The is the first in a multipart series where we’ll be introducing you to our team at Mill Creek. This week, we sat down with our two brewers over a beer to get to know them a little better. First up: Becky Hammond, Brewmaster.
So what are you drinking right now?
This the Bearded Iris Habit IPA.
Why that beer?
I’m not one of those who come in and want the weirdest beer out there. I just figured I want an IPA, Adam said it was a good IPA, and there you go. And it IS a great IPA; this is my second one now. It’s very well done. It’s not overwhelming, easy on the palette, I mean it’s just a beer that goes down easy.
So what got you into beer?
Well my first experience with beer was with my dad; he drank Guinness and let me try it, and that was my first taste of beer. And I basically drank Guiness from then on, through college. What REALLY got me into beer was in college I lived about 150 yards from a bar – it was called Nick’s – and it was just a small, hole-in-the-wall place. Nobody went there except for professors and weird kids, and apparently I was a weird kid. They only served craft beer – there was a little bit of wine – but it was all craft beer. And I would basically go there every day after work or school and have a couple pints, do whatever I needed to do, then leave.
And that was my place. And all of the sudden I started noticing that I liked this whole beer atmosphere beyond just drinking it to get drunk. I started keeping a journal there, and I had my name on a plaque there.
So you were super organized about it.
Yeah, and so I really liked beer at that point.
What was your major?
I was the world’s longest major. It was a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a focus in marine biology and a minor in entrepreneurship. Borderline double-major, but it was a minor. So basically I was in the bar with all the doctors, and they would go to their, you know, pharm classes and I would go and study fish.
So did you ever do anything with marine biology?
I started with marine biology, a little bit, but long story short: I ended up getting really sick at the end of my college career, and I ended up having to put diving on the side, which of course you can’t really do fish if you can’t dive. So that’s what eventually led me into brewing.
So what was that path? You obviously liked beer.
I loved beer. I kept – and I still have it today – my journal anywhere I go. I write down where I’m at, the city, the date, who I’m with, that kind of stuff. But because I could no longer do marine biology, I took a year off, got healthy, and then I went and backpacked in Europe for a while. And it was really the beer culture over there that set me in line with brewing over here. So you know, over there, it’s just completely integrated, it’s communal, people drink beer with breakfast and lunch, and it’s just a community thing.
And I think I was in a German cafe, and I was like “I’m gonna make that product. That’s what I want to do with my life.” So I came back and just kind of went for it.
And you started off in Nashville, right?
I did. I interned for Jackalope, slash I washed all their kegs. But I was able to watch what they were doing and think it was really cool, and I got really lucky in meeting who I met. I met a man named Alan Corey, who was the CEO of Craftworks, which owns Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch. I got a job with them, and so that’s kind of what accelerated my career pretty quickly.
And they have German training through Rock Bottom, right?
They do. So you have the German side in Gordon Biersch, and you have the American ale side in Rock Bottom. I did get training in both, but I was leaning more towards the ale side. So I could’ve gone on and been the head brewer at a Gordon Biersch, but I said no, I want to be in an ale house, because I like the little bit relaxed creativity in ales as opposed to German lagers. And I hate filtering.
But Gordon Biersch is pretty true to style. Their Schwartzbier is one of the best I’ve ever had. They do it right – it’s fun to go over there and drink their beers. It’s great to learn from them; the Germans know a thing or two about beer. Just maybe one or two.
So you weren’t just brewing over at Rock Bottom; you had a lot of customer-facing responsibilities too, right?
Right, so I stayed in the brewpub setting because one of my favorite things to do was work a 10-hour day and leave; and by leave I mean literally go outside the glass wall, sit down at the bar, and talk to the guests who were drinking the beer. In any of the Rock Bottoms I was at, we didn’t distribute except for personal kegs and things like that, so the only time they could drink that beer was at Rock Bottom. So that was really great to sit down with four five guests and say “What do you like about that beer? What do you want next?” That kind of stuff. And as far as Rock Bottom goes, as long as you have 5 [preset] styles on tap, the rest of the taps are whatever you want to do. So the creative freedom there was great; it was a great environment.
I bet it was nice to get that immediate feedback.
Exactly. It was cool; I liked it a lot. Brewpubs are a different world than production, but they each have their perks.
So if you were on a deserted island, what 5 beers would you bring along?
I’ll go ahead and start with my crap beer: I will always stay true to Schlitz. In college I could get a Shlitz can for a dollar. Then I did some research into them and they’re one of the only guys who’ve gone back to their pre-WWII recipe. Everybody changed during WWII because of rationing; they’ve actually gone back to before WWII.
Beer number two would be Guiness, just because I have to pay homage to my dad, growing up. It’s a beer I can drink like no other.
Number three would have to be.. I always forget the name.. Buffalo Bill’s pumpkin, from California. They’re really the first pumpkin beer that was mainstream in America. They used Thomas Jefferson’s old recipe. When the pilgrims came over here, they couldn’t use grain for their recipes, so they used 100% pumpkin mash. So all the beer brewed in America in the early days was pumpkin beer. That’s why I like pumpkin beer so much, just because it’s more of a heritage thing and less.. you know, nowadays it’s all pumpkin spice. I don’t want Starbucks in my beer glass; I want true pumpkin.
And from there of course, for four and five, I’d do Cantillon and Chimay [breweries]. Anything I can get my hands on.