Tim Vandergrift

Where are you from?  
I’m from White Rock, a little village on the beach just south of Vancouver, Canada

What is your favorite brewing topic to talk to customers about?  
I love to talk to folks about anything in beer that they’re passionate about–it’s what they love that makes it interesting, especially if it’s a topic they know more about than I do. Particular styles, their brewing setup, their favorite hop, anything someone is really engaged in makes for a great conversation.

What was your biggest brewing blunder?
Oh man, where do I start? I’ve been brewing since 1978, so any skill I have is due to the incredible amount of mistakes I’ve had time to make. Overall though, my sloppy note-taking skills early on left me with great beers I couldn’t replicate, and that’s a shame. It’s like the man said, “The difference between science and just screwing around is writing it down.”

What movie have you watched the most times?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The level of detail is amazing, and as a fan of Hunter S. Thompson I was impressed with how well it carried the spirit of the book.

What was your proudest moment in your fermentation history?  
My wife never drank beer before we met, but tasted a few of the ones I made. I did my first decoction mash on a Belgian Witbier (oh it was a miserable 9-hour brew day) that I thought turned out really well. When it was done, I kegged and carbonated it, put it on draft in my keezer and then left for a two-week business trip.

When I got home, I invited some buddies over to try it, and I was right: it was better than any other Witbier I’d ever tried. I went back to get a second pitcher of beer and the keg blew. I panicked, checked the keezer for puddled beer, looked around the patio for stains in case it had leaked, and finally asked her if she’d seen any pools of beer.

Turns out she drank the whole thing. I wasn’t even mad.

Why do you brew?  
My initial motivation was to make beers like I read about in books. Growing up in rural British Columbia we didn’t get any beer other than industrial lager–even the stuff labeled Guinness was actually an industrial lager with caramel color in it. If I wanted to taste Bass Ale, I had to make it myself–so I did!

Nowadays, I do it to challenge myself. I was trained to cook in a French Brigade kitchen, and I’m a professional winemaker, and brewing, along with cheesemaking, pickling, smoking meat, roasting my own coffee, hunting, gathering mushrooms, gardening and a dozen other hobbies keep me grounded and connected to the world around me.

When you come right down to it, I have Attention Surplus Disorder, and brewing really feeds that monster.

When did you start brewing?  
My first batch was in 1978. If anyone does the math, I was underage even for liberal Canada. I was actually nerdy enough that I didn’t brew just so I could have access to alcohol, I did it because I was curious and it seemed cool–it still does.

What is your brewing system?  

I’ve literally gone through a dozen iterations of brewing setups, looking for the one that suits me best. For the most part, I use a three vessel setup based on the Fermenter’s Favorite® ten gallon all-grain rig, combined with a 15 gallon Edelmetall Brü® Kettle and two Edelmetall Brü Burners, along with a Steelhead pump and a Shirron Plate Chiller. It’s super versatile and having a pump is like having a brewing assistant right there.

I had a Blichmann Top Tier system, but I didn’t have a dedicated space to leave it set up, and it was always a huge brew day. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a Grainfather and that’s pretty cool–I can brew indoors and knock out a five gallon batch while I do other things (I work from home, so multi-tasking is a huge benefit).

What is your favorite style of beer for drinking and for brewing?
I’m with Charlie Papazian, my favorite beer is the one I’m drinking right now. However in the last year I’ve put a lot of effort into lager brewing, and after a lifetime of pursuing the hoppiest IPA’s I could make it’s been great to make balanced, crisp beers with rich malt.
But if you’re asking me what I think the best beer in the world is, it’s definitely Duvel.
There, I said it.

If you could share a beer with anyone throughout history, of even fictional, who would it be?  
That’s a tough one, there’s a whole pub full of people I’d like to sit down and shoot the breeze with over a few pints. If I had to pin down just one, it might be H.L. Mencken. He was pretty amazing and I get the feeling he had a lot of great stories that never made it into print.
Either him or Benjamin Franklin. You look at that picture on the hundred dollar bill and you can tell he loved a good time in a tavern, and he was a pretty clever guy.

Where do you spend your non-brewing time?
I like to ride my motorcycle (Kawasaki ZZR1100) really fast, or go hiking–there’s so much beauty outdoors in British Columbia that you can never get tired of it. We have every type of terrain you can imagine, including true desert and glaciers, along with temperate rainforest and amazing mountains.

Who are your three favorite musicians/bands?
I’m a big jazz fan so I could fill up this page with all the stuff I like, but that would leave out classical and rock. I’d go with Miles Davis, Pink Floyd and Mozart.
Really, only three? That leaves out the Punk I grew up on, the guilty pleasure of Prog Rock, Southern Fried Rock, Opera, Fusion, Cuban music, Spanish guitar, Thrash Metal . . . sorry, my Attention Surplus is acting up again.