Interview: brewmaster Ben Edmunds (Breakside Brewery)
Portland, OR 97211
503 719 6475
View Web SitePhoto Courtesy of Beer or Die
Ben Edmunds grew up in Michigan and initially educated 11th graders about the merits of Spanish and philosophy in small town Colorado. Now he’s helping to provide Portlandia with craft beer as the brewmaster for Breakside Brewery on the city’s Northeast side, which Scott Lawrence and Tony Petraglia founded in 2010. We spoke by phone on April 30, and Edmunds shared several insights that hint at why he’s found hop-fueled success.
At what point did you know you would work with beer for a living?
As a homebrewer, the whole time I was teaching, I always knew in the back of my head I wasn’t going to be a teacher forever, though I had a great job and enjoyed it. In the back of my mind, I thought it would be fun to be a brewer. As a homebrewer, I enjoyed the creativity as well as learning the science of homebrewing. I was teaching in this tiny little town in Colorado and wanted to live somewhere more urban, more hip, and moved to Portland on a lark. When I got here, the beer community in Portland amazed me and convinced me I wanted to be a part of it. I had the means to go to brewing school and made the transition over to commercial brewing.
The Siebel Institute.
Yeah, and Munich as well, the full diploma course.
Do you have a first beer memory, good or bad?
I remember the first beer that turned me on to good beer. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it at this point, but it was Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss. I grew up in the Midwest and was a camp counselor. It was probably a summer doing it that I had craft beer. I liked that a whole lot more than the classic American lagers I tasted. “Ooh, this has a lot of flavor.”
What was the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
the first beer I ever made was an American brown ale and I never got a chance to taste it because all the bottles exploded.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Breakside?
One of the things that’s great about brewing here on a small brewpub system. Sam, the other brewer, and I set the schedule for what we like making. Whether it’s a classic style, or more experimental, is it going to be delicious? We’ve got a reputation here in Portland as being an experimental brewery, but it’s not done willy-nilly. We prize deliciousness and we prize drinkabilty a lot.
Does it make your job easier or harder to have so many other craft breweries in Portland?
Overall, I think it makes it a lot easier. I have a great community that I can turn to with questions, whether it be a technical brewing question or otherwise. There are tremendous amounts of people I respect, and I think it only benefits us.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your approach?
We are just finishing up a Kolsch today, pretty traditional, but more late petal additions, we also have passion fruit Berlinerweisse, and our summer seasonal, our witbier, is coming out as well. Our most recent beer is hopfenbier, it’s a German style IPA. The idea here was to see what flavors came from a more aggressive use of German hops than you would typically see, as well as mixing. We took the skeleton of IPA recipe, kept our water profile more or less the same, and used the same hop schedule, and replaced it with carefully chosen German varietals of hops to see how far we could push that European hop flavor.
Who’s a brewer you’ve never brewed with before that you’d most like to brew with?
I have never thought about that. There are a number of friends of mine from brewing school that I would like to brew with again. I’d have a lot of fun brewing with Peter Bouckaert at New Belgium. I have a lot of respect for Matt Brynildson. He was one of my instructors in brewing school.
What music do you like to listen to while brewing?
The brewery soundtrack rotates a lot, but the mainstay is contemporary or classic indie rock.
Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?
It varies. It depends on what mood I’m in. I’ll leave the brewery and reach for a cocktail or wine. I like all types of beverage, beer’s my passion, but I like other stuff. If there was a style, I’d probably go for a pilsner, a classic German pils would be a good bet for me.
Anywhere in particular?
Any one of the great beer bars in Portland, or cocktail bars. The food and drink scene is tremendous. Across the board, not only breweries or pubs, even in restaurants. I know a lot of people in the restaurant world and end up going to one of my friends’ places to have a drink. I only try to have a shift beer in the restaurant and mingle with folks, assuming we’re in service when I get off work.
If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink beer, what would it be and how come?
That’s a good one. I would love to go and see some of the cities in Belgium I’ve never been to, Bruges and Antwerp immediately pop to mind. I used to live in Colorado, and haven’t been to Denver other than GABF over the last couple years. There are some new breweries in Denver that are supposed to be great, so I’d like to give myself a couple days there. I’d also like to say Asheville, to see what the buzz is about, but I don’t think I’m allowed to say that as a Portland brewer.
If you could only drink one more beer, and you couldn’t brew it, what would it be and why?
There are a lot of beers that I can’t brew that are beyond my skill to brew. Gosh. One style that I think will be a long time before we do this is an Imperial Stout. Bell’s Expedition Stout is a beer from my home state. That might be it, or one of the New Glarus fruit beers.
Photo Courtesy of Beer or Die