Just Take Action announced Ted Briggs as the new master brewer for Fitger’s Brewhouse this week. “Mr. Briggs will continue to build on the great legacy of quality Lake Superior craft beer first initiated by Dave Hoops and later, Frank Kaszuba,” the company stated in a news release.
Briggs is a seasoned brewer who has been working for two decades at brewpubs and breweries around the nation. He studied brewery science and engineering at the American Brewers Guild and has won a number of awards, including a prestigious World Beer Cup medal for a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine he produced while at Tun Tavern in Atlantic City.
Like many career brewers, Briggs began by homebrewing. His hobby soon turned into an obsession, garnering homebrew awards and the annoyance of his laid-back homebrewing pals. He cut his teeth at Manayunk Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. After an apprenticeship, he was offered a job.
Briggs went on to work in various brewpubs and production breweries, including Flying Fish Brewing Company in Somerdale, New Jersey; Lander Brewing Company in Wyoming; Tun Tavern in Atlantic City; and most recently, the Fermentorium in Cedarburg, Wis. He not only designed the Fermentorium’s brewery, he purchased and installed the equipment as well.
The Brewhouse has seen a great deal of change in the past 16 months. Dave Hoops stepped down after nearly 17 years of leading the brewery in September 2015. Frank Kaszuba, who had worked under Hoops for 14 years, then served as head brewer for a little over a year. He recently left to join Hoops at Bev-Craft, a new craft brewery consulting firm headed by Tim Nelson, a former partner at Just Take Action.
The brewery has two lead brewers, Casey Tatro and Matthew “Chooch” Fish, as well as two assistant brewers. Briggs says they’ve done a good job of holding the brewery together and notes his diversity of experience will be helpful during this transition. “I’ve been at a lot of different breweries, so I’ve seen the good and the bad,” he says. Briggs plans an upgrade in procedures, as well as laboratory skills and equipment to keep the quality and consistency customers have come to expect from the Brewhouse.
The Brewhouse produces a large amount of beer for a brewpub, estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 barrels in 2016. Beer is distributed directly to consumers by growler and to Just Take Action’s bars and restaurants, which include the Blind Pig, Rathskeller, Burrito Union, Barrel Room and Endion Station Public House.
The Brewhouse drew Briggs in because he was looking for a change. Briggs says the brewpub setting allows for more creativity than production style breweries. He was also interested in staying in the Midwest, especially in a Great Lakes state. He likes to hunt, fish and hike and looks forward to opportunities to do so around Duluth.
Briggs says he’s a traditionalist; he’s a fan of British, Irish, Scottish and German brewing traditions. He also plans to continue making barrel-aged and sour beers.
Customers can expect the regular lineup of Brewhouse beers to remain the same. “If anything, I’ll do some tweaking to improve the recipes,” he says.
In terms of brewing philosophy, Briggs says “balance and drinkability” are his primary considerations. “A lot of craft brewers are trying hard to be innovative, but in the end, the beer has still got to be drinkable. You want the return customer and they’ll only come back if it’s good.”
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