Our friends at The Wrecking Bar Brewpub have named Max Lager’s very own Brewmaster, John Roberts Very Important Brewer for the Month of June! He’s our VIB every month, so enjoy The Wrecking Bar’s interview with JR below (& check it out in their monthly newsletter here)
In which neighborhood do you live?
I live in the North Druid Hills area just outside of Decatur.
What is your day job?
Brewer, Restaurateur, Managing Partner, HR guy, Plumber, Electrician, Carpenter, IT support…the list is endless, but at least I’ve taken Kitchen Manager, Banquet Manager and GM mostly off the list.
You’re also very involved with the Georgia Craft Brewer’s Guild. Tell us about that and how supporting the Guild helps beer lovers across the state.
I’ve been the Vice-President and Chairman of the Membership Committee since the Guild’s inception four years ago and am about to term out. The Guild is working hard not only to bring about regulatory change that will benefit both brewers and beer drinkers, but to build a vibrant beer community to bring Georgians the best beer possible. It’s very rewarding to see how far we’ve come as a Guild in just four years and even more exciting to see what the future will bring.
You started brewing in Atlanta in 1996 at Atlanta Brewing Company and then in 1998 you opened Max Lagers. How has the Atlanta beer scene changed over the years?
Oh my, it’s a different world. When I first started brewing in Atlanta, brewpubs were popping up all over: John Harvards, Atlanta Bier Garten, Cherokee Brewing, Percy’s Fish House, US Boarder Cantina, Peckerheads… Those are just a few that came and went. Very few production breweries were testing the waters. Craft beer just hadn’t hit in Georgia and it was hard going. Those of us who were here at the beginning struggled to win over the people drinking yellow fizzy water and it wasn’t easy. But some of us persevered. Today it is much different. It’s hard to find a restaurant that isn’t carrying some craft beer and most are carrying locals. More production breweries are opening than brewpubs. Thousands crowd into every beer festival out there and there seems to be at least one every weekend these days. Georgia brewers are pushing brewing boundaries and making fantastic beer. It’s a great time to be a Georgia brewer. Imagine what it would be like if our laws were a bit more brewer friendly.
Your advice and friendship to Bob Sandage and everyone on the Wrecking Crew has been a big asset for the Wrecking Bar Brewpub. Why do you think it’s important to work together and help one another?
It’s a cliché I know, but a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s hard for people outside of the brewing community to understand our openness with each other…Hell we actually like each other..mostly : ) Really, the sense of community amongst brewers is one of the main things that made me decide to become a professional brewer. I strongly believe we have to help each other. For the most part brewers don’t view each other as competition, but as allies, always pushing each other to be better. Plus you guys are my friends…I always help my friends.
What are your plans for the future?
Personally I plan on doing more traveling, both beer related and not. Plus golfing more…much more golfing (yeah get with it Glenn Golden. Time to tee it up..you too Lathrope) In my businesses, we are planning a fairly extensive remodel of Max Lager’s that will probably happen throughout the end of the year. White Oak continues to grow and I love our all Georgia draft beer program which has us changing up taps a lot these days. Beyond that we are always looking for the next project…perhaps a new Max Lager’s with some packaging facilities.
In June we honor fathers, how do you balance your work and fatherhood?
My son was born on Father’s Day and I’ll never get a better present than that! It’s been hard balancing work and family, especially since my kids live outside of Nashville. One nice thing about working with family is they understand and have always been supportive in helping me with that. I have a lot of miles on my trusty truck!
Any chance your children will enter the family business or is it too soon to predict?
Hard to say. I doubt my son will, but then again when I was his age I wanted to be a rock star (still do…or a super hero…yeah super hero) My daughter, maybe. Right now the only thing she is really interested in is boys…daddy needs a new shot gun.
You’ve been a professional for a long time, but when did you start homebrewing and why?
I started in 1989. I was living in Boston and the craft beer scene was really taking off. There was a home brew supply store I drove passed a lot and I finally went in and bought a kit. I was hooked from the moment I smelled the extract hit the water. I switched to all grain about three batches later and brewed fanatically every weekend. I love everything about brewing. The science. The creativity. The camaraderie. It all speaks to me and somehow makes perfect sense.
What are your favorite styles to brew?
I love brewing anything that challenges me. I especially like brewing lagers-go figure. I like brewing classic beers with personal twists on them. Over all I like making beer that tastes like…well..beer.
You’ve trained a lot of brewers over the years, what advice do you have for someone starting out?
Make your mistakes. They are the greatest learning tool you will ever have. Take notes. Copious notes. Learn to brew to style even if it bores you a bit. It’s a huge challenge and it teaches you what your ingredients do, how they interact, how your process effects everything. Learn, learn learn, read everything believe half of it, do what makes sense to you. Mostly don’t worry too much…it’s just beer…chances are if you mix malt with hot water, take that liquid and boil it it for for a while, toss in some hops, cool it down and throw some yeast in- you’ll end up with beer.
What do you love most about the Wrecking Bar Brewpub?
I like how Bob and the crew have taken what was a really scary looking basement (yeah I was in there before the work was started) and made it into this warm and cozy pub that feels like it was always there. Of course, the beer is pretty good too! : )