Is California really a craft beer paradise? Let’s ask it to Shawn Whitaker, Production Manager at the Black Diamond Brewery.
Today I’m going to talk with Shawn Whitaker, Production Manager of the Black Diamond Brewing Co.. He comes from a place pretty close to heaven. For hop heads, at least. California in general – and West Coast specifically – seems being a stunning place for anyone who has passion for hops, at least a little bit.
What I know about the brewing scene in there it’s just the result of a far echo. Even so I’ve been able to understand the great excitement coming from there through the words of them who have lived (and survived) to describe it. But it is not enough for me. I want to hear the truth by myself. So I decided to ask for it to Shawn Whitaker. Who better than someone whom is living the West Coast on his own skin could better explain what does it mean living the craft beer scene in there? Let’s go!
Hi Shawn Whitaker and welcome to Birramoriamoci. It is a pleasure talking with you. To be fair this is a great opportunity to discover a little more about the craft beer revolution in the US. It sounds amazing to our latitudes. But I want your point of view, the thought of someone who is living it – and into it. How is the current craft beer scene in America? is the West Coast a real beer heaven like it is described?
The craft beer scene in America is booming, there are more than 3,000 microbreweries brewing beer here in America now and more seem to be popping up on a monthly/weekly basis.
To be quite honest YES, the West Coast craft beer scene has exploded, we went from being the only craft brewery in our part of the Bay Area not less than 10 years ago, now there or more than you can visit in one day, it might take you a week to visit them all. And that’s just in our small part of the Bay Area. Portland, San Diego, and Seattle all seem to be just as busy with new breweries consistently opening.
You’ve started working at Black Diamond as waiter in the 1994. Later you shifted role to Bar Manager and then you’ve become member of the sales force. And now, from 2005, you’re Operations and Production Manager. It really seems that things are changing quite often at the brewery. How did Shawn Whitaker change through the time? and what about the brewery meanwhile?
Oh, I’ve changed quite a bit, both spiritually and responsibly. Being a bartender was just that, being a bartender, but it was during my time bartending that I grew a passion for craft beer and wanted to learn all I could about it. And from that point on I spent my days off helping in the brew house, asking questions and learning all I could, from whomever was willing to give me there spare time and teach me.
The brewery has changed a lot as well, our processes have changed, the way we make beer has changed, and even the ingredients have changed. As you may or may not know, we are coming upon new types of ingredients almost every month or so. From different malt and malting techniques, to different hop varieties we can use or experiment with, to using different types of fresh fruit and wood barrels. It’s not just H2O, barley, hops and yeast anymore…
The range. As Californian brewery it could not be nothing less than tons of hops. IPA, DIPA and session IPA as well are the core range but I see a big influence coming from Belgian styles. Is there a specific signature? which has been your – of the crew – training? any significant travel to mention?
Well, our signature beers include Rampage Double IPA and White Witch IPA, both of which hops are used in enormous amounts, from bittering to dry hopping we add copious amounts of hops in most of our beers, after all that what people want/expect from a brewery like ours. We do produce some Belgian “styled” beers, but for the last 5 years or more is been about “ how many hops can we fit into this beer.?”
We are all cross trained pretty well, but we leave the “brewing” up to the brewers…
Nothing significant, I would love nothing more than to have the time to take a trip or two to come visit your country as well as Italy, to see how the rest of the world’s beer truly taste. You guys have some fantastic beers over there, but something is telling me they would taste better over there seeing as they would be a lot fresher.
I am really interested in the 15 Barrels Project. Could you describe us which was the original idea and how it works?
The “15BBL Series” is a project I came up with to keep our brewer’s minds working and letting them be experimental. There is nothing more boring than coming in to the brewery and brewing the same beer over and over, although we try small things from time to time to make even our everyday offering better, if you know what I mean. With the “15BBL Series” we bring to market new beers that either are fitting for the season, using what is available by harvest season, or just plain ole trying something off the wall and out of bounds so to speak..
This is what brewers are meant to do, they are like chef’s, they can’t just make chicken day in and day out, otherwise they lose the passion for what drew them into the industry in the first place. We release a new beer at the beginning of every month, and it’s been very successful. Sometimes if something does extremely well we may develop that certain beer into a fulltime offering if its feesable.
Black Diamond is currently a live presence on the shelves of several supermarkets (Safeway, Whole Foods, Raley’s, Costco, Nugget, Lunardi’s) as well as those of many independent bottle shops. Which is the public perception of craft beer on the supermarket’s shelves? are you not afraid of the GDO’s treatment and the possible lack of quality?
Unfortunately, they do sell A LOT of beer for us and helps us get our craft brews into the hands of a lot of people that may not otherwise know about our brew or brewery. I understand the “major market chain” thing and how it may be looked down upon, but they do a lot of work for us and are becoming more and more supportive to their local breweries.
Honestly, here in the United States there is a high standard for freshness and quality and they have done a pretty good job at helping us smaller breweries make sure we have “fresh” product on the shelves. Also to top it off, they keep it in the cold box section, rather than on some hot, dry, unrefrigerated shelf… waiting for some one to hopefully pick it up someday…
Looking at the skyline. What is brewing?
Well, we plan to bottle a limited quantity of our “15BBL Series” offering next year that will be exciting and hopefully just as well recepted as our draft offering. Also we plan on launching a series that is not yet named but the overall idea is to highlight a certain hop for the month and do a single hop series, which would change on a monthly basis. We plan to tune up our Seasonal offering to carry 4 different styles for the year, this will also be available in 22oz bottles and will highlight the pertaining season that we are in here on the West Coast.
Jolly question: which is your favorite hop and why?
MOSAIC all the way…!.. I love the tropical notes this hop provides and its diverse ability to highlight or compliment other hop varietie.. Its Mango, Passion Fruit, tropical goodness… Personally I am a “troplical” hop style lover, as opposed to the pine sap, citrus, type hops, which I am not to fond of.
Bonus question: which is your favorite Italian craft brewery/beer and why?
Is this a trick question? I thought you guys stuck to wine, although I do occasionally enjoy a Birra Morreti.
Could California be a good place to plan your next holidays? It seems so. And Shawn Whitaker’s words confirm it. There are plenty things to do and to drink, especially if you are one of those mad for hops.
Did you know the Black Diamond Brewery? what do you think about Shawn Whitaker’s words?