Alan Pugsley, Master Brewer, Shipyard Brewing Company

 

Alan Pugsley, Master Brewer for Portland's Shipyard Brewing Company, is a native Englishman who helped bring the tradition of English-style ales to the Northeast. The laboratory at Shipyard is where new beers are conceived and created. (Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)

 

Editor’s Note:  Alan Pugsley, Master Brewer for the Shipyard Brewing Company, isn’t just a beer brewer.   He’s exported the tradition of English-style breweries around the world,  from South Africa to China.    Portland is now his home, some 25  years after helping to set up the first craft brewery in the Northeast, D.L. Geary Brewing Company.


IP:  Can you give me a short bio?
AP:  I was born in [Royal] Leamington Spa—most people don’t know where that is, about 10 miles up the road from Stratford-upon-Avon.  It’s actually one of only two old Roman spa towns left in the country.  Bath is the other one. I went to the University of Manchester for four years (1977-1981), got a biochemistry degree and watched a lot of Manchester United.   I endued up going into brewing and started my first job at the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire in January of 1982.   Thirty years, coming up.

IP:  That was where you met your mentor?
AP:  Yeah, it was owned by Peter Austin, who became my mentor.  He taught me how to brew practically  in a small brewery and how to design and build small brewing systems, brew pubs and microbrewery systems and so forth.  We  worked together building several operations in the UK and then I traveled through Europe and did jobs in China, South Africa, and then ultimately I ended up over here.

We advertised in one of the new brewer magazines for ‘brewing holidays in the New Forest’—it was Peter’s idea.   New Forest is where Ringwood is—it’s a very beautiful area and very near to beaches.   And oddly enough, brewing holidays suddenly took off.  And we got a lot of people from the US and Canadians coming over and spending time—not necessarily with their families, but coming and spending a week or two weeks at our brewery,  and I would work with them  and train them and teach them.  As much as you can in two weeks.

IP:  That’s a brilliant idea.  I’d like to do that.
AP:  Yep.  So we had a lot of fun with that and some of the (guests) ended up with breweries that I built over here.  One of them was David Geary.

IP:  Was that your first brewery here in the States?
AP:  Actually I’d already built the Granite Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January of 1985.  That was my first North American brewery… And then I came over here for Geary’s in June of 1986 on a two-year contract, to build and design their brewery, 25-barrel brewing system and design Geary’s Pale Ale.

IP: At the time was that the first brewery around?
AP:  At the time that we opened Geary’s in November of 1986, and that was the first operating brewery in New England since the last brewery had shut down, many years before that.

IP:  How about Sam Adams?
AP:  Sam Adams is contract-brewed.  Sam Adams at that time had no brewery.  They were strictly a contract brewery out of Pittsburgh.   It was a brand that started just literally before Geary’s but it wasn’t an operating brewery.  Geary’s was the first craft brewery.

IP:  When you went to school for biochemistry did you have any conception that you would be led to beer, other than you probably liked to drink beer?
AP:  Not at all.  I loved English pubs—English country pubs in particular—and the whole thing that goes with that.  I wasn’t even a beer connoisseur back then, to be honest. I used to drink lager and lime, God forbid.   I didn’t like the bitterness taste of ales, oddly enough, so I actually empathize with people who say they don’t like the bitterness of beers and so forth because I understand that.  At Ringwood is when I started to develop my palate for beer.  You have to train your palate.   One of the first things that Peter Austin said to me in my first few months there was, “Why do people even drink our beer?”  Our Best (Bitter) brew was bitter.   A bitter taste on the palate is a unpleasant for most people.  It complements all the things within, but on its own it really isn’t a pleasant taste. One day, (Peter) says, we’ll be considering making beer with strawberries and raspberries and blueberries.      Fast forward to where we are now, and our biggest brands are flavored beers.   Seadog Blueberry.  Shipyard Pumpkin.  It’s funny.

IP:  Clearly he was a man before his time.
AP:  He was a man way before his time.   And you know, he was right. And that’s why it becomes an acquired taste.  Most people can’t just jump in for their first ever beer and say, wow—I love this super-hoppy whatever.

