Brewer Q&A: Justin Hawke of The Moor Brewery

Interview with a British brewer has some interesting results-PGA

Written by Ben McFarland for thedrinksbusiness.com

Age?

Old enough to have an aching back and wish I could start counting backwards, young enough to still look roguishly handsome

How did you become a brewer?

I got the inspiration to home brew from one of my career advisers at West Point. Up until that point I thought beer just got magically made in the heavens. I never considered I could aspire to more than drinking and appreciating it. When we moved to San Francisco I got into the home brew scene and stuck my nose into some breweries that my friends worked for. One of them told me I should open my own brewery rather than work for someone else as there was no money in being a brewer. What he didn’t realise was that there is less money in owning a brewery than working for one!

When did you have your beer epiphany?

My dad gave me a sip of Paulaner Dunkel and I instantly loved it. Then he introduced me to real ale as a teenager when we visited England. It was in a Samuel Smith’s pub and if memory serves me well was Museum Ale. It’s been all downhill from there.

Who has been your brewing inspiration?

My Dad gave me my love of beer. We used to “hunt” beers and referred to Michael Jackson for inspiration since I was a kid. Within the industry I probably most admire Fritz Maytag of Anchor. Everything he does is quality and his team are second to none. You just need to look at his revival of so many dead styles, the investment in building a world-class brewhouse and distillery, the way he nurtured a family with his employees, iconic branding, the list goes on. Without him I don’t believe we’d have had the craft brewing revolution. It was heartbreaking to hear about the sale of the company, as it will never be the same without his personal ownership and control. As a brewer, I can’t help but be inspired by what Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River has done with both hops and sour beers.

What was the first beer you brewed and what was it like?

My first brew was a kit brew from Costco that I got for Christmas from my wife in 1995. Boy does she regret that now! It was a Pale Ale. The yeast packet was dead and nothing happened for two days. In a panic I went to the homebrew store asking lots of questions. They diagnosed the problem, gave me a couple of packs of yeast to repitch, and everything went fine from there. I think that first experience traumatised me, as to this day I remain overly anal about my beer.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a brewer?

Wondering, “what if…”

If you could have a beer from another brewer, what would it be?

My desert island beer is Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA.

What’s your top hop?

Citra, but I’m still looking.

How would you describe Moor Beers in three words?

Modern. Classic. Intense.

Favourite Moor beer?

At the moment I’m caught between Northern Star and Illusion. To me, both of them are wow beers, but so amazingly drinkable. I strive to capture the flavour and impact of the “I” beers, but at a session strength. I don’t think we’re far off the mark.

Favourite pub/bar that serves Moor?

You’re trying to get me into trouble now! We’ve got a very strong affinity with the Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham. The pub gets it all right – great food, drink, atmosphere, and people. All of the beer we do for them is naturally conditioned – cask, keg and bottle – which is how I wish all venues would take it. The beer is so much better that way. Thankfully they have the confidence to educate their staff and customers, and as a result sell more unfined beer than anything else. And they were AA Pub Guide Pub of the Year. Coincidence?

What’s the secret to good brewing?

We’ll ignore the obvious ones – cleanliness and attention to detail. I’d say “touch” the beer as little and as gently as possible, and most importantly, leave all the goodness in. I understand why people have different processes and techniques, but for me the simpler the approach, the better it is. I avoid pumps and extra transfers like the plague. Every time you move beer you risk oxidation and contamination.

What is British brewing doing right/wrong?

Right – What we’re doing better than anyone else in the world is cask conditioning. It’s not the right format for all beer styles – some are better suited to higher pressures and cooler temperatures. But when the right beer is conditioned well, it is the pinnacle of the brewers’ art. We also get the session beer, which has been lost to most other countries. The bigger beers may be “better” and “more interesting”, but they usually lack drinkability.

Wrong? I spend most of my time on brewery tours talking about these next two items – clarity and dispense. I understand how clarity got associated with quality in pubs, but it is ignorant and out of date. Nowhere else in the world are people so incorrectly judgmental of beer based on its appearance. In fact, in most other countries it is the “cloudy” variants that are superior. If your IPA in California doesn’t have a hop haze, you haven’t hopped it enough. How many people do you see drinking Hefe Weizen versus Kristall Weizen? Good luck complaining about the clarity of a Belgian beer. The bottom line is that these beers are cloudy for a reason – there is goodness in them, be it yeast or hop oil. I actually prefer the appearance of a cloudy beer, but perhaps that’s because I’ve lived in the US and on the continent. Taste my beer fined and unfined, and I guarantee that the unfined version will have heightened flavours, aromas, and mouthfeel. I can’t stand pouring fish guts into my beautiful beer, but commercially at the moment most customers demand it because they are too lazy to learn something new and actually sell a product rather than pull pints. The other topic that raises my blood pressure is dispense. Like I said before, the right beer served properly in cask is divine, but cask is not always good, and keg is not always bad. People need to drop their ill-founded prejudices on clarity and dispense and judge a beer by what really matters – aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, and ultimately enjoyment.

Favourite beer and food match?

Too many to mention, but the first that popped into my head was Harvey’s Best Bitter at the Royal Oak in London with Sheep’s Cheese from Neal’s Yard.

Which country is making the best beer in the world at the moment?

Once the butt of all beer jokes, America has reinvented itself with craft beer and in my opinion leads the world in quality, flavour and innovation.

Advice for any home-brewers out there?

Keep your day job, join a home brew club, and have fun with it. If you are a masochist then consider volunteering at your local brewery and see if it is something you might want to consider professionally.

How much money have you got on you?

Never enough!

What’s the hardest style of beer that you brew?

Brewing an Imperial Pale Ale like JJJ puts a lot of pressure on your equipment and sanity. Sloe Walker is another challenge. Hand-picking kilos of sloes challenges the hands. Then there’s Fusion…

Who would win in a fight between a lion and a tiger?

My wife would say I laze about while she sorts out the food, so I’d have to go with the lion.

What’s your idea of happiness?

A sunny afternoon in the Queen’s Arms’ garden with family and friends.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Being a control freak I’d have to do it myself.

Minstrels or Revels?

Hand-made Belgian truffles

Whisky or Gin?

Ardbeg Supernova or Anchor Junipero? Tough choice. I think I’d start with the Junipero, then beer, and finish with the Ardbeg.

What was the last CD you bought?

Pennywise “Reason To Believe”

What was the last decent film you watched?

Red with Bruce Willis and an all-star cast. It took a few minutes to get going, but then was hilarious with good action.

Can you tell us a joke? Keep it clean, mind.

The government’s beer taxation policy and system. If only it weren’t true.

If you could have a beer with anyone from history who would it be and which beer would you choose?

On a good day Henry VIII would probably be fun to party with. I’d give him Fusion and stick with something like Illusion for myself – or I’d never be able to keep up with him!