Drinking beer as part of your job may sound pretty cool, especially when it's beer you've brewed from your own recipe. And it mostly is.
But here’s the sobering reality from brewmaster Bryon Tonnis, who creates every beer served at the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Minneapolis: Making beer is a lot of work.
It’s hard, unglamorous work like sanitizing huge, metal tanks. Or lifting 55-pound bags of malt over your head. Or spending summer days in the company of 300 gallons of boiling, sugary liquid.
The on-duty sampling isn't always all that tempting either.
"A lot of times the beer is in the middle of fermentation," says Tonnis, 32, who has been brewmaster since 2005 and last year produced about 1,200 barrels of beer (each barrel equal to about two kegs). "It usually doesn't taste the best."
Tonnis, who studied geology in college, spent four years brewing at a Wisconsin brewery before earning an international diploma in brewing technology. The program included two months in Munich.
At Rock Bottom, Tonnis has up to a dozen beers on tap. Regulars include his favorite — Itasca Extra Pale Ale — plus rotating India Pale Ales and dark beers.
Inspired by food or other beers, he experiments, infusing the beer with ingredients such as oak, vanilla or fruit. His latest is Intoxicator Rauchdoppelbach, a strong (9.5 percent alcohol), German-style dark lager with 35 percent smoked malt, creating smoky, barbecue-like characteristics.
On certain Thursday nights when Tonnis taps a new beer, he leaps to the bar, shouts out a description and treats everyone to a free pint — including himself.
Three and out with Rock Bottom brewmaster Bryon Tonnis
- Brewing: art or science?
It's the perfect mix between art and science. You're never going to get brewing down to an exact science because you're dealing with a living thing (yeast). On the art side, it comes down to recipe work, which is one of the best parts of my job, coming up with new and different beer styles.
- What's brewing for spring and summer?
I'll have the El Hefe hefeweizen (German-style wheat beer) in April. In May, we'll do a cherry hefeweizen for a breast cancer benefit, so that beer will actually be pink. Then we'll have some sort of Belgian wit beer, spiced with orange, coriander and a nice, spicy yeast.
- Do you ever drink beer you haven't brewed?
A beer that I'll drink camping in the summer a lot is, I'm afraid to say it, Schmidt's Light. I've got some friends that like it a lot so, what the heck? I'm not such a big beer snob that I won't drink really cheap beer sometimes.