IP:  What’s your favorite style of beer?
AP:  English Style ales. People ask me what my favorite beer is, well, it’s the beer in my hand at the time.  That’s the reality of that.  But if I’m going for a style…to be honest, most of my focus is on what we do here:  open-top English-style ale fermentation.  I tend to like beers that are 5% alcohol and down, from the standpoint of drinkability and…I always like to have more than one.
IP:  You’re a big guy; you can probably handle more than one.
AP:  Oh, I can handle a few.  But you know, I love going back to England, for instance, and going to the pub there, where hopefully they keep a beer that’s cask conditioned well.  Fifty-five degrees, unfiltered cask-conditioned ale with 3.7 percent, 3.8 percent best bitter.  A good beer is the finest thing you can do, in my opinion.  And that’s one of the things I really look forward to every time I go back to England.   To develop that culture here part of the next step, potentially.  It’s tougher because you really can’t very successfully put that beer, filter it and put it into a bottle.  It doesn’t have the same (taste) as it’s really designed to be warmer.  It’s designed to be drunk, and once you start filtering it and banging it into a shelf,  all of a sudden it doesn’t have that same fullness.  Cask-conditioned beer in this country is really on the rise.

IP:  What makes a great beer?
AP:  Everything we do here, here and anywhere else I’ve helped build a brewery, we always look at balance between malt and hops.  Even an extremely Hoppy IPA;  there’s no reason you can’t balance that with a good body…like our XXXX IPA.  I actually won a gold medal in California two years ago, in the middle of IPA hops country.  We thought that was fairly extraordinary that it won there.  I put it down to the fact that it was different.  And it was different because it was balanced.   There’s a maltiness up front even though you may really not discern it, but when it comes to the palate and drinkability and the whole sensation of drinking a beer, it all comes together.  And that’s the balance piece.
So balance and drinkability is key to all beers whether it be 7.2% Double Thumper—which is of course an outrageous amount of alcohol—but somehow we’ve maintained the drinkability of it, again, with balance, down to three-and-a half percent ordinary bitter.

IP:  How many barrels do you brew now a year?
AP:  We’ll finish up with about 126,000 barrels here (in 2011), maybe slightly more.  [In 2010] we did 98,000 barrels, so we’ve had a massive growth year.

IP:  Is that good or bad?
AP:  It’s good because obviously more people are drinking the beer , our beers.  It’s bad, because our capacity was stretched to the breaking point for the last several months—particularly during the height of pumpkin season, which became probably the most stressful time that I can remember in my career.   Not the brewing—that all went great, and kudos to my brewers and my brewery managers.  They did a fantastic job of getting it done, five brews a day, seven days a week without a hitch.  It’s dealing with the inability to always furnish all the product that’s been ordered by distributors and then retailers.   So it can become a real big problem, but that’s growth pains, really.

IP:  In a way, that’s a good problem to have.
AP:  It’s better than trying to figure out how to move beer that won’t move.

IP:  So you’re very accessible.  People can contact you directly?
AP:  I’ve sort of become at this point the  sort of the liaison between the brewing operation, the marketing sales team, and then the distributor/sales order team.  So I’m sort of the guy in the middle of orchestrating the schedule here, production here, order taking there, and sales /marketing there.   It was one thing to be doing that when we were 25,000 barrels, but now at 127,000 barrels, with one guy still doing exactly the same thing,  it means I don’t spend anywhere near as much time in the brewery as I should.  Brewing is definitely the best part of the job.

IP:  Do you still consult with and help set up other breweries?
AP:  I’m not out of the consulting business; it’s been very minimal for the past 10 years as I’ve focused fully on what’s going on here; but the ability to consult and help people  is definitely still part of my goal in the future.  There are two rewarding things (about consulting): number one is coming out with a new brand, a new beer and seeing smiles on peoples’ faces.   That feels good.  Equally as good is building a new operation with someone—a little brew pub, or maybe a craft brewery, or whatever it is, and seeing the owner  and the people who put their energy and everything into this dream all of a sudden taste those first beers.  All of a sudden you see the twinkle  in their eye and it’s like, you know, there you go.  That makes it all worthwhile.  That means more than money.  Money means nothing.

