Brewer Bytes with Bull City Burger and Brewery
An Interview with Seth Gross and Luke Studer, Brewmasters
Posted on 5/10/2012 by Chops
Bull City Burger and Brewery is a true gem of the local craft brew scene. We feel spoiled as craft beer fans when we visit because these guys have completely redefined the brewpub experience. An emphasis on high quality and local sustainability has resulted in an atmosphere full of amazing beer, amazing food, and amazing people. Brewers Seth Gross and Luke Studer are crafting beers so delicious that it's easy to forget you're in a brewpub and not some fancy pants artisan brewery. We recently caught up with Seth and Luke who not only agreed to partake in Brewer Bytes, but decided that five questions were far too few to house their creative wit.
What inspired you to get into brewing?
Luke: Umm... Beer.
Seth: The glory, the fame, the fortune, the promise of eternal life, and the easy work.
Do you have a fond memory about building your brewery?
Luke: Seth and I didn't start out as friends, we were both competing for the top spot in the "Derelicte" fashion show. We even had a runway 'walk-off' to try and embarrass the other out of modeling. But we eventually got over our differences (and brain-washing) and worked together to save the Prime Minister of Malaysia from assassination.
Seth: I always wanted trench drains. I loved watching their installation. Sometimes I lay on the brewery floor and gaze into them. It's one of my happy places.
Do you have a not-so-fond memory about building your brewery?
Seth: I was absolutely terrified a tank was going to drop and crush, cave in, or be damaged when they were unloaded from the flat bed trucks, and then our beautiful brewery would look terrible. Miraculously, nothing happened.
How do you feel about your overall success today?
Seth: Is someone accusing us of being successful? Who is it? We want names and email addresses.
Where do you see your brewery in the future?
Seth: BCBB actually uses a timeline computer modeling program to project into the future. We are currently on track to be brewing beer and making hamburgers in the near future. Long range it looks like we will be making more beer and more burgers and then very long range we plan to be fatter, grayer and making more beer and burgers. That's about all the computer can tell us so far. We think it is pretty accurate. By the way, if anyone wants to buy this software we'll sell you a copy really cheap.
Luke: In the future, I see our brewery at 107 E. Parrish Street, Durham, NC 27701. Breweries are hard to move.
What do you feel sets you apart from other brewers?
Seth: BCBB has the biggest, baddest mash rake we have ever seen. The handle is like holding an anaconda and the weight of the thing builds your traps and delts like the Hulk. Our original mash rake was a garden hoe and we called it Paris. The new one is named Barbarella.
Luke: The laws of physics. Namely, physical distance and time.
What is your favorite beer or style to brew?
Luke: The next one! I still get giddy when I wake up on a brew day. Whether we're brewing a new beer, trying out some changes to something we've brewed before, or looking to duplicate a beer we've brewed many times before, they're all my favorite.
What was your worst brewing experience?
Seth: At Goose Island we tried to make a 100% Rye Sahti with Juniper berries. The mash was so thick and stuck, it took 24 hours to run off and I think we collected about 3 barrels of wort. It soured overnight, smelled like vomit and we dumped it, then went back to the drawing board. 100% Rye was a bad idea. The Sahti beer we did brew actually was very interesting and at around 1995ish, it garnered critical acclaim for trying to revive an ancient style with no available recipes at that time.
Luke: I have fairly innocuous complaints by comparison. My last brewing job, at Triangle Brewing Company, was in a warehouse space climate controlled by Mother Nature. I remember brewing in the summer in nothing but shorts and boots, and huddling up in the walk-in cooler in the winter. The walk-in was kept at 40 degrees, so it was the warmest place in the building some mornings. Still, those are fond memories now, not really a 'bad' brewing experience.
What was your best or most rewarding brewing experience?
Seth: Working with Luke.
Luke: Working with Seth.
What is something surprising you learned about brewing?
Seth: Yeasts scream yahoo! when then they first get pitched into sugary wort, but you have to listen really carefully to hear it with a stethoscope on the tank. They have very small mouths.
Luke: I was surprised to learn that brewing beer did NOT increase my sex appeal. No pools filled with scantily clad women, no derailed trains bringing me sheets of ice and ladies in fur coats. The commercials lied!
What are your favorite beers outside of your own?
Seth: We've never been inside of our beer, but like the idea. May have to try that.
What are your favorite breweries outside of your own?
Seth: I am too much of a wuss to put myself in the middle of a political mine field.
What breweries do you most respect?
Luke: Breweries with brewers that brew beer deserve a lot of respect.
What are your favorite beer styles?
Luke: I'd have to say 'Full'. I also like 'Bushy'. The 'Chin Curtain' is nice if you can pull it off, but not a lot of people can. 'Goatee & Mustache' is another classic.
Seth: 'Beers', not 'Beards' Luke.
Luke: Oh. That makes more sense. I like so many, I'll have to get back to you on that.
Where is your favorite place to enjoy a cold pint?
Luke: I hear Valhalla is a thoroughly enjoyable place to imbibe. I'd like to make it there one day.
What would you say to a beer snob who is hating on your brews?
Seth: Please see our BrewChief reviews.
What would you say to a beer novice who is trying your brews?
Seth: You don't know what Guinness tastes like until you have had it a hundred times in a hundred different settings. And that's probably true of most beers. Drink with an open mouth and an open mind. Drinking with a closed mouth makes your shirt dirty.
Luke: Thank you.
What advice would you give to a new home brewer?
Seth: Probably the same thing I would tell professional brewers. Don't skimp on sanitation. Cleanliness is everything. The best ingredients can make a bad beer if you aren't clean and average ingredients can make a great beer if you keep everything like an operating room. Secondly, drink a lot of other people's beer to make sure you don't develop a monobeeric palate. Yes, we made that word up.
Luke: When I started out, my goal was "drinkable." As long as I could consume what I had brewed, I considered it a success. Once you're comfortable with the basics, then you can start tweaking recipes to fine-tune your beer. Keep a journal of your brews, make notes on what you would change or what went wrong. Feel free to experiment; in the end, the only person that has to like the beer is you.
What is the best thing about being part of the beer industry?
Luke: Umm... the beer. And the people. And the beer.
If you could change one thing about the beer industry, what would it be?
Luke: I would install teleportals in every brewery. Then I could just open the door and step through to any brewery I wanted to visit.
Seth: Hmm, franchise laws, ABC laws, TTB laws. Where would you like to start? Maybe that's too ambitious. How about just starting with a legal definition for the word "light" on a beer?