“Waxing Poetic About Beer” with Brewer Ian Campbell
By Bill Mickelson
There’s a dramatic shift that takes place in the brewery every day around mid-afternoon. The frantic pace of the morning mellows out, the rush of a full staff dwindles down to the night crew, and the reggae and pop music on the stereo is replaced by heavy metal and hard rock.
If you’ve ever wondered what the brewery is like in the after hours, you should talk to Ian Campbell.
Ian is a lead brewer at Silver City, a sensei to the newer brewers and our crew member of the month for this past month. He has worked the night shift for almost two years and has been with Silver City for four and a half years.
I recently followed him around during his closing checklist one night. I got there right as he’d hung the last hose after this year’s first batch of Imperial Stout had been transferred from the brew system into the fermenter.
It was 10 p.m. The brewery was nearly silent, and Ian was the last one there.
[The following conversation has been edited for length, clarity and couth.]
BILL: WHERE’S THE METAL?
Ian: You just missed it. We were listening to Immortal’s ‘Sons of Northern Darkness’ earlier, just to make our upcoming Imperial Stout a little bit blacker. It’s going to be called Time Traveller.
SO THAT’S IT? HANGING YOUR LAST HOSE?
Mmhmm… What are you doing here?
I’M HERE FOR A BEER. ARE YOU READY FOR YOUR INTERVIEW?
Oh! Yeah…. Oh, that’s what you’re doing here! Just gotta shut the HLT pump off. (Ian walks beneath the brew house to shut off the pump that supplies the 180+ degree water throughout the brewery.) It’s nice when you shut that pump off. It’s so loud when it’s running.
(The brewery gets even quieter as the pump powers down.)
SO WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED ON A NIGHT SHIFT?
The cops showed up once.
HOW’D THAT GO?
Oh, just fine. He just showed up to the door because it was late and he saw the door was wide open as he was cruising by. He yelled, ‘Hello?’
I was like, ‘Hey, what up man? Guess what? I broke in, put on this uniform… and started brewing beer!’
The fire department has shown up twice. One time, somebody called in our steam stack from the highway as a fire. And you know how those firefighters love the Saint Florian IPA so they showed right the [word that rhymes with truck] up.
YOU’RE PROBABLY PRETTY GOOD AT DEALING WITH THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND COPS AND STUFF?
No, oh, no… well, nowadays… oh my god. We should have a beer while we do this…
I’m supposed to be going on a ‘cleanse,’ because the girlfriend wants to go on a cleanse.
PERFECT. ME TOO. I’D IMAGINE IT’S [DARN] NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO GO ON A CLEANSE WORKING AT A BREWERY. YOU EVER TRIED TO GO ON A CLEANSE WHILE WORKING HERE?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH SILVER CITY?
Four and a half years.
Yeah. The only other person who’s been here that long that isn’t in management is Jordan… Jordan trained me on the keg washer four and half years ago, pretty gnarly. Did you ever see the old keg washer with like 42 valves?
I think it’s still across the street. It was none of this computerized [stuff!] that you see nowadays.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE? WHAT’D YOU DO BEFORE THIS?
I was a culinary adventurer. I worked at the Silver City restaurant where I operated what I call a “naughté sauté".... I was the naughtiest sauté cook.
HMM… DO YOU THINK A POSITION THAT STILL EXISTS?
I don’t know… by the way, what should we drink?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
Hmm… What’s gonna start me off on my cleanse?
(He wanders around the conditioning tanks, mumbling to himself, looking for the right beer.) Oh my god… totally… Old Scrooge. (We laugh.)
SO YOU WORKED AT THE SILVER CITY RESTAURANT?
Yeah, I worked there for like two and a half years. Then I went out on my own and managed kitchens here and there. An aspiring chef, I thought I was going to culinary school and all of that, but beer just kinda drew me on in. I just really became fascinated with the brewing process and wanted to make a career out of it and here I am… still trying to make a career out of it.
DOES COOKING EXPERIENCE HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON THE BREWING PROCESS?
Oh yeah... building recipes, executing them. You can draw a lot of similarities between the two. I don’t know if I ever fit in with the culture of culinary people, you know, but I definitely feel like I fit in the craft beer culture a little bit better, personality-wise.
I DON’T KNOW WHERE A 7-FOOT-TALL RED BEARDED MAN ACTUALLY FITS IN.
Me neither. But I do my best.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT BREWING BEER?
Uhh… I like to drink beer… and play guitar and… I’m a big fan of pinball. I also have a girlfriend, she’s pretty cool.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CAT. WHAT’S HER NAME?
Her name is Trixie, short for Beatrix. And she’s actually coming up on her second birthday. I think I might have missed it but it’s ok because she doesn’t really know. At some point this week, she’ll get a tuna cake and a little birthday hat or something.
No. We tried fire last year but I think it kind of stressed her out. Because she really likes tuna but she can’t put her face where there’s a bunch of fire. It was tough.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BEER WE MAKE?
