It's an amazing fact: there have only been four brewers in the twenty year history of Broad Ripple Brewpub. Gil Alberding, Brewing Business Unit Leader for MillerCoors in Eden, North Carolina, was Broad Ripple Brewpub's first brewmaster. As we approach BRBP's 20th Anniversary Party on Sunday, we are happy to present a six pack interview with him.
1.) During what time period were you at BRBP and what positions did you hold?
From 1990 to late 1991. In 1990 I met John through a home brew meeting he held at the Corner Wine Bar. John liked the beer that I had brewed. I knew I wanted to brew for a living, so I asked him if I could work at the brewery he was planning on opening. A couple weeks later, John called and invited me to go to Portland and Seattle to visit the Hood River Brewing Company. We also went to other brewpubs in the area. We had a great time and learned a lot during our stay. When we got back, John offered me the job of head brewer. Things just took off from there.
2.) Prior to BRBP, what sort of jobs did you do? What brought you to BRBP?
BRBP was my first real job.
3.) What did you do/where did you go after BRBP? How did your time at BRBP affect your career path/choices?
I went to back to school at Weihenstephan-Technical University of Munich. After I earned a Diplom-Braumeister degree in 1994, I went to Stroh and worked there 5 years. When I left Stroh, I joined Anheuser-Busch and was there for 10 years. I’ve been with MillerCoors now for almost 3 years. Positions with those companies have taken me to Tampa, St. Paul, Portland, Fort Collins, St. Louis, Williamsburg, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, and now Greensboro.
The BRBP gave me the confidence that I could brew a good glass of beer. The BRBP gave me my start.
4.) Tell us about the challenges of a new brewpub specializing in English beers blazing the craft beer trail in Indiana.
We just brewed beers that we liked to drink. I like most beer styles and John definitely wanted English beers. I would typically brew 5 gallons batches in Bloomington and bring them up to John to try on the weekends. I remember when John liked a batch, he would become excited because he knew we could scale it up to 7 bbls. The first one we made was the porter. The Red Bird Mild, ESB and Pale Ale were next. When we won the gold medal the Great American Beer Festival in 1990, we were proud and glad that we had been recognized for all our work.
5.) What are your favorite things about BRBP, past and present, when it came to beer, food, people, etc.?
I enjoyed working with John and the people the best. It was a great atmosphere because we were truly doing something that hadn’t been done in Indiana yet. It was all genuine and John was really pragmatic about doing things the right way. I admired that.
6.) I know that you have John Hill stories. Please share one. Or two. Or ten.
John and I worked well together. I remember once when I was filtering a batch on our new filter, the beer was much darker coming out of the filter than we expected it to be. Then about a third of way through filtering, the fermenter emptied. John and I didn’t know what had happened. It emptied too soon. When I opened the fermenter we figured out what had happened. There was a huge block of ice in the cone of the fermenter because the beer had frozen. John tasted the beer that had been filtered. His face lit up. John really liked the beer he had just tried. Instead of being a problem, John immediately saw it as an opportunity. The beer was exceeding strong because it had gone through a reverse distillation! John purchased a set of small beer glasses and sold the new creation as “Wee Heavy” beer. The limit was two glasses to any customer, given its strength. Wee Heavy was an instant success, and it no time we sold it all.
Another time, a glycol valve stuck open. This time the fermentation had not yet completed. Given we were using ale yeast, the fermentation stopped too soon. This time, John was worried he had lost a batch of beer. I had an idea and called the Indianapolis Brewing Company. They were brewing lager beers at the time. I asked them if I could borrow a carboy of lager yeast. They were hesitant, but once I explained the situation and assured them I didn’t plan on brewing any lagers, they supplied us their yeast.
The lager yeast was added to the stuck fermentation and the beer started to ferment again at the colder temperatures. When the beer finished fermenting, John coined it his “Cream Ale”. It tasted good and the customers liked it.
Those were some of the fun challenges you can only have in a smaller brewery.