When I was given the choice and chance to interview someone for this series, the person was quite clear; Shane is not only close to home in location, but an amazing brewer and person of a similar mind on many things. We should all be so fortunate as to have friends (or more of them) like him. Our industry could use a few extra as well.
This interview was started in person over multiple meetings, with questions and ideas covered covered and discussed over numerous conversations. Ultimately, I sent questions to Shane based upon these conversations we have had over the last couple months. These are the final unfiltered questions, and the unfiltered responses.
Trevor Rogers: What is your job title?
Shane Johns: Head Brewer/Blender
Q: When did you start with E9 and what was your background prior?
I started at E9 in 2004 as the Cellarman. Before that I had worked in kitchens starting as a prep cook and working my way up to kitchen manager. I continued working as a sous chef till 2006 when I started a draft service company (basically cleaning and installing draft systems for restaurants and bars in Tacoma). My education was as a biology major though I didn’t complete my degree.
Q: Can you describe your brewery?
The brewery has been open since 1995. It started as a typical brewpub; 7bbl system focused on British ales. When our current ownership took over in 2011 they gave me free rein to change the focus and produce the beers I wanted to. Basically, we now focus on barrel aged mix culture beers, hop forward (IPA, pale ale) and Belgian inspired beer. We occasional brew other styles when I’m feeling frisky.
We have outgrown our current facility and are in the process of building a new facility. We will be updating all of our packaging equipment and adding a canning line. I’ll have a bunch of dedicated blending tanks and a warm room for bottles. Some large format oak barrels. And a new steam fired brew system!
Hope to get the new facility open in early 2019 but you know how these things go…
Q: If I offered you an IPA with Lactose or an Imperial Stout with Flavor Concentrate/Extract, which would you choose? Probably both, yeah? Why? Why are you so excited by these amazing bold flavors and sweet, sweet textures?
Ugh, this question! Neither excites me, I don’t understand why we need a sugary IPA or why people are using extract instead of the actual ingredient. I get that it’s a time/$$ saver to use coconut extract instead of coconut especially with the amount of coconut (or whatever adjunct flavor people are shooting for) but you can taste the extract and that’s highly unappealing, but pour me a stout I guess….
Q: Hugs or handshakes?
Q: Who is Don? Why?
Don is our resident Rock Star! Check out his band, Tacos. Being a rock star, we didn’t want him to waste away in the brewery, so after a couple years working with me as a brewer we have transitioned him to our sales manager/social media and marketing guy. He still gets to work in the production space sometimes.
Q: What excites you about the brewing industry right now?
Well I’m pretty excited that more breweries are brewing lager beers. Other than just my enjoyment of those beers, I like the idea that it’s the middle finger to macro! It’s engaging them on their turf and saying we can make these better than you. They have largely brought the fight to use with the purchase of many beloved breweries. So, anything we can do as an industry to eat away at them and not cannibalize other craft breweries is exciting
Q: What disappoints you about the brewing industry right now?
Well, there are a bunch of things we can all do better. We could pay our people better, we could not over price our beer, we could try to be more inclusive. The thing I’m fired up about this week, though, is breweries trying to take ownership of an idea/style as if they somehow invented the style or are producing the best versions to justify their price point. This is straight marketing. In fact, if you read the book Uncopyable, you could find the exact strategy they are employing. I’m fine with marketing. It’s necessary, but I have a hard time respecting a new player to the game that’s trying to act holier than thou to guys that actual paved the road for them. It reeks of narcissism and lack of understanding/respect for the elder statesmen of the industry.
Q: What should we all be trying to do better?
As an industry, we could work harder to bring people over from macro to craft.
Q: If you could tell someone, either a consumer or brewer to STOP THAT, RIGHT NOW, what should they stop doing? Why are we yelling again?
STOP RELEASING MIX CULTURE BEERS YOUNG!! I don’t know if guys are under time-tables or what, but mix culture beers can’t be rushed unless you love the taste of THP!
Q: You make some amazing mixed culture beers. Why do you do that?
Thanks! I love that you can take very simply malt and hop bills and make complex flavors from using oak, mixed cultures and blending.
Well, I drink a lot of beer, but I’m inspired by fruit I might eat and the elusive flavor profile that’s always dancing around in my head that I just can’t seem to get to pop exactly how I envision it.
Q: Where else do you find inspiration these days? What inspired you to make these mixed culture and acid beers in the first place?
Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon, Rodenbach, Fantôme. To a large extent I’m still inspired by these producers.
Q: Did we just brew an imperial stout together?
We sure did, that was fun!! It will only take another 18 months till it’s ready.
Q: Why did you make me drink a bunch of bourbon?
You love the bourbon and we don’t get together enough, so I had to do something to entice you to stay up late shooting the shit.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of equipment in your brewery right now? Why? Is it a bucket?
The bucket is my most versatile piece of equipment. Couldn’t live without my collection of buckets! My favorite is blend tank, that’s where the magic happens.
Q: Can you tell me something that most people probably don’t know about the brewing industry?
Everything is always breaking and you spend half your time fixing things, and working in a brewery is a grind!! You better be ready to put in some hours. No job I’ve ever had prepared me for the amount of hours that you have to put in to run a brewery!
Q: What is the hardest part about running a brewery for you?
Time management. I can get caught in details and work on something that seems really important to me in the moment, then two hours have flown by and I’m late for some meeting or I have to stay late to get things ready for the next day. I’m lucky that my bosses and wife are understanding.
Q: What do you think about the increasing movement away from 750ml bottles to 500ml?
Well, we have recently switch to 500ml bottles. It wasn’t driven from a production standpoint, I can tell you that! The 500 has added a bunch more labor to our bottling runs. Like many things, switching to smaller format was done because consumers seemed to think a 750 is just to damn big but a 500 is just right I don’t really get it. You typically pay a higher per oz price in a 500ml then you would in a 750ml, but apparently that extra 250ml keeps you from ticking 10 beers a day…
Q: Why are 375ml bottles amazing or terrible?
Amazing, perfect single serving. Also terrible because it’s double the amount of time packaging…
Q: Tell me about cans. Really, I know very little about cans.
Well, I’m not canning yet. Let’s revisit this in a year. I’m sure I’ll have a few horror stories by then.
Q: Tell me about a favorite beer. What are you drinking and enjoying right now? Why should people drink this (or stay away from it and leave it all for you)?
Well, I’m a simple man. My favorite beer is drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze. Love everything about it. I’ve also been drinking a lot of de la Senne Bruxellensis. If you see these beers, either buy and drink them or just drop them by E9. I’ll gladly drink as many of them as I can get my hands on.
Q: What’s your favorite beer adventure(s) or destination(s)?
Belgium has been my favorite beer destination. Can’t really beat it. But anytime I can get to a friends brewery and have a few laughs and beers with them it’s going to be an adventure!
Q: Why do you have and wear so many Holy Mountain Brewing hats?
Other than Colin and Mike being my buddies, I’m also the official hat model for them. I’m always open to working as a hat model for other breweries. My fee is 1-3 beers depending on how nice the hat is. So, if you need a hat model, please send beer and a hat to E9, care of Shane.
Q: Can you say something that you are optimistic about for the brewing industry or a particular brewery or region in the coming years?
Unfortunately, I’m a terribly pessimistic person, so I got nothing…. Wait, I think that the west coast will finally get recognized as the best coast.
Q: Can you tell me something that terrifies you so we can end on a bright note?
Rats. Nasty critters.
Q: Can we go catch some crab soon?
Can’t wait to go catch crab with you!!!