Friday, September 9, 2011

Meet the Brewer: Dave Lagueux

A few weeks ago I reconnected with an old buddy of mine, Dave Lagueux, on Facebook. Dave is a professional brewer and currently works for Trumer Brauerei, a brewery located in Berkeley, California, and he was kind enough to submit to the tortures of an interview with Brew England.

Dave and I originally met back at Central High School in Manchester, NH, something like 12-14 years ago (holy shit, I can’t believe it was that long ago). We were both musicians – he one of the best drummers I’ve ever met, and me a guitar and trombone player – and played together in a jazz band during my senior year (his junior year). We actually wound up being in a ska/punk band called 5 Bucks! after high school for about a year, touring the greater New England area and beyond.

Dave behind the kit at Axis in Boston during the Hometown Throwdown

Adam playing on stage at Cafe Eclipse in Concord, NH

I would become a working stiff after graduation, but Dave ended up doing a few tours with 5 Bucks! before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. He eventually joined the Boston based band Big D and the Kids Table and extensively toured the US playing the Vans Warped Tour and in support of studio albums. After touring with the bands, Dave worked at a few New England area breweries before participating in the Siebel Institute of Technology’s World Brewing Academy in both Chicago, IL and Munich, Germany. Dave returned to work at Lowell Beer Works, before moving to California to work at Trumer Pils.

Part I:

Brew England: Assuming you drank crappy beer, what got you into better beer? Did you start getting away from say Bud, moving to fuller beers like Killian’s, Sam Adams, etc?

Dave Lagueux: I guess I never really had a phase when I was drinking swill beer like that. The very first beer that got me excited was Newcastle. Then I got into those amazing beers from Unibroue. I have to say though, I really respect those macro brewers. To produce beers like that is very difficult, and to make it on that scale, with that level of consistency is really admirable.

BE: You graduated HS, you went to Berklee, took time off to tour the world with Big D and the Kids Table, and then returned to Berklee - right? When you were done with Berklee, what did you imagine you would be doing? How did that transition into the world of beer? What sparked your interest?

DL: I went to college for music. I have a BA from Berklee College of Music. I was kind of overwhelmed with things when I finished music school. I didn't know if I wanted to go to graduate school, or play music on a cruise ship or something. I knew that I had to somehow make money by playing music- not an easy task. I had been homebrewing for a while, and my girlfriend Megan paid for me to be a "brewer for a day" at Milly's Tavern in Manchester, NH. If I didn't get involved in brewing, I'd probably be playing weddings with a cover band every weekend.

BE: What got you into homebrewing?

DL: I started extract homebrewing right after college, and then went on to the all-grain thing pretty quickly. A lot of the things I brewed were for my own benefit. Sure, I wanted to make tasty beers, but I also wanted to understand what one variety of hops would taste like, or one base malt. I got a kick out of brewing "single hop" beers, with one variety.

BE: You mentioned that your girlfriend paid for you to be a "brewer for a day" at Milly's? How did that work? What did you get to do during the day?

DL: I think we saw it in the menu, and she ended up giving it to me as a gift. I showed up on a brew day, and just watched the process and marveled at all the fancy equipment. I had been homebrewing for a while, so it was a totally new experience for me. At the end of the day, I was excited and I just asked the brewer if he needed help in the future. Unfortunately it wasn't a paying gig, but I got some experience and got a lot of free beer.

BE: Tell me about your volunteering stint at Milly's Tavern - what was your "schedule" like? How many days a week, what did you do there, etc?

DL: Milly's was a great experience for me. The brewer at the time, Mike Roy (now at Franklin's Brewery in Hyattsville, MD) really helped me get a handle on pub brewing. Mike's a super patient guy who brews some delicious beers. He's a great teacher who let me get my hands dirty and ask a million questions. Mike even let me ruin a few batches of beer!

I would usually work 2 days a week, unpaid, doing some brewing, a little cellar work, and a lot of keg washing. My experiences at Milly's were really valuable because they helped me understand that even though brewing is really hard work, it was something that I was interested in doing for a living. I decided that I needed to learn more about brewing if I wanted to get my foot in the door somewhere. Mike really encourage me to go and do the Siebel program.

BE: Could you explain for the readers what cellaring is? What's the difference between the brew house operations and cellaring?

DL: In a production brewery there are usually two sides of the operation, hot and cold. Brewhouse means you're making wort all day on the hot side. Milling, Mashing, Boiling... although some folks think you're the "king of the castle" it's probably one of the most boring jobs in the brewery!

The term "cellar" comes from back when breweries had underground cellars for fermentation and we still use that term today. At Trumer a cellarman is responsible for harvesting yeast and cleaning and sanitizing everything the wort will contact, like pipes to carry wort/beer or individual tanks. Other responsibilities include tank transfers, filtration and carbonation.
As brewers, we rotate around these shifts pretty frequently, but I think the cellar shifts are my personal favorite. Handling yeast and beer can be tricky, and I like that.

BE: How did working at Milly's transition to working for Pennichuck Brewery? Tell me about your time spent there - how long did you work there? What did you do there specifically? Did you create any of your own beers? Did you do tastings, tours, events?

DL: Mike Roy moved on to bigger and better things, and he passed me off to a guy who was working at Pennichuck named Damase Olsson. Damase completed the Siebel/World Brewing Academy program out in Munich. He's another guy who is full of patience. Damase got me involved in some brewhouse stuff, cellar work and packaging. I didn't brew any of my own ideas, but I remember the first time I saw beer on the shelves that I had packaged. It was glorious!

