As a Beer Blogger, I spend a lot of time in my own world. In this Beer Interview series, I spent time getting varying perspectives on the world of Craft Beer from others in the beer industry.
Next to the “Joy of Homebrewing”, Ken Weaver’s book “The Northern California Craft Beer Guide” was the first craft beer book I ever purchased. Ken is a prolific writer, hilarious speaker, and damn knowledgeable about all things Beer. We met at a Sonoma County beer festival (weird, I know), while geeking out on the finer things: Beer, Beer styles, Hops, Beer…. and I think, Craft Beer!
Tell me about yourself?
Nutshell version: I’m one of the handful of lucky people who get to write about beer for a living.
In practice, I’m basically a focused freelancer. My main gigs right now are running RateBeer Weekly, one of the largest beer newsletters in the country (going out twice a week to ~75,000 active subscribers), and writing content and reviews for The Rare Beer Club. Beyond that, basically bouncing between freelance assignments: All About Beer, DRAFT, Saveur, etc. Plus I do occasional technical editing work for a few larger clients.
Personally: I’m an ex-physicist / fiction writer / East Coast transplant / new homeowner living with my wife (Anneliese Schmidt) and two cats in Petaluma, Calif. I’ve only been out here for about four years now, while Anneliese (Ali) originally grew up in Marin. We’re not going anywhere for a while.
What is your preferred craft beer style? Why?
I’m omnivorous. But if you leave Ali and I alone in your house, we’ll probably drink your saisons first.
How did you get into craft beer?
Is it possible to get through grad school without copious amounts of beer? I’d rather not know. But I actually got into craft beer shortly before that. I didn’t start drinking (anything) until mid-college, when I was lucky enough to have a roommate with taste. Our apartment was littered with Shakespeare Stout empties.
What made you choose your book’s subject & name?
Our publisher for The Northern California Craft Beer Guide is Cameron + Company, a boutique publisher that’s also based in Petaluma. (We also have six breweries in town… Seriously, we’re not going anywhere.) Chris Gruener from Cameron + Co. actually approached me with the original concept for the beer guide. We’d met at a book festival the previous fall, and at the time I was basically writing literary fiction and blogging a bit about beer (plus working as a part-time consultant in an unrelated field). I put in my two-week notice the day I finished the manuscript. Haven’t looked back.
The given title was, give or take, the most succinct combination of “Northern California” and “Craft Beer” we could come up with.
What is your favorite beer / food pairing?
I’ve been slow to jump on the food-pairing train, simply because that’s not how I naturally think about beer (which pairs perfectly with itself). But having had a chance to taste some pretty transcendent pairings as of late, I get the appeal. Given the season: Oktoberfests alongside sweet-potato dishes have been one of the more consistently satisfying combinations I’ve enjoyed recently. Done right, it can get that core toastiness of an already stellar Märzen to just pop.
What sort of challenges have you overcome in doing what you do?
Besides slowly rearranging my entire noggin (no one teaches you how to hustle in physics class), that first year of beer-writing income was tough. I’ve made a point to be quite public about the fact that Ali’s the key reason I get to do what I do. She’s kept the household afloat as I’ve been transitioning careers. There’s almost always a supporting and forgiving spouse behind the folks doing what they love. It’s either that or ramen and roommates.
Based on what you originally envisioned for your book, how have things changed? Why?
Our publishing agreement gave us an immense amount of control over how things came together, which speaks volumes for Cameron + Company. I was able to oversee every editorial change, and Ali oversaw the details of the 200+ photos she has placed throughout the book. It’s what we had envisioned, just better, as we had a great support team of editors and designers doing all the things we had no idea how to do.
Do you home brew? If so, how often?
I’m probably the only non-homebrewer in my homebrewing club. We have too much commercial beer around the house these days, and I’m too crappy of a brewer to justify the effort. But I do occasionally brew with friends who have better brewing systems. I do actively research the technical aspects of beer (it’s in the job description), but it’s not something I’m applying on a practical level. My main involvement in the regional homebrewing scene is as a beer judge.
What’s your favorite style to brew?
Is “someone else’s” a style?
Should you age craft beer?
Even now that we have more space, I rarely keep much of a cellar. The number of beers that actually improve with age tend to be far fewer than those that simply get less abrasive and more oxidized. That said… if I had more patience and effortless money, our garage would be full of lambic.