Brewer profile: Kristen England of Bent Brewstillery

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“If you’re going to make a pale ale, make a pale ale,” says England. “Call it a pale ale and tell people, ‘This is great.’ Don’t make a pale ale and say, ‘This is our super hoppy red IPA.’ That’s not what it is.” // Photo by Aaron Davidson

In 2009, B.J. Haun, a fellow grad student and homebrewer, approached England with the idea to open Pour Decisions. A combination of the Great Recession, a lack of grant funding, and coworkers caring more about “who got what corner office” than the work itself had been wearing on England, so he decided to go for it.

Pour Decisions Brewing Company began later that year. In addition to brewing, England stayed on at the lab until 2012, which is when he decided to ditch gene-isolation algorithms and sterile labs for beer recipes and fermentation tanks full-time. Soon, he and Haun opened their Roseville taproom and were officially full-time beer guys.

From the beginning, England’s goal as a brewer was to bring beers to the market that couldn’t be found anywhere else. “You have to have your own concept and your own authority” if you’re going to open a business, he says. “You see all these breweries trying to mimic each other, everyone doing the same thing. That’s why we started Pour Decisions: the whole concept was that I’m not doing things to be different, I’m just a different dude.”

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Though he’s no longer the BJCP’s education director, England is still a principle author for the BJCP guidelines // Photo by Aaron Davidson

A unique initial lineup of beers demonstrated England’s vision. Patersbier, a Belgian single ale, was based on notes England gathered from conversations with Trappist monks. Pubstitute was a 3% ABV Scottish light ale. Unfortunately, England and Haun’s concept didn’t work out quite according to plan. Pubstitute, in particular, was “a total failure,” England says. “Even though we sold it for 25-percent less than our other beers, nobody bought it.”

He explains that restaurants didn’t know how to market it, and, when placed alongside higher-alcohol beers of the same price, drinkers weren’t sure what to think.

That disinterest and hesitation frustrated England. He remembers thinking then that if the market didn’t change in a way that gave lesser-known styles a shot, one beer style would end up dominating the others. That was in 2009. “And what do we have now?” England asks. “IPAs. $6 IPAs. That’s all we have.”

It wasn’t a lack of interest in unique beers or a failed business model that led to England merging Pour Decisions with Bent Brewstillery in January 2014, however. Haun wanted out of the brewery business and England was already making beers for Bent. (Bent Brewstillery owner Bartley Blume heads the distilling program.) So, instead of going it alone, England took up Blume on his offer and Bent moved into the Pour Decisions space.

England says the decision was for the best, adding that his initial goal—to make unique, high-quality beers—hasn’t changed. “I tell him [Bartley] that we can do anything—and we can—so let’s make sure we do something that we enjoy drinking and that will have an effect on the market,” says England. “That’s been the way it’s been since we started. And it’s been working.”

In addition to brewing full-time, England continues to educate as many beer drinkers and brewers as possible. His latest ventures include partnerships with breweries in Chile and Peru and working as a principle author for the BJCP guidelines. Within all his pursuits, England’s main message remains the same: Make whatever you want, but call it like it is. “If you’re going to make a pale ale, make a pale ale,” he says. “Call it a pale ale and tell people, ‘This is great.’ Don’t make a pale ale and say, ‘This is our super hoppy red IPA.’ That’s not what it is.”

“Anytime you see a developing industry, you see new people mimicking established people,” he continues. “It’s just what you do. And that’s fine, but then you need to do things right. Don’t dumb it down. Teach drinkers what good beer really tastes like. Give people the information and the ability to make decisions based on what they like to drink, not what they think they should like to drink. There’s a difference.”

Finishing the last of his cold press, he pauses, seemingly debating whether or not to continue. He decides against it. He has more to say, undoubtedly, but for today he’s done his job. He’s educated one more beer drinker and, in doing so, has raised the bar for what one should expect from each and every pint, no matter what.

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About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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