As a late Christmas present, we here at Midwest Beer Collective are happy to present to you our very first Interbrew. We’re going to be talking to people at different stages of beer production about what got them into brewing and what keeps them inspired. Our first Interbrew is with Nick Van Court, assistant brewer at the wonderful Milwaukee Brewing Company and it’s adjunct brewpub the Milwaukee Ale House. Make the jump to read the rest!
What do you do at Milwaukee Brewing Company?
NV: I’m an assistant brewer at the production facility. I do everything from raw materials, inspection to actually brewing, milling, transporting, bottling, all aspects of the actual production of beer from pre-brewing through bottling.
Do you have aspiration to become a master brewer?
NV: My aspiration is to someday run my own brewery.
When did you decide to take the plunge?
NV: I have a first cousin who has been an avid brewer for a long time and I was always a beer geek, and was always interested in doing it. My mom had my cousin help her pick out some homebrewing supplies for Christmas one year. I have a sort of obsessive personality, and I’ll normally just take something and run with it. I started with all grain brewing right away, and just kept going. My cousin helped me get going and I just went nuts learning about different beer styles and different regions of the world.
I homebrewed for a few years and decided to go to the World Brewing Academy, a combination of Siebel’s [Institute of Technology in Chicago] and Doeman’s Academy in Munich. But before I spent my time and money I did an internship at the Great Dane downtown [Madison]. For months I spent two days a week there with a brewer, never really doing anything on my own, except maybe occasionally dry-hopping. But I was always with a brewer, normally Michael Fay. Whatever he was doing, I helped him do it. The funny thing is, the downtown Dane sells by far the most beer, but they only have a ten barrel brewery, so they’re always making beer. Which has its advantages. One of the coolest things about a brew pub is that the beer is always fresh.
What is the program like at the World Brewing Academy?
NV: What the World Brewing Academy is, is the assembling of the Siebal full course, seven weeks, coupled with the full Doeman’s program, three weeks, where you do everything from actually brewing in a 5 hectoliter brewhouse, to traveling around Europe touring breweries. It was amazing. We went to Cantillion, Orval, possibly one of the best beers ever. We went to La Trappe in the Netherlands and even Uregay and Dusseldorf. We went to hop product producers and watched people make pellets in 40 below temperatures. We also went to the place where they made glassware. Of course they have machines that can do everything, but for small orders they have people actually make the glass products. We went to maltsers, we went to Weyermann Maltsters, really fascinating.
At first I thought it was going to be just fun and I wasn’t really sure what we were going to get out of it, but since you go for a class you get a special tour with the brewmaster and you get to see everything in depth, and ask all the questions you want. Afterwards you get a really big meal with all the beer you can drink. It was really cool. Afterwards, my wife came and watched me graduate and then we continued on to Austria and Hungary, and kept touring breweries.
What was the coolest brewery you visited?
NV: Probably Cantillon in Brussels. It’s just the opposite of what most breweries are like. It is intentionally absolutely filthy. It’s all about letting nature do it. So, they don’t intentionally inoculate the wort with any type of microorganism. Brussels was traditionally surrounded by orchards, and all the natural yeasts were always in the air.
How much beer are you making at Milwaukee Brewing Company?
NV: We’re making about 3000 barrels this year. When I started about a year and a half ago, they were at about 2000 barrels a year, but we were ramping up. This year, we’re up a little bit, to about 3000 barrels a year. We do a lot of contract brewing. About two thirds to three fourths of the beer we brew is ours, the rest is for other people. Milwaukee Brewing Company has been around since 1997, and started as the Milwaukee Ale House. The production brewery started in 2007.
What do you brew at home?
NV: Probably about three fourths of the beers I make are Belgian styles, the rest are the English styles. The way I see it is that Belgian styles are very robust, flavorful extremes and then the English beers are the perfect example of the everyday drinking, flavorful and bold session beers. I also love American ales, I make APA’s regularly. I think the new American way is to take everything to the extreme. That’s pretty fun.
What makes you nervous about starting your own brewery?
NV: I guess what makes me nervous is that you can have the best beer in the world, and that’s not nearly close to good enough. You need to have good marketing, good accounting. If you make a good beer, it can definitely help you get a customer back, but the challenge is getting someone to drink your beer for the first time.
What is your go-to beer?
NV:If I can find it, I would go with Saison Dupont. Half the time, it’s pretty skunky. But even when it’s skunky, it’s still good. That’s right up my alley. I love really rustic, fruity, hoppy, unique beers. I would also say Orval, I could drink that every day. There’s also so many great local beers. New Glarus, wonderful stuff coming out of there. Ale Asylum, I can drink that any day. It’s so hard for small breweries because so many small breweries make such good beers. It’s difficult to choose. We have that issue with our Pull Chain.
Any more traditional “blue-collar beers?”
NV: To be honest, I like just about every beer to some extent and for different reasons. You can’t make a beer for everybody.
What do you do when you’re not brewing?
NV: I’m an avid trout angler. Marina [my wife] and I work on our house whenever we can, I’m really into investing in our investment. I am kind of an amateur cook, I would like to think.
Beer and food pairing?
NV: There are so many beer and food pairings. Beer and cheese is probably my favorite. I’ll name a really odd pairing that is really good, it’s not my favorite, but it’s something I really enjoy: a really hoppy IPA with a carrot cake. It sounds sick and wrong, trust me though, try it once. It goes together, the spiciness of the carrot cake and the spiciness of the IPA, it’s great. Also, sausages and beer. Especially European styles, pilsner and bratwurst, incredible! Also, if you’re into lambics, or very sour and in your face beers, limburger goes so well with those really funky beers.
What are you reading right now?
NV: I tend to read reference and technical books a lot. I’ve read a lot of fiction, and I enjoy it, but right now my favorite book is a book called “Wild Brews” by Jeff Sparrow. It’s all about wild beers and bacteria and wild yeast brewing and the cultures associated with them. It’s part of a series.
What are you listening to right now?
NV: I’m pretty into music. I play guitar and some other instruments, very rudimentarily. The last CD I bought was Matt Costa “Mobile Chateau.” His latest CD is a total 60’s California sort of thing, tons of reverb, really great.
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