What do you do at Rhinegeist?
I am a brewer and cellarman.
As a brewer, I make the wort that yeast eats to create beer. That’s task #1. I do that on both our JV Northwest brewing system and our Braukon brewing system.
Task #2 is cellaring. Cellaring is a term used for basically everything post-creation of the beer and pre-packaging of the beer. So that means dry-hopping beer — which is when you add hops to a beer once it’s done fermenting — cleaning fermenters, cleaning brite tanks, moving beers from fermenters into brite tanks and basically everything in between. Scrubbing floors, spraying floors down, carbonating beer, hanging parts up, cleaning parts up, etc.
I also help on smaller, more niche brewing projects. For instance, Penguin, which we brewed this year, required adding cacao nibs and coffee beans — I helped with that.
When did you start brewing here?
I started brewing at Rhinegeist in July 2014. I was our fifth brewer.
How’d you end up here?
I worked at Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House with Dennis, our Director of Culture. He left Rivertown and we stayed in touch and, when he ended up at Rhinegeist, he said, “Hey, we’ll have a spot for you.” So when they started canning in January 2014, I came over and ran the canning line.
Walk us through a typical day on the brew deck.
There is no such thing as a typical day at a brewery — there’s always something up! That’s one of the reasons I like it, there’s always a different challenge or issue going on.
Standard day would be spinning a beer — using a centrifuge — from a fermenter into a brite tank, cleaning said fermenter, putting yeast in that fermenter for the next batch, maybe stopping a dry hop, starting up another dry hop...that’s about as typical of a day as I have.
I don’t brew as much anymore, I mainly am doing cellaring work. I’ll occasionally brew on Fridays on the Braukon and occasionally on the JV on Thursday and Fridays. But I mainly do cellaring.
What did you have for breakfast?
I honestly very rarely eat breakfast, so coffee and a cigarette.
What’s your ideal breakfast?
Ideal breakfast would be Eggs Benedict.
What are some of the challenges that get thrown your way brewing?
Needs change rapidly for our sales team, so the constant ebb and flow of what we need to brew or discovering that we’ve made too much of something or if we need to change course. Just being able to work within a constantly moving market where you can only predict so well and knowing that you’re not going hit your numbers every time is difficult. It becomes very reactive, so I’d say that’s a major challenge.
I also think one of the biggest challenges is being able to multitask when you have forty fermenters in constant fermentation. We do a lot of extra checks, double checks and re-double checks! So just being able to manage it all and communicate it all smoothly as a group is a challenge.
How big is the brewing team?
We’ve got nine fully-committed brewers and cellarmen for the Braukon system. Mitch runs the JV and then, after that, you’ve got Aaron, Nick and Cole who will step in and brew if needed. And now we’re getting four assistant brewers!
That’s a lot of work!
We get it done. Being 24/7 — you ask about a challenge — that’s one of the bigger challenges. There are three shifts. First shift comes in at 4am, works until noon. Second shift comes in at 11am, works until 7pm. Third shift comes in at 7pm, works until 5am.
You have a majority of brewers who came from smaller breweries that didn’t have 60 barrel brewing systems and were not 24/7. At those breweries you have task A, B and C that you need to get done in a particular day and if they don’t get done, they don’t get done — you don’t leave ‘til they’re done. So you might have an 8 hour day or an 18 hour day, it just depends. The mentality here is different. You have to set the next group/shift up for success and be OK with leaving a task that’s halfway done when you’ve done things a different way forever. It’s a lot of work, but we make it happen.
Do you have a spirit animal?
An otter. Man, they’re adorable, they’re playful, they’re fun. And I saw this documentary — one of the "Planet Earth" episodes — and there was a bunch of otters playing on a beach, thirty of them rolling around, having a blast. Then this crocodile comes up and you’re like, “Oh dude, crocodile versus an otter, pretty sure I know who wins that battle.” But then all these otters get up on their back legs and start squawking at the crocodile and it backs up into the water. They totally punked a crocodile and that’s badass!
Do you have a nickname?
Oh I got a lot of nicknames. Dark Moon is one. Stinky Feet Pete. A lot of alliteration. Peter from Pittsburgh who drives a Prius and makes pizza, things like that. Really “moon” with anything — moon raider, moon walker, moon man, main moon.
Where are you from originally?
Cincinnati. North Avondale, right by Xavier University. Went to Walnut Hills High School.
Have there been any major influences on your life?
Oh, man. There have been a ton of major influences on my life.
Pops, number one. Both my big brothers. My Mom — just family. They’ve been a major, major influence on my life.
Other than that, I consider myself very, very blessed that I have a lot of very close friends, secondary family through and through that have a been a very large influence on my life.
One of my history professors in college this guy Rob Ruck definitely influenced me a lot. Mr. Stefano my math teacher in high school, as well.
Albert Einstein was a big influence on my life growing up too. The whole “imagination is more important than knowledge” thing always ran true to me.
What’s your favorite Rhinegeist beer?
Knowledge. I like a lot of our beers, but I’m always gonna be a pretty harsh critic. Knowledge was a beer that the first time I had it, it put a smile on my face. The first Knowledge I had I was like, “OH. YEAH.” Second favorite is T-Rex — that’s my baby. I also love Double Oaked Mastodon, Barrel Aged Penguin, Peach Dodo, I fucking love all those beers. Truth even — it’s delicious. I’m not even a huge Uncle fan, but for its style, that’s super good.
Tell the story behind T-Rex.
This will be the third year we’ve made it. It was the first beer I conceptualized so it would’ve been fall/winter of 2014 the first time we made it. They asked me to come up with a recipe and I was milling in for a White IPA and I thought, “I love Black IPAs,” it’s cool and unique style, and we didn’t have one — so I made a Black IPA!