IP:  Where’s the most interesting or far-flung place that you’ve set up a brewery?
AP:  Number one?  Johannesburg, back in January of 1986.  One week after I got back I’m on a plane to China for eight days to Tianjin, which was more of a lecture role and working with fabricators over there to design and build the brewery to our specifications.  Certainly,  the U.S. is where I’ve had the most presence and most exposure and most influence,   Maine in particular.

IP:  Why Portland and why Maine?
AP:  David Geary  brought me here. I was here two years and made lots of friends.  Later when I was up in Canada I got a call from Richard Pfeffer of Gritty McDuff’s, who said he had an associate who was thinking about doing a brew pub in Kennebunkport.  It was around December of ’91.  He thought I should fly down if I was interested because this was a guy who makes decisions pretty quickly.  It happened to be Fred Forsley and it was Federal Jack’s.   I loved Portland when I was here before, and I moved back to Portland then.   That’s when things really started off with many more brew pubs in the ’90s .  One year we did 16, 17 breweries.

[Shipyard] grew out of Kennebunkport, so I told Fred we had to do something.  So Fred found this building in late 1993.  We opened the doors here and started brewing in late April, early May of ’94 and the rest is history.   That’s when Shipyard Brewing Company was born.

IP:   So you’ve been here ever since…are you a citizen?
AP:  Yes.  I became a U.S. Citizen, oddly enough, three days after 9/11.  September 14th, 2001.  It was very poignant at that moment of course.

IP What’s next for you?
AP:  Next is ensuring that Shipyard continues to go in the right direction.  I think it’s to be available for consulting if it’s available and…who knows what’s next.  Could be a pub in England, could be a pub in the Caribbean….I might be here full time forever.  I don’t know.

IP: Describe Portland.
AP:  I like Portland.  It seems like it has a big city mentality in a small space. What I mean by that is lots of culture—theatre, great restaurants, pubs, lots of crafty stores.  There’s always something new and exciting going on.  There’s fun stuff always happening in the streets.  The place is friendly.  It’s not so small that everybody knows your business.  It’s not so big that you never get to see the same person twice.

IP:  how would you describe what you do to a five-year-old?
AP:  To a five year old? I make beer.  I cook.
IP:  What’s your schedule typically on a work day?
AP:  I’m probably up around 6 o’clock and get to work around 7 or 8 o’clock.  I work until from anywhere from 5 to 7 o’clock.  On a good week I get out to brew beer.  I used to brew once a week minimum,  but now it’s unfortunately something like once a quarter.
IP: Maybe that’s a good goal for 2012.
AP:  Exactly.
IP:  What are you carrying in your pockets?
AP:  Two wallets.  It sort of balances me out, one on each side.  For some reason I’ve always had two wallets and if all of a sudden one isn’t there I’d feel lopsided.  A money clip with money in it and a comb for my hair—which I don’t have anymore,  so I can probably discard the comb—and that’s it.

IP:  Why are you successful?  What’s your secret?
AP:  Basically, I’ve never worked a day in my life. Which means, generally, I have fun.  Which means, if you have fun you generally do things well.  I think the beer business is fun, making beer is fun, teaching people to make beer is fun, talking about beer is fun…it’s just fun. I think you can spread that to employees and new ventures.  That’s success.  It’s got to be fun, in my opinion. If you’re not having fun then it’s time to move on to something else.

IP:  What’s something no one generally knows about you?
AP:  I’m learning to play the saxophone .
IP:  Tenor or Alto?
AP:  Alto. One doesn’t have time to do any of those things, unfortunately.
IP:  But the fact that you’re trying is pretty admirable, actually.  What would you be doing if you weren’t here with me?
AP:  I’d be in front of my computer catching up with production.
IP:  I noticed you didn’t say brewing.
AP:  Nope. We have five brew shifts a day and a great young team of brewers that are doing a great job out there.
IP:  What beer would you be drinking right now if it weren’t too early for you?
AP:  I  don’t know.  What have we got on tap?  I guess the beer that I drink most of is the Export Ale.  You can never go wrong with that.

 

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