Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Mike Hoops from Town Hall Brewery

Earlier this month I wrote about a bar crawl that my family and I enjoyed (that post can be found here). The second stop on that crawl was the legendary Town Hall Brewery. I won't go into how much I enjoyed their beer and their space (I did enough of that in the bar crawl post). Rather, with this post, I want to share an email interview that Town Hall's brewmaster, Mike Hoops, graciously made the time to respond to.

Mike Hoops brewing career is intertwined with Minnesota - he was the first brewer at Fitger's  Brewhouse in Duluth, Minnesota (Mike's brother Dave is the current brewmaster there), and he has been brewing beer at Town Hall for approximately 10 years. Both places are legendary in Minnesota beer circles for brewing great beer for some time now. Should you ever be in Minneapolis or Duluth, Minnesota, take the time to visit either or both places. You will not be disappointed.

In this interview Mike talks about homebrewing, Town Hall, and Minnesota beer. Enjoy!

Midwest Beer and Brewing (MBB) - I read in an interview you did with that you homebrewed in San Francisco with your brother Dave. How long did you homebrew before you became a professional brewer?  
Mike Hoops (MH) - Probably 5-6 years

MBB - Did someone introduce you to homebrewing or did you come upon it on your own?  
MH - It was introduced to me on that trip to SF. Upon returning to MN I started homebrewing brewing with some college buddies

MBB - Did you and your brother Dave start homebrewing at the same time or did one of you introduce the other to it?  
MH - I believe that was the first batch for both of us. I started homebrewing from that point on, Dave started a few years later

MBB - Is there a beer style that you enjoy brewing more than others? 
MH - I really enjoy the challenges of brewing all beers. I have noticed as of late I really have gravitated to brewing lagers, brewing with honey, and of course playing with all kinds of new hop varieties.

A part of Town Hall's brewing system

MBB - Do you recall the first beer that you had that made you go ''wow that is good!!'?  
MH - I spent a year at University in the Midlands of the UK. I ran into a standard bitter there called Brew 11 and also Sara Hughes Ruby Mild, it was one of those times. This was the early 1990s

MBB - Before you considered becoming a brewer, what did you do for a living? 
MH - Line cook, restaurant manager, construction, Alaskan fisherman just to name a few. I finished my college education with training in GIS before landing in professional brewing. (GIS = Geographic Information Systems)

MBB - If brewing beer was not an option, what would you like to be doing? 
MH - Probably a GIS guy or a geography/history teacher

A few of the awards, in banner form, that Town Hall has won over the years

MBB - How long have you been brewing professionally? 
MH - 15 years

MBB - In the aforementioned interview with, you mentioned that you attended brewing school in the UK. What was it about the UK that made you want to study there as opposed to UC Davis or Siebel (for example)?  
MH - I had lived there for a year while in college and loved my time abroad. When formal brewing school became an option I jumped at the chance. Further travel and learning a different brewing tradition from the one I was brought up in grabbed my attention. If I had it to over I think I would have done schooling at Siebel/Davis first and then sought out further schooling in a different country

MBB - Where in the UK did you attend brewing school?
MH - University of Sunderland- Brewlab

MBB - How has 2012 been, thus far, for Town Hall? 
MH - Great! Further growth in beer production as we continue to seek/find ways to get our beer to the marketplace. Our sibling Tap house has been received very well and I would not hesitate to suggest you may see another soon. The brewery has seen some turnover which makes things challenging in a small brewery. Two of our keys guys have moved on to other brewery endeavors we are happy to say. This gave us the chance to bring in new brewers that brought a new set of talents

MBB - What are your thoughts on the Minneapolis/Minnesota beer community? By 'community' I mean other breweries, homebrewers, and beer fans. 
MH - Beer fans have become much more educated in ways of beer. New breweries dot the map, and homebrewing is exploding in popularity. This is all super great and the community grows with more people drinking MN made craft beer. I love it! At Town Hall we have embraced that change/growth with commitment to beer quality. We have invested in a small lab and education monies for our brewery staff to name a few things. We feel this larger beer community is here to stay and it our duty to provide the highest quality beer to it that we can.

MBB - How does Minneapolis/Minnesota compare to other beer loving cities that you have visited? 
MH - You know, I have found the growth in craft beer means great breweries and tap houses everywhere. When I travel I can always find new "beer centric" places to visit. The Metro as well as the state has turned into a place like most now that offer a great number of places to visit

MBB - What is your favorite part of your job? 
MH - The creativity that our customer base allows us

MBB - What do you enjoy the most about the craft beer industry and its fans? 
MH - Craft Beer is surrounded by a welcoming passion. Name another industry like it, I can't.

A glass of Masala Mama IPA

MBB - Do you have any advice for homebrewers looking to improve their skills/beer? 
MH - Never over estimate your abilities or under estimate the value of education

MBB - Do you have any advice for the homebrewer that is considering becoming a professional brewer? 
MH - Commit the time and money for brewing school. If you can make it belong in the professional brewing community

Many thanks to Mike Hoops for taking the time to answer my questions!! I greatly appreciate it!

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