don’t see ‘em a lot, ‘cause they’re weird, a bitch to brew, but being that we don’t have one, why not?
Bryant immediately was like, “No.” Alright, *laughs*, I’ll make a Triple IPA then. We like pales, so I decided to make the biggest IPA we have. So then I just kept adding hops and no one said no!
Where does your beard fall in the “Rhinegeist Beard Power Rankings?” Has to be close to the top?
The top. I do like Pete’s [Pete Fernandez, HR Director]. His is more well-groomed then mine.
Mine’s a little short now. I had it down to my sternum. But it kept getting stuck in things, like I’d sit down and it’d go right into my beer. I got it stuck between a hose and my knee, so I had to trim it a reasonable amount.
Have you always had a beard?
I didn’t start the full beard until college, like 21 years old. I used to always have a goatee. Because I thought that was cool. I might as well have just wore a fanny pack.
Where’d you go to college?
Michigan State, but I’m a Michigan fan. Have my Bachelor’s in Math. I chose math because it got me out of college as quick as possible *laughs*. I had always been good at math and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so when I got back from my semester abroad, I was like, "I have a year and a half to get out of here!"
Where’d you spend your semester abroad?
Semester at Sea! You’d be in class while you were on the ship. We sailed from the Bahamas and ended in Seattle. While you’re at sea you’re in class, then we had 10 ports of call. We were at each of the countries for four or five days. We went to Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong — I flew up to Beijing — then Japan, then back to Seattle. Three months, about 100 days. It was awesome. I was a 21 year old! You drank with a bunch of other 21 year olds on a ship. There were 650 of us from all over the country.
What was your path to brewing?
I moved to Eastern Michigan, got my Masters in Geographic Information Systems. At first, I worked in an office, watched Hulu a lot. That job, I was full time, then they half-fired me down to 20 hours a week so I needed to do something else, so I started working at Zingermans, an Ann Arbor bakery, for the holidays. I worked there part time, but then they kept me on after the holiday season. I was working in the bake shop selling bread. It was fun.
I did that full-time, but had two days off during the week, so I started volunteering at Arbor Brewing Company. Then they offered me full-time and, oops, now I’m a brewer. I don’t know if it was a path, it was me just rolling down a hill, aimlessly trying to find what I wanted to do since I was 18. Only took ‘til I was 27.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know. Well, once my grandpa told me, “There’s more fish in the sea.” My freshman year, I was surprised by that one. I thought he was going to take it back. He barely knew my girlfriend at the time.
What do you enjoy most about this place?
It’s a great company to work for. The people, the camaraderie, being able to be “you,” the freedom to say, “here’s your job, do it.” Not too much micromanaging.
Is there a piece of apparel you wear the most?
Stryker T-shirt or the dri-fit. I used to wear the hat a lot until it got real nasty.
Talk to me about the brewing team. What do you love about that group?
Nothing. Bunch of jackasses *laughs*.
No, it’s a wacky group, we all sort of came together somehow and keep adding people. We all seem to get the job done, we’re a good group. Everyone works hard, is willing to put in extra if they need to, cover shifts and get everything that’s put on our plate done.
We work hard. On the fly, 24 hours, 4 days a week, one guy each on Saturday and Sunday. We start Monday at 4am, go ‘till Friday at 6pm. Then one shift on Saturday, one shift on Sunday. It’s pretty intense now. And it’s only getting busier. We’re making a lot of beer. That’s another cool thing about being here. Just the amount of beer we’re producing and how fast we’ve grown.
Do you have a go-to dance move?
Yeah, just don’t dance. I barely did it at my wedding. When I was in San Diego, in grad school, they started forming one of those circles and I just went in there and stood and walked off.
Where does the beauty of the brewery lie for you?
No, it’s the brew deck. That’s where I spend most of my time. Muscle memory. Where it all starts. You don’t have to think about logistics, you just do it. Just brew.
Is there anyone you’d like to give a shout out to that might be reading this?
Bill Gerds. Just to see if he’s reading it.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
What do you do when you’re not 'Geisting?
Sit on the couch and watch Cops. Or World’s Wildest Police Videos. They’re always on. Or How It’s Made — that’s mainly to piss my wife off, she hates it. I really want them to make another show that shows us how they make the machines that make the things that are made.
What's your favorite TV show of all-time?
Seinfeld’s up there. Frasier — I watched an entire thing of Frasier when I was in Grand Rapids, that’s all I did.
What’s something about you that most people don’t know?
That I’m actually happy. I like people. Also, Semester at Sea.
What’s your best story from Semester at Sea?
Took the train up to wine country just north of Cape Town, South Africa. Rode bikes around the vineyards. We had a map of all the vineyards in the area and chose one at random, looked like a house. Guy answers the door, there was like six of us, and he was like, “What are you doing here?” He didn’t know he was on the map! He just did it out of his barn. He grabbed some glasses and poured us some wine, pulled some samples out of barrels. He just shipped to two stores in Cape Town. We took a case of wine back with us, which we couldn’t bring on the ship, so we sat in this little amphitheater near the dock, got some cheesecake and drank a bunch of wine.
What’s the coolest place you’ve been to?
I really love Seattle. But I have been to Havana...Next to El Malecon, the old cars, 1950s, just awesome. Food was great, the culture, I had some guys from the local university to hang out with so I wasn’t just being a tourist. I got to go to some old lady’s house at 2am to buy cigars. Also, I saw Fidel Castro speak. For like three hours about minerals at the University in 2004.
What’s your best dish in the kitchen?
I do like to cook, but I’m fairly lazy after work so we don’t do it a lot. I make tacos, I like to grill steaks. Now that it’s nice out we do that a lot.
What’s your favorite bagel topping?
Cream cheese and lox. On an everything bagel. Toasted, New York-style. Specifically from Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.
If friends used three words to describe you, what would they be?
Sarcastic, nice, jackass. Or, “He’s not mean.”
What are you looking forward to about the future?
Continuing my journey at Rhinegeist! I was trying to be corny, but that actually worked out.