Brewer of the Week: Marshall Schott

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Marshall Schott, a husband and father of three rad kids from Fresno, Calif., is a clinical psychologist who works in a correctional facility, which provides little personal fulfillment. As a way to explore his creativity and personal expression, he turned to homebrewing.

He has a twin brother who also homebrews, as well as twin sisters who are two years younger, one of whom has a set of two-year-old twins. You could say they’re doing their part to populate this planet with as many homebrewers as possible.

We had a chance to chat with Marshall about his life, homebrewing and his homebrewing blog, Brülosophy.

What sparked your interest in homebrewing?

I’ve always been the type who enjoys making things from scratch. There’s something romantic about the idea of taking a bunch of raw ingredients and turning them into something different.

When I turned 21 in 2002, I was introduced to craft beer and developed an immediate appreciation for the character these brewers were able to create from just few simple ingredients. Then one day, while working for a local group home, my colleague came in a few minutes late and blamed his tardiness on the fact he was bottling his homebrew. This is when I learned it was even possible–and legal–to make beer at home.

That evening, my roommate and I went to the local homebrew shop where I bought an extract kit, and we went home and made an Irish red ale. Even before tasting the finished product, I knew I was hooked–this was a hobby I could really get into. The fact the beer ended up tasting like beer only solidified my interest.

homebrewed beer

When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, but more of an obsession?

My transition from simple hobbyist to obsessed weirdo was pretty gradual. I actually went a few years while finishing graduate school without homebrewing any beer on my own, just occasionally helping friends out with their extract batches. Soon after landing my current job, I mentioned to my carpool buddy, Chris Padalinski, that I could make my own beer. He was intrigued, and that evening I purchased an extract recipe kit online, which we made the following weekend. As soon as the wort began to boil, the happy memories I had from years earlier came flooding back–I knew I’d be doing this more often.

This is when I discovered Denny Conn’s website outlining the batch sparge process. I built myself a converted cooler MLT and started brewing all grain. I think what really hooked me is perhaps a bit different than what gets other homebrewers. I wasn’t necessarily interested in just making the best beer possible, but rather I was curious about how little process tweaks could impact my beer. This is what became my obsession.

What spurred you to start your blog, Brulosophy?

The fact Brülosophy exists at all is kind of weird for me to think about. My friend Chris, who I mentioned earlier, and I worked and carpooled together for a couple years, and we brewed together two or three times a month over the course of about two years. Like many homebrewing dyads, we came up with a name for our little outfit, Bright Spot Brewing, a reference to a philosophical idea we shared about those experiences, good or bad, that shape who we are as human beings. We envisioned a future where we’d be brewing together forever, our relationship was essentially built on making and drinking beer.

Then our employer informed us that jobs were going to be cut, giving us the option to get laid off or transfer to our choice of other locations. Having a family and a mortgage, I chose a location that would allow me to stay put, while Chris and his now wife viewed this as an opportunity to move to an area they’d always talked about living. At this point, I’d created an online moniker consistent with the aforementioned name we’d given ourselves, which only served as a reminder of what I missed so much.

So I decided to start over and went with name I thought represented my interests well: Brülosopher. I started new accounts in online forums and began posting mostly just the results of my homebrewing experiments. I’d never privately considered starting a website because I figured it would take too much time to maintain. I finally bit the bullet in February 2014 after some folks suggested it’d be nice to not have to search through multiple forums to find my results. That’s how Brülosophy came to be–and it absolutely requires more time than I ever expected!

brulosophy blog

When did you join the AHA?

I’m ashamed to admit I only joined the AHA in February 2014 and have no good excuse for not joining earlier—laziness and forgetfulness are the two main culprits.

And after you joined, did you enter any beers in the National Homebrew Competition?

I entered my first NHC in 2015, submitting a German Pils, a California Common, a Vienna Lager and a Märzen. The German Pils, which was fermented with unrinsed Kölsch yeast slurry, advanced to the second round but didn’t end up faring as well there.

I tend only to submit beers to competition that were part of a previous exBEERiment, almost always the batch where the variable was manipulated, which some might view as my way of avoiding the pain of defeat. Maybe that’s true, but ask anyone who knows me and they’ll likely agree I have very little competitive urge. Entering beers that shouldn’t necessarily score well into competitions at least adds an element of interest for me, especially when they do better than expected. I absolutely plan to continue entering the NHC!

Brewer of the Week

With your knowledge, experimental nature and love for brewing, why haven’t you pursued a bigger career in the beer industry?

I reckon this sentiment isn’t shared by most homebrewers, but I’ve very little interest in brewing on a professional scale. Not because I don’t see the value in it, but rather it would do little to satiate my desire to test things out.

In a perfect world, I would operate my own homebrew shop with a focus on research and learning about beer, community building, destigmatizing alcohol, encouraging responsibility, and of course providing homebrewers with high quality ingredients and wares. As much as I would love to do this, I haven’t pursued it for one main reason—it don’t come cheap! I like to think at some point I’ll be able to start something like this, but as it stands, the stability of my current job wins out.

