An Interview with Fritz Rahr of Rahr & Sons Brewing on What's in His Beer Fridge and Advice for Budding Brewers
There are a few things you should know about Fritz Rahr. First of all, his great-great grandfather started brewing in Wisconsin after immigrating from Rhineland, Germany, to sate not only his own thirsty palate, but also fellow Europeans in the area. What basically started as a hobby grew to a brewery, and now, Rahr Malting Company supplies malt and brewing supplies to roughly 90 percent of breweries in the United States.
Rahr and Sons of Fort Worth is a separate operation, however. Fritz moved to North Texas to attend TCU, met his wife and decided to stay. Together they opened their small craft brewery in 2004.
Another interesting Rahr family fact: That blonde on the lable of Rahr's Blonde is Fritz's mom. Yep, she was Miss Minnesota 1952 and second runner-up Miss Universe and Miss USA the same year. She also studied opera at The Juilliard School.
With a decade of craft brewing under his own belt (and a good century under the family belt), we asked Fritz a few questions about the craft beer boom, what's in his beer fridge and what makes him want to cry.
What's the greatest misconception about being a brewery owner?
I think most people think owning a brewery is a lot like being a rock star and that we get to sit around all day and drink beer. The life of a brewer or celler-man is not easy. There is a lot of manual labor, at least in our operations, and the work is strenuous at times. And just like anything else, it is a job -- we have our good days and we have our bad days. But, we also have our great days. I can't think of a better job to have because even our bad days are still better than most people's good days.
In 2010, there were just two local craft breweries. Now there are more than two dozen. What do you think about the explosive growth of craft brewing locally?
I think it is very healthy for the industry as a whole. The explosive growth says a lot about our Texas beer market. It is growing at an incredible pace with enough room for everyone, so far, to compete and create a business for themselves.
What's in your beer fridge right now?
Rahr and Sons, Firestone Walker, Jolly Pumpkin, 21st Amendment and Saison Dupont.
Ever had a colossal brewing mistake? Like a situation where you wanted to laugh and cry all at once.
We once made a small test batch (55 gallons) of a new beer for our portfolio. After we were done, we were pushing the portable fermenter into the cooler when one of the rolling casters hit a crack in the cement floor, toppling the fermentation vessel on its side, crashing to the floor, spilling its entire contents all over the floor. We were glad no one was hurt, but sat there shaking our heads watching seven hours of our day go down the drain, not to mention the damage caused to the fermentation tank. Oh well, shit happens.
Do you have any advice for budding brewers?
1. Keep it fun.
2. Maintain cash flow.
3. Remember, it's supposed to be fun!
Have you found any invaluable sources for brewing?
We are a part of the MBAA, BA associations. These are great resources for brewing and brewing science, especially if you are just getting into it as a professional brewer or home brewer.
What's the hardest part of your job, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the best part?
The hardest part would be managing and being responsible for the livelihoods of 20 employees and their families. This brewery supports a lot of people and their future rests with the management of the business. The best part, I think it would be the same thing: bringing together 20 people and their families and as one big family enjoying our successes.
Are there any styles, ingredients, trends or brewing processes that you're really excited about right now?
It seems there is always some new trend. First it was the explosion of the IPA, then it was Imperial IPAs, then sours, Belgians and barrel aging. But I see current trends focusing on going back to brewing solid traditional session beers. I like that. It's refreshing.
What's the best beer you've ever had?
It would be the time my wife and I were in Bamberg, Germany, visiting our good friends Sabine and Thomas Weyermann (Weyermann Malz) in December. The Christmas market was in full swing. It was evening, a light snow was falling, cold with a chill and we snuck into Brewery Schlenkerla, where we enjoyed a cask-conditioned smoked Helles Bock. One of the best beers I have ever had. The environment and company at Brewery Schlenkerla Heller-Brau really made for a great experience.
What's the most ridiculous or far-fetched thing you've ever done to get beer?
Once I drove to Wisconsin to get Spotted Cow.