Brewer Magazine Q&A: Joe Pawelek, Wicked Weed

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with brewers from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers and others each weekend to help you, a fellow brewer, Brewmaster or brewing manager get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Joe Pawelek, Head of Brewing Operations, Wicked Weed Brewing — Asheville, North Carolina

BREWER: What is a lesson learned within your position that sticks with you to this day?
PAWELEK: Clean line, clean mind. I subscribe to the philosophy that there is only clean or dirty, no “kind of” or “sort of” allowed at my brewery.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
PAWELEK: Scott, the first mentor I had in brewing. He is stubborn, firm, creative, passionate, and dedicated. He instilled so many of the qualities that resonate with me to this day. I learned how to be creative in brewing, but only from his lessons in engaging the left side of my brain. I started in a production brewery, which for some brewers means leaving your idea hat at home. I excelled at planning and organization there, which has helped me grow into my current role at Wicked Weed. I found that when you plan, organize, and communicate, then and only then can you see the forest through the trees.

BREWER: What have you added to your brewery lately that’s unique or making your business more successful?
PAWELEK: Communication is paramount when you have so many departments working together. My goal is to limit the peppering of emails to all the wrong people, and limit the amount of unnecessary internal requests. We have families, we have dreams, we have a life! I want my team to go home safe at the end of the day knowing they can truly make a distinction between home and work life.

BREWER: In today’s business climate for craft beer, how will your brewery grow?
PAWELEK: Our values that we hold close are quality and passion. I believe that we have something special. Our team is unique, fun, and we are constantly challenging each other to be better. Our quality standards are very high, this has always been at the forefront of our mission statement. We all have access to the same ingredients, more or less. We keep our hops frozen, our malt dry, and our yeast healthy. Finished goods, specifically hop forward brands, are kept cold from the moment they’re packaged to the moment they’re purchased. Cold chain supply is a foundation of what we try to do, which will become increasingly difficult as we grow, but is something we are continually working on with our accounts.

BREWER: What sort of innovations in craft beer excite you?
PAWELEK: New hop varieties. I love hops and believe that you can create some very complex flavors and aromas using them. We are very excited, as always, to push the envelope of fun ingredients in beer, but I’m a firm believer that at the end of the day, beer should taste like…well, beer! We are fortunate enough to have a very large network to pool our innovations together in hopes of finding the next big thing, but it’s not just the raw ingredients that we are looking at. As a former pub brewer, it is a whole other game in the production world. Dry hopping, clarification, cold block supply, and sustainability become very innovative at this level. It is so amazing to see all the different ways our industry approaches and innovates processes and initiatives as we all grow.

BREWER: If you had one strategy that you could implement to better the craft beer business, what would it be?
PAWELEK: Help each other! We are lucky enough to be in the best industry in the world. Whether it’s hooking up your local brewery with a bag of malt or 11 pounds of Citra ten minutes before whirlpool, we are in this together. My team knows that they can depend on their peers to help in and out of the work place. The community aspect of craft beer is what drew me to the industry, there is nothing like it. Because we are all very passionate about what we do, it only makes sense to pay it forward. I have been so lucky to have great mentors throughout life and they all have shared the philosophy of open communication.

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