As the beer world shrinks with breweries on every corner, it’s more important than ever for the industry to expand its world.
Beer styles span the flavor spectrum and the blanket statement “I don’t like beer,” likely no longer applies. With more breweries treating beer as an art form, specifically a culinary art form, the market of beer consumers likely will continue to grow, even as statistics show consumer sales shifting away from beer to wine and spirits — the craft segment grows, while the macro beer (Bud, Miller and Coors) shrink.
Perhaps no brewer in Grand Rapids represents this expanding viewpoint on beer better than Creston Brewery’s co-owner and head brewer Scott Schultz, so GR|MAG caught up with him.
GR|MAG: How’d you fall in love with beer?
Scott Schultz: I’ve found that I’m obsessed with my olfactory sense when it comes to food and drink. I love to cook and brewing beer is definitely a culinary experience like no other – kind of like making a soup that takes a month to prepare before it’s ready to consume. Turning amazing raw materials into something greater than the sum of its parts is a scratch that will never quite be itched, that’s why I’m still falling in love with beer every day.
GR|MAG: When did you start brewing? What’s your career path in brewing?
SS: I started brewing in 2007 as an assistant brewer at The Hideout Brewing Co. as a summer job between undergraduate and graduate school. That summer job turned into an obsession while doing my graduate work at Western Michigan University, and it brought me to Santiago, Chile in 2010 and a job as a brewer at Szot Microcervezeria.
Once back home in GR, I got a job on Founder’s packaging line, then quickly moved up to cellar operator and brewer for the next four years until July of 2014. Then, I started homebrewing in earnest for the first time while writing a business plan with my partners for Creston Brewery. We opened in August of 2016 and I’ve brewed all 101 batches that we’ve gone through so far, with no plans of ever stopping.
GR|MAG: What influences do your travels have on the beer? Your business?
SS: Being in Chile was a huge eye-opening experience for me in many ways. Much of Chilean cuisine is focused on showcasing plain, raw ingredients – for example, a Chilean salad is just a perfectly ripe tomato served with onion – and the beer I was making was no exception.
Using local barley that came in only three varieties – pale, caramel, and black – along with old world hops made up every variety we made, but the real star of the show was the calcium-rich water. The Andes runoff-sourced water was hard and strongly basic, which made the malty styles of beer have a depth of character unlike anything I’ve experienced since.
Traveling, in general, brings upon new cultural experiences that are essential to the human experience. I can’t quite pinpoint beyond a ton of quips and stories what traveling and immersing myself in other cultures has done for me, but I know that I wouldn’t be the same without them. We try our damnedest to create and foster new cultural experiences in our taproom whether through beer, food, community, or events.
GR|MAG: Most of Creston’s beer doesn’t align with a specific style, why not?
SS: Being obsessed with olfactory sense also made me have an epiphany: beer is not a series of styles but a spectrum of smells, flavors, and mouthfeels. Hardened styles attempt to codify those senses and end up pushing brewers and consumers alike from trying or attempting new things with what’s a pretty simple thing – a combination of grain, hops, yeast, and water. And sometimes adjuncts.
For me, craft beer’s biggest problem is audience – to properly understand style you have to have knowledge and a multitude of experiences with each individual style. To me, catering to the ‘craft beer nerd’ that has this knowledge shuts out a good 85 percent of the beer-drinking public. We attempt to change that by asking our customers “what flavors do you like?” first and finding the right beer on our spectrum for them from there. Our lack of styles attempts to make beer more approachable to everyone and less monolithic to a few.
GR|MAG: If a new beer drinker is coming to the taproom, what should they try?
SS: Try a sampler of beers that make you curious what they may taste like rather than what you’ve had before. One of my favorites is “I don’t like IPAs” or “I don’t like fruity beers” or “that sounds too weird,” but when they are able to try something without those descriptors throwing them off first, nine times out of 10 we create a new fan. Try a new experience.
GR|MAG: Where’s your favorite place to hang out in Grand Rapids?
SS: Goon Lagoon recording studio in GR is my favorite place to hang out in the world. My wife and I make music together and being in a room full of antique recording equipment, amplifiers, keyboards, guitars, and basses is like being in a whole different dimension.
GR|MAG: What’s exciting to you about the beer industry right now?
SS: What is most exciting in 2018 is that a good percentage of the beer drinking population has now grown up with craft. For those of us that remember the time of there only being boring corporate beer, or those of us holding onto the vestiges of corporate beer brand loyalty, there are literally millions of people that know why drinking an IPA from their neighborhood brewery matters.
That is now their normal beer-drinking experience – and that number only grows by the day, with the corporate beer crowd ever diminishing. The paradigm has shifted – that’s what’s most exciting.
GR|MAG: What’s your favorite beer?
SS: My favorite non-Creston beer of all time was the 2015 Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest. It was pure perfection. My favorite classic and always available beer is easily Pilsner Urquell.
*Photo by Steph Harding