I worked with Damase up until I went to Siebel, so probably about 6-7 months. I used to read all of Damase's Siebel books during the lunch break at work. I think it gave me a little head start, or at least I knew I was getting into by looking at the books ahead of time.

I think the only real promotional event I worked with those guys was the Great International Beer Festival in RI. Some of what I was learning rubbed off on my homebrewing. I was still doing that a lot.

BE: You mentioned that working at Milly's gave you a handle on pub brewing - what did you mean by that? Do you find a greater difference between pub brewing and brewing at a brewery-only facility?

DL: Milly's showed me the direct connection between pub brewer and customer. It's like a chef working in an open kitchen- customers can see you working and they get excited about that. Pub brewing usually means you're a one man show. Production oriented brewing is just that- production. I work with a team of 10 other brewers and we all make it happen together. We're not really able to get away with variations in a production environment, where you could get away with more in a pub. If something doesn't turn out quite right, you can always call it by a different name!

BE: How big were the batches of beer you were brewing at Millys? Pennichuck?

DL: Milly's had a 15bbl system, manufactured by DME. Pennichuck was using a 15bbl system as well, but we filled 30 bbl fermenters.

BE: Tell me about the Siebel/World Brewing Academy? Meaning, your experience living in Chicago, the program itself, exploring the city, going over to Munich...

DL: From Pennichuck I went off to Chicago, to study at Siebel/World Brewing Academy in the spring of 2008. The program was split between theory in Chicago and practical brewing in Munich for a total of 3 months. The theory portion is pretty in-depth, but really only scratches the surface of what we know about brewing. In Munich, the practical side was cool. We worked on two beers, a Pilsner and a Weiss beer, building the two recipes and then seeing them through filtration and packaging. We also did some lab work out there.

BE: Did going to Siebel give you a good understanding of the craft? Did you learn things you never expected to know about the industry? Was it more geared to becoming a brewer, or did it also incorporate the business of beer?

DL: Brewing is funny. It's only of those things where you can't really learn it all. It's almost like "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" with this stuff. There are so many inter-related sciences in brewing. For me, Siebel provided a good science background that I didn't have before. The fact that I had some experiences in breweries also helped. I was able to take the subject matter beyond a PowerPoint presentation. That's probably the best advice I can give anyone who is interested in doing this for a living: Work first, even if you're working for free.

Getting his hands dirty with some brewing science!

BE: Chicago is such a great city! You mentioned you studied Theory versus Practical at Siebel - was that all you did in Chicago? When you weren't in class in Chicago, what did you do for fun?

DL: When I did the Siebel program it was 7 weeks in Chicago doing the theory side of things. We checked out a Breiss Maltings, Miller, and Goose Island. I think the program is longer now? In my time off, I did a lot of exploring. I had never been to Chicago before so I had a lot to see. I think Chicago has become one of my favorite cities.

BE: How long were you in Germany for during the program? What did you like most about your time in Munich? What time of the year was it? What else was there to do besides brewing/class?

Dave in Germany

DL: I arrived in Munich on Easter Sunday. Everything was closed except for the beer gardens! I spent 5 weeks there, doing the practical side of the program. I think the best part of Germany was working on Doemens' awesome brewery. It was tiny, around 5 bbls, but it had all the bells and whistles you would see on a huge system. It was a Huppmann system, completely automated and able to do multiple decoctions.

We also took 10 days and travelled around Europe to various manufacturers and brewers. We went to Hopsteiner, Weyermann, Krones, Ziemann, KHS, Pilsner Urquell, Brauerei Hofstettner, Frankenheim, Reisdorff, Chodovar, Budvar, Rothaus and the original Trumer in Salzburg.

BE: Did going to Siebel give you a good resume, which could land you a position in a commercial brewery?

DL: Sure, but I think it was a combination of experience and education that ultimately got me a job. After school, I was ready to hit the ground running.

BE: How did you wind up brewing at Lowell Beer Works after Siebel? Also, what did you do there? Was it brewing for distribution, or just for the local brewery?

DL: My friend Mike helped me out again. I was looking for work while I was in Germany and I had two weeks of downtime from when I got home, to when I had a job in Lowell. Mike Roy was brewing at their brewpub in Salem, and he helped me get in touch with Beer Works. I started in Lowell while they were still building the brewery. I got involved in some setup and construction initially, which was really interesting. Eventually we had a shiny new brewery to work in. I produced a lot of the same styles for those guys, most of which was sent out to the various pubs. It was fun work. I worked there for a little over a year, just as they were starting to get their bottling line running.

BE: You mentioned you were involved in some of the construction - could you be more specific? Were you setting up bright tanks, kettles, mash tuns, etc? Did you get hands on and technical with the equipment, or did they leave that to engineers and whatnot?

DL: Beer Works had a good crew of contractors who handled all the serious stuff like pipe fitting, welding, plumbing and all the electrical. I helped unload and assemble the vessels, clean them and eventually get them up and running. It was a great experience for me to see how it all came together. You'd think that when you order a brand new brewhouse and put it into place everything will just work perfectly, but that's not usually the case. It was fun working out all the kinks.

Check back for Part II of the interview, which will cover Dave's transition to California and his current duties at Trumer!


Jeannie said...

Very interesting and informative... Keep up the good work, Adam!

BrewEngland said...

Thanks Jeannie! There's more to come with this interview, even though it's already pretty long. Good times.