Alan Sprints is the tie-dye wearing Southern California escapee and master brewer at Portlandís world class Hair Of The Dog Brewing. Hair Of The Dog was founded in 1993 and made its first sale the following August to Fred Eckhardt, beer historian and mentor to the brewers.
Hi Alan. Thanks for talking to us.
Letís start at the beginning... Hair Of The Dogís genesis begat Adam, your first beer and modern torchbearer of an almost lost, centuries old, German style - Adambier. Tell us about it.
I learned about Adambier from Fred Eckhardt [namesake of Hair Of The Dog Fred] and Michael Jackson. Fred would tell the story of King Fredrick traveling around Bavaria, stopping in Dortmund, and having the town Bier "Adam". The King drank the stein in one sip and proceeded to pass out for 24 hours. When he awoke, he proclaimed Adam his royal beverage.
The story intrigued me, so I recreated the recipe for the 1992 homebrewers conference in Portland and it was a big hit. When I started H.o.t.Dog it seemed the perfect first beer and still is one of my best sellers.
Adam is one of several big beers that you brew that are meant to be laid down. Adam fully matures at 10 years. Can you share some taste notes on how your aging brews?
I think Adam, Fred and Doggie Claws will continue to improve over 20 years, not everyone will like the 20-year-old beer better but it will be a drinkable beverage. Batch 1 Adam is eight years old and tastes better than ever, smooth and rich, this shows lots of promise for the 20-year mark.
Fred batch 1 is just over three years old and tastes much like it did when it was young; good hop presence with a big malt backbone.
Eve is seven and was barely drinkable until a few years ago; this has always been the one I go to when I want to impress someone. I sell vintage beers from the brewery on occasion, if I am in a happy mood.
Youíre in the fine city of Portland, what some call the "beer capitol of the United States".
The brewery is located in southeast Portland, in an old warehouse previously used as a foundry [visitor info]. I assembled the brewing equipment from used machinery dealers across the country. I have a 4 Bbl. steam kettle and we can mash about 700 lb. of grain at a time. Five years ago I installed three 20 Bbl. fermenters to replace the dairy tanks I was using for fermentation and 3 years ago I added two 20 Bbl. and one 30Bbl conditioning tanks.
Youíve got 1,000 bbl capacity. Youíre in great company up there in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the large number of brews at RateBeer, weíre missing some Iím sure...
We kind of take beer for granted up here. In Oregon, there are about 50 Breweries with 25 being in Portland and about as many in Washington State. Most are small operations, doing draft beer only, selling most of their beer very close to the brewery.
Besides being a master brewer, youíre also pretty good in the kitchen.
I always liked to cook and I was bored working in aerospace, so in 1988 I moved from Los Angeles to Portland and enrolled in culinary school. After Graduation I worked a whole bunch of jobs, looking for something that would work with a family. In 1991 I started Brewing for Widmer and in 1993 I started Hair of the Dog.
I still enjoy cooking and my wife and I have large dinner parties once a month.
Can you pair some foods to have with Adam or Fred?
I think of Adam as a desert Beer, chocolate is a match made in heaven, but with some vanilla ice cream it makes a great float.
Fred is more versatile, going well before or with a meal. I enjoy sushi or spicy Ethiopian food with Fred.
Much of your inspiration came from European brews and brewing -- when did you get turned onto beer and how did that happen?
As a teenager I would pilfer beer from a deli as I bought my lunch, everyday a different beer.
In my late teens I discovered that if you had money, not many people would card me if I were
buying an assorted case of imported beer, so I had quite the education before I was 21.
OK, tell me about Thor -- Itís bouquet was one of the most amazing Iíve ever
smelled from a beer. Thereís a story behind this one for certain...
Thor was an experiment in high gravity, made with pale malt only, we took only the first running and boiled that for 4 hours, then the first runnings from a second mash were added to the kettle and boiled for 2 1/2 more hours giving us a gravity of 1.122.
I used special distillers yeast that fermented the beer to fairly dry 1.014. After kegging the beer, it took off for another bit of fermentation in the keg, causing over carbonation but also creating one of the most interesting beers I have ever made. I do have one keg left; I might use it for a tasting I am planning at the Brickskellar in D.C. in May 2002.
You heard it here first. Iím sure youíll have some minions from Rater Nation on hand for that.
Like most craft brewers, youíve had some struggles along the way but youíve held fast and
weíre damn glad you have. What times were toughest and how did you handle them?
I think the last five years have really been tough. The first three were all on adrenalin, everything was new and possibilities were endless.
Now I understand what people mean about starting a business being tough. This is a labor of love for me
and if it wasnít for my wife working and willing to live below the poverty line, I would of had to
close five years ago. The one thing that really keeps me going is the people who enjoy the beers I make,
people celebrating special events with my beer makes me very proud to be a brewer.
I first bought your Adam beer from Trader Joeís. I noticed now youíre even sold in Fred Myers.
Howís distribution going and what are your plans here?
Right now I sell beer in about ten states, every year I lose a couple distributors and gain a few.
I need to sell about 50% more beer than I am, so I am always looking for more distributors.
Trader Joeís has been a big supporter of my brewery, they donít have to sell my beers, but they
go out of their way to work with me because they like what I am doing.
Cool. I should let the reading audience know, you can get Hair Of The Dog bottled brew from
hitimewine.com, Belmont Station, Liquid Solutions and other mail order houses.
What do you like most about brewing and beer?
Beer is a very old beverage, I enjoy the link with the past as well as the way it make me feel when I drink it.
I also enjoy the process of brewing, mixing grain and water, the smell of hops and malt in the kettle. I also have a need to create, so new recipes and labels as well as the tie-dye shirts I make, all give me a lot of satisfaction.
Another tip to the readers, that they can get your handmade tie-dyes at Liquid Solutions.
Youíve told me you read RateBeer. What about it appeals to you?
Ego, I love to read what others are saying about my beers.
Youíve made some great beer moments for our readers. Iím sure youíve had your own. Give us some great Alan Sprints beer moments...
The people Iíve met have provided me with some great memories...
drinking Bourbon barrel-aged Eve out of the barrel with Michael Jackson at the HotD brewery;
the Tom Leykis afterparties Iíve had at the brewery;
the tasting I did with Dr. Demento; taking my beers to Belgium and having them tasted by the OBP
or winning first place at the Toronado Barley wine Festival (1998)
or every time someone tells me that they think that Hair of the Dog makes the best Beer in the world.
One last question: so whatís next?
I am working on a special beer for the 2002 Portland International Beer Festival, a strong pale lager. This is one of the best beer events in the world, not to be missed. I am also thinking about distillation and food (not in the same glass).
Thatís July 12-14, 2002. Iíll work on getting myself a press pass! Thanks so much for your time, Alan.