Culver City native Alan Sprints came full circle on March 1, when the Hair of the Dog founder returned home from Portland for a rare Los Angeles event. The Western Culinary Institute grad was at Maximiliano in Highland Park to team on a beer pairing dinner with chef-owner Andre Guerrero. Before the first glass of Adam Old Ale joined baked Fanny Bay oysters with bacon confit, fennel and spinach, Sprints shared hop-fueled insights on the patio.
How did you initially become interested and involved in the craft beer community?
Well, I’ve been a beer lover for many years, from a teenager I learned to appreciate the finer things in beer. I was always looking for that new flavor, quite the experience with imported beers. I moved to Portland in 1988 to go to culinary school, and there was a vibrant craft brewing scene in Portland at the time. The idea that I could actually make a living brewing beer started then, but I never really took it seriously. I was a home brewer, brewed at home, it was a fun hobby, but I was a professional chef. But it’s a very hard way to make a living, cooking for a living, so I thought brewing might be an easier way to make a living and have a family.
You went to Western Culinary?
I did, yep.
A friend of mine went there who owns an ice cream shop, down the street actually. Scoops.
I graduated from there in ’89.
So how many years did you cook professionally before switching to beer?
I became a professional brewer in ’91, so I guess only 3 years?
How would you say Hair of the Dog has evolved since then?
Well, we still make the same beer we started with. Adam was the first beer we started with. We started with the idea that we were going to make beers that were new and unusual for beers lovers, and we still do that. We don’t only make strong beers though, I guess when I first started my idea was that we would only be making beers that were 10% alcohol or stronger, and now we have some very popular beers that are 7% or 8%. So that’s probably one of the biggest changes. We also have a restaurant now, and a tasting room, and when we first started it was just wholesale production.
So it’s come full circle in terms of food?
Yeah, it’s nice that we’re able to tell our story a little bit with people, we can give them some food and another reason to hang out, and we can let them taste the variety of beers that we make. Even though we’ve been in Portland for so many years, a lot of people had heard of us but didn’t realize that we were in Portland. So having a tasting room that’s visible, that people can come and try what we’re making, I think it’s helped the brewery quite a bit.
So what does a beer have to be, to be a Hair of the Dog beer?
Well, generally the beers that we make are beers that I like. I have that luxury since I’m the brewer and the owner. So I guess that’s probably the first thing, I have to enjoy it. We try to make beers that have a place in our lineup, so we don’t have five strong dark beers. But I don’t know what the next beer will be. We’re actually releasing a couple of new beers this year, but beyond that it’s hard to say what the next one will be.
What do you remember about the very first beer you brewed, even as a home brewer?
It was a very enjoyable experience, even the process of fermentation, watching what was going on in that carboy was captivating and interesting and exciting. The fact that you would share what you were making with people, and they loved what you were doing, what was also really rewarding. I’ve always tried to find a hobby that I could share with others, and beer’s been very good at that.
What was the first beer, and I imagine it turned out well?
Yeah, as a home brewer I imagine it was a pale ale, the first beer that I made. Brewing is a process, so I don’t know if the first beer was as good as the beers I’m making nowadays, but it definitely was enjoyable. Home brewing is a great hobby, a great way to share a craft with others and have a tie to history. We’ve been making the product for thousands of years, so it’s kind of nice to have a link with people that have doing that for centuries.
Has it made your job easier or harder, that there are so many other breweries that have come in to existence since you opened Hair of the Dog in Portland?
I think it’s actually made my job easier. Education’s always been a big part of what we do, and the more breweries there are, the more people there are out there who are telling the story, and getting people to think about beer in different ways. We were very fortunate that in Portland there were a number of breweries before we opened, and so we have a very educated consumer base. People that live in Portland support the small brewers, and if we were the very first brewery, it would be have been much more difficult.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed and what was your inspiration?
I guess the most recent beer, the new beer, will be Pannepooch, and Pannepooch is a collaboration with a Belgian brewer De Struise from Oostvleteren in Belgium. I went to Belgium last year and brewed in his brewery, and he came to my brewery and brewed in my brewery. So we are releasing one of his beers that he made in Oregon. Instead of pannepot, we’re going to call it Pannepooch.
And what’s the style?
It’s a Belgian abbey beer, a quad. It’s a fisherman’s ale actually, pannepot.
What are your favorite aspects of beer-pairing dinners, and what do you think are the keys to their success?