"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kyle Hollingsworth: Musician and Brewer

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Hollingsworth, keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident, about his life in homebrewing.  Hollingsworth will be leading a homebrewing demonstration at Boulder Beer on July 23rd.  He will also be releasing Hoopla Pale Ale, a collaboration between himself and Boulder Beer, at the Boulder Beer taproom on May 14th.  Please visit the original Examiner.com article as well. Below is the interview in its entirety.
These first few questions are going to be about you as a brewer.  People can tell a lot about a man’s character by the way he plays music and I think you can tell a lot about a man by the way he brews.  What is your favorite style of beer to drink and brew?
I would say my favorite style of beer to drink is currently IPA.  It has been known to change but I’m currently in an IPA phase.  And to brew, it’s about to the same although I have been experimenting with some other styles as well but it has mainly been IPA.
Do your preferences change with the seasons or does it come and go at random?
It is where I am right now as far as taste.  It is across all seasons.
What is your stance on additives in beer?  Are you like Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head who pretty much throws the whole kitchen into the brewpot or are you more on the side of the Reinheitsgebot and use only the four main ingredients?
No, I’d say I’m much more like dogfish: like Sam.  I feel [Hoopla] is very similar to the way I live my life and the way I play music.  I explore musically as well as when I brew.
What are some of the weirdest additives you’ve used in a brew?
Recently—I did [this] for an event I called Hoppy Holidays—I did [a beer] with the Avery brewery here in Boulder.  We were trying to think of Christmas-type herbs.  There’s myrrh, there’s frankincense, but that doesn’t make any sense so how about sage?  We tried a sage beer—a sage IPA—which kept getting thrown out.  But we did end up using thyme, we had a thyme IPA.  I’m sorry, a rosemary IPA.  And then we did a juniper orange IPA.  Actually, it wasn’t sage.  I was wrong, it was thyme.  The thyme was way over the top.
I could probably guess with the answers you’ve already given me but do you consider yourself a “a dash here, a pinch here” kind of brewer or do you like to take meticulous measurements?
How did you first get involved in homebrewing and how did that eventually evolve into The Brewru Experience?
So, you read the press release?  I started brewing many years ago in my basement back in Baltimore where I’m from.  Basically, I was interested in what my brother was doing.   I was 18 then and I’m 42 now.  So, it was “Oh, this is really cool.”  Part of it, when you’re 18, is making beer and drinking it before you’re 21 but also the process and the art to it was really intriguing to me.  I’d never really been into cooking but I felt it was a similar vibe.  It’s a craft, beer-making. 
For people coming out to The Brewru Experience, what can they expect?
You’re the first person to talk about that, which is great.  The Brewru Experience is going to be more of a craft brewing—or, I’d say, homebrewing—101.  It may not be for people who are veterans but I’m hoping to have some experiences for them, too.  We’ll all be talking about different styles of beer first.  Then, we’ll go through the ingredients (hopefully I’ll have ingredients with me) and we’ll pass [the ingredients] out and we’ll talk about the homebrew style and what works for commercial breweries, too.  We’ll talk about the differences between those.  We’re working on making a brew on-site.  As a musician, I’m appealing not only to homebrewers but also—potentially more so—to fans.  It is my mission to get fans into making homebrews. 
What is your inspiration for Hoopla?  Was there another beer that sparked the muse inside you?
The inspiration was based completely around [making] a drinkable, summer pale ale that would be good in festival situations.  String Cheese plays a lot of festivals—Bonnaroo, for example, is one of the big festivals we’ll be playing this summer.  In Tennessee, when its 100% humidity and its 95 degrees, I was like, “let’s make a beer that’s meant for the people watching the music.”  I wanted it hoppy but I didn’t want it completely challenging for the palate.  I wanted it to be refreshing as well.  I call it a new category of beer: a sensible pale ale—a SPA.  My thought is to bring it to a lot of these festivals and make it more of a summer drinking beer.  It’s not in any way a wheat beer, I really wanted it to have the body of whole hops so I chose pale [ale].
You’ve been quoted as saying “Beer or music, I’m willing to take risks with both.”  Do you think Hoopla is one of your more risky beers or is it low on the risk scale?
Good question.  It is middle of the road for risk for me.  I knew I wasn’t going to challenge anybody much when they’re sitting there watching Grateful Dead at one in the afternoon.  I knew I wanted something that was going to have a dry finish and that was something new that I hadn’t tried before.  I’d say medium risk factor.  The lowest risk factor for me would to just make a hop bomb.  The other side of the risk would be a Belgian.
You are having a release party at Boulder Beer.  It’s a prestigious brewery but it’s not the only one.  It’s not even the only one in Boulder.  How did you and Boulder Beer partner up?
I have, for the past couple of years, been touring the country and talking to fans—String Cheese fans and music fans—and doing meet-and-greets with many brewers from Stone to Deschutes to Dogfish to all across the country.  Finally, I put on my own brew festival which is happening [again] this summer on July 23rd at Boulder Beer.  I did it last year and they were involved and they said, “You’ve been making beers with lots of different breweries all across the country, why don’t you step it up with us and do a national release?”  It makes sense.  They’re the oldest [brewery] in Boulder and it makes sense as far as the String Cheese vibe and keeping it homegrown.  Plus, I love their beer.
Did Boulder Beer have any input in making Hoopla or are they only distributing it for you?
They are more than equal partners.  The main brewer there, Mike Memsic, basically made the recipe.  We talked about what we wanted in a beer.  We talked about the malt build.  We talked about the hops.  And then he said, “I’m going to go ahead, based on what you said, make it work back at our brewery and make the recipe.”  So he made the recipe based on our two inputs.  He is the man who made the beer. 
At this point in your career, do you consider yourself a musician that brews or a brewer that plays music or are you somewhere in between?
I’m definitely a musician that brews.  It’s funny, it’s called The Brewru Experience and in no way do I pretend to be a brew guru at all in making beer.  I consider myself a touring musician who is in love with brewing beer and [who] loves the process. 
Do you find that brewing and music complement each other?  Do they inspire each other?
Yeah, that’s where it all began.  For me, the whole thing, a couple years ago, as a musician (especially in an improvisational band) I felt like I had to be in the moment.  In that moment, while I’m in the middle of a brew or perhaps when I’m in the middle of a jam, jumping into the moment and taking the risk and taking that solo or leading that jam and, sometimes, it totally falls on its face.  But, at least you tried.  For me, that’s what it’s like when I’m brewing beer.  I brew in a very similar way.  “Let’s throw thyme in the beer.  Let’s take that solo.  Okay, it sucks!  But, whatever!”  It’s kind of that attitude of living in the moment and going forward.  That’s kind of my thing.  I don’t know if it relates but that’s my theory. 
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the beer geek community?
I think you covered a lot.  If you do mention the brew fest it wouldn’t be the worst thing.  It’s on [July 23rd] at Boulder Beer. 
Don’t you have a release party on May, 14th as well?
That’s not the brew festival, that’s just a tapping of Hoopla for the first time.  The only thing else I’d like to say to the [beer geek] community [is that] I’m so open to learning and getting critiques so I can learn from my mistakes.  If anybody would love to come up to me at one of my shows, come talk to me.  Let’s talk beer.  Let’s get into it.       

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