San Diego native Tomme Arthur has become known for producing some of the best Belgian-style beers in the U.S. He was hooked on Belgians by college and had his first brewery job at age 23. Arthur started working with Pizza Port Solana Beach in 1997 and released his first Belgian-style brew that fall: Dubbel Overhead Abbey Ale. Arthur later teamed with Pizza Port owners Vince and Gina Marsaglia on a new brewing facility in San Marcos, producing beers for Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. Under Arthur’s direction, The Lost Abbey has delivered “inspired beer for saints and sinners alike” since May 5, 2006. He made a rare L.A. appearance at Verdugo Bar on July 30 and discussed his background and approach.
Josh Lurie: How did you become so interested in beer?
Tomme Arthur: I was in college and had a friend who was really into beer. He and his dad traveled, had gone to Belgium and been to Europe and they said, “If you’re going to drink beer, you need to drink good beer.” They basically took me from being a complete newbie beer drinker at 18. I started out with Canadian beer, then English beer and German beer and got into Belgian beers after that.
JL: Where was your first brewing job?
TA: It was at downtown San Diego at Cervezerias La Cruda, which means “The Hangover Brewery” in Spanish, which is not the most appropriate name for a brewery. I was there for the start of the operation in 1996. They opened in April of 1996 and by March of 1997 they had shut down. Poor management, lack of start-up capital, all the things that typically plague operations. Not a good business model, but we were making really, really good beers. At that point, 1995, 1996, that’s when a lot of breweries got their start: Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith. All those breweries launched at about the same time. I met all the people in the San Diego brewing scene, including the owners of Pizza Port.
JL: Would you say that you have any brewing mentors?
TA: The gentleman who became my friend, Troy Hojel, who gave me my first brewing job, would be the closest thing to being a mentor. He and I were close in age, so it was more pupil-teacher, but at some point I learned a lot from him. I learned as much as I could from him, then took that on to translate my approach to brewing.
JL: What was the first beer you ever brewed?
TA: The first beer I ever brewed at home was a stout. It was from a bottled extract home brew kit. Commercially, when I got handed the keys to be the head brewer at Pizza Port, the first batch I ever brewed was Shark Bite Red. It wasn’t until about six months after I started working there that they gave me the freedom to brew a seasonal beer. The first beer I ever brewed for them was a Belgian Abbey double style beer. Back in the fall of 1997 when I did that, there weren’t a lot of people making Belgian-style beers in San Diego. It was pretty novel at that point.
JL: What’s your first beer memory?
TA: My dad asked my sister to grab him a beer out of the fridge. It was a can of Coors that landed on her toe and broke her toe. I remember that very vividly. That’s certainly maybe not the first, first one, but certainly an indelible one. I just can’t get away from it, dropping the can on her toe and doing some damage.
JL: What’s the most recent beer that you developed and what was your approach with it?
TA: Over the past weekend we released Duck Duck Gooze, which is a blended sour ale that came from our barrel program. I love the Lambics, the sour beers of Belgium, and I wanted to take some of our beers and age them for one, two and three years and blend a portion of each back together. The inspiration was gueuze Lambic, but with the American spin that it wasn’t spontaneously fermented. It doesn’t have as much unmalted wheat, but it has the same basis of one year old beer, some two year old beer and some three year old beer…By not having spontaneous fermentation, you cannot legally call it gueuze. We spell it gooze as it duck duck goose, so it’s G-O-O-Z-E. We’re calling it an homage to a traditional geuze, but it’s more of a New World interpretation of it.
JL: Who are some other local brewers you respect?