My favorite beer, that is brewed at Silver City… man, it’s really hard to actually answer that question. That’s one that I was trying to like mentally prepare myself for…
…and I would have to say Cold One, our pilsner. It’s a really good pilsner, [Brewmaster] Don built a great recipe and really instilled in us how to brew a good pilsner, which is not easy to do. Luckily we work for a place that does a lot of good lagers. As brewers here, I feel like we are learning a lot from Don that we might not learn elsewhere, because the lagers that we do here are very technical, especially pilsner. Every little thing, every part of the recipe has to be on point or you can taste it in the end. It has to be perfect.
I like it because of that demand for perfection, and you know... you can also drink them fast.
YOU’VE ALSO BREWED YOUR OWN RECIPE, HOW DID YOUR HESH BY NORTHWEST PILOT BEER COME ABOUT?
“Hesh By Northwest” came about because I actually catch a lot of [crap] because I drink a lot of tall cans of [Vitamin-R]. So I kind of looked into how that beer is brewed and what ingredients they use in it. And I had a few other cream beers, which is what that style is called, and then I just kinda winged it the first time around. It ended up pretty good. I had a little help from [Lab / Innovation Director] Matt Riggs, building the recipe, but overall that was my first recipe that I brewed all on my own.
The second time around, I kind of knew more where I wanted to go with it. I tweaked the recipe a little bit and adjusted the hops a little bit. And I think it’s a great beer. I think there’s a future for it, somewhere down the line.
WHAT’D YOU BREW IT FOR? DIDN’T YOU BREW IT FOR A PARTY?
I did brew it for a party actually, because my band was playing a show where you’ve gotta sell X-amount of tickets to play at this venue. So we decided to brew two kegs of beer and threw a house party. We asked people five-dollars-a-cup donation, and all the punks and metalheads in Bremerton showed up and we sold all our tickets for the show.
HOW’D YOU VOTE THIS YEAR?
In which election?
Libertarian, bruh. But we’re not supposed to talk about politics when we’re drinking, Bill.
I KNOW, MY BAD… SO WHAT’S KEPT YOU HERE FOR FOUR-AND-A-HALF YEARS?
I actually almost quit once. I got offered a kitchen manager position. I was just starting out here at the brewery and I wasn’t making much money. I was still kind of working my way up, and I saw an outside opportunity for a full salary, paid time off, and all that stuff. I took it. I put in my two weeks notice here, and I went back to work in a kitchen again. I hired a bunch of people. I re-did the menu. I prepped a bunch of food and sauces and everything… then at the end of the first day, I was shutting the lights off and I didn’t feel that level of excitement walking into a kitchen anymore. The next day I came in for one of my last brewery shifts, and I was in the mill room, and I was kinda letting grain run through my hands and I thought to myself, ‘How can I leave this behind?’ This beautiful alchemy that we manage with barley and water and hops and yeast… It’s crazy. And it’s beautiful. And I love it… and I’m tearing up right now.
ME TOO… I’M GONNA HAVE TO STOP YOU THERE.
I actually said to myself, ‘I can’t leave this behind.’ So the day before the grand opening of that restaurant, I called the manager and quit... But by then he had a full menu and a full staff and all that. It was definitely an interesting time in my life. So I reneged on wanting to quit the brewery, [Director of Operations] Gary and I hugged it out and I’ve been here ever since… and I’m not gonna leave.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP THREE FAVORITE WORDS TO SAY?
Does “carne asada" count as one word or two? Let’s say tacos. Tacos, beer, and metal.
THOSE ARE SUBJECTS, NOT WORDS. THOSE ARE YOUR FAVORITE TOPICS…
Well, yeah, but they are also my favorite words to say… That’s a good silly question.
THAT IS A DUMB QUESTION.
No, it’s good… I like the silly questions in interviews.
OK, HOW ABOUT… DO YOU THINK THERE’S LIFE ON MARS?
I think it’s a possibility. Maybe not on Mars but I definitely think that there’s life somewhere else. If like we’re all there is, the universe is screwed. I hope there is. I hope they’re a lot smarter than we are. And I hope they have beer. If an alien race shows up and they have [crappy] beer then we’ll just tell them to get the [freak] out.
DO YOU THINK A BREWMASTER COULD EVER BE PRESIDENT?
Well, I think Obama brewed beer… in the White House. He wasn’t like a brewmaster but he definitely likes craft beer, I know that much. I think it’s definitely a good possibility. Brewmasters are smart people, most of them are college educated. And they are also professional drunks, so they would be able to maintain a level of calm, cool, collected buzz during those long, lengthy state meetings, ya know.
YOU’VE BEEN A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION, GOOD SIR.
There are gonna be a lot of expletives in this thing.
IT’S OK, DAN [MARKETING] WILL TAKE CARE OF IT.
Oh, Dan’s gonna hear this?
HE’LL BE THE FIRST ONE TO READ IT.
I love Dan. I got to spend a lot of time with Dan, I don’t get to spend a lot of time with him around here at work since he’s not in the taproom anymore, but I had the time of my life with that guy in Denver at GABF a year ago. It was so much fun. So hopefully he hears that. I love you Dan.
[I love you too, Ian]
Well, that's it folks! Be sure to check in next week as we meet Josh McKenna, taproom specialist and our next crew member of the month!