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Legends in Brewing: Randy Mosher

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If you don't know Randy Mosher by name you know him by his influence on the brewing world. Author of Radical Brewing, and the soon to be published Mastering Homebrew, and A Beer for All Seasons, Randy is a legend in the homebrewing community. Coming from humble origins which he covers in this interview, Randy has come to live the dream of most home brewers, he went pro. A world traveler, consultant to the beer community, and all around nice guy, Randy gave us a few minutes off his time for our series, Legends in Brewing.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Randy: A friend and I bought a kit in 1985 after talking about it for a couple of years. Made two or three batches of truly awful beer (Helpful hint: dry yeast that has solidified into a solid toffee-like mass in the packet is probably not going to give great results), but we kept going and by batch four the beer was pretty good. We combed the early Michael Jackson books for details on exotic styles like witbier and saison that were absolutely unavailable in the US at that time, and brewed our own imagined versions.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Randy: It's impossible to say, but I do like my own. In general, I am very fond of wheat beers, and especially Belgian wit. I probably have spent more time working on the details of how to brew that than any other style, and was lucky enough to be able to talk to (Hoegaarden founder) Pierre Celis a few times about the style and his approach to it. I think there's something magical about its ability to be both thirst-quenching and creamy, and light on the palate without being vapid. Definitely a difficult combination. We've been working with super-low-alcohol versions as bases for summer fruit beers, and really pushing the concept as far as possible with crazy high mash temperatures (162 F/72 C) to leave some residual sugars in a 3.5% beer, so you can take it pretty far and still get great results.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Randy: My carboy/keg washer. It's made from a squat 1/4-barrel and has a big pump that sprays upward into the carboy and valves so it either recirculates or rinses/drains. Saves a ton of time.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Randy: I made a pressure lautering system out of a corny keg fitted with a cylindrical filter in the center that was supposed to sort of emulate a mash filter. I wrote a Zymurgy article on it-they would publish just about any crazy thing back then. It kind of worked sometimes, but I always had trouble getting the right pressure, so the mash often turned into solid concrete. I did talk to one guy who built one and loved it, but clearly it was a high-strung device. I'm thinking of making a very small pilot system to do tests of historic brews for a book I'm starting to research, so I may revive the notion in order to speed up the process. I do love monkeying around with equipment, and gained a lot of skills along the way.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Randy: I've been all-grain since batch eight. I always set up my system for maximum flexibility, and the current incarnation of Buckapound is the same. As I do a lot of research on innovative ideas as well as historic beers, I like to be able to do adjunct mashes, decoctions, whatever. Also need to be able to incorporate lots of sugars, spices, flowers, roots and whatever else. The system has a small hop-back that mirrors the one in the 30-bbl 5 Rabbit system.
Austin:Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences
Randy: For me, it was a series of three beers I was lucky enough to brew in a kind of a collaboration with Michael Jackson back in the mid 1990s. I knew he was coming to a beer festival in Chicago where I live, and I asked him if he would consider the following: I would brew some obscure or dead beers and he would talk about them while the audience tasted them. I ended up, with some coaching on the details as he understood them, with a Finnish sahti, a gose and a grtzer, now more properly called a grodziske, which is a hoppy smoked wheat beer. That was pretty far-out stuff at the time, but I had been researching them from old books at the time. The beers turned out great and Michael, as always was very generous and said nice things about them in front of the crowd. As a hombrew experience, it's hard to beat something like that.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.

