Brewer Profile: Derek Allmendinger of Unmapped Brewing

Brewer Profile – Derek Allmendinger, Unmapped Brewing, Minnetonka, Minnesota, © Kevin Kramer 2018

It’s clear right away that Derek Allmendinger, head brewer at Unmapped Brewing, is a thinker. He deeply considers every question, and when he answers “I don’t know,” it is not a cue to move on to the next question, but an opportunity to further contemplate the answer.

This is the gift that Derek not only gives the Minnesota craft beer industry and Unmapped Brewing, but also to the world. Insatiable—yet humble—curiosity. To be clear, that doesn’t just mean digging around in one of his numerous books for answers. He’s as curious about his own drives and motivations as he is about the world.

In a word, Derek is balanced. This balance has been a hallmark of his career.

Derek’s story is similar to many brewers. After years of drinking Miller Lite, he got a taste for different beer styles after a trip to England. Not long after, he decided to try his hand at homebrewing. Eventually, disillusioned with corporate culture, he began to think about making his hobby a vocation. He left his job in finance and enrolled in the Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering program with the American Brewers Guild.

What followed was an eight-year journey brewing at some of the most storied breweries in Minnesota. First an internship in 2010 at Summit Brewing, and later, jobs at Schell’s Brewery and Surly Brewing before taking a lead brewer role at Excelsior Brewing. Finally, after a stretching his wings at Excelsior, Derek landed his current gig as head brewer at the fledgling Unmapped Brewing in Minnetonka.

Derek’s professional moves were as much predicated by balancing work and family as they were about taking leaps in his career. With each step toward work-life balance, however, his resume expanded. The jump from Surly to Excelsior allowed him not only to be closer to home, but to step into a lead brewer position. It also gave him a chance to build epon his experiences with the state’s largest breweries with a smaller operation.

“At the big breweries you go in [everyday], do the same thing, and go home. When I went to Excelsior, I wore a lot more hats, there were a lot more things going on, [I wasn’t] doing the same thing every day.”

He found his groove at Excelsior, led the quality control program, and gained confidence. After two years, Derek began to consider his own professional growth. It became clear that he had what it took to be a head brewer somewhere else.

Not only did he find the head brewer position he coveted, but also at a place where he got a hand in building the business from the ground up. Derek was hired at Unmapped six months before the brewery officially opened, which meant he got a role in constructing the brewery.

“I got to take what I learned from all these great places I worked, the best parts of all four, and put them together in one place.”

– Derek Allmendinger

“I got to take what I learned from all these great places I worked, the best parts of all four, and put them together in one place.”

That’s not to say that the job has been easy. “Building from the ground up is daunting for sure. There were plenty of times I said to myself, ‘never again.’ Now that it’s up and running, though, it doesn’t seem so bad.”

He’s found the work-life balance he craves working for JD and Megan Park who have a family of their own. Aside from having similar philosophies about brewing, they have home lives that are similar too. “We talk about everything from beer to runny noses,” Derek jokes.

Equal Measures Passion and Hard Work

Derek Allmendinger, of Unmapped Brewing Company, enjoys a book in his office // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Derek Allmendinger, of Unmapped Brewing Company, enjoys a book in his office // Photo by Kevin Kramer

The thing Derek loves most about brewing beer is “the ever-changing opportunity to create.” There are countless ways to do something new, from reimagining old styles to creating novel ones, and this depth and breadth appeals to him.

“People always ask if brewing is a science or an art. Truth is, it’s both. To make a beer requires a lot of art. To make it again requires a lot of science. If you focus too much on one or the other, it will be apparent in your beer that something is missing.”

Moreover, to Derek’s mind, having a passion for brewing is only one half of what’s necessary to be successful.

“Passion makes you like what you do. Hard work makes you good at it,” he says.

And while both are clearly integral to success, good brewers need an equal measure of both. Derek holds onto the passion, and admires brewers who have been in the game for decades and still get excited about using massive amounts of hops in a recipe or getting new equipment. He identifies with that with childlike enthusiasm. But he also recognizes that the day-to-day grind is as important as the passion.

“I complain about a lot of things,” Derek says wryly. “But the cleaning, the tidying up, that stuff is crucial.” Perhaps this is the root of his success: the ability to keep his feet firmly planted while his head takes a peek up in the clouds from time to time.

“Passion is at best misunderstood. Or misused,” Derek reflects.

Like most people in craft beer, Derek credits a great deal of his job satisfaction to the camaraderie in the industry. His respect for his colleagues is evident.

“I’d like to say what makes [Unmapped] unique is that we brew good quality beer. But no, there are a lot of places in town making really good beer. I wanna make beer as good as these places,” Derek says. He calls out brewery after brewery for their top notch beers, their attention to quality control. He’s learning from his peers as much as the books or his own experiences.

But there’s something else about the industry that draws him in.

“One thing that I’ve noticed [about the industry] […] is that we seem to have a lot of the same global interests like social justice, sustainability, and the environment. We seem to have this overall sense that if we can be good to each other as human beings, the whole world will be a better place. That philosophy trickles down to the breweries. If we help share our knowledge with each other, lend equipment or tools, or help each other out when we are short on ingredients, we will all improve as an industry.

Down the Road

Allmendinger, at the bar far right, talks with his newly hired crew member in the taproom of Unmapped Brewing Company // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Allmendinger, in plaid at the bar far right, talks with a crew member in the taproom of Unmapped Brewing Company // Photo by Kevin Kramer

While Derek is putting his years of experience to good use as head brewer, he’s also getting a chance to pass down his knowledge and philosophy as a manager. He just hired his first crew member. This is a big shift for a guy who has spent his career doing things the way he was instructed to do them. Now, he’s doing the instructing, but is keenly aware that he doesn’t have all the answers.

“I never want to stop learning,” he says, “I love it. I just learned something new today: how to use my flow meter on the oxygen tank more effectively. That makes me extremely excited. […] Until I get to where I’ve learned as much as I want, I’ll keep doing this. I hope I never get to that point.”

He sees a long, winding road ahead for Unmapped Brewing, and for himself there. “I hope to retire from Unmapped. I can’t imagine there being a better fit.”