Beer Alien, being fascinated with all things beer, has begun interviewing professional brewers in order to better understand the humans that make the beer we love so much. Through these interactions we hope to better understand and appreciate the beer you humans create on this planet.
We had the distinct pleasure of talking with Kushal Hall of Speakeasy Ales & Lagers:
Beer Alien: How long have you been a professional brewer?
I started my professional career on the bottling line with Speakeasy in August of 2007. I’ve worked through a few production positions here, and I’m currently the Director of Brewing.
Beer Alien: What is your favorite part of the job? least favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of working in the beer industry is the people. It’s hard for me to imagine a creative industry that’s more open, sharing, and good willed, than the people I’ve met and worked with in the beer industry. I also enjoy seeing our company, my coworkers, and myself, growing and improving each year. I like that as a community we admit we’re not the best, that we have room to grow, and we take pride in striving to make better beer every year.
My least favorite part of the job is when we lose control of a problem. There are many challenges in a production facility, but some require replacement of a piece of equipment, getting the local utility company to assist us, or some other outside factor. These things take time, and cause stoppages that leave us hanging without a clear idea of when we can run again, which is incredibly frustrating.
Beer Alien: How has your opinion of brewing beer changed from when you were a home brewer to now being a professional brewer?
When I home-brewed, before working at Speakeasy, I made one batch at a time. Now, working at a production brewery we develop new recipes slowly and with a more directed purpose, and we’re constantly striving towards improved quality and efficiency (efficiency being something I never worried about as a home brewer), as well as consistency on all our beers.
Beer Alien: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional brewer and how long after realizing did it take you to become a professional brewer?
I decided that I wanted to be a brewer after college. I was unclear on what I wanted to do, and whether or not to follow my dreams of becoming a fine art photographer. As I was falling out of interest in photography, I was discovering a passion for craft beer and brewing. I found that brewing provided me with the creative outlet that I craved, and left me with a more tangible product to sell. I moved to San Francisco and started applying to breweries. It took me 18 months to find an entry-level job on Speakeasy’s bottling line, and another 18 months in packaging before I was trained to brew.
Beer Alien: Share your most interesting brewing disaster.
One that comes to mind was when the door on a 60 bbl tank of beer, which was about to be filtered, blew open due to a mechanical fault. This partially carbonated, cold beer, blasted out of the small gap that formed between the door and the tank wall, until the door gave way and bent outward dumping the tank onto the floor. The resulting mass of foam was too much for our drains, and most of the brewery floor ended up under a couple inches of head. It took two days to clean the place back up.
Beer Alien: For other home brewers that want to make the change, what advice would you give to them?
Get your foot in the door and bust your ass every day. As a brewer I’m able to teach someone about beer and how to brew it, but I can’t teach someone how to be a hard worker. Passion for craft beer is important too. I wouldn’t expect any of our crew to work as hard as they do if they weren’t passionate about what they do.
Beer Alien: On your days away from the brewery, what activities do you indulge in?
I like to get out of the city for a hike in the woods, or post up on my back porch and smoke a pork-butt (while enjoying a few cans of our session beers).
Beer Alien: Do you have an experience that stands out above all others during your time as a professional brewer?
My career has been a journey, with lots of standout moments, but the two moments for which I’ve felt most proud, was the day I was offered the job of brewer at Speakeasy, and the day that Speakeasy was awarded a gold at GABF for our Prohibition Ale in 2013.
Beer Alien: How long did you home brew before you became a professional brewer?
I home-brewed for four years before getting in at Speakeasy, and I continued regularly home brewing until I got to start writing recipes for production.
Beer Alien: Do you still home-brew?
Yes, but only if I’m brewing with a friend, or my father, who taught me how to brew. I get enough brewing and recipe formulation at work to fulfill my creative bug.
Beer Alien: What was the first beer you brewed? What do you remember about the experience? (Come on, we all know the first time is an experience)
The first beer I brewed was a mostly extract brew, done on a stovetop with my father and my brother. It was an old recipe of my fathers, a Stout, called Frothingslosh. We were very happy with how it turned out, and are very happy with how much better our brews are now.
The first recipe I wrote was a complete disaster. I started with a porter recipe from Papazian’s book, and digressed into madness from there, adding cherries, ginger, molasses, all sorts of things. It was awful, and tasted more like a patent medicine than beer.
Overall though, learning to homebrew also taught me to drink socially. We have a culture that sends kids out into the world and starts them binge drinking with their peers (at least I started drinking in college with shots of cheap liquor). It’s an unhealthy way to introduce people to what can be a wonderful intoxicant. Spending numerous Saturdays out on the back porch drinking and discussing the qualities of beers, and of life, with my father, my older brother and friends, gave me an appreciation not only for craft beer, but also for drinking thoughtfully.
Beer Alien: If you could give one piece of advice to new home brewers, what would it be?
Go all-grain. You will lack control of the process until you do, and when you do go all-grain you will be brewing a beer with much more complexity and character. Going all-grain had a profound change in the quality of my home-brews, and my level of involvement in the craft, and it really doesn’t add that much time.
Be sure to follow us on Social Media as we invade more breweries and discover more awesome craft beers from all over the world! Cheers humans!