As a veteran brewer at Widmer Brothers Brewing, Ben Dobler is one of the moustached masterminds behind our favorite brews. We caught up with Ben to get the lowdown on experimental brewing at Widmer, pick his brain about the key to home brewing success, and answer the age-old question of why bikes and beer go so damn well together.
What got you into brewing initially?
Luck! I was 19 and taking classes at Portland Community College and following the Dead when I could. My uncle, who at the time was the Head Brewer at Bridgeport, gave me a call out of the blue to see if I wanted a job on the bottling line. Seemed like a no brainer move to me. Needless to say, I worked there for three years and learned a lot about production. He and I eventually started to butt heads, so I decided I needed a change of scenery. Widmer Brothers hired me in June of 1996, and I’ve been working here ever since. The Brothers have been kind enough and smart enough to formally educate me in the science of brewing. It’s been a cool experience to literally and figuratively grow up in the brewing industry.
What’s made you stick in the business?
It’s fun! It doesn’t suck to go work on a daily basis. The people I work with and meet are awesome. It’s also pretty cool to have an idea or concept for a beer, formulate it and then brew it. When people get excited about a beer I made, it’s pretty rewarding.
What’s it like working at Widmer Brothers?
It’s like a second family. We’re constantly tasting and talking about beer. We’re trying to figure out what the consumer is going to want. Our staff is some of the most highly trained and talented brewing professionals in the industry. There’s a wealth of knowledge and great personalities at the brewery. I mean, it’s craft beer; it’s pretty damn good!
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Innovation and product development. Beer dinners are a great time, too. I mean, eating world-class cuisine and pairing it with world-class Ales and Lagers doesn’t suck.
Innovation, you say? Could you talk a little bit about your creative process?
My process, in all honesty, is all over the map. I look for ideas and inspiration from everything around me. We’re constantly inundated with aromas and flavors. That’s the nice thing about beer. We have four distinct ingredients (water, malt, hops and yeast) that, in and of themselves, have so many variations of flavor. Then you throw into the mix every other edible ingredient known to man, and all of the sudden the possibilities become endless. Recently, my focus has been trying to replicate classic style cocktails into ales and lagers.
What’s it like being a brewer in such a brew-crazy city? (Portland has the most breweries of any city in the world with 51, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild).
Awesome. We’re all really good friends and try to help each other out whenever we can. The reality is we all want every Oregon brewery to make the best beer on the planet. If one isn’t, then that’s a black eye on the rest of us.
What’s your best piece of advice for all the home brewers out there?
Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation! Oh, and sanitation. If you’re not sanitary, your beer will not taste proper. It really doesn’t matter how awesome your ingredients or techniques are. Also, be meticulous with notes and write down every detail you can think of. These notes will come in handy when trying to replicate the process. Be patient. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
I understand you’re something of a bike man as well…
It’s Portland, right? I mean, doesn’t everyone have a bike? I ride for a local team called the Lazy Tarantulas. Widmer Brothers, Sasquatch Advertising and Sellwood Cycle Repair sponsor us. I’m not the most successful competitive cyclist, but it’s just too much fun to stop. There are so many amazing rides in Portland that start as soon as you walk out your front door. Plus, we have the Cross Crusade, the best race series in the world! Our cycling community is just like our beer community – one big family.
Why do bicycles and beer go together so well?
They both appear to be so simple, but the reality is they’re massively complex. The reason being each bike and beer has subtleties that might not stand out to everyone. The geometry of a frame is different from one maker to the next, just like an IPA I make is different than someone else’s. Same concept, but subtly different and unique.
Does biking influence your brewing at all?
It keeps my beer gut in check. Does that count?