A brew for all seasons
People who say they don’t like beer haven’t tried enough beer, according to local brewer Peter Hoey
Peter Hoey is rather fresh-faced for someone who has been brewing—and, presumably, consuming—large quantities of beer for 11 years. And there’s a reason for this: He’s only 29 years old.
That’s right, even though he has not yet reached the tender age of 30, he is already the head brewer at the increasingly prestigious and successful Sacramento Brewing Company. Under his tenure, Sac Brew has collected numerous gold and silver medals at the California State Fair and the California Brewers Festival, and he has also been instrumental in introducing more than 20 guest taps, in an attempt to make Sac Brew a beer bar to rival San Francisco’s Toronado Pub.
I met him at 7:30 a.m. recently (a brewer’s day starts early, and weekends often are devoted for traveling to brewfests) to discuss his start in brewing and vision for the future of beer in Sacramento.
What’s your favorite style?
Kind of a tie. I really like Belgian ales, but probably I drink more IPAs than anything. That’s the beautiful thing about beer: There’s something to suit every mood.
What was your start in brewing?
I started home brewing when I moved out of my folk’s house. I grew up in a wine family. My grandparents were from Healdsburg; we always had wine in the house. I found out very quickly that it was very difficult to be busing tables and making minimum wage and affording beer. So I decided I’d make my own at home.
I’d already cooked a lot at home, so it was kind of a natural extension. I started home brewing, and it became apparent to me that that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to have a job that fueled a hobby. I wanted to do it every day. I took a look and thought, “My hobby is making beer,” and I took some steps to become a professional brewer.
Tell me about your beer Collaborative Evil.
This is the second year this project was in place. It’s run by Todd Ashman at Fifty Fifty Brewing [Company] in Truckee. The first year he did it, there were two other breweries. This year there are nine, and we were one of the breweries invited to participate.
The idea is every brewer has a different perspective. … So via e-mail, we decided that a Belgian golden ale would be a good base beer for us to jump off of. … In the case of our beer, I used a significant amount of rolled oats. … We’re serving it here at the pub, and we have a plan to have Valley Brew [of Stockton] and Fifty Fifty for a little tasting after the [Great American Beer Festival].
What do you think about brewing with [sour yeast] Brettanomyces?
Sour beers are some of my favorite beers. They exhibit a complexity that is beyond any wine I’ve ever had. … My wife tells me that my pH is off.
They’re beautiful with food, especially if you get really rich food, like lamb or risotto or something that’s got a lot of fat in it; you come in with this cutting acidity, and it’s a beautiful interplay. I’m all for it. Most brewers are nervous about “Brett.” It is very invasive. … [But] I love the flavors that it produces.
It’s a difficult yeast to work with, especially when you start talking about consistency. It does whatever it wants to do; that makes it kind of a challenge from a production perspective. The only thing you can do is let it do what it’s gonna do, and be patient because it takes a long time. … Our next release of sour beers … was brewed 15 months ago, and they’ve been aging all this time and now they’re ready to go. It’s a totally different animal almost. I’ve been brewing for about 11 years now, and you get used to near immediate gratification. You brew, and then two or three weeks later you can hold the finished product in your hand. I brewed that stuff last summer, and we’re just now getting to the point where we’re getting ready to release it.
Beersel is the name of the first one, it’s named after the [Belgian] city that the particular culture is from. … We have a couple different versions of that beer. We’ve got one with some cherries in it, we’ve got one that’s just a straight version with no fruits.
Tell me about your brewer’s dinners.
Our next brewer’s dinner is in November. We try and do it seasonally. … We pick the food then match the beer and pick the beer and match the food. … You get to play with all kinds of different things.
When you’re pairing beer and food, you can complement or you can contrast. You can take a sweet and put it with sour. You can take these really smoky beers and put them with smoked or grilled meats. There’s an endless combination of flavors you can play with, so it’s really another kind of dynamic aspect of this job.
What about your barrel-aging program?
We have six 23-year-old bourbon barrels that we’ve been running beer through. Last fall was our Old Pappy Wheat Wine. Wheat wine is a barley wine that is brewed with 50 percent wheat. It’s not a Hefeweizen kind of flavor. We chose to make a wheat wine because the barrels we have are Rip Van Winkle Old Pappy barrels, which is a 23-year-old bourbon, their top of the line. And their slogan is “Made with a whisper of wheat.” We wanted to have something that had some wheat in it; wheat wine was a natural choice. The next beer out of there will be our Imperial stout. We’ll have a bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial stout probably in October. And then we’ll have batch two of Old Pappy.
What’s your vision for the future of craft beer in Sacramento?
Its needs to start somewhere and we’re trying to start it here. … It’s a matter of fostering that mind change in both consumers and bar owners, to put more interesting beers on tap. My favorite example is that people will walk in and order “a beer” and they don’t care what it is, because most of the big boys taste relatively the same. You’d never walk into a restaurant and order a plate of food—“I’d like to have a plate of food.” Beer needs to be the same way. … People who say they don’t like beer just haven’t tried enough beer.