Interview with Barry Holsten, 2016 January 29

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  • Introduction and early life
    Partial Transcript: "I grew up in South Brunswick, New Jersey, on a farm..." "After high school, I went to college and failed utterly... I didn't know what I wanted to do." "One of those jobs happened to be in a brew shop in Princeton..." "I started my brewing career the first time he (Gene Muller) was getting on the internet..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about growing up on a farm. He says that on leaving the family farm he did not do well in college because he did not know what he wanted to do. A part time shop at a home brew shop in Princeton New Jersey got him interested in brewing beer. After several months of vising the construction site of New Jersey's first brew pub and asking for a job, he eventually got a job there.
    Keywords: Flying Fish Brewing Company; Kingston, New Jersey; Princeton, New Jersey; South Brunswick, New Jersey; Triumph Brewery
  • Moving to South Carolina
    Partial Transcript: "My girlfriend at the time... wanted to go to South Carolina... and I'm starting to think I wanted to be a brewer." "The customer needs to receive a really good product." "Being in the beer industries in the mid 90s was a new experience..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about moving to South Carolina with his girlfriend and working in a production brewery there. He characterizes it as an important learning experience, especially concerning equipment safety. He says that many of the safety rules he expects his crew at Flying Fish to follow come from watching people get injured at the breweries he worked in in the Carolinas during the 1990s.
    Keywords: 1990s; beer industry; bottling; brew pub; brewing equipment; production brewing; recipe formulation; South Carolina; Weeping Radish Farm Brewery
  • The differences between working in a brewpub and a production brewery
    Partial Transcript: "The different aspects of getting equipment.. you could walk into a brewery that was beautifully well made and then others that were a hodge podge..."...my major was in chemistry and biology..." "You see how little variations- how they start adding up and become habits..." "In the restaurant industry if you're not a chef, you're not held in very high regard..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about the differences working in a brew pub and a production brewery. He talks about what a learning experience working in a production brewery was due to the differing recipes and batch sizes that came through the production brewery. He talks about the craft brewing bubble in the 1990s and his thoughts on how brewer's lack of expertise contributed to the bursting of the bubble.
    Keywords: beer recipes; brewing equipment; brewpub; college; contract brewing; health; hierarchies; home brewing; hops; restaurant industry; safety; South Carolina
  • Expertise and quality controls in craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "I want people to enjoy what I make, if the fruits of my labor are going to be consumed, I want them to be received well." "When you find something you love, learn every aspect of it and master those skills." "I would take a class on whatever I could get my hands on and apply it to brewing."
    Synopsis: Holsten shares his thoughts on expertise. He thinks that once you find something you love, you should learn and master every aspect of it. He talks about quality assurance and learning from other brewers that he has worked for.
    Keywords: biology; brewing; brewing equipment; chemistry; expertise; flaws; quality assurance; quality controls; sour beer; standards
  • Learning how to brew beer at the University of California, Davis and making do with re-purposed brewing equipment
    Partial Transcript: "I went to Davis, California... and here I am at a craft brewery and I spent, like, six months out there..." "It was good to rub elbow and look at the lab side... where I needed to be..." "... case in point, the bottling line that I had to work with was a sparkling wine... line made in Italy... rehabbed for beer..."
    Synopsis: He talks about learning how to brew in Davis California and working with the re-purposed equipment common at small scale breweries. He talks about how the brewery that he worked at in South Carolina had a bottling line meant for sparkling wine and cider and that there was no such thing as a small scale beer bottling line in the 1990s.
    Keywords: bottling line; brewing equipment; craft brewing; Davis, California; production brewery; South Carolina; University of California, Davis
  • Returning to New Jersey
    Partial Transcript: "I went to a brewpub in New Brunswick, called Harvest Moon." "Basically, the only engagement I had at the time was working on the bottling line." "Almost everyone that worked in the breweries there was from North or West..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about returning to New Jersey and working in a brew pub after having worked in a production brewery in South Carolina. He compares and contrasts attitudes about work and brewing in the two regions. He also talks about the culture shock of shifting from a production brewery where he had to follow someone else's recipe to a brew pub, where he was allowed creative freedom in how he brewed beer.
    Keywords: bottling line; brewpub; Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe; New Brunswick, New Jersey; production brewing
  • Partial Transcript: "I walked around every day... finding out where we were hitting our marks." "I had full seats, I maximized the brewery, I was brewing 1100 barrels of beer by myself in a brewpub, which is impressive."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about selling beer and brewing for a particular clientele. He says that he brewed to the tastes of his customers. He sometimes got poor reviews from beer writers, but he kept the brew pub full. He talks about the choice to lower ABV (Alcohol by Volume) for a college crowd who wanted to drink large quantities of beer and as a way to, hopefully, prevent people from getting overly drunk. He briefly talks about beer and his family.
