HAWAII AT WORK
COURTESY OF KONA BREWING CO. / NIKKI WATTS
Kona Brewing's brewmaster, Rich Tucciarone, earlier this month removed spent grain from Kona Brewing's mash tun, which is used to combine water with grains. "All of our spent grain gets picked up by a local rancher to use as cattle feed," Tucciarone said.
Not your ordinary beer man
Rich Tucciarone puts his college studies to good use, making high-quality beers
Rich Tucciarone didn't have to think about it long before deciding to take the job as brewmaster for Kona Brewing Co. on the Big Island. He had been working at a microbrewery in Colorado when Hawaii beckoned, with both its great location and a job promotion in a field Tucciarone has loved since his college days -- making beer. Seven years later, Tucciarone continues as Kona Brewing's director of brewery operations, overseeing virtually every aspect of its production of various beers, which are sold throughout Hawaii, the mainland and Japan. The company also has two brew pubs -- one in Kona and one on Oahu in Hawaii Kai. Tucciarone, 38, is a graduate of Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, N.J., and of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He lives in Kailua-Kona ("about 10 minutes mauka of the brewery") with his wife, Wendy, and their 3-year-old son. "I brewed a beer for him, to celebrate his birth," Tucciarone said last week. "Bambino's Bitter. It was a big hit at the brewery."
Title: Director of brewery operations
Job: Manages beer production and quality for Kona Brewing Co.
What were you doing before you joined Kona Brewing?
Answer: I was an assistant brewmaster at a microbrewer in Colorado. I was looking for a more challenging position in the industry, so I posted my resume with the Brewers Association, which is a brewing industry trade group.
I remember pretty vividly returning from a camping trip and hearing a message saying, "Aloha, this is Kona Brewing Co. wanting to talk with you about a job in Hawaii." So, needless to say, I returned that phone call. I did a couple of interviews over the phone, then came out here with my wife to check it out, and I think I've been wearing shorts ever since. Kona Brewing's just grown tremendously since that time.
Q: What was the Colorado company?
A: Breckenridge Brewery.
Q: So what does it mean to be called a brewmaster?
A: It's pretty much the person in charge of ... well, as we like to say here, my job description is anything that has to do with beer, but typically it's the senior person responsible for beer production and quality at a beer brewery.
Q: Did you ever do any home brewing before you went commercial, so to speak?
A: I was actually studying food science, with an emphasis on fermentation and product development, at Cornell University, on the East Coast, and a brew pub opened up, in Ithaca, and it really sparked my interest in the brewing side of the fermentation studies. So (after graduation) I moved to Colorado to hunt down a brewing job. I was just starting to get into homebrewing when the opportunity came up with Breckenridge, which was just getting ready to do a sizable expansion, which gave me experience in just about everything -- loading trucks, cleaning kegs, scrubbing floors, patching concrete, cleaning tanks, brewing beer, running the bottling line -- just a little bit of everything, so it was a great hands-on.
Q: Were you hoping rather to score a job with (Colorado-based) Coors?
A: No, I like the small- to medium-size craft beers. That's one thing I like about Kona Brewing, and a beautiful location is an added bonus. But I like to get involved in a diverse array of jobs. There's no such thing as a typical day (at a small brewery).
Q: So was Breckenridge sorry to see you go?
A: I like to think so. I left on good terms.
Q: What's this about "with an emphasis on fermentation?"
A: Well, in upstate New York there's a bunch of wineries and cheese-making places, so they (the Cornell classes) teach you about the different methods of fermentation, different food products that are produced by fermentation -- beer obviously being the one of primary interest. You learn about quality control, yeast selection, temperature control -- and cleanliness and sanitation is really critical, first and foremost.
Q: Is there any difference between home brewing and commercial brewing, other than scale?
A: Scale and there's a lot more risk. When you're doing it on a commercial scale, you're relying on every batch coming out right. We need to do a lot of cleaning and sanitation and research on the new recipes to make sure it comes out right every time.
