MOONLIGHT BREWING mania reaches its apex this week over at Hedonist Beer Jive with the securing of the following email interview with BRIAN HUNT, the one-man show behind this incredible Sonoma County, California “farmhouse brewer”. We previously wrote about him and his beer here and here. (Other good articles can be found both here and here)
HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What do you look for in a good beer, and what do you do to your own beers to make them turn out so spectacularly?
BRIAN HUNT: I look for everything about a beer to come together and work synergistically. I am so saddened by beers that have many flavors that are each tasty but don't come together to form one great organaleptic pleasure. It doesn't matter so much what style or characteristics a beer has, if it comes together, I like it, if not, I am disappointed. When I first started experimenting tasting Belgian beers, my thoughts were often, '"This is nasty, but I like it." These beers came together perfectly, even though they possessed characteristics I couldn't yet appreciate...I knew some day I would because they were so cohesive and complete. As for what makes my beers turn out, I'd say it is less about the ingredients or processes; most it is the need to make something I want to drink, and the pesky details of malt, hops, etc, follow along and fall into their appropriate places. It reminds me of what I've heard stone sculptors say, that they just chip away anything that isn't what they want. I can't say I completely understand that, but it is something like that for me in that I don't calculate ingredients, I just do what seems right for the taste I desire.
HBJ: It’s been said that you deliberately work with fairly old brewing equipment that’s been cobbled together from various sources. Is this reflective of anything more than to “make do with what you have” and/or to save money?
BH: In the beginning of Moonlight, I only had one new piece of equipment: a pump. I once counted equipment from 32 breweries, besides the kegs. This was necessary because I had absolutely no money. It was possible because I understood how to make beer from rather crude equipment, besides, I am rather stubborn. Today my copper kettle (plus one fermenter) is about the only used equipment I use. I love it and have no desire to upgrade it more than I already have. It came from Thomas Kemper in Poulsbo, Washington, before that from Hart in Kalama, Washington. I don't mind spending money for equipment that will make better beer-a brewing industry rare luxury where the brewer can also write checks for his own toys.
HBJ: Where do you find inspiration for the beers that you make? From other brewers? From Belgium? From within?
BH: It varies. Death & Taxes was created from a flavor I had in my mind. It was influenced by all the people that told me they assumed dark beers were always strong; and I was tired of having to answer that they are not all strong, so I made an example of a very dark beer at 5% alcohol that wasn't like a meal in a glass. No doubt that my trip to the Czech Republic inspired my Reality Czeck. I can't say I tried to copy a Czech beer, but I wanted to relive the delicate deliciousness that I experienced there. Belgium beers have definitely inspired me. Mostly the inspiration hasn't shown itself yet as individual beers, more instead as an appreciation of what a huge spectrum beers can cover...to break my even West Coast ideas of potential flavors and methods. I will make some more Belgian-inspired beers in the future. Often a flavor profile just shows up in my brain, and I want to make it. Luckily there is no corporate office I have to clear it with!
HBJ: If it’s true that one person’s personality can be reflected in the beer they make, how would you say the Moonlight beers reflect yours?
BH: Am I that bitter? Certainly I prefer more subtle that brash beers, and that may reflect my advanced age. I have heard it said that brewers tend to use fewer hops as they get older...does this apply to drinkers as they age, too?
HBJ: Have you got a particular beer style that you’ve wanted to tackle, but don’t feel like you’re able to conquer, or have you made just about everything you’ve wanted to try?
BH: That is one great part of not having to copy existing beer styles, I am not limited by what Michael Jackson has already written about. I could probably come up with new ideas forever. Beers such as the original Rodenbach and the Duchesse de Bourgogne fascinate me, and I am not experienced enough to make a version of this. Someday, I likely will.
HBJ: On the Beer Advocate website, there’s a picture of your Death and Taxes black beer in a bottle. Was this some sort of home brew/one-off thing, or have you actually bottled this in the past?
BH: This was a person who bought a 5 gallon keg and bottled it himself so he could share Sonoma County draught-only beers with others around the country...a very generous man!
HBJ: Tell us a little bit about your distribution methods. Is it truly just you and your daughter driving the beer to places in the Bay Area that request it?
BH: My daughters usually give me "the look" after I ask them to make a delivery for me. Then I still have to pay them. It is only a last resort struggle. Basically, it is just myself. Between a beefed-up '00 Nissan Frontier and a '96 Doge 3500 van, I travel 6 Bay Area counties. SF and the East Bay is Wednesdays and Fridays. There seem to be many other people driving out there, too.
HBJ: I had your TOAST “slight burned malt liquor” a month or so ago, and thought it was one of the greatest beers I’ve ever tasted. Please tell us some more about this particular beer.
BH: I wanted a beer that tasted like toast. Maybe I just like puns. It seemed a perfect beer for New Years. At 6.0% alcohol, I fill it with all kinds of toasted malts, fermented with a lager yeast. The hops are subtle as it is all about the malt flavors.
HBJ: For those folks now incredibly interested in where to go to drink Moonlight beers, could you perhaps give us at least a partial list of establishments that have your beer on tap?
BH: Ack! There are about 60 places in SF, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin Napa, and Sonoma Counties. There are two more in Fort Bragg, CA and one in Lakeport. Look up the usual suspects of good beer bars for best luck. The Toronado in SF and Barclay's or Lanesplitter in the East Bay are the most popular spots.
HBJ: Finally, what are some of the other great American brewers and/or beers out there that you’d recommend – those that perhaps come from the same philosophical place that you do?
BH: I have always loved everything from Victory Brewing. Unfortunately, it isn't available much here. I have never had anything from Brooklyn, but I agree with Garrett Oliver's philosophy as much as I have heard-especially the concept that a beer is only really good, if you still enjoy the end of the third pint and want another. Hair of the Dog in Portland probably has a similar philosophy, yet they tend to make stronger beers than I do. Thank god they don't follow rules. Alpine in San Diego County makes tasty, hoppy brews and is small like myself. Any brewery that isn't spending their time tooting their horn is likely instead focusing on making delicious beer, and I toast every blessed one of them. The bigger and more "profit-motivated" a brewery gets, the more they tend to make beer that is "good enough." I don't think "good enough" is enough.