    Keywords: beer criticism; beer reviewers; beer writers; Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe; quality assurance; selling beer
  • Beer festivals and competitions
    Partial Transcript: "In the beginning, they were, the first beer festivals I went to there wasn't enough brewers to fill a beer fest...." "I met Michael Jackson there for the first time, not the recording artist.... the beer writer." "Someone who goes into a beer festival and drinks fourteen or fifteen different styles of beers.. at the end you look at people walking out of beer festivals, they're loaded." "I did something that got a great personal response... this is a vocation that I'm really interested... you don't get that at a beer fest."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about beer festivals. He says that he dislikes them as they are now. He wishes that they were small and educational, he says that today they are excuses for people to drink for several hours at a time. He wishes that they were more educational and focused on educating consumers about what makes a good beer good.
    Keywords: beer competitions; beer education; beer festivals; Brooklyn Bridge; olfactory senses; Triumph Brewery
  • Story about hops and beer in Oregon
    Partial Transcript: "I was choosing hops for the company up in Oregon..." "...right now craft brewing, it counts only, got like, seventeen percent of the beer industry, but we use like ninety percent of the hops..." "I'm in Oregon and this guy is taking me to a hop bar... this is great..." "He starts pouring it... and its definitely not Coor's Light... he says, this is Pliny the Younger..." "I haven't been wowed by beer in a long time.
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about an experience he had buying hops in Oregon. He talks about how he likes his hop supplier and is one of the few brewers on the East Coast to use that type of hop. He also talks about hop processing. He then tells a story about visiting a craft beer bar with 110 beers on tap and trying a particularly good beer that was labeled as Coor's Light but was not.
    Keywords: Acme Beer and Brewing; Blake Crosby; Coor's Light; craft brewing; Crosby Hops; hop processing; hops; Oregon; pelletizing; Pliny the Younger
  • Attempting to leave the brewing industry and debating the merits of remaining in the brewing industry
    Partial Transcript: "I got out of the brewing industry at that point because the industry was drying up so much and the pay wasn't there..." "Eight years in and I'm making like, nine dollars an hour..." "How to transition from the Bohemian brewer lifestyle into the professional world..." "The money was really great, but I wanted to start my own brewery..." "Against my own judgement I got a partnership with two other people.. and the partnership really had a different vision..." "Either I make the decision to get back out of the industry or continue brewing..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about leaving the brewing industry for the first time in 2002 due to not making enough money. After being unable to adjust to the professional world he tried to open a brewpub in the Finger Lakes region of New York. That partnership failed, he returned to New Jersey. Once he was back, Gene Muller of Flying Fish Brewery helped him get a job at a different brewery which Holsten helped steer away an impending bankruptcy. He says that a lack of quality control drove him away from that job. He says that at about the time he was planning to leave River Horse he was able to get a job at Flying Fish brewery.
    Keywords: 2002; 2009; business partnerships; craft brewing; Finger Lakes; Flying Fish Brewery; New Jersey; New York brewing equipment; quality assurance; quality control; River Horse Brewing Company; wages
  • Starting to work at Flying Fish Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Gene's engaged, he loves beer, he started a brewery, he wanted to be a part of the beer..." "I'm still learning the brewery... I had a complete brew staff change over..." "We had a culture of brewers that had learned all of their skills form this gentleman... I don't want to talk down about management... I really didn't understand some of the procedures they had in the back..." "Within the first year we won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival, that was really nice..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about getting a job at Flying Fish Brewery. He says that he got to train and hire a new brew staff and make good use of Flying Fish's quality assurance lab. Holsten says he would rather hire an expert from outside of Flying Fish than always promote people within the company. He says that he has focused on polishing their beers and is proud that Flying Fish has earned medals in the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Fest every year he has been there.
    Keywords: beer; brewing; education; Flying Fish Brewery; Gene Muller; Great American Beer Festival; New Jersey; quality assurance; staffing; training; World Beer Cup
  • Thoughts on the World Beer Cup and quality assurance
    Partial Transcript: "I really like the World Beer Cup, I think their judges are a little bit better skilled at what they're doing and offer great notes." "If it's low-fi, I'm trying to make it the most appealing low-fi it can be..." "We see what is engaging about these products and make course corrections accordingly..." "I like a certain amount of argument... it means we're debating..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about beer tasting, notes from beer judging and quality assurance. He says that he tries to make beers that taste as good as they can when they are old. He values being able to make beer that varies as little in quality from the time it is brewed to the time it is spoiled. He also talks about how helpful the web of automation and other workers is to keeping Flying Fish running and making it possible for him to do his job. He says he likes to have a certain amount of stress and pressure while working because he thinks that means people are being pushed and learning.
