Interview: assistant brewmaster Grady Hull (New Belgium)

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Brewmaster Colorado

Grady Hull has been assisting New Belgium Brewing brewmaster Peter Bouckaert for the past 16 years, and in that time, he’s managed to carve out his own niche within the company. On June 9, we met Hull at the Firestone Walker Invitational Brew Fest, and the Denver native helped to explain how he’s found hop-fueled success.

Was it a given that you would work with beer for a living, or did you consider other careers?

No, I kind of fell into it pretty early. I started homebrewing in college and ended up changing my major and sort of went with it from there. I’ve kind of had the same career path for my whole adult life.

What was your very first homebrew, and how did it turn out?

Terrible. They were all over-carbonated at first. I can’t remember what the homebrew was, but a guy who was helping to fix my car, his name was Wally, got me into it. He showed me how to do it, how to make my own beer at home, and I’ve kind of been doing the same thing ever since.

Is there anybody who’s mentored you along the way?

A lot of people. I’ve been working with Peter Bouckaert for 16 years, and it’s helped me a lot, but really everybody I’ve worked with. The first guys I worked with taught me how to make beer at CooperSmith’s and Fleetside, and people I worked with at Coors, kind of got me started on the whole brewing industry, and all my professors and pretty much everybody in this thing.

Do you have a very first beer memory, good or bad?

I have a very first Fat Tire memory. It’s kind of funny. We used to joke about how we all had first Fat Tire memories. I was at a party, and somebody brought a bomber in. It was right about the time that people were discovering Odell and New Belgium. We got a bomber of Fat Tire and I tasted it and thought it was great. That was the first time I realized what craft beer was, and fell into it from there.

What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at New Belgium?

Every one is different. Every beer has a different purpose for a different audience, and hopefully a unique flavor or something unique about it that make people want to come back. We don’t have a formula.

Does it make your job easier or harder to have so many other craft breweries opening?

It makes it a lot more fun, for sure. It doesn’t affect my job, personally, because my job is just to go over new products and new beers. I would say it makes my job easier because we kind of feed off each other, get ideas from each other and learn from each other.

Who’s a brewer that you’ve never brewed with before who you would most like to brew with?

There are a million brewers I’ve never brewed with before. For some reason, Matt Brynildson popped into my head, but I’m sure there are a lot more than that that I’m just not thinking of them right now. I’ve never personally brewed with anybody – That’s a tough question. There are a lot of them. It’s impossible to pick out just one.

What music do you like to listen to while brewing, if any?

I’m still stuck on the music I listened to in college, grunge bands from the early ’90s. It changes a lot. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ween lately. We did a collaboration with Clutch, so I ended up getting hooked on to listening to a lot of Clutch.

Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?

That changes all the time. I usually drink New Belgium products, just because they’re available and because we have a pretty wide selection, it can fit what I’m in the mood for. Lately, I’ve been drinking quite a bit of Coco Mole and some of our Lips of Faith series beers like Tart Lychee.

If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink beer, what city would it be and why?

I wouldn’t want to rank which beers taste better, but certainly, I love Belgian beers, I love Westmalle in particular. That’s my favorite, and Orval, but I would go to Edinburgh for the beer culture. Fresh casks like Caledonian 80, when you get a fresh cask like Caledonian 80 in Scotland – and Edinburgh’s just a fun drinking town.

If you could only drink one more beer and you could not brew it, what would it be and why?

I’m going to fall back on Westmalle, like a fresh Westmalle Dubbel.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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