What’s your “white whale” beer?

Vienna Lager. Too rich and you’ve got a Märzen, too toasty and you’re in Dunkle territory. The perfect Vienna, to me, is one that rides the line of a few different styles though is distinct enough to be unique. Subtle toast with barely a whisper of sweet caramel, medium-low body with a dry finish, flavors strong enough to notice without overwhelming the beer…ahh, I want one now! I’ve been working on my Vienna recipe for about a year now, I’m getting closer and closer to what I’m looking for, but have yet to nail it. This is a style I will definitely be entering in the 2016 NHC.

What are your favorite craft breweries?

The craft brewery whose beer I drink the most is House of Pendragon Brewing Company, not only because they’re local to me, but they make incredible ales and lagers. As a dude with a love of lager styles, I’ve developed an undeniable obsession with Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, Wa., whose delicious Pils, Vienna, Dunkles and Kölsch were unfortunately absent when I lived in the area. Really though, I enjoy sampling and sharing homebrew quite a bit more than drinking commercial beer.

You have a exBEERiments section on your website. Do you have a favorite you’d like to share? Or possibly a nifty DIY project?

I’m not sure I have a favorite–I feel like each exBEERiment has offered something interesting–but my reaction to a few has certainly varied. I think the results that shocked me the most, the one that produced the strongest “WTF” moment, came from the third fermentation temperature exBEERiment where a bunch of arguably qualified participants were unable to reliably distinguish between a Helles fermented at 50°F and one fermented at 66°F.

The funniest exBEERiment was when I had a panel of tasters compare three samples of the same exact beer and only one person reported them as tasting the same, demonstrating just how much of an impact expectation of a difference has on perception.

brewer of the week experiment

What’s your favorite style to brew?

Since my favorite styles to drink are clean lagers, I suppose that makes them my favorite styles to brew as well. I’m a big fan of producing the best beer I can as simply as possible, so nearly all of my brew days end up looking basically the same.

What styles will you never brew (or almost never brew)?

German Hefeweizen, Belgian Wit, Trappist Ales, and anything with a strong smoke presence. I also tend to prefer low to moderate ABV beers, so I only occasionally make higher gravity styles.

Ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?

Given how often I brew, I’m pretty quick to dump a batch that sucks. I’d rather fill that keg with something I actually enjoy drinking. Most of the mistakes I make when it comes to brewing are relatively minor and easy to fix, those that weren’t have never resulted in a tasty beer.

I was just telling a friend about this one time a few years ago when my neighbor was over helping me during an afternoon brew session. I’d just opened the valve on my kettle and was allowing the chilled wort to flow into a fermentation bucket, then this dude got distracted and put his dirty, hairy arm in the stream of wort. I expected the worst but pitched the yeast anyway, which was a good call because that Brown Ale came out just fine.

Describe your current brew system/set up.

I’m fortunate enough to be able to dedicate an entire bay of my garage to the hobby, which has made brewing  pretty convenient. My setup consists of a bench built onto my garage wall that holds two 10” banjo burners, which I had natural gas plumbed to. I have two identical 70-quart converted cooler MLTs that I recently began using large BIAB bags with. This system allows me to brew two 5-10 gallon batches simultaneously, a necessity for those exBEERiments requiring separate mashes.

Brewer of the week

Have any lasting advice for a new homebrewer?

Homebrewing, first and foremost, is about having a good time. If ever you find yourself bummed out because of a bad batch or stressing over how your beer might fare in a competition, take a step back, breathe, have a drink and remember: it’s only beer.

A very important thing to remember. Any cool plans for the future revolving around homebrew and beer?

The Brülosophy team is currently working on a new project we’re calling “The Hop Chronicles,” which is focused on having blind participants provide detailed feedback on a Pale Ale hopped with a single variety. The goal of this project is to eventually create a compendium that brewers can reference to get information about the character they might expect from certain hops.

Can you share a beer recipe with us?

Happy to! How about Tiny Bottom Pale Ale. This was one of the first homebrew recipes I developed and shared with others—though it started as sort of a happy accident.

Wanting to test out the merits of pitching onto a yeast cake, I threw together a simple moderate OG Pale Ale using no typical citrusy American hops we’ve come to in order to essentially propagate the yeast for a Double IPA. The day I brewed this experimental batch, my son Roscoe, who was two at the time, happily assisted with everything from stirring the mash to opening and closing valves. Because of his involvement, and inspired by his adorably small back end, I jokingly referred to the beer as Tiny Bottom Pale Ale.

When the beer was ready a couple weeks later, nearly everyone who tasted it commented on how unique and tasty it was. I agreed and brewed the same recipe a few more times to ensure it wasn’t a fluke before sharing it on the internet. This is the only recipe I’ve shared that has remained the same since its inception. I’ve tried tweaking it a couple times, but the original always takes the cake.

Over the last few years since the recipe has been out there, I’ve been contacted by people all around the world saying they made the beer and enjoyed it thoroughly, which despite my lacking focus on recipe development, is super cool to hear.