The second of four guest industry interviews by brewers and brewery owners of their contemporaries. Look for a new chapter each week this December.
By Veronica Vega, Deschutes R & D Brewmaster –
It was my pleasure to spend a little time conversing with a brewer I very much respect in a very competitive market, our beloved PNW. He works up the street from us at Von Ebert Brewing who recently took away some hardware for beers at both OBA fresh hop (Volatile Substance), and GABF (Obeisance). Most of all, I enjoy our conversations and always leave having learned something. We caught up at the German beer bar Stammtisch, on a beautiful sunny fall day in Portland.
VV: Tell me about your upbringing and family life and how this has worked its way into who you are as a brewer.
Sam: Growing up, my two sisters and I watched my parents run their own business. They both worked hard, long hours and never complained. My sisters are amazing human beings who show that same work ethic, don’t complain, and get shit done. I aspire to be like them. Hopefully that shows itself in some way throughout my career. Also, while I think there’s valid criticisms about our industry and how employees are treated, we do have it pretty good overall. That’s no reason to be complacent, but it is important to remember.
VV: I wasn’t going to ask you this, but do you think it has informed whether or not you would ever want to open your own brewery?
Absolutely. At first, I assumed that was the natural progression ‐ that a brewer nears the finish line when they open a brewery, like any other aspiring entrepreneur. But, after seeing what my parents went through and being in the industry for a bit, my thoughts have changed. There’s a direct conflict between what I love about my job and what is required of a business owner. I’m sure there’s some magical middle ground that would work, but I’m not focused on finding it.
VV: We all are mix of “the people we have been.” I’m curious to who you have been, and how that has informed your brewing?
Wow. This interview escalated quickly; nice job Veronica, it’s very therapeutic.
A runner ‐ I ran track from middle school to college. Racing the mile was a huge part of my life for a long time and I miss it dearly for a lot of reasons.
A reader‐ my parents bought me all kinds of books when I was really young and took me to the library a lot. I don’t think they knew it at the time, but that was an incredible gift. Reading has always been an escape for me. I’d be lost without it.
A law student ‐ I regret the student loans, but I’d do it all over again. Law school forced me to try and look at problems from different angles, not jump to conclusions, and to find creative ways to overcome my cognitive shortcomings. I’m still working on those.
A backpacker – it doesn’t get any better than being with my partner in crime in the woods, on a mountain, or next to a lake. I’d do it every weekend if I could.
I guess I still am each of those people to some degree. I’ll need a few more beers before I dive into how they’ve influenced the way I brew. Let’s come back to that some other time.
VV: What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
I wanted to be whoever I looked up to at the moment. Sanitation workers got to drive big trucks, teachers had all the answers, presidents made big decisions, zoo workers got to play with animals… a lawyer for some still unknown reason… It wasn’t until I started homebrewing that I realized I already done “grew up” and should just be whatever I wanted to be. That’s not a unique plotline.
VV: Where do you get your inspiration for brewing your beers today?
The same places most other brewer’s get their inspiration – wine, cocktails, food, history, terroir, other beers, etc. While I’m not generally a fan of bottom‐up approaches, raw materials can be very inspiring. I’ve never been inspired by a glass of water, but rubbing hops almost always leads to new concepts.
VV: How has travel informed your brewing?
I certainly haven’t traveled extensively, but some of the most memorable travel I’ve done has been beer related. Japan, Iceland, and Australia we’re all incredible for different reasons, but they each left me with the same conclusion. We have it so easy in most of the US; we take our infrastructure, disposable income, and open market for granted. I mean, imagine what it would be like to run a brewery with a 3/4” water main, no farmers to pick up your grain, and taxes that move your pint price above thirteen dollars. We have it very easy.
VV: Brewing is hard on your body, it can be stressful, long hours, and then there’s the fact that it can involve a fair amount of drinking. How do you keep yourself healthy and motivated?
I suppose I could be healthier and more motivated, so if you have any advice… Getting outside as much as possible seems to work the best for me. Backpacking has become my physical and mental reset button. I’m sure you feel the same way, but whenever I look at our list of beers on tap, all I see is a long list of improvements that need to be made as soon as possible. Everything in brewing is this giant, beautiful, frustrating puzzle waiting to be solved. Spending time outside puts that puzzle into the right perspective.
VV: How does music inform your brewing?
Thanks to having a couple of tech savvy brewers on staff, we now have a pretty good sound system at both our locations. Its motivating and morale boosting; motivated, happy brewers make better beer. There’s a direct correlation. Music also inspires some of our beer names. The name “Volatile Substance” came from a line in the Violent Femmes masterpiece “Never Tell.”
VV: What’s the last thing you googled that was brewing related?
The gas permeability of different types of vinyl hoses.
VV: OK Speed Round.
VV: Mash‐in or dough‐in?
VV: Flame‐out, cast‐out or knock‐out?
VV: Sani squirt bottle or spray bottle?
Spray bottle, I really enjoy the misting action when you loosen that nozzle.
VV: IBU’s on a label‐ Does it matter?
Probably, but it shouldn’t.
VV: Ok an easier one‐ Coffee or tea?
VV: Mustard or ketchup?
Neither, aren’t we better than that? Don’t answer that.
VV: [Concealing my utter shock] OK sweet or dill pickles?
Dill, and yes, I like Sorachi Ace.
VV: Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry was a visionary.
VV: Emoji reaction to Sabro hops
VV: Emoji reaction to the subject of hot‐side aeration?
VV: Emoji reaction to reading a beer style category description for a big beer competition?
VV: Current fascination?
SP: Everything! The universe is so damn fascinating it gives me goose bumps ‐ dark matter and energy, the human brain, hot‐side aeration, hallucinations, black holes, Charles C. Mann’s 1493…
VV: To which I immediate give an Elaine Benes reaction and double handed push‐ GET OUT! I’m reading the book 1491! (the prequel).
Sam Pecoraro is the Head Brewer at Von Ebert Brewing’s Pearl District location. Sam has been brewing in Portland since 2011. Prior to joining Von Ebert, he brewed at Burnside Brewing, The Commons Brewery, and Breakside Brewery. He graduated from Appalachian State University and the University of Dayton, giving him the rare and irrelevant distinction of being both a Mountaineer and a Flyer. The woman he is married to is wonderful and the cat that lives with them is obese.
Veronica Vega is the Director of Product Development at Deschutes Brewery, the 10th largest craft brewery in the U.S. She is a member of the senior leadership team at Deschutes and is a part of shaping the strategic vision for the company. She has worked in the brewing industry for 13 years, started at Deschutes in 2006 as a tour guide, moved into production brewing then as the head brewer of their Bend Public House. At the age of 35, Veronica became the Brewmaster of Product Development and now as Director of Product Development, she works across departments to seek ideas, develop and launch new products. Veronica is a member of the Master Brewers Association of Americas, shares her passion for brewing and beer in many respected speaking engagements and has been highlighted in several craft brewing and lifestyle publications. Her obsessions include her family, hobby ranch, bikes, goats, art and the natural world, and frequently ponders Mary Oliver’s poetic question: what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?