Now seated in the comfy computer chair of fame is a man that spent his learning years on the study of fishes and marine life. Luckily, he was unable to translate too much of that into his job at Copper Canyon Brewery (we can imagine "Smoked Salmon Porter" or "Imperial Trout"). Taking great pains to make it right, let's welcome Head Brewer Todd Parker.
Name(s): Todd Parker
Brewery Name: Copper Canyon Brewery
When did the brewery start?
13 years ago
How long have you beer brewmaster there?
Almost 4 years
Any type of formal training in brewing science or art? If not, how did you learn the craft?
No official formal training, other than earning a BA in Marine Biology from Boston University and an MS in Marine Biology from California State University at Fullerton. I will be taking the Brewing and Malting Science course from the MBAA next month though. I have been homebrewing for 23 years and doing it professionally for 13 years where I got a lot of on the job training.
If you will, a brief history of your brewing experience (where have you brewed)?
I started as an assistant brewer at the BJ's in Brea, CA; then did a very short trial at Stone Brewing Co.; then worked at Bayhawk Ales in Irvine, CA; then head brewer at Birra Sogno in the Koreatown section of LA, CA; then moved to WI to work at Pioneer and Wisconsin Brewing, then to MI for Rochester Mills Beer Co in Rochester Hills, MI; then as the head brewer at the Royal Oak Brewery in Royal Oak, MI; and then finally to Copper Canyon in Southfield, MI as the head brewer.
How large is the brewery your currently brew for (# of barrels)?
Last year we did some 423 bbls
Is it automated or is there a lot of exercise involved in your brewery's operation?
No automation at all, it is all about getting to know your system, listening to it, tasting from it, smelling it, and seeing it in action.
Ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
I have had to dump two batches in all my years. The first was when I shared a cold box where I kept my yeast with where the cooks prepared kimchi and it wasn't pretty. The second was when the valve for our glycol system was accidentally closed by other staff and the glycol ruptured the tank and corrupted the beer. I did have a batch pick up a slight lactic character, but with aging on some wood, it created a unique flavorful beer.
Do you get to name the brews or is it done by committee or dictatorship?
I name all of the beers and usually have a lot of fun doing so. For example, here are a couple that I have done: Groundskeeper Willie's Secret Stash (Simpson's ref- a scotch ale), Ginger Kids Revenge (South Park ref- an imperial red), Elzar's Spice Weasel Explosion (Futurama ref- a Christmas ale) and Love Potion (a tripel with no hops but used ginger, honey, and rose petals).
What are your favorite styles? Do you get to work on them at your current brewery?
I like big IPA's and stouts as well as Belgian styles. I have the freedom to brew whatever I want, however I do not work with souring organisms for a reason.
Please describe the weirdest thing you have ever put in beer (while brewing).
Peeps which were added to a beer, but that was more of a lark and wasn't for flavor. I have put a lot of different things in beers. Recently, I made a saison with effectively 12 different flowers. The Elzars Spice Weasel Explosion had 16 different herbs and spices in it. I love experimenting with different flavors. My Summerzest is Wit-like, but brewed with orange peel, lemongrass, ginger, and honey.
Do you or your brewery attend the large beer gatherings (i.e. Great American Beer Festival, Zythos, etc.)?
The past several years, I paid out of my own pocket to enter and go to GABF the past 3 years. This year, the BA closed registration early and shut myself and a bunch of others out of it. As a brewpub, by Michigan law we cannot sell our beer outside of our restaurant. The only exclusion is for our own state brewers guild events, which we have 4: an outdoor winter beerfest in Grand Rapids in Feb., a summer beerfest in Ypsilanti in July (over 9000 people), a beerfest in the UP (Upper Peninsula) in Sept., and a Harvest beerfest in Detroit in Oct.
Any awards, either for you or your brewery?
In 2005, I won a GABF gold in the Scottish Ale category. As an assistant we won a World Beer Cup gold for a bock. I have won other smaller awards also.
Can you give a hint if anything might be coming from your brewery (new brew, special brew, etc.)?
I have my Rocktoberfest coming out soon, it is a strong (8% abv) Dopple Marzen that is phenomenal. I hope to be doing a big, ugly, hoppy DIPA sometime soon. Come holiday season I will be doing the Apple Streudel Tripel and a new beer for me which will be called Figgy Puddin'.
Do you have a favorite beer and food pairing?
Rauchbier and bbq always works well, but Founder's KBS or Goose Island Bourbon County Stout with Girl Scout Samoas is truly divine.
In the kitchen I make a mean? (beer related)
Chili, and outside I make great BBQ.
Any advice for those aspiring (kitchen/homebrew) brewmasters out there?
Keep plugging away, get to know your ingredients well, get to know your local brewers as well because they might be the guys hiring you. Enjoy your beers, but don't drink the Kool Aid that your beer is the best, send it to competitions, and keep drinking other beers to see how others differ. Get a significant other making a lot of money. Brewers are not paid very well, there are some nice benefits (no, health care, dental, vision, 401k, are not included in those benefits). I have seen several good brewers leave the industry when they have kids and it is saddening. It is not an industry to build a family or raise one with.
Please ask and answer one beer question. (this will be a humorous bit towards the end of the interview)
Todd, how do you explain your brewing style? [me] I fell down too much as kid.
Any final thoughts?
Beer is good. I am not wearing any pants.
Any recommendations for a homebrewer to make better beer?
Be very very clean, use quality ingredients not the cheapest, use pure O2 when starting, never rush things, and do not be afraid to ask questions (homebrew shops, homebrew clubs, online sources, ...).
Hey Todd, I am thinking about opening a brewery, any suggestions?
Saliva test? Just kidding, loads of people have the Birra Sogno (italian for Beer Dream). I have seen guys cash in their 401 ks to start underfunded, perpetually challenged, micros and they are always chasing things. This industry is very hard to eke out a great living at, if you can pay your bills, you are good. There has been a lot of people opening breweries lately, and it is becoming very reminiscent of the 90's where we had this boom and then bust where brewery numbers declined because of a saturated market. The market is becoming saturated, and unless you can fill a niche, or your brew is damn good, you will become a statistic. This industry is an evil mistress and unless you have another regular source of income, think three or four times before joining it.
Facebook: BeerTodd - Todd Parker
Copper Canyon Brewery
27522 Northwestern Hwy
Southfield, MI 48034