What’s your current position at your brewery, and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?
I’m the owner, president and brewmaster of Thunderhead Brewing, a small brewpub in Kearney, Neb. I started out homebrewing at a friend’s house while living in the dorms and working for the United States Air Force. When I got out, I took a job driving a garbage truck. My position gave me a lot of time to daydream about beer. I formed a plan and was able to convince my dad to co-sign a loan to start a micro-mini-brewery. Later that week I got home from work and informed my wife that I had quit my job. Oddly enough, she was not impressed. After the realization that we were “all in,” she finished her last Keystone Light and started reading about stout. Eleven years later, here we are. This is a great country.
What’s new at Thunderhead?
Cans. I introduced my first retail package last year, Golden Frau Honey Wheat in 12-ounce cans. I’m nearing a launch of my second can, Cornstalker Dark Wheat. I love getting my beer out in an accessible package. I especially love being able to drink my beer in cans at the golf course. Other major projects in the works are the installation of a new POS system in the pub and the launch of a new soda company, Fountainhead Premium Sodas.
What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?
I love the people, both the customers and within the industry. I know everyone making commercial beer in Nebraska and they are all great people. I know tons of homebrewers around here, too. This is an awesome community of people. Clever, creative, logical folks who know how to have fun.
What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
When I am away from my brewery, I wonder what is going on at my brewery. I enjoy spending time with my wife and two teenage sons—lots of computer games, camping, and school activities. I have also recently taken up golf, a great sport that allows me the opportunity to hang out with friends, be outside, and most importantly drink great beer.
What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?
Pepperoni pizza with anchovies and a pale ale—perfection. If I was trying to impress someone with a great pairing, I would go with a nice low-IBU double bock and chocolate ice cream blended together, served with a small glass of the same double bock on the side. Optimator is a great ice cream pairing.
What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?
Staying married is a pretty awesome accomplishment, but my wife gets 75 percent of the credit. Probably the same goes for raising the kids. I don’t suppose I should take credit for winning the Cold War, but I was on the team.
What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce?
Wow, that’s a loaded question. I have a lot of great friends, professionals and homebrewers alike that make great beer. One that kind of stands out in recent memory is Hop God from Nebraska Brewing Company. It’s like a cross between a Belgian Strong Ale and an IPA. It’s extremely well made with a great mix of flavors.
What’s the most exotic travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?
I spent three years of my seven-year stint in the USAF as a flight engineer on the C-5 Galaxy. The most exotic place I drank a beer had to be Tunis, Tunisia. It’s an interesting little country in northern Africa. Barbed wire and gun turrets surround the airfield. As we rode into the overcrowded city in our mostly empty government bus to the embassy, I looked out the window at city bus packed with people, with at least another 20 people hanging off of the side. A Tunisian official was trying to hold our attention inside of the bus by offering us their national drink, kind of a Tropicana-type fruit juice. He also explained to us that alcohol was illegal in Tunisia, but that the embassy made its own beer. The beer, it turns out, wasn’t brewed very often. Imagine a two-year-old Corona in a green twist-off bottle with sand around the lip. From the hotel/embassy we had a great view of a beautiful white sand beach. Unfortunately it was closed due to landmines. At least we had beer and were flying out of the country the next day. This was the most exotic location I ever drank a beer. Crazy Daisy’s in Denmark was a close second and a much better time.