Interview with Retiring Oregon Draft Tech Legend Mike Moscarelli

Mike Moscarelli photo from Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group

Mike Moscarelli is a bit of an Oregon beer legend in the craft beer community. For 27 years Moscarelli has headed up the draft department at Portland’s F.H. Steinbart – the oldest homebrew supply shop in the country. In that time Mike became a beloved member of the industry and go-to guy for installing draft systems, maintaining and operating beer pouring equipment from the home enthusiast to the largest commercial taprooms. Recently Moscarelli announced his retirement and last Monday, September 10th celebrated that achievement at a public party at Lucky Labrador Brew Pub on Hawthorne. This interview was set to be published in time for the party but Mike had already began a weekend vacatio

n to Alberta and British Columbia for fly fishing and geocaching. Well, better late t5han never…

Q: Where are you from/where did you grow up?
Mike Moscarelli: I grew up 15miles north of Berkley Cal.  In a little unincorporated town named El Sobrante. I went to college at Sacramento State, I have a BS in Environmental Resources. Park management.
Q: How and why did you end up in Portland?
MM: I grew up in the restaurant industry. When in college I worked as an RA and in the dining room. When I graduated I was offered a management job by the food service company. For them I worked at Chico State, St Mary’s College, UC Berkley and was asked to moved to Portland to work at Warner Pacific College.
After a couple of years I took a job with a San Francisco company that specialize in Health care food service. For them I work at Monticello Medical in Longview WA, Albany General Hospital, and Crista in Seattle Area.
Q: How did you get into the beer biz?
MM: My friend was visited by a guy he worked with at a New York summer camp. He was from England. Some how the conversation turned to him making beer.  I expressed that would be fun and would like to try it.  So my friend in 1978 bought me a gift certificate from FH Steinbart Co. I went down with gift certificate in hand and purchased my first batch. I kept brewing and later attend Brew Crew meeting and joined Heart of the Valley.

Mike Moscarelli in an OBF beer token hat

Q: When did you start at F.H. Steinbart and were you always in the draft department?
MM: I believe it was February or March of 1991, John DeBenedetti at the Brew Crew meeting asked if anyone was available to help. He was moving the store to a new location. I had just move back to Portland from Corvallis. I was a partner in a very active Fly Fishing Shop for 2 1/2years. It was a great shop and did very well, just not enough for 3 partners to survive on. Since my wife Sue remained in Portland while I tried to make the shop work, I moved back to Portland.
My job was to set up the racks in the new warehouse and drive back to the 6 & Salmon location and grab inventory and move it to the new location. There was about 6 of us doing the move. When the move ended I just kept coming back.  The guys in Draft, Gene and Jerry would ask me if I knew where this or that part was in the warehouse was located. I would have them describe it to me since I did not know what the name of the parts were. Most of the time I would say ‘Oh yea’ and go get it. When I was not finding parts for them I would pack up ingredients and ship mail orders. I soon was helping Home Brew customers at the counter.
Q: How did you learn so much about draft beer and equipment? Is it an ongoing process with changes in the industry or How did you learn so much about draft beer and equipment? Is it an ongoing process with changes in the indonce you know it is it fairly easy to keep up with an approach new systems?
MM: Gene and Jerry were busy in the Draft Department and I started helping them. When they would go out on an installation I would get to go in the van and help. We would set up a lawn chair in the back of the van. It was not illegal than. The more I was around them the more I soaked up. Eventually we started opening the Draft Department on Saturday since I could both sides.
Then Gene cut back to three days a week. Jerry was working towards retiring also. Gene became sick and could not work and Jerry retired. It was just me for awhile. I had to remember what they bestowed to me, their 70 years of experience.
Honestly, I think what help me a lot was being a HomeBrewer and having mentors like Fred Eckhardt.  He taught me about different styles of beer and they should be serve accordingly. When they are served that way they were so much better. So this was how I approached my installations. I am not saying I was the only one trying this approach. I do know the commercial way at that time was to install the system that would serve Miller, Bud, or Coors. Don’t worry about Craft Beers the big 3 was all that counted. Gene and Jerry were able to teach me how the system worked and why. Being a independent installer I had the freedom to approach the system as to what would make it pour properly, not how cheap I could install it.
Equipment is basically the same, there is always some one trying to make a better mouse trap. The best change I feel is getting away from chrome plated brass parts and moving to stainless.
My goal has always been to make a system serve the beer as the Brewer intended it to be.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the industry?
MM: The Big 3 are not the only beers to get the attention now. I believe most installers are trying to put in system to show case the beer correctly.

Q: What would you like to see happen in the craft beer industry ie. improvements on draft technology, education etc. or advancements and maturity in the broader beer industry?

MM: All industries have the same issue. How do I make my product stand out. Breweries are not any different. Breweries and pubs put a lot of money into decor but don’t think much about their dispensing systems. The pub is there to showcase what they do, and that is make great beers. Mean while that beer is being dumped down the drain because it won’t pour out of the faucet. Brewing and dispensing are different physics. Dispensing is not like plumbing water, gravity, temperature, material, gas types and resistance all play a huge part as to weather beer pours or not. Just reading how a system works just not make one an expert. I have help many brewers with their systems. Those that want to do their own installation I would make them do the math for the lines and temperature. I believe they learned a lot and now know how and why their system works or pour foam. Manufactures are always trying to come out with the best system and I think most of them are over kill. A system should be direct draw, which is short, easy to clean and easy to use. Long systems mean you are just dumping more product down the drain when you have an issue.

Q: What do you plan to do with your retirement, will you stay in the industry or enjoy the comfort of home or travel?

MM: I am an avid Geocacher,Flyfisher. My wife is retiring in a couple of weeks. We purchased an RV and have been weekend trial runs. We are getting prepared for when she able to travel. Most trips will be long weekend type. There is a lot of country and craft breweries to check out. As far as the industry goes, after a couple of months I will open the door for some do consulting. That is if there is any interest. I am not planning on chasing down work. I love the industry would like to stay involved in some ways. I think my days of full installs are over. I have arthritis in my left had which make some of the work painful.

Say goodbye to Mike in person at the FH Steinbart 100th Anniversary Beer Festival on Saturday, October 27th noon to 6pm. Theparty will include a lineup of curated beers and ciders, beers from local homebrewers, food carts, a raffle and profits going to the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation for brewing scholarships. $25 admission includes tickets for 10 tasters. Get your tickets today!

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: