Brew & A: Marshall "The Brulosopher" Schott

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The brewing world was once a very small place. There was a handful of sites, a handful of organizations, and a handful of publications with presence, but as far as an industry, there wasn't much of one to speak of with the majority of our supplies found in hardware stores and the like.
Regardless of which origin story you believe, homebrewing as an art and a craft has exploded in the last decade, and now we've seen all types of brewers with all types of beer calling the net home.
Enter The Brulosopher. Marshall Schott is a man on a mission. Between his exbeeriments, his personal brewing, and his day job, he has amassed quite the following as per Scott Janish's blog post covering Top Homebrewing Sites.

Take a look. I'll wait... Did you notice we're on there? Of course you did, but we're HomeBrewTown, and as such we're a multitude of influences, brewers, and brews coming together to celebrate and make great a legacy as old as time. A great thing unto itself, we seek knowledge through the community we create.
Marshall is one man. One man taking on the brewing world. One man changing our thoughts on beer. One man taking brewing to the next level.
For today's Brew & A I left the community and reached out to a brewer making waves in the brewing world. I present to you Marshall Schott, The Brulosopher.
Austin: How did you start brewing?
Marshall: I began making beer at home in early 2003 while living in Bellingham, WA. I was working at a group home at the time and my coworker came in a few minutes late, explaining he got caught up bottling his beer. This intrigued me, we talked about homebrewing for most of our shift, and that evening my roommate, Nathan, and I went to North Corner Brewing Supply to buy a kit. We made an Irish Red Ale using extract and steeping grains that evening, it was pretty good, then we made probably 10 more batches. I got married a year and a half later and moved to California for grad school, during which I brewed rarely, mostly just helping friends out with their extract kits. It wasn't until I graduated and landed a stable job that I started taking the hobby really serious. After a couple extract batches, I moved to all-grain, started building up my home brewery, and the rest is history. I currently brew 2 to 3 times per month, I can almost do it with my eyes closed at this point.

Austin: Why did you convert from extract to AG?
Marshall: My hunch is that a lot of people shy away from answering this question honestly out of fear of offending others. The fact someone would allow such an inane issue ruffle their feathers is odd to me. I have nothing against people who brew with extract, just as I have nothing against people who fly sparge or use plate chillers. I don't care. I believe Nietzsche put it best when he said, "You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist." With that in mind...
There were 2 main reasons I chose to convert from extract to AG. First, using extract began to feel a little like cheating to me. Don't get me wrong, I still use jarred spaghetti sauce and I don't kill my own meat, but these aren't things I care nearly as much about as beer. After using extracts for awhile, I began to feel like I was only a small part of the wort production equation, the dude who blended what someone else had already made into water, which did not satiate my craftsman desires. Switching to AG gave me much more control of the brewing process and significantly increased the variety of ingredients I could use. Second, I seem to be one of those jerks who can actually taste extract flavor, and I prefer beers without it. I've heard so many people say so many times that, if brewed with good technique, there is no such thing as extract flavor. This makes no sense to me. I'm certainly no expert, but it doesn't seem all too far of a stretch to accept that the extract making process changes things in ways that are going to impact the ultimate flavor of the beer it's used to make. And this isn't a bad thing! There are probably even some folks who even prefer this flavor, I'm just not one of those people. For better or for worse, I have been able to detect extract character in beers I've tasted blind (here's one example).

Austin: Have you brewed with your eyes closed? If so, how did it end up?
Marshall: Absolutely! These beers always end up tasting like rainbow donuts chasing me with dreadlocks plastered to walls of bacon, license plates, I know that number... that number... someone's calling, it's bacon, and falling, falling, falllllllllllllllllllllllllllliiiiiiinnnnnng.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Marshall: I like so many different beers that choosing a single one is near impossible, clich as that is. Let's see, if pinned down with peanut butter globbed all over my body and a curious dog nearby, I'd have to go with Chuckanut Brewery's Pilsner, a deliciously crisp Bohemian-style Pilsner that I would happily quaff all day any day. Unfortunately, it's not widely distributed and I no longer live in Bellingham, WA. Locally, House of Pendragon's Honey Helles, a mostly traditional Munich Helles with a touch of Gambrinus Honey Malt, comes in a close second, it's a truly delectable beer. Truthfully, I tend to prefer drinking homebrew rather than commercial beer, not that homebrew always tastes better, I just think it's more fun and interesting to drink something a friend or I made. As far as homebrew goes, I really enjoy my What're We Here For? California Common.

Austin:What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Marshall: I'm not one for gadgetry and really value simplification of process, hence my brewery isn't terribly flashy. I'm not a fan of pumps, plate chillers, or most automation for that matter, just a pitcher and a little elbow grease. One of the pieces of gear I've become rather fond of is the Sterile Siphon Starter, it is so much more convenient than any other siphon setup I've used over the years, if it broke (which it won't), I'd have no qualms purchasing a new one immediately.

Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Marshall: When I was in college, I purchased a 4-pack of generic toilet paper from a dollar store thinking it was a good deal, and hey, it's just toilet paper. Never again. Trust me, people, splurge a little at least on the decent stuff. As far as homebrewing goes, I can't really think of a product I used that didn't live up to it's intended purpose, but one product I'll never use again is a plate chiller. Ugh, the setup, the clean-up, the gross crap that would end up in my wort during recirculation on the subsequent batch; No thank you! I've since switched to using The Hydra and King Cobra immersion chillers made by JaDeD Brewing, and I've absolutely no regrets. Once I learned how to properly use an immersion chiller, I've been able to chill wort in times that are just as good or better than I was getting with my plate chiller.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Marshall: The community. Hands down, this is my favorite aspect of this hobby. Over the last few years I've developed some very meaningful relationships and collaborated with other homebrewers, many of whom I'm never even met in person. For example... a few years back, I introduced my buddy Chris to homebrewing. He quickly became obsessed and now regularly gets booked to take beautiful photos at brewery openings and beer festivals. Olan from Homebrew Dad developed a new yeast calculator with an overbuild function to account for harvesting from starters, a simple money-saving method I've been talking about for years. I started chatting with Matt from To Brew A Beer after reading his awesomely informative Wood Primer and now I've got my first beer on oak. I was fortunate enough last year to be selected as 1 of 3 beta testers for The Yeast Bay, which put me in contact with 2 amazing brewers, Brian of Brouwerij-Chugach and Ed of Ales of the Riverwards, both of whom I've learned a ton from regarding sour and funky beers. Ray Found, a guy I'm trying to convince to contribute to Brulosophy because he's too lazy to start his own site, has been a go-to for me when it comes to consulting about potential blog content and such, we even met up once for beer while I was passing through his area. What's cool is that I met most of these guys in online forums like the one here at HomeBrewTalk and the Reddit Homebrewing community. I could go on forever, but the fact of the matter is, this is why I homebrew! The beer, the process, exBEERiments, it's all fun, but the community of honest, helpful, and overall rad people is what really keeps me coming back.

Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Marshall: I'm 100% all-grain, the only time I've brewed a beer with extract in the last 5 years was for the Extract vs. All Grain exBEERiment in July 2014. Nothing against those who use extract, I just prefer the controllability and variety of all grain. For 5 gallon batches, I've become a huge fan of the No Sparge method, though I will occasionally do Brew In A Bag as well. For my 10+ gallon batches, I prefer the Batch Sparge method. I have fly sparged in the past and felt the benefits (5% increase in efficiency) didn't outweigh the costs (multiple vessels, time to sparge, channeling, tannin extraction, etc, etc). In my experience, every single one of these methods is capable of producing truly world class beer.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Marshall: Hmm, a memorable homebrewing experience, this is a tough one. I was pretty shocked the first time I entered a competition and a couple of my beers scored first in division, I think one was a Mrzen and I can't recall the other. Not necessarily homebrewing related, per se, but I'll never forget the time John Palmer emailed me in regards to the The Great Trub exBEERiment results, thanking me for not throwing stones. The dude is a legend, someone I've learned a ton from about making beer, the fact he read my article then reached out to me was a bit of a trip.

Austin: That is a trip! Do you have regular contact with anyone else beer famous?
Marshall: Oh goodness, no. I don't have regular contact with John Palmer by any stretch of the imagination, we emailed once. I have chatted with some of my personal homebrew idols a bit, dudes who inspired my approach long before I started Brulosophy, Denny Conn and Drew Beechum. The thing about these guys is they're super responsive to anyone who has questions and, in my experience, actually enjoy shooting the **** with other homebrewers. Mike Tonsmeier of The Mad Fermentationist, author of American Sour Beers, has been similarly responsive to questions and seems incredibly willing to help out those interested in sour/funky beer making.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Marshall: As an over-thinker with a strong interest for ambiguous philosophies, I'm inclined to say there is no such thing as "the perfect beer," as perfection is an elusive illusion constructed to give us something to aim for, to chase after, yet by nature completely unattainable, when we near its fuzzy edges, we realize what we once thought was perfect is no longer... but that's stupid. I'll take a dry, well attenuated pale to amber lager with fresh hop aroma and a bready malt character with an ABV in the 4.2% to 5% range.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Marshall: I truly can't think of anything I would change about my current brewing setup and, in fact, haven't made any significant upgrades in nearly 2 years. My brew stand is built into the wall of my garage (thanks to my beautiful and very gracious wife for letting me take over the entire 3rd bay) and on it sits two 10" banjo burners that are connected to natural gas. I've got a couple 15 gallon kettles, two converted cooler MLTs, those awesome chillers I mentioned earlier, a 1 gallon pitcher, and all the other small measuring knick-knacks that allow me to brew up to two 10 gallon batches simultaneously.

Austin: What's your favorite experiment so far?
Marshall: The exBEERiment I've enjoyed the most so far would have to be The Temp At Which We Pitch, mainly because the results went completely against my expectations, and I experience an almost masochistic pleasure admitting I'm wrong. This is an exBEERiment I very much look forward to repeating with different beers and yeasts, mainly lager and higher OG styles. Coming in at a close second is the xBmt The Impact of Expectation on Perception, which I believe proved rather handily that what one expects hugely influences what they perceive, plus it was kind of funny watching my friends struggle to choose which of 3 beers was different when in reality they were all the same.
Austin: What's the most surprising thing you've learned from your experiments?
Marshall: Most surprising to me is that people really seem hungry for this type of information! I get emails and messages daily from Brulosophy readers thanking me for helping to make their brew day simpler and sharing their own experiment results. When I started Brulosophy, I had no idea it would be so well received, something that has taken some getting used to.
One thing I've learned from the results of the experiments is that it appears many of the traditional homebrewing methods we've been taught, most of which were gleaned from professional brewing practices, simply don't matter as much as we presumed. Take for example hot-side aeration or making sure to kettle trub out of the fermentor, these are things that may very well have a negative impact for commercial brewers making huge batches of beer, though it seems matter very little for homebrewers. This issue of scale is one I'm very interested in and look forward to continue exploring through my own and others' experimentation.
Austin:What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Marshall: Easy: it's not necessary to start with extract, all grain is just as approachable for new brewers! While I have no regrets, it would have been super cool if when I went into the LHBS to purchase my first kit someone would have informed me that, using a very simple method, all grain brewing was just as simple as using extract with steeping grains.
Finally, I feel it deserves mentioning that the only way I've been able to continue brewing the way I do is that I've an incredibly supportive and loving, not to mention super hot, wife... who hates beer (she thinks it all just tastes like beer). Despite having 3 kids under the age of 6, she regularly encourages me to engage in all things homebrewing because she understands how much I get out of it. My two older kids, Hazel and Roscoe, usually hang out with me while I'm out brewing, both feeling very pleased when they get to stir the mash or add hops to the boiling wort. For me, brewing is not an adults-only event, but rather something I use to teach my kids about science, moderation, and engaging in activities that provide some semblance of meaning.
Cheers!
***
Marshall "The Brulosopher" Schott is a man beyond his years. Through his constant knowledge seeking he has advanced his brewing, and ours, years past what they would be otherwise. He does this by standing fearless in the face of the unknown, and embracing the outcome of his exbeerminets. Because he did it, you don't have to. History is made on the backs of great men and women who do the same. I look forward to seeing what the years hold for Brulosophy, and the brewing of Marshall Schott.
Please join me in raising a glass to this week's Brew & A, The Brulosopher.
Salud!

 
'over-thinker with a strong interest for ambiguous philosophies' - somehow this seems just perfect!
Good interview! and a great blog.
 
Awesome. Marshall has been one of my homebrewing heroes for quite a while. His blog has contributed so much to my own success in this hobby.
 
Thanks for taking up a few hours of my day!!! Great interview and great surfing articles/blog.
After wanting to brew in the 70's I finally took the plunge just over a year ago, after 2 years of assembling/building my equipment. Straight into all grain, never looked back. I read about 7 books on beer/brewing and loads of on-line information. The best advice ever "relax have a beer!" We've all had those cluster %$&* brew days and I can honestly say in 30 some brews (several what I thought were disastrous) I have yet to brew a beer that isn't very drinkable. It's a hobby to be enjoyed on both ends. And being retired it's a necessity if I'm going to be able to afford beers I like to drink!
 
Great interview with one of my favorite writers. I've always felt that while Charlie Papazian preached relaxation, there were a ton of rules in his books that made it hard to relax. The Brulosopher is a laid back dude that has his process down to the point where he really doesn't seem to worry about it.
 
Yeah his blog is tremendous. I've only recently found it in the last month. But I think I've read the whole site by now.
 
Great interview! Stumbled on the blog a few days ago and haven't been able to put it down. Thanks Marshall for the exBeeriments and a peek into your brewing world.
 
I like how you sit back & analyze brewing norms as applies to home brewing. The way we all thought things were versus what they are on our scale. Good stuff!
 
Great article! Love your perspective and that you don't take things too seriously. Really helpful website also (I just ordered a t-shirt, lol). I'll go back and check it out some more for sure. Brew on!
 
Marshall your site is one of the few that I check every morning while drinking the morning ummm...coffee...
It's sad how excited I get each time there is a new post, it's like Christmas. Keep up the good work!
 
@NoahBeach I'm curious what you thought of the xBmt results I posted today?
http://brulosophy.com/2015/01/19/fermentation-temperature-pt-1-exbeeriment-results/
 
You rule Marshall, keep it up. You are welcome to come back to Washington state anytime. Did you happen to see that miraculous game yesterday? Thanks, and keep em coming. Oh, I just have to say....Go Hawks!!!
 
Great interview. I too subscribe to the Keep it Simple principle. I'm not knocking the gadget guys, just don't feel the need.
 
I'm actually surprised about the lack of gadgetry. Not that it is a bad thing, but I am surprised. It is always neat to see someone with such experience keeping it simple.
 
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