20Q: Catching up with Janesville beer maker Andy Walker
Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Owning a brewery has always been a dream for Andy Walker, but it wasn't a venture he wanted to tackle alone. When the opportunity to open Rock County Brewing Co. with partners Edward Sundstedt and John Rocco came last year, Walker was ready to jump in with both feet.
When not working to improve his company's suds production, Walker serves as CIO/CTO at Foremost Media in Janesville, which he has co-owned since 2004. He holds a degree in management computer systems from UW-Whitewater and as a Marine Corps veteran (1996-2000) visited Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Walker also is a 1995 graduate of Craig High School. In his spare time, Walker stays close to his wife of 12 years, Krista, and their four kids: AJ, Ryan, Aubrey and Rachel. He also continues home brewing as a hobby, and he is actively involved as a coach and board member for Janesville Youth Hockey.
To learn more, visit RockCounty.Beer or search for “Rock County Brewing Company” on Facebook.
1. How is your beer connected to the local area? Our focus has always been to produce great-tasting beer for our community and those within a decent driving distance. Our small size also plays a role. People are always amazed to hear that we brew just at the end of the hallway. The beer travels less than 60 feet from the start of the brew day to its final destination in your pint glass. It's made with the same water that most people in Janesville get in their house. Most important, it's our awesome customers. They have welcomed us like a proud older sibling—very supportive and caring and excited to show you off.
2. What sparked the decision to open a brewery in downtown Janesville? Being that Rocco and I already owned businesses in Janesville, it was just the most convenient. There was an immediate agreement to the downtown area; there's history here. There's just something comfortable about old buildings. It's a slowdown from the glitz and glam, information overload, high-speed lives we live. Also, there's the simple walking distance to other businesses around you. On the north side, you have to drive everywhere, and each business has its own parking lot separating itself even more. We wanted something within the city to give people a sense of ownership. Being downtown, we're in the historic heart of Janesville. And I like to believe we help give people a greater sense of pride in this city.
3. Aside from Rock County Brewing Co., where do you like to go when you feel like having a beer? As a home brewer, I always like brewing 10 gallons of beer but splitting it into two 5-gallon fermenters and using different yeasts. I just liked seeing how vastly different yeast could make a beer. Therefore, I like places where I can usually try something new. In Janesville, that was really only The Looking Glass or O'Riley & Conway's. These were the places willing to bring in different beers from what you see at every small liquor store.
4. Does glassware make any difference when serving beer? Yes, it helps in multiple ways with regards to head retention, flow within the glass, warming of the beer from your hand and much more. Personally, I'm fine with a pint glass ... unless you got a glass that holds more.
5. Sometimes it's hard to tell if you'll like a beer's flavor before you buy it. Is it rude to ask for a sampling beforehand? Absolutely. Especially with some of the more experimental beers. Just be respectful. Don't ask for a sample of all our beers as that's what a flight is for. Just like you shouldn't sample all of Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors. I often will pour a small sample when someone says “I don't like IPA's” or something like “anything not dark.” This is when I like to remind people that we taste with our mouth, not our eyes. Be willing to try something different. I've converted people who “hate beer” and only drink wine into people proudly proclaiming their love for our Nut Brown Ale. I've converted people who hate IPAs and hoppy beers into those who enjoy them.
6. Choose your superpower. Flight. It just seems it'd make most of life easier. Traffic jam? Nope. Elevator out? Oh well. Angry mob after you because of wrong glassware? I'm out. I could literally drop out of the sky and surprise people. That'd just be a lot of fun. Strong people are always called to help people move. With X-ray vision, there are too many things that can't be unseen. Supersonic hearing? Already got that with Facebook. I'll take flight.
7. Does beer have nutritional value? Absolutely. The German Paulaner monks would fast for 46 days from solid food, only drinking their dopplebock as liquid bread during the evenings of Lent. This beer was their sole source of nutrition during that time. Guinness was often prescribed as medicine, especially with people who were unable to eat. Let's not forget yeast from unpasteurized and unfiltered beer is good for your beneficial gut bacteria. Beer is simple malted (toasted) barley grains, water, hops and yeast. That's about as natural as you can get and with much better ingredients than what is found in soda and many other drinks.
8. Are ghosts real? No, but our minds are powerful enough to convince us of anything.
9. Do you have a nickname? Doak Walker. It was given to me my freshman year of high school at Craig by football coach Bill O'Leary. In college football, there's a Doak Walker award for the nation's best running back, so I'd like to believe it was because I was such an outstanding running back. But I'm pretty sure it was just a clean four-letter word he could call me.
10. What's the best way to clean your palate between different beers? Pretzels or something bready. It seems to just wipe your palate clean.
11. In one word, explain the brewing scene in Janesville. Fermenting.
12. Have you tried any recipes/ingredients that ended up going horribly wrong? I recall doing a video for my home brewing website where I was going to show everyone just how easy home brewing is. Absolutely nothing went right. I dropped things all over the place, mumbled my words, was ill prepared and thought I'd boost the alcohol with more cane sugar. The video was horrible, and the beer was worse. Oddly though, my brother-in-law loved the beer and kept requesting it.
13. Do you have any pets? We have two dogs. Racha is a female pit-bull mix we got from the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, and Rimo, a short-haired border-collie-esque male mutt, we got from the Green County Humane Society about 10 years ago.
14. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. As a child, I longed to be on the television show “Puttin' On the Hits,” a lip-sync music show.
15. What is one item that goes into your grocery cart whether you need it or not? Probably some type of vegetable, like carrots. At the grocery store, you're always filled with good intentions—but those good intentions usually go rotten in the fridge.
16. Are there any ingredients you'd like to try that you've never heard of anyone trying before? What are they? I really like the book “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. He's given so many examples of where humanity started and diverted from. I made a mead (honey wine) a couple of years ago and wanted to get as many bee parts into the honey as possible. The idea being that early mead (nectar of the gods) was likely created by taking an active hive and throwing it into boiling water—bees and all. There have also been some ingredients that have created beers described as “euphoric” that grabbed my attention.
17. What pizza topping do you refuse to eat? I'm still somewhat of a purist. I don't like these Alfredo sauce pizzas or broccoli on a
pizza. Mac & cheese pizza is a no-go. Pizza is also one of those things you shouldn't waste your time trying to veganize, either.
18. Your Belgian Wit has chamomile in it. If I drink it, will it help me sleep? Technically, it could ... but not likely. Chamomile has a beautiful flavor that was a great addition to the Wit profile. But maybe this is where the idea of selling growlers of the chamomile Wit as a nighttime drink to help you sleep comes into play.
19. In hindsight, what is the one thing you wish you'd known before you opened Rock County Brewing Co.? I can't put my finger on anything, really. There's always pros and cons, but it's the effort and work that gives you pride in something. Hiccups and struggles either reinforce your belief or collapse it.
20. On your website, you claim your Pub Ale has “a nice tropical fruit/ bubblegum flavor and aroma.” How did you pull that one off? That is a combination between the hops used and accentuated by the strain of yeast used during fermentation. Touching back to many of these questions, that's what makes beer so wonderful to try and different styles and recipes so interesting. The variety of hops available today is amazing with new experimental hops coming out all the time. I swear Rocco is making up new hop names all the time, just to find out he's telling the truth. The temperature at which you ferment the beer can also greatly affect the performance and flavors produced by the yeast. This is why I've always felt home brewing is such a great hobby. Plus, in the end you still end up with beer.