Adam Frantz is the new head brewer at American Brewing Company in Edmonds, taking over the position when former head brewer Skip Madsen was let go. For the past three years, he’s worked as a cellarman and production brewer at Mac and Jack’s Brewery in Redmond. I recently chatted with Frantz after a long day in the brewery.
Q: How was your experience at Mac and Jack’s?
A: It was my first experience on the commercial side. That was my foot in the door. I grew up out of the cellarman there washing kegs and then quickly cross-trained to brew. I worked my way up to swing shift brewer, which handles the most beer for them.
Q: What is your background?
A: I grew up on a small farm in Vermont. I have a degree in biology from the University of New Hampshire. While I was going to school I met my wife on an island off the coast of Maine. She’s from Washington, so I moved across country to be with her. We lived in California for six or seven years before selling all of our stuff and traveling the world in 2009. We traveled to 24 different countries in 13 months.
Q: Did traveling the world and trying different beers change your brewing?
A: We definitely experimented along the way. We had beer in Nepal brewed with millet that you drink warm through a straw. There wasn’t a lot of variation through the warmer countries; all the beers are light lagers. We went to Egyptian spice markets and I collected Nubian spices and then picked up some coca leaves in Bolivia that are used to make cocaine. It’s a big part of local culture. They use it like chewing tobacco and certain aspects of it in energy drinks. Also it has a numbing quality that while you chew it make parts of your mouth numb. It’s used to help with mountain sickness.
Q: So I have to ask: Did you make a beer with it?
A: I made a coca blonde. It’s not illegal. You can order coca tea. It wasn’t the best beer I ever made but it was definitely interesting. It was kind of a tea beer.
Q: So would you describe yourself as an experimental brewer?
A: I love the science of beer. I’m very driven by the science behind it. I’m not going to throw in a bunch of Captain Crunch. I get a basic idea in my mind and work through the process. … I’m really interested in developing a sour program here and increase our barrel-aging program. I just threw a bunch of beer into some whiskey barrels. I’m definitely interested in new ingredients but I like to work through the process. Striving to make a perfect process which can make a perfect beer.
Q: Where did you get the whiskey barrels?
A: There were some Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrels that I inherited here and were empty, so I threw some of our stout in there.
Q: Did you create any beers at Mac and Jack’s?
A: A year before I left they opened up to a single-batch creation project. I created a brown ale for Mac and Jack’s that’s only available through the retail shop. It was their third best selling beer. It’s called the Brown Recluse. It wasn’t something I’d brewed before. What I wanted to do was tell a story so it’s a hybrid of two styles: an Eastern brown ale —for my East Coasts roots — combined with a California common.
Q: How have your first few weeks at American been?
A: There’s been some highs and lows. I had to make some executive decisions right away so it was kind of a slam into reality. I’m the guy now that everyone turns to. I’m trying to establish some practices to get the brewery up to my standards. It’s a big change for sure. At Mac and Jack’s I was training a lot of the new brewers, so there is some cross-over to what I’m doing here. It’s different. I had to get used to some new procedures. I’m looking forward to my first American beer, which will be a saison off one of my original recipes. Then I’ll take that and put it in some cabernet barrels to start our sour program. We’ll release that next year hopefully.
Q: How is the system different?
A: American has a beautiful 30-barrel system. It’s a dream to work on; really intuitive system. It’s been quick and easy to jump on to. (Mac and Jack’s) has a 20-barrel system. They’re getting every ounce of beer out of that system. (Mac &Jack’s produced 45,000 barrels last year, while American produced 3,500). Mac and Jack’s provided a great foundation for a new brewer. They’re very efficient in their process and their practices they put in place are good baseline practices.
Q: Now that you’re a head brewer, what are you looking forward to most?
A: I’m really looking forward to the versatility I’ve been given to create my own recipes and set up the brewery how I want. I just sent water samples away and cultures to find out more about what we’re working with here. After the summer they’ll allow me to set up a lab. I’m excited to build it around my vision of what a brewery should be.
Q: I know it’s a little uncomfortable, but what are your thoughts on taking over for Skip?
A: It was never my intention to put anybody out. I really saw the opportunity and went for it. I didn’t know Skip prior to this. I knew of him, so that is the unfortunate side of all this. I’m really happy to be here doing what I’m doing. I hope I can carry on some of his legacy and build my own at the same time.
Q: What is your favorite style of beer to brew?
A: I like farmhouse style in general. I like the history of it. There are a few places in the market that has some holes and that’s an opportunity. Hill Farmstead does quite a bit of sour beers and farmhouse style. I think there are a lot of breweries that have the capabilities but aren’t willing to take the risk. That’s where my background comes in. It has a really good return on investment. A lot of people I idolize in the industry, Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River, Matt Brynildson at Firestone Walker, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead, are going down that route.
Q: What about to drink?
A: I really drink seasonally and what I’m researching at the time. I’m pulling all the farmhouse styles I can find. Trying different sours and barrel-aged farmhouse stuff. I recently had a beer from a boutique brewery, Sainte Adairius in Capitola, California. They’re making really interesting sour beer and Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales. I also like Logsdon Farmhouse and Hill Farmstead. I did a pilgrimage to Hill Farmstead (in Vermont) this past year. They’re making just fabulous stuff. They deserves all the hype. As seasons change, I’ll drink dark stuff. Basically the color of the leaves decide the color of beer.
Q: How about locally: Who are you looking at?
A: Black Raven does fabulous stuff. I think they’re kind of the sweetheart brewery of the Northwest right now. They always have the longest lines at festivals. (Black Raven head brewer) Beau (Bowman) is a former Mac and Jack brewer and he makes really good beer that is inspired.
Look for more in our special section on Snohomish County beers and craft breweries in Friday’s Herald and at HeraldNet.com.