Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography. Check out his instagram at @brianlantzphotography
Zac Brown is the head brewer at Waterman’s Brewing Company. Recently I asked him about his experience in the brewing industry and he had a lot of interesting things to say.
Where are you from?
I was born in Manhattan, NY but raised in Teaneck, NJ which is about 7 miles from my original home in NYC. I have lived in 11 states of the US and spent time in Brazil as well.
What first got you into brewing?
I was a Home-brewer in college, like many professional brewers used to be. I Home-brewed a lot and volunteered my time outside of work at any brewery or brew pub in my local area that would let me get my hands on a real brewing system.
Being from a music performance and music business background, brewing and the craft beer industry always appealed to me. I see music as a mix of art and science and brewing is absolutely the same type of trade. I also saw parallels between the business of music and craft beer.
In my later college years, I wrote my papers about the beer industry more so than the music industry. Much like I was a trumpet performer and had a role behind the scenes in the music industry, I always dreamed of being both a brewer and involved behind the scenes on the business side of things. I am now living that exact dream I had over a decade ago.
What is the first beer you made?
Technically, my friend and I brewed one of those Mr. Beer kits as our first Home-brew in college. I soon after bought a two bucket Home-brew set up from Williams Home-brew Supply. We brewed an all extract pale ale for our first batch on my Home-brew set up. My first solo batch on the commercial scale was a Double IPA at Long Trail Brewing Company.
What is your favorite beer to make?
The majority of my career, to this day, was spent at a very traditional English style brewpub in San Francisco named Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery. I gained a love and affinity for English Bitters and Porters while there. Any recipe of mine that blends many different colors and styles of malted grain always holds a special place in my heart and my fascination with that creative and mathematical element of brewing is something I always enjoy. My current recipe for Knotthead ESB at Watermans fulfills that criteria perfectly.
What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?
After being notified that I was getting laid off from my job as the Director of Ticketing for a non-profit World Music presenter in NYC, I reached out to a friend of a friend who brewed at Long Trail Brewery in Vermont for advice. At the time, I had grown tired of the negative characters in the music industry as well as the lifestyle it required me to lead. This friend, one of my best to this day, offered for me to come up to Vermont to interview for a Shift Brewer opening they had at the time. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I did.
After five interviews in one day, I was hired as an entry level Shift Brewer and needed to learn how to brew on a 60 barrel, 4-vessel Brewhouse within a month of starting. I enjoyed the culture of the company and the people I met there, so I figured it would be a good first step in to professional brewing. When I moved out to California to pursue the next stage of my career, I focused on smaller brewing systems that allowed me to be more creative. I haven’t turned back since.
Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other breweries do not?
The basic process of brewing, from a step-by-step perspective, has to be the same for every brewery to fulfill the fundamentals of brewing science. However, every brewery I have worked at has had slight differences in process and technique based on both equipment restrictions and/or brewing technique of the founding Brewmaster. I stick to the fundamentals that I was taught from the several Brewmasters that trained me and have developed my own technique as a result of my various influences. I would say my approach to the brewing process is fairly standard with an emphasis on the English Brewing style tradition.
What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?
My favorite piece of feedback at Waterman’s is when a customer enjoys a beer they expected to dislike based on the style name or color of the beer. With many beers in the 4-6% ABV range, I hope to find a match for every customer that walks in the door regardless of their preconceptions about beer in general. Styles like the ESB, Grisette, and Copper Ale have all filled that gap for many unsuspecting customers here so far. I hope to keep that going!