In this issue of The Growler, we Brewer Profile Ken Thiemann of Borealis Fermentery.
By Brian Kaufenberg
Photography by Becca Dilley
Name: Ken Thiemann, Brewer/Owner
Hometown: Livonia, Michigan
Works at: Borealis Fermentery
Turn-Ons: Well-played music. Honest, intelligent, nice people.
Turn-Offs: Not-well-played music. Unfriendly, dumb people.
Growler: What’s in your fridge right now?
Ken Thiemann: Bell’s Oberon.
G: If you didn’t create beer for a living, is there another craft that you would like to try?
KT: Roadie for Rush.
G: What style(s) of beer do you see trending in 2013?
KT: I don’t know, I hear many people saying the hoppies are going to become less popular, but I know too many people that love them. I think that good, solid, mildly-hoppy lagers and comfort pale ales are going to stay solid. It’s very subjective—like asking what form of painting will trend in 2013—hard one.
G: What’s your favorite music to brew to?
KT: Jazz for mashing in during the morning hours, Grateful Dead/Jam stations in the afternoon, and prog during mash out in the evening. There’s a bit of Radiohead sprinkled liberally in there as well.
G: What is your brewing background?
KT: I have been brewing for 21 years, I have been doing it professionally for the last year. I learned from so many people. I don’t have any formal training, but I did used to work in the Netherlands and visited many places in Belgium on my weekends. I drank a LOT of beer over there, and it definitely has influenced my style. I really enjoyed the farmhouse ales that had no real category, and are hard to describe.
G: When did you decide you wanted to brew professionally?
KT: About 20 years ago.
G: What are your other passions in life? Do they influence your brewing?
KT: I have been a musician most of my life. I play quite a bit of guitar. I also love cooking, and I love fly-fishing. Cooking, I think, is much like brewing in many ways. Creating the recipes for beer is like making a recipe.
G: Who has been your biggest individual influence in brewing?
KT: The Kraeuseners, our homebrew club back in the U.P. of Michigan. There are even a few Duluth fellas in that club. Great group of people, and killer beers. The best beers I have ever had come from homebrewers, pretty much.
G: What keeps you inspired?
KT: Unique and imaginative people. Things that take a lot of care and time to produce. Artisans that take time and really put a lot of effort into their craft. People like Jim Henson, Bela Fleck, Evel Knieval, etc. Individuals who achieve difficult things—like that Austrian guy who base-jumped from the stratosphere and stuck the landing—that was pretty rad and inspiring.
G: Where is your favorite place to put one back?
KT: Europe, at a small table on a square somewhere. I like to drink beer on a beach in Mexico. I also like to drink beer while fly fishing. And lastly, I like to drink beer in a boat. It’s a toss-up between those four.
G: What is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
KT: That you mostly brew beer when you’re a brewer. I feel like I clean for a living, and every once in a while, I get to brew beer. It’s repetitive and can be a bit boring, actually, if you’re brewing one of your staple beers.
G: What is the most gratifying part of your job?
KT: When everything is clean and in its place, things smell clean, and I sit back and look at the brewery I made, and it’s late at night, and all you can hear is the bubbling from the CO2 hoses.
G: Is there a beer that changed your perspective on what craft beer could and should be?
KT: In 1991, I was working in Yosemite, and I tasted my first Sierra Nevada. That was it for me.
G: What’s the philosophy of your brewery?
KT: Brew as well as you can, keep it passionate, have fun, and don’t be a douche.
G: How did you settle on Borealis Fermentery as the name of your brewery?
KT: I love the Northern Lights and have lived up on Superior for most of my life now. I wanted a name that was North-y, but was also quirky and whimsical.
G: How did you decide to use straw, stucco, and wooden pegs instead of modern construction materials to build your brewery?
KT: I like a good challenge, and really wanted to create an old-world European feel. It’s also very energy efficient.
G: Why did you decide to build your brewery north of Knife River, Minnesota?
KT: It’s a beautiful area, and there are some really unique folks in the woods up here. I was also working as an engineer in Duluth, and despised it. I saw the land for sale while coming back from a gig in Two Harbors, and that was it—we bought it the next week.
G: Any new recipes you are working on?
KT: I am working on some Spring/Summer beers at the moment.
G: What do you see as the “next big thing” in the craft beer world?
KT: Dehydrated backpacking beer.
G: What about beer means so much to us as a society?
KT: Beer to me is the very essence of celebration.
G: Favorite beer and food pairing?
KT: Corona with a lime and tacos. Sorry.
G: What are you reading right now?
KT: Peter Freuchen’s Amazing Book of the Eskimos; Knowing the Ropes: Selecting, Rigging, & Handling Lines Aboard; The Art of Raising a Puppy; Crazy from the Heat—David Lee Roth Biography. And lastly, Book One of the Game of Thrones series.