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
Dani Bearss is the head brewer at Waterline Brewing Company. A self-described nomad, she has traveled all over but settled down in Wilmington to bring us great beer. Recently I asked Bearss about her journey to head brewer.
Where are you from?
Originally I’m from Michigan, but I’ve always been a nomad. I’ve spent time living all over California as well and I just returned to Wilmington after spending a year in New Zealand, first hiking the 3000 km Te Araroa trail then working as a brewer.
What first got you into brewing?
I used to work as a barista in a competition cafe, and when I learned about the craft beer movement, it was a natural transition between roasted beans and malted barley. I was living in the land of Founders, New Holland and Bells, all of which were less than an hour away, and I knew a few of the people making beer professionally. I liked the combination of art, science and manual labor…when I saw the process commercially, I was hooked.
Waterline gave me my start into brewing when they were just as new to Wilmington as I was, and for a while, I was just a part-time bartender and over-eager volunteer to clean kegs and squeegee the floor. Brian (Waterline’s former head brewer and part owner) saw how eager I was to learn and gave me every opportunity to move up as long as I was willing to work for it.
How long have you been brewing?
I started brewing with my friend back in Michigan maybe only five or six years ago and started brewing professionally a few years later when I got connected with Waterline. I’ve been a volunteer, a cellar(wo)man, and an assistant brewer with my own commercial beers at Waterline, and in New Zealand, I was a lead brewer for Renaissance Brewing. I returned to Wilmington and Waterline a few months ago to take on the Head Brewer position.
What was the first beer you made?
I think the first thing I made back in Michigan was a raspberry stout, one of my friends’ recipes. The first all grain beer I ever concocted on my own was my “Port City Paradox,” a coffee porter that was both beer AND coffee–I brewed the coffee using beer as the solution instead of water. I wanted to combine my two favorite vices: coffee and beer. Delicious! And impossible to carbonate.
What is your favorite beer to make?
I still get a rush anytime I get to brew a beer that I designed from start to finish–I think it’s a homebrewer’s curse that I’ll never get over, the fact that I have a beer on tap and people order it. I’ve been really excited to bring back what I learned in New Zealand and introduce some beers made with lesser known NZ hops, like our XPA, and while it will always terrify me just a little, I love taking the plunge into brewing any new beer on a commercial scale.
What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?
I like the mental and physical challenge of large-scale brewing. There are always new recipes and better ways to do things, and there’s a lot of science, but it’s a lot of moving hoses and kegs and lifting bags of grain and being on your feet all day. I’ve logged nearly 3000 miles of backcountry hiking, and before I was ever into coffee and beer I worked with horses for a long time, working with professional teams and training sport horses. There is something about the long hours, manual labor, and teamwork that calls to me.
Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other places do not do?
I think we all have our little brewery quirks, and it’s part of what makes the independent beer community so diverse. Since coming back to Waterline, I’ve been starting to incorporate some of the techniques we used in New Zealand to produce low-gravity, flavor-packed beers that are easy to drink. I like to make unexpected beers that go against the current trends, like the seasonal Gruit and the “new New” XPA, a low alcohol, crystal clear and super smashable New Zealand (“not New England!”) style pale ale.
What is one thing you want your consumer to take away from trying your beer?
I always aim to please through something unexpected, whether it’s something people have never had or something they thought they had discounted in the past. I strongly believe that you have to know the rules in order to break the rules, and I try to balance the “weird beers” with classic recipes when thinking about new beer. We have the Roma Gose, the Coffee and Cream and the Gruit that were a lot of fun to come up with, but I also enjoy designing more traditional beers such as the Wee Heavy, the Porter and the new “Extra” Pale. I hope consumers can always come to Waterline for a selection of traditional styles and experimental flavors.