COURTESY OF KONA BREWING CO. / LISA JOHNSON
One of Rich Tucciarone's responsibilities as brewmaster for Kona Brewing Co. is to occasionally pull a sample of the fermenting beer to see how its progressing. On Wednesday, he poured a sample of the company's Fire Rock Pale Ale from a fermenter.
How did you come up with the specific recipes that you use for each type of beer that you make? Did you inherit those?
A: There were couple recipes here, but most of them we've adjusted. But generally we just decide on a beer style that we want to shoot for, and there's tons of different malt varieties and hop varieties to work with.
Q: What kinds of ingredients do you need to brew beer, and who does the shopping for it?
A: Water, malted barley and yeast.
Q: And who shops for it?
A: I shop for it.
Q: How do you do that?
A: We just cruise down to Foodland. ...
Q: No, really.
A: (Laughter) No, we have suppliers that we work with, on the mainland. We got the water here, but the malt, the hops, everything else has to be shipped in.
Q: What is the malt made from?
A: Malt is barley that has been steeped in water until it barely starts to germinate, then it's dried. Then it can be roasted to varying degrees, from light to dark, which will result in a wide variety of flavor characteristics, from light, nutty, biscuitty, toffee, bittersweet chocolate, that type of stuff.
Malts primarily give the body and color and sweetness and mouth-feel to the beer. And the hops are kind of like the spices, to season and balance out the sweetness.
Q: Do you have a preferred temperature for the fermentation stage, or is it OK to just let that happen at whatever might be the room temperature?
A: Definitely, we have a specific fermentation temperature for each specific beer style. The yeast performs better at specific temperatures. So to control that, we can control the temperature. It's a critical part of fermentation.
Q: What's your typical volume of brew per batch?
A: We typically brew about 50 kegs of beer per batch, or in the industry it's referred to as 25 barrels.
Q: How many gallons of beer do you think Kona Brewing produces each year?
A: We'll do about 10,000 barrels, so that would equal roughly 310,000 gallons.
Q: How long does it take from beginning to end for a batch of beer to be ready for the consumer?
A: It depends on the beer style. Again, we brew between 10 to 14 different styles of beer at a time. We have a lot of tanks. So most of the ales are two weeks from brew to drink, but the lagers are about five weeks, and some of the other beers are even longer than that, such as the Old Blowhole barley wine; that takes almost six months.
Q: Do you know what the average alcohol content is of the beer you brew?
A: Our beer ranges from the low 4 percent up to 13 percent for that Old Blowhole.
Q: Home much room does all your brewing equipment take up?
A: It's about a 3,500-square-foot brewery, where the tanks and brewhouse and laboratory and office are. Then there's another 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of loading and shipping area, mechanical equipment, chillers, silos, all that stuff -- the stuff that's critical to making the beer.
Q: How many people do you have to help you with the brewing?
A: We have eight total people in the brewery, and we're really fortunate to have a great brew staff. Everybody's committed to paying attention to detail and putting out a great beer every time.
Q: What would you say is the hardest part about getting a batch of beer brewed just right?
A: Hmmm. Good question. The hardest part is getting it brewed just right every time, and I think that's just further testament to the commitment and training of our brew staff for making consistent, premium beer every time.
Q: What's the best part of your job?
A: I just like the problem solving. Every day is different and there's never a dull moment. Brewing beer in Hawaii -- the most remote land mass in the world -- is pretty fun and keeps it challenging. And developing new recipes and getting consumer feedback -- people telling you that's the best beer they've ever had, that's a great reward.
Q: Do you have to interact much with government agents, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives? Or any state or county liquor officials?
A: Me personally? No, we have a separate group of folks that handle compliance and pay taxes and that stuff. I have some interaction, but it's pretty minimal. Whenever we have a new beer, I have to fill out some specs and send it to them.
Q: What's your own favorite kind of beer?
A: I like everything. It really depends on the mood. At home I typically have Castaway IPA (India Pale Ale) on tap, or Black Sand Porter on tap. And then the third beer on tap would be either Longboard Lager, Hula Hefeweizen, or one of our seasonal beers.
Q: If you couldn't drink your own beer, what would you drink?
A: That's not really a fair question to ask a brewmaster.