As Labor Day weekend approaches, I had a chance to sit down with Thomas Mercado, the Brewmaster at the local Rock Bottom Brewery in Long Beach. Thomas is looking forward to the Queen Mary's Delicious Chili and Brew Fest on September 1. As Thomas said, “You always see beer and chili paired up. It makes sense to me because the flavors work well. I think the Chili Cook Off is a great idea; plus, I'm excited to be around the Queen Mary!” He continued, “I'll be at the Chili Cook Off with Rock Bottom Brewery, pouring beers. I think chili goes great with dark beer, even if it's a hot day. A lot of chili recipes use beer as an ingredient, especially dark beers like stouts.” Dark beer is not all that Thomas is going to be pouring, however. “I'm also bringing my Habanero IPA. I use just the lightest touch of habanero so the beer gets the habanero flavor without getting much of the heat. That way, my IPA will stand out from the crowd a little bit”.
Thomas started brewing beer at home several years ago. “I started brewing at home like every one else. I began to brew my own beer before my last semester at school, working on my Communications Degree, which had nothing to do with brewing. But I fell in love with brewing and decided I wanted something off the beaten path and found I could make a career out of brewing.” He smiled and continued, “I brewed for two years before I got my first paid gig. I was very fortunate”. Today, as he drives up the coast from his home in southern Orange County, he is very pleased to be the Brewmaster at Long Beach's Rock Bottom Brewery. “Rock Bottom is great because they allow me a big range of creativity, something a lot of brewers don't get to do”. Unlike some major chains of “breweries” that have the equipment sitting in the brewery/restaurant for looks and actually just get casks of beer delivered from a central brewhouse, Rock Bottom has a Brewmaster at every location. “Rock Bottom Brewery has some recipes that I use that are for our house beers so all of us have 'something for everyone', but I am able to create a lot of my own beers. Some of my recipes I test out on my fellow brewers within the company, some I give samples to our customers so I can get their feedback and some I will change according to my taste and experience”.
Besides living in San Clemente, Thomas and the Rock Bottom Brewery have more ties to Orange County. “We were members of the O.C. Brewer's Guild. I feel we're the tip of Orange County rather than Los Angeles County. The Long Beach identity fits a little closer into the Orange County frame of mind.
Thomas is no stranger to beer and chili cook offs. “Once a year we have a chili cook off at Rock Bottom to honor our Fire Chief Ale”. When asked about his own feeling of a bowl of red, he replied, “I enjoy chili a lot. I like to cook it and enjoy playing around with different Mexican flavors in my batches. I also use different peppers such as green peppers or poblanos for variety. What especially gets my creative juices flowing is trying different meats. I've tried steak, alligator, ostrich, rattlesnake and many others. I really like the taste of bison best in my chili. I do differ from a lot of people, mainly from Texas; I love beans in my chili!”.
Beer and brewing has become Thomas' passion. “I really enjoy the whole realm of beer. The sustainability of the industry is what makes it unique”. Some of the beers he has created are a Wheat IPA, cloudy and with just a touch of orange peel. He has also created an interesting Brown Ale, brewed and flavored with oak chips from authentic Jameson whiskey casks. “The flavor is mellow and it's really good. It gives you a similar flavor to aging in the wood barrel”. He has just gotten a new strain of yeast, which is crucial to the art of brewing. “There is an art to both brewing and tasting beer,” Thomas said. “It enhances your whole experience by brewing and tasting different styles of beer”. Up next, he is planning on creating a Medieval Ale, in a style similar to one that might have been drunk during that period of time, brewed with rye along with the hops.
Being the Brewmaster is “extremely challenging but also very rewarding. I get a lot of self pride and enjoy a lot of individual creativity”. As far as representing Rock Bottom Brewery at the Queen Mary's Delicious Chil and Brew Fest, Thomas explained, “It's a real opportunity to be at the fest. Not only can you taste other brewer's beers, but with the wide variety of chili that will be served, it's a chance to really explore some unique and different pairings that you can't do any other place”. Indeed, he sees his work partly as educational in nature. “A lot of what I do is teaching people what we do at Rock Bottom and how we create our beers and ales. Part of being a brewer is going out and representing your brand. I also like to educate people about the quality of my beers. By encouraging them to taste a wide variety, such as our stouts, IPA's, light and red ales, they can enhance their palate and discover new tastes to enjoy.” I had a chance to taste several of the beers that Thomas has created and he has a real talent for knowing how to manipulate the flavors just right. His Belgian White, with a touch of coriander and orange pell, has a refreshing, wonderful taste.
When the Queen Mary's Delicious Chili and Beer Fest comes on Saturday, September 1, Thomas will be ready. “Chili is such a great food to pair with beer, especially when you have dozens of different styles of both. It will be really fun to see what some of the other local brewers bring and what the chili competitors are cooking up!
Sunday, September 1, 2013
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, CA 90802
Information: (877) 342-0738