    Keywords: aging beer; beer tasting; learning; library testing; World Beer Cup
  • Thoughts on new hires, staffing, and employee at Flying Fish Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Why would I want to hire someone that's a detriment to the company?" "All the other moving parts in here are what are challenging..." "I tell employees all the time I want you to be the best... you can be..." "I had to learn everything in the brewery."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about his approach toward training employees. He says that he balances cross training and specialization and his staff. He says that having to train a fresh brew staff for Flying Fish was the most stressful thing in his life. He talks about his own personal challenge of being colorblind and using a color coded system. He said of the four people he hired, he has lost only one.
    Keywords: brewing; color blindness; disability; staffing; training; work
  • Packaging, staffing at Flying Fish Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "We had an enclave of employees - they were disgruntled..." "..if you brew for the kings you live with the masses, if you brew for the masses you live with the kings..." "Nobody wants to be told that they're doing a poor job at the end of the day..." "I think that we have a well motivated and well intended team." "Making great beer and winning a few medals along the way, it feels pretty good." "If I wanna move forward I need to be critical on myself..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about restaffing and training the packaging department. He expresses pride in his team and the beer made at Flying Fish. He talks about his thoughts on personal and staff growth and he says that if he wants to grow, he has to push himself and that he won't push others if he is unwilling to push himself.
    Keywords: generational differences; packaging; staffing; training; work; workplace culture
  • Work as a brewing consultant
    Partial Transcript: "I've done a lot of consulting along the way, to make some extra money..." "I thought I was a consultant... guys not knowing how to operate pumps, switches... in reality a lot of people are never exposed to industrial machines..."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about his time spent as a consultant at other breweries. He says looking back on it, he wasn't so much a consultant as he was a person who had grown up with and was comfortable around industrial machines, which gave him a leg up on helping people. He tells a story about the time he helped a brewery turn off a kettle that had been left boiling for hours after the head brewer suddenly walked out on them.
    Keywords: Atlanta Georgia; industrial machines; machine operations; South Carolina
  • Worries about small scale breweries; professionalization of brewing industry
    Partial Transcript: "Nothing pathogenic can live in beer and grow in beer, but by your process and what you leave in your kegs could be suspect and there's really no oversight for that."
    Synopsis: Holsten expresses his worries about government oversight and small scale breweries, particularly small scale breweries ran by careless people. Particularly he is worried that chemical compounds from improperly cleaned and implemented equipment, for example equipment made from cheap and/or non food safe metals can get into beer and make a beer drinker sick.
    Keywords:
  • Worries about inferior equipment
    Partial Transcript: "There was a brewery in Northern New Jersey that received their bottling line from China..." "That's gonna be the real interesting point right now, all this Chinese equipment that's in America for brewing - how fast it will fall apart."
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about his worries regarding breweries that use odd or inferior equipment, with little or no knowledge about making and bottling beer. He recounts one story about a brewery in New Jersey that bought a bottling line from China and broke it because it did not come with a manual or any point of contact to learn how to use their equipment. He believes that there will be another craft brewing bubble which will burst and that a lot of the brewing equipment from China will no longer be viable in ten years.
    Keywords: bottling beer; China; inferior equipment; low carbon steel; manufacturing; metallurgy; New Jersey; nickel; OSHA; stainless steel
  • Thoughts on future innovations in the craft brewing industry
    Partial Transcript: "I thought we were gonna be a lot further than where we are now..." "...my goal was to start a farm brewery..." "I thought by 2000 people were gonna have hop farms across the United States..." "Each region of the hop growing areas... each one of those areas... tastes different and smells different..." "... I think we're about twenty years away from that..." "I wanna get some preserved land and grow barley." "Where do we take craft brewing to the next level?"
    Synopsis: Holsten talks about his hopes for the future of the farming and craft brewing industries. He says he looks forward to the coming of regional hops, barley, and malting local to each state. He expresses disappointment that the industry is not already there but he thinks it will be within twenty years. He talks about some of the differing flavors and types of crops that he has already encountered.
    Keywords: Argentina; barley; California; China; craft brewing; Delaware; farm brewery' brewing beer; farming; hops; Idaho; ingredients; Maine; malting; Michigan; New Hampshire; New York; New Zealand; oats; Oregon; regional ingredients; rye; Saskatchewan; the future; Washington; wheat; Wisconsin
  • Definition of craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "To me it's whole ingredients... brewed in the chemicals... whole foods, not processed foods." "The customer is paying you in good faith for a high quality product, give them a high quality product..."
    Synopsis: Holsten defines craft brewing. For him it means using whole ingredients and compares craft brewing's use of ingredients to big breweries, like AB InBev. He then talks about American hop culture and how craft brewers use hops compared to big breweries. He says that their methods of use differ so much from big breweries that the hops used in craft brewing would be thrown away in big breweries. He talks about cross breeding and the creation of new types of hops.
    Keywords: AB InBev; agriculture; brewing; Cascade hops; corn; craft brewing; cross breeding; English hops; flavors; genetics; hops; Idaho; ingredients; lager; noble hops; quality assurance; rice; Russian hops