TasteTV chats with Sean Lewis, author of “WE MAKE BEER: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers.”
As the publisher describes, “Sean Lewis sets out on a cross-country journey into the heart—and the art—of American beer making. On the road, Lewis discovered a passionate community of people who put their souls into their work and who view brewing as an extension of themselves. Although diverse on the surface, Lewis found that these like-minded craftsmen were united by common values: they’re people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, who see their competitors as cherished friends, who take joy in their work and who seek the same kind of balance in their lives as they do in the barrels they brew.”
TasteTV: Apparently you love beer, what started the love affair?
SEAN: I liked beer about as much as every college kid did, but I really fell in love with it once I started brewing it. My girlfriend, now my wife, bought me a home brew kit for Christmas during our first year in Boston together, and the more I researched and read about beer the more it made me want to try all these things that sounded so amazing. It helped to be living in a great beer city like Boston where so many great beers from all around the world were available.
TasteTV: What was the point of writing a book?
SEAN: I had been profiling brewers and breweries for BeerAdvocate Magazine on a monthly basis, but I kept running into issues trying to keep my pieces to 1,200 words. There was so much more to the people I was covering than the constraints of a magazine article allowed me to explore, so this was an opportunity to dive deeper into the backgrounds and stories of the people in the industry.
TasteTV: How long did it take to complete?
SEAN: The process began in 2010, I got the deal with St. Martin’s Press in November of 2011 and it was published in 2014 — so about four years.
TasteTV: So what do you want the reader to come away with after finishing it?
SEAN: Whatever anybody gets from this is up to them. I hope they enjoy it and I hope it makes them consider going out to their local brewery or beer spot for a drink.
TasteTV: What are some of your favorite types of beer?
SEAN: I can never answer this question. For the most part, I like beer to be well-balanced and well-made. Sometimes I like a beer that’s going to challenge me and draw me in with layer after layer of nuanced flavors and aromas — but typically I just want something that’s going to taste great and let me get on with my day. I love drinking beer, but I love drinking beer with friends. The best beers are the ones that pair nicely with a good conversation.
TasteTV: Who is doing exciting things in the craft beer area, in your opinion?
SEAN: My West Coast bias is going to come out here, but I’ll say Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles and Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma and Chicago are exciting for two different reasons. I love Lagunitas’ beers, but what I find fascinating about Lagunitas is how it moved into Chicago with a second production facility that, for now, is on a constant course of growth. I’m curious to see just how big craft beer can get in America, and I think Lagunitas will be among the biggest of the craft brewers in the next decade — probably sooner.
As for Firestone Walker, it is also growing, but certainly slower than Lagunitas. Brewmaster Matt Brynildson has been making some of the best beer in the country for several years now, and that brewery has a bright future as long as he’s a part of it.
TasteTV: Are there any developments in the field that you find very exciting?
SEAN: There are always trends to keep up with. A while back it was a hops arms race with who could make the most bitter beer. We’ve seen similar things with barrel-aging and now a lot of breweries are experimenting with making so-called wild beers with different strains of yeasts and bacteria. None of that stuff really gets me too jacked up. I’m more excited to see the development of young brewers and I get excited about seeing smaller local breweries making good beer and a little bit of money.
TasteTV: Do you have advice for anyone wanting to get in the business?
SEAN: If someone wanted to get into brewing, they should talk with their local brewer. I’d tell them to start brewing at home as well. If they don’t like the work and cleanup that home brewing entails, they’re going to hate getting into tanks to scrub off residual proteins and they’re probably not going to like spending the better part of their morning with a hose and a squeegee.
TasteTV: What about tips for those who just want to drink?
SEAN: Polonius said it best: “To thine own self be true.” Don’t let me or anybody else tell you what to drink. Definitely get out there and educate yourself on what you’re drinking and what’s available in your area — but don’t take a writer’s word about what you should be drinking. Drink what you like.