Brewer's Playlist Volume 9: Thomas Bleigh Of Widmer Brothers Brewing
In our ninth Brewer's Playlist we interview, Thomas Bleigh, Innovation Brewmaster at Widmer Brothers Innovation Brewhouse in Portland, Oregon. This column explores how music influences brewers in their quest to produce unique and delicious beers. At the end of the interview, a curated Spotify Playlist from Thomas is available for the public to listen to. Enjoy.
Q. How did you get into craft beer?
A. I got into the beer industry by luck and circumstance. I had a graduate Fine Art degree from UW-Madison and had worked at Alfred University, and as a graphic designer for Sonic Foundry and, the jobs while interesting weren’t completely fulfilling. After the tech bust of the late 90’s, my wife and I located to Portland and I decided to apprentice at a brewery to see if it might be a good fit. I cold called all the breweries in town and Portland Brewing Company let me volunteer for 8 months before I became a full time employee. Thankfully, it worked out and I can’t imagine myself in any other line of work.
Q. How has music influenced your brewing?
A. Music has influenced me to make certain styles of beer or explore process. The most influential part of music is usually reflected when I collaborate with partners. It reminds me that as brewers that we all make beer, but have very different opinions and views on how to best work with malts, yeast and hops to create something that is well written and cohesive. Like musicians, some brewers are gifted naturally, others