Cinderlands Beer Co. – Lawrenceville
Brewer Sit-Down is a CraftPittsburgh feature where local and national brewers take a moment to talk about their craft, their lives, and the craft beer industry as a whole.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and bounced around a bunch.
What’s your brewing Background?
I started home brewing about eight years ago. And that led to me starting a craft beer blog about Chicago’s craft beer scene. And then I worked my way into a position at Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, Illinois, where I was for five and a half years. I worked my way up to Production Manager there and we were making about 8,000 barrels of beer, we had a taproom, a canning line and a pretty big barrel aging program there.
I like science a lot, but I studied history, sociology and education. I was a high school history teacher when I got into home brewing. That was the career path I was on before I got tenure, those nice salary steps and married – all the things that can kind of get you set in one place. I wanted to take a stab at pursuing my passion as a career. I’m happy it worked out.
Do you remember your first craft beer?
My wild beer was Goose Island Matilda. It’s a pretty wacky beer for your first wake up to the beer world. But I had been going to the Goose Island pub after Cubs games, they had one up in Wrigleyville at the time, and we would drink 312s and IPAs and stuff, but I didn’t even know about the Belgian beers they made or the barrel aged beers that they had and it was just kind of by chance. My best friend, who also was a brewer for a little while in Portland, Oregon, he ended up chatting up the bartender. He’s a talkative dude, likes making friends, he came back grinning with this chalice of Matilda. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen at that time. The gold rim, this gothic gold ‘M’ on it, poured with a crazy big head…I tasted that and it was like a revelation.
Do you have a guilty pleasure beer?
I don’t know if you’ll accept this answer, but I’d have to say tequila. I love tequila and you put a little citrus with that and I’m happy. I like drinking beer a lot, but if it’s not something I’m interested in then I’m typically going to something else.
Do you brew to any music?
I’m always playing music. I believe music died around 1975 and nobody’s played anything worth a damn since then pretty much. Allman Brothers Band, the Band, Clapton, that kind of stuff is my jam. All the time.
Favorite PGH bar yet?
I’ve only been here two months. So here and home? But I’ve had some great experiences at bars. I think Allegheny Wine Mixer is my favorite joint I’ve been to so far. Where else can you go in and say ‘Do you have a funky Croatian white?’ and they’re like ‘Yes, I have three.’
If you weren’t brewing?
I don’t think I’d be teaching. I got really hooked on the outdoors about 5 years ago, I’ve been traveling out west to the mountains as much as I possibly can. If I could do anything I’d be some kind of conservationist, writing or photographing landscapes and species that are threatened.
What do you drive?
Mazda 3, little hatchback, fuel efficient. I have a bike rack on top and I don’t have to get a stepladder to get my bike up. Subaru Outback is coming up next, though.
Death row beer?
I’d take like a peach beer from De Garde. They make so many I’m not sure what the name of a particular one is, I know I’ve had some that are fantastic. Their wild ale with peach is out of this world, that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a beer.
If you could go back to any place or time in your life and have a beer, where would it be?
I think it would probably have to be the first time I went down to Jester King. That place is everything I’m looking for in a brewery. The rural setting, dedication to the idea behind the beer, the quality and the uniqueness of the beer, the whole package. The people there were great. A lot of the people that I met there at that time have kind of moved on to other things. But that rural setting, commitment to agriculture and wild fermentation and spontaneity and unpredictably of brewing with an evolving mixed house culture. And seeing it all in action was pretty awesome. I’d share that with my wife. She’s my best friend, we love traveling together and we love beer.
This may be a little unconventional, but my brewing hero is my best friend’s father in-law, Pete Domdey. He’s the home brew Swamy who taught me the early steps of brewing at home. So I probably never would have gotten into it without him showing my best friend how to brew and him passing that along to me. He owned a home brew shop in Chicago in the ‘90s, there was a little bit of a wave of home brewing kicking up then that kind of died off. He got back into his regular career after it died down, but he kept the gear, kept the passion. What I love about this guy, he’s a generation older than me but he’s got a boyish enthusiasm about beer. He has a big, beaming smile on his face when he’s sharing his beer and talking about what he’s brewing. That kind of excitement absolutely gets me going.