Interview with Will Thompson

DigiLetter: Let’s start things off with a toughy: Duff or Fudd?

Will Thompson: I’m a Fudd man myself. I tried making a ‘Flaming Homer‘ once. It passed the first test in that I didn’t go blind. But you shouldn’t drink anything bright purple, that’s good advice.

DL: And how! So why beer at all?

WT: My turning point was an Icehouse when I was 13. I haven’t been fit for regular society since.

DL: Wow, what took you so long?

WT: Writing about beer is just a natural outlet for me. I read so much about beer and it’s fun to put some of my less conventional ideas onto paper. It helps me think about beer in a different way when I have to string my thoughts into something comprehensible. Occasionally I stumble upon a great perspective that I never knew I had. Falling into brewing beer was half ambition – half circumstance. If I had been taken with different ambitions or had slightly different experiences my life would be dramatically different. Brewing has always been my dream but there have been many times when I have been tempted to stray into other endeavors.

DL: But then I’d never know what to pair with my hamburger!

WT: Go with a session beer. A big meal like a burger and fries would taste just fine with a double IPA, but if you’re like me and wash down your food with beer, that could leave you smashed before the bill arrives. Get an American Wheat beer and save the doubles for later.

DL: Phew, crisis averted. How do you define success?

WT: Success to me is making good beer. Luck can play into it every now and then but luck is hard to bottle. Craft brewing should be approached as a craft so it has been my patience and persistence that have allowed me to be successful. I still have a lot to learn and I consider that refining my craft so I enjoy getting better rather than bigger. Commercial success would be nice but that will come once the skills and reputation are there.

DL: So is there anything unique to your particular brewing process?

WT: I wish I could say there was. I don’t really appreciate beers that are weird for the sake of being weird so I haven’t innovated in that sense. If I could make one small change in this centuries-old tradition then my dream would be complete.

DL: In that case, I guess you’ve never tried a beer simply because the name was awesome?

WT: Can’t do it. I bought a joke named beer when I was in college and got laughed out of the store when I asked if the beer was any good. That was the last time. Craft brewers should be craftsmen, so I wince a little before I order a “Sweet Baby Jesus Peanut Butter Stout” out loud.

DL: Sounds like you take your beers pretty seriously.

WT: Well, my strongest asset is that the source of my motivation is a true passion for my craft. A lot of people are in this business because they see a buck to be made from an industry that has grown considerably each year for the last twenty years, even during the recession. I think that these white collar refugees will be the first to go if/when the bubble pops. Hopefully it does and the price of secondhand gear drops to a price that I can build a business around one day. My eye is always on the prize in that sense but it is not a safe time to start a brewery without being able to deliver something truly remarkable or some sort of competitive advantage.

DL: Serious indeed. What are you like outside of work?

WT: If you can’t be yourself in the brewing world then you are probably one twisted son of a bitch. I am serious about my work but professionalism can be exhausting and pointless in this heavily bearded industry. I’m a big fan of quality over quantity when it comes to company but I can get down with a crowd every now and then. I prefer to be in a bar on a Wednesday night than New Years Eve, I’ll take ‘happy hour’ over ‘amateur hour’ every time.

DL: What should your readers expect from your DigiLetter?

WT: I hope they gain some insight into why some of us are so obsessed with beer these days. I might sprinkle in some technical education to keep the interest of some of my more knowledgeable subscribers, but my goal is to share the slew of fascinating tidbits that keep me engaged in brewing, I hope that I can find people with the right palate and ignite an interest that I have found to be endless.

DL: I imagine there might be some would-be microbrewers in your audience. Any advice for them?

WT: I would say that its not any easy investment any more. Even decent, fresh brewpub beer isn’t an easy sell in some towns. If you really want to open a micro-brewery you need to be a damn good brewer. Sure you could hire one, but a true master brewer is a chef, a mechanic, and a plumber and they aren’t cheap.

DL: Last question! What’s the perfect beer?

WT: The one you brewed yourself.