Brewer Q&A: Geoff Wenzel, New Belgium Brewing

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

Geoff Wenzel, Head Brewer, New Belgium at The Source Hotel — Denver

BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?

WENZEL: I’ve had to ignore beer clarity. Just kidding, not really. I think a few years ago everything was about consistency of your beer portfolio, but now it seems to be that the customer just wants something different every single time. Honestly it’s a bit more fun for me as a brewer that way, but definitely hurts some of the great legacy brands that have built this industry.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?

WENZEL: I’d have to say my homeboy, Kevin Davis. He’s brewing at Red Rock in Utah now, but we first worked together at Keegan Ales in New York — nearly 12 years ago now — and then crossed paths again at New Belgium, where we worked together for four years. I definitely learned more from Kevin than anyone else in my career. He was always good at lending a different perspective and not really sugar coating anything. Kevin basically turned me from a kid who thought it was cool to make beer into someone who strived to be the best brewer I possibly could be. Thanks KD.

BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?

WENZEL: We recently opened a brewery here in Denver and rushed to get all the equipment into the space, erected and installed. Then it was time for our manufacturer to come commission the brewhouse. A day or two before they were supposed to be here, they went out of business. With the help of our electricians and mechanics from our Ft. Collins facility, we were able to fully commission the brewhouse and start brewing that day. As a relatively large brewery, we have an amazing amount of incredible internal resources, and a moment like this really proved that fact for me. Then after connecting with some friends on the East Coast, I found out we were not the only ones affected by this company shutting down — breweries had paid deposits for yet-to-be-built equipment, some had tanks on the production floor waiting to be finished, others had to fly across the world to ensure their finished tanks would be shipped. Long story short, the lesson learned is to not beat myself up over things out of my control. I’ve come to realize it could always be much worse, so be proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish with the tools you were given.

BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?

WENZEL: I’d have to go with our Hop Back. Our Source Hotel Brewery is the first New Belgium Brewing Brewhouse with a hop back. It is just such a versatile tool in my opinion. You can pretty much throw anything in it to impart flavor. I’ll probably use to steep some turmeric and ginger this week. I’ve used it as a grant when I had a terrible run off. Then of course we’ve been able to use it for whole cone hops. It’s just a fun little toy that has a bunch of applications. Versatile equipment usually enables brewers to do some pretty incredible things.

BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?

WENZEL: I’d say higher quality standards. It’s a fairly large investment to start a quality program and it is often overlooked by startups. I understand how tight money is for some small brewers and startups, but I think the investment in beer quality is necessary to stay relevant in today’s ever-crowded craft beer market. If a wine or spirits drinker is just trying to get into craft beer, and all he’s getting is beers that are oxidized or have diacetyl or mercaptan or butyric acid, they are not all that likely to continue to drink beer. Well, I guess if you like Chardonnay you might disagree.

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