Interview with Chef Al Marzi of Harpoon - Boston, MA
WB: What is your brewing background (training, distinctions/honors)? How and why did you get into brewing?
AM: I found my way into brewing after graduating from Boston University with a degree in communications. While I didn't have a background in brewing beer, after college I felt that my experience in the consumption of beer would facilitate the transition into production. It took only a few batches of homebrewing before I was really bitten by the brewing bug. I wanted to learn all that I could about beer and brewing. When I found out that there was a job opening at the Harpoon Brewery, I jumped at the opportunity. The job happened to be delivering kegs, but just being around the brewery made it worthwhile. That was almost nine years ago and I haven't looked back since. I was lucky enough to become involved with a company that was growing and I was able to move from delivery to Assistant Brewer, to Head Brewer, to finally VP of Brewing Operations. Although I have attended the Siebel Institute of Brewing in Chicago for formal brewing education, most of my training has come through practical experience. Part of this experience includes being a judge at tasting competitions. I am particularly proud of the fact that Harpoon recently took the Gold medal for our Munich Dark, and the Bronze medal for our UFO (Un-Filtered Offering) Hefeweizen at the Great Northeast International Brewing Competition.
WB: What might distinguish Harpoon's brewing style/philosophy from other brewers?
AM: I think there are a number of things that distinguish Harpoon's philosophy from other brewers. At Harpoon, we brew American style beers. By this I mean that we may take a style that originated in Germany or England, but we use American ingredients to brew our version of that style. We appreciate the origins of a style, but we are not confined by them. Another aspect of Harpoon's philosophy is that we treat beer with respect, and encourage our consumers to do the same. For example, we have specific types of glasses that go with specific beers. Our Winter Warmer glass is a goblet which allows the aroma of the beer to be released. The different designs accentuate each beer either visually or aromatically in a way that one single style pint glass never could. Finally, Harpoon's philosophy is to emphasize that beer is a social drink. To this end, we have four events a year at the brewery which draw over 30,000 people annually. We think it is important to provide an atmosphere where people can come appreciate our beer and have a great time as well. It puts a face to the name Harpoon when people come to our Octoberfest and actually see, feel, and smell the brewery. While they are eating bratwurst and drinking Octoberfest, they have an opportunity to meet with the brewers, owners, and other employees of Harpoon. It all lends itself to our credo: "Love beer, Love life, Harpoon."
WB: What do you think the most significant trend will be in the coming years in micro brewing, particularly in light of the fact that there are now roughly 1,200 micros in the US (vs. less than 30 in the late 80s)?
AM: The most significant trend will be the continued 'up-scaling' of the beer drinking experience. It has been said many times by many people, but I believe the comparison of specialty beers with wine is a good one. About twenty-five years ago, wine drinking was pretty much limited to a small, well-informed group of consumers. They were regarded as wine snobs. The affordable, approachable wine choices were limited and the general public made do with a handful of national, uninspiring wine brands. Then a transition started... the public became more educated, Californian wineries began to be recognized for their excellence, and now a lot of consumers enjoy a wide range of very interesting choices. The important thing is that consumers have learned to appreciate things like wine and food pairings, how wine is made, grape varieties and cultivation techniques, etc. So experiencing wine has become much more than simply drinking it. I think this will happen with beer too. More beer drinkers will discover what micro-beer drinkers have found over the last decade, namely that beer offers the same richness and depth that wine does. This means that the outlook for fresh, high quality, specialty beer is good. Moving in this direction, for the second consecutive year Harpoon was asked to participate in the Boston Cooks! 2000 culinary event which draws renowned chefs and cookbook authors from across the country. Our beers will be the focus of a culinary roundtable at which cookbook author and beer connoisseur Peter LaFrance will discuss the unique experience of cooking and eating with beer.
WB: How do you pair beer with food?
AM: I have a very simple method for matching beer with food. I want the beer to either blend, balance, or compete with the flavor of the food. For example, if you were serving a spicy dish, it could be balanced with a light, refreshing beer. On the other hand, you could pick a beer with a lot of hop flavor and aroma which could compete with the spicy dish. Finding beers that blend with food can be difficult, but sometimes more fun. An example is matching apple pie with our Winter Warmer. The cinnamon and nutmeg in our beer blends with the cinnamon in the apple pie, without being overwhelming.