Interview: Southern Tier Brewing co-founder Phin DeMink

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Phin DeMink co-founded Southern Tier Brewing with Allen “Skip” Yahn in 2002 in upstate New York. On June 9, I met DeMink at the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Brew Fest, and he 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?

I actually went to school for furniture design, but I wasn’t super excited for that, so I switched up and changed to industrial design. Then I also did a little bit of industrial engineering. So at first, not really. I didn’t think of going into the brew industry. I didn’t think you could make a career out of it. Things have obviously changed quite a bit, and I was able to make a good go of it. I was always a homebrewer. I started homebrewing, I think, when I was 16. So it was kind of an obsessive hobby that fortunately I was able to turn into a career.

Do you remember what your very first homebrew was, or how it turned out?

It was a cinnamon nut brown. It was awful, but we figured it out.

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

I’ve got a lot of good friends in the industry, so I’ve got a lot of good people to bounce things off. There are a lot of good brewers out there. I was good friends with Matt Brynildson growing up, so he’s obviously done great things with beer. Working with him and brewing with him has definitely helped influence some of the things I do. There are a lot of great brewers out there I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with.

What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in your brewhouse?

I look for people who are passionate about beer, have a good work ethic. You’ve got to be into it if you’re going to brew.

What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Southern Tier?

I’m a big balance freak, so no matter what we do, I like to make sure it’s balanced. I don’t want any one ingredient, or one raw material, sticking out. It’s got to be a nice blend of everything going on in that beer, so all the flavors work with each other.

Do you like to listen to any kind of music while you’re brewing?

When I homebrewed, I used to like to listen to Phish, but I don’t really have any particular music that I listen to.

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

I’m not ultra picky. I like beer that’s fresh, so I like to look at date codes pretty frequently if I’m going to buy. I drink a lot of Sierra Nevada. I’ve always liked Sierra Nevada. I love all the Firestone products. I’m a big fan of Bell’s. The guys out at Revolution in Chicago, I think they’re doing a really bang-up job. I could go on and on. There are just so many good beers now, it’s hard. I like to try new things, but I have my old standbys that I like to go back to.

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

I really like Cologne in Germany. I’ve always had a soft spot for Kolsch and steak tartare.

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

If I could only drink one more beer, that would be a sad day. That’s a good question. I would probably – I don’t know, I’m stuck – I’m not sure what to do.

Address: 2072 Stoneman Circle, Lakewood, NY 14750

Joshua Lurie

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

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