Changes are brewing at Smokehouse Brewing Company. The start of 2015 finds us with a new Head Brewer.
Sam Hickey is a Columbus native who left ten years ago to pursue culinary training in Cincinnati. He eventually relocated to Boston, where, after working for a few years in casual and fine dining, he met the owner of Mystic Brewing Company, a microbiologist and brewer, and used his home brewing experience and Cicerone certification to score a volunteer position at the brewery. In the three years since, Sam rose to second in command in the brewery, playing an instrumental role in the evolution of Mystic Brewing.
A decade after leaving CBus, he’s back — this time as Head Brewer at Smokehouse Brewing Company, succeeding long-time brewer Angelo Signorino, Jr. Here are some highlights from a wide-ranging and fun conversation I had with Sam last month.
Being a brewer was something I never considered when I was young. I was pretty ADD. Every other week I wanted to be something else when I grew up. Two considerations were priest and auto mechanic.
I’d wish I could have dinner with (beer writer) Michael Jackson, Louis Pasteur and my brother Ben. Ben’s included so I’d be sure I had a good time.
My musical tastes are eclectic. Bluegrass, blues, I’m not picky. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say Simon and Garfunkel.
If I had three wishes, I’d wish for “Do what I love,” “Get paid well,” and “Have time for family.”
I was 7 or 8 when I had my first drink. My Mom let me have a small taste. It was Labatt’s Blue.
If I wasn’t brewing, I’d be cooking and looking. Looking for something else.
If I could have one superpower it would be super-vision. I work a lot with a microscope, and it would be cool to just look at the slide without squinting. No, not supervision. I’m not interested in middle management.
My favorite thing to whip up in the kitchen is anything French cuisine. Escoffier is a hero to me. I can only afford to do that about once a year, so my other favorite thing to do is walk into my kitchen, look at what’s on hand and create an amazing dinner that leaves my fiancée asking, “How did you do that?”
I’ve done a lot of things before settling on brewing. I like the challenge of wearing many hats. A brewer’s job is 95% janitorial. He’s also a plumber, mechanic, scientist, chef and critic. I like that.
My favorite beer? It changes season to season. I have had two beers in my life, though, where the entire world shut down around me while experiencing them.
The first is Field Mouse’s Farewell, a farmhouse ale brewed by Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. Dann Paquette, owner and brewmaster there is a genius.
The other is Rose de Gambrinus from Cantillon Brewery, a kind of bastard style. They didn’t want it to be confused with modern-day framboise lambics, so they called it a rose. It’s a beautiful lactic-balanced sour ale.
My fridge right now includes some homebrew, one pancake, condiments, a bottle each of Ephemere Cranberry white ale from Unibroue and Mastermind Double IPA brewed by Fiddlehead Brewing Company out of Vermont. Oh, and egg nog. You have to have egg nog, right?
The best part of creating a new beer is tasting it for the first time.
A beer I haven’t brewed yet? OK, this is hypothetical. I have been intrigued with brewing a beer that includes consommé. This seemingly simple broth includes, among other things, ground meat and egg whites, which are essential to making it clear. I’m intrigued to see if using albumen would clear out a beer. I haven’t done any test batches, though, because I haven’t been able to find a source for pig’s blood.
My proudest accomplishments so far are receiving the ACF Presidential Medallion while in culinary school and that gold medal at GABF for Vinland II, an experimental beer brewed using yeast cells isolated from a wild Maine blueberry.
(When asked where he sees the craft beer industry heading in the next decade, we expected an answer that had to do with emerging styles. Instead, this was his response.)
We are in an absolute beer bubble right now. Sometime in the next ten years, this bubble will burst. The shakeout is already starting to happen. At the same time, craft beer lovers will become open to lesser known styles. These aren’t weird styles, but rather, traditional styles that haven’t been seen in the States.
Brewing great beer is 100% democracy, rather than a dictatorship. Advice and feedback are invaluable.
My local hero (in Boston) is Will Meyers, brewmaster at Cambridge Brewing Company. He’s been there for 20 years. Some of his beers have been years ahead of everyone else. (Ed. note. If there’s a single reason Brewdood got into the craft brewing industry, it’s his visit to Cambridge Brewing Company 24 years ago when they were only one year old. Mind-blowing.)
We asked him, “Do you have a beer in mind that will rock CBus?”
I’ve got some big shoes to fill here. Angelo has been the preeminent brewer in Columbus for forever. I’ll wear my own shoes and we’ll see where that takes us.
Evolution not revolution. That’s how I plan to influence Smokehouse Brewing Company and craft beer in central Ohio.
It’s your last day on Earth. What’s your last meal? My fiancée Brittany’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownies. With milk. Don’t complicate things.
Brewdood here. This interview was a blast. Sam’s enthusiasm and thoroughness makes me wish his was starting today. (This interview took place on December 9.) Trivia: Sam could have had a brewery job at Russian River Brewing Company, working directly with Vinnie Cilurzo, owner and creator of Pliny the Elder. Sam chose us. That’s killer cool.
I think Columbus will find Sam to be friendly, personable and a brewer of the highest order. I think we’ll find Sam to be exactly the brewer required to succeed Angelo.
Evolution, not revolution. But I know stuff you don’t know. CBus, fasten your seatbelts.