Randy
: This is a question always asked of the "beer-famous," and it somewhat unanswerable. It varies by the season, mood, stage of the evening and any food on the table. I like beers that are nuances and layered, that tell stories, transport the drinker and reveal their charms over time. That's what I'm always aiming at. I think a great session beer can be a true work of art. I am not a big fan of "turning the volume up to 11," and think the arms race much of the craft beer segment is engaged in is not all that creative or interesting and to be honest, a similar direction to where the wine world has gone--to it's detriment, I believe. I like an intense beer at the right moment, but more is not always better. In general, I would say I'm not into muscle cars and am more of a fan of the European sports car approach, where balance, handling and finesse are coupled to ample power.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Randy: Pretty much livin' it. We're still working on some aspects of the Buckapound, like fermentation vessels and temperature control. Glass carboys are too hazardous in a commercial situation (and also at home, maybe?), so we're using a 17-gallon stainless conical I made, plus some newer plastic carboys and looking at some simple stainless fermenters.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Randy: I don't know. I was luck enough to fall in with some very smart and nice people: Charles Finkel of Merchant du Vin, who published my first book and introduced me to Michael Jackson, Charlie Papazian and the other legends. I guess I never would have guessed how helpful and friendly the homebrewing and greater beer community has been and continues to be. I hope we never lose that sense of easy camaraderie, and I always urge new brewers everywhere to be a part of it.
Austin: Is there anything you'd like to share with homebrewers about your experience transitioning to the world of professional brewing?
Randy: It's been pretty seamless for me, as I'm not the guy on the brew deck sweating over a double batch, so it's not a daily chore and I still enjoy it. My homebrewing gradually slipped into pilot-brewing then to scaled-up recipes brewed elsewhere, and now my system is in the commercial brewery being used by the crew at 5 Rabbit and sometimes me. I enjoy the additional challenge, as I do with my writing and design work, of making a product work for a lot of other people and be successful in the marketplace. That's probably one of the biggest differences from homebrewing where your "market" is your family and freeloading friends who are pretty happy to scarf down whatever you pour them.

If you do plan on going pro, learn to be a fabulous homebrewer in the meantime. While many things are different, understanding a wide range of ingredients, knowing how to put a great recipe together, working withe biochemical processes and yeast wrangling are are all pretty similar and will apply no matter how big the system is. Of course, there's a lot of industry-specific stuff to learn, but that's no substitute for the fundamentals of flavor, quality and creativity.
Austin: What changes do you expect to see in the homebrewing world in the next 10 years?
Randy: It's hard to say. The last decade brought so many changes:
  • The beer is getting even better
  • There's a lot more information available and it's of better quality as well
  • People have become more adventurous and creative in their brewing
  • More variety in ingredients and equipment
  • Homebrew communities from the grassiest of roots to the AHA, have become much more widespread and stronger
  • The movement has become much more diverse, especially with women who are taking their rightful place in the hobby; minorities are right behind.
  • Homebrewers have become more politically engaged and capable, taking on laws that threaten their interests and activities--and winning
  • Homebrewers are helping research and revive lost historical beer styles
  • Homebrewing has gone global, and is exploding in places like Poland, Korea and South America.
So I would expect a continuation of all of this might lead to the league of Inuit women spontaneous medieval oat beer brewers, or something along those lines. Seriously, the energy out there continues to amaze me. It's gratifying to see that new brewers are gravitating to the hobby despite the fact that the market is awash with great commercial beers of every description. And it's fun to see that the rest of the world is adopting to our uninhibited and passionate brewing style. It's a breath of fresh air in some rather stultified beer "cultures," and I expect it to cause the same upending of the established order everywhere else as it did here. Good times, for sure!
--Randy
Author of Radical Brewing, Tasting Beer and the soon-to-be-published Mastering Homebrew and A Beer for All Seasons, Randy Mosher has been homebrewing since 1984. He teaches for the Siebel Institute, is a creative consultant to the craft brewing industry and a partner in two Chicago-based breweries, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria and Forbidden Root-the country's first botanic brewery.
 
Great stuff!! I would have been curious to know if he is aware of the Radical Brewing-derived 12 Beers of Christmas brewing project that has occurred over the past few years amongst brewers here on HBT...
 
Very impressive read! I like to see a home brewer go so far in this happy madness we're all in love with! I like extinct or historical brews myself. It's fun to recreate something from the past that many would likely enjoy today. And being a fledgling writer myself, I'm finding that aspect of creativity fun & challenging. Now if I could just master the print version of self-publishing? Kindle is OK to start with, but print opens up a whole new audience. Congradulations on how far you've gone, sir!
 
I had the pleasure of meeting Randy this summer and enjoying some of his 5 Rabbit brews. The mango one was very nice. He truly is a great guy and easy to talk to.
 
I loved Randy's book Radical Brewing, and have a Nirvana Chanterelle ale in the fermenter right now. I brewed it last year and it was awesome! I made enough extract for one more brew after this one's gone.
 
I just started reading Radical Brewing and I love it. Even though it packs a ton of information, you could even read the book just for it's entertainment value. The way it is written will make you laugh out loud.
 
This makes me want to pick up a copy of Radical Brewing even more. One thing that stuck out to me here is his view of how home brewing has changed and what can come of it in the future. As a new brewer and not having anything to do with brewing or people who brewed previously, it is wonderful to see forward progress.
Great article and obviously he is an asset to the homebrewing community.
 
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