We’re halfway through. Give a shout out to someone!
Talk to me about the brewing team.
I love the brew team man. We’ve got a really awesome squad of smart, intelligent people that genuinely care about the work that they do and the quality of work they do. They want to do it right.
That speaks to Rhinegeist in a bigger way. I feel that in every department there’s not a ton of micromanaging. It’s on us to do a good job and each individual holds themselves to a standard to do a good job when there are times when it would be easy to say, “Fuck it!” and not do a good job — that never happens.
I’ve got nothing but love. To be a brewer or a cellarman or just to work at a brewery, you have to have a little bit of a unique personality. It’s not the most glamorous job, it’s a dirty job, but we all love what we do and we get shit done. We have a super solid crew. I think we’re vibing and learning how to set each other up for success.
We’re all new to an extent. Besides Jon and myself, every brewer has worked here for less than a year. We’re still finding our footing, but it’s definitely looking up.
What do you do when you’re not 'Geisting?
Hiking, cracking open cold ones with the boys, I don’t do a ton. Just sort of chill. Kick it with family, friends, hang out. Big sports fan — big Bengals fan. Decently-sized FC Cincinnati fan, season ticketholder for two years.
I like playing trivia, throwing frisbee. Have a pretty solid behind the back, can do a reverse tomahawk too.
If you were a Rhinegeist beer, what would you be?
T-Rex ‘cause I’m a monster, a beast! It's a metaphor.
Is there a piece of apparel you wear the most?
My zip-up hoodie!
You’re known to have the best/most eclectic music taste on the brew deck. Who are your go-to artists in general and your go-to artists right now?
In general, Outkast, Radiohead, Big K.R.I.T, Modest Mouse, ODESZA, Al Green, The Roots, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, I could keep going. Goodie Mob. I like a lot of the new rappers too, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson. I like a lot of funk and motown, Willie Mitchell, The Meters.
My new shit is Howling Wolf, just got into that. And oh, Wu-Tang Clan.
Best concert you’ve been to?
Radiohead, Lollapalooza 2008 — that was up there. Erykah Badu and Al Green at Bonnaroo 2009. Man, ODESZA down at Suwannee Hulaween 2015 was dope.
But we’ll go Rumpke Mountain Boys, Wang Dang Doodle 2007.
Do you have a famous look-a-like?
Oscar from Hey Arnold. It’s real, look him up dude.
I used to get Ashton Kutcher when I had long, brown hair.
Where does the beauty of the brewery lie for you?
Man, I got to say the beauty for me is when the sun is shining just right through the top panes and is on that brew deck.
Can you dance? If so, what is your go-to dance move?
I would say I’m not a great dancer, but I’m a confident dancer. I’ve got a couple of moves.
My go-to move would probably have to be the double dutch. Love rocking that in the middle of the dance floor. I don’t what you call it, but the elbows-out, lean wit it, rock with it, that’s a good time.
I’m a big fan of getting down on my knees and crawling towards someone, or the shirt over someone else’s head, that’s a good move. The little reach-for-the-sky twister move, I don’t know what that’s called.
Best brewing story?
A long time ago, this would’ve been late 2014, our stack fan, which sucks all of the steam from the boil kettle up and out of the building was broken. So we were boiling with the lid open and kind of “keeping an eye on it.”
So I’m here by myself late at night, the taproom’s open and it’s wiffle ball season, so it was probably 11pm, it was dark out for sure. I was towards the end of the brew, running through my mind what I had to do. I’m walking towards the brew deck and I hear this loud, “POP,” this fucking huge “POP.” All the lights go out above the brew deck, it’s pitch black and all I can see is that there’s hella steam coming out of the stack fan.
I’m like “Oh boy, this thing is gonna blow.” I’ve created a pressure bomb of some sort.
So I call Luke and am like, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on?!” While I’m on the phone with him, my eyes have adjusted to the dark a little bit, and I see that the fire sprinkler is actually just hitting the stack shooter and it’s so hot that it’s instantly churning the water into steam. So the stack shoot didn’t explode, what I heard was the sprinkler popping. I don’t know where the shut off is and there’s people in the taproom playing wiffle ball having fun, and I’m running around like a madman. Those sprinklers haven’t popped in 70 years so black soot is everywhere. I’m at a loss and finally a bunch of firemen come in and no one knows what’s going on. Finally we go down to the basement and are able to shut them off.
Not my best brewing story, but it’s an entertaining one. It was terrifying!
What’s your favorite sandwich?
There’s a lot. Cuban from Brew River. Bomb. Best sandwich ever.
What’s something about you most people don’t know?
I’m an avid ventriloquist *laughs*. Kidding.
I’m actually kind of shy. And that I’m a good dancer!
Favorite restaurant and bar in Cincinnati?
Restaurant, Sotto. Bar, Rhinehaus.
What’s your favorite beer to make/beer you are most proud of?
Shuffle. Also my baby! My coworker Jake's name though, the whole thing was his idea. Named after the Ickey Shuffle!
Do you cook?
No, but I can.
What’s your best dish in the kitchen?
Pizza. My pops has been making pizza for about 30, 40 years so I’ve worked at some pizza places. I can fuck with some pizza.
What’s your favorite bagel topping?
Throw an egg on it!
"The Lord of the Rings."
If friends used three words to describe you, what would they be?
Stinky. Feet. Pete.
What's your favorite TV show?
What do you like most about this place?
I think the idea that even though we’re making beer, we’re doing something more than making beer that is affecting humans in a positive manner.
What are you looking forward to about the future?
For construction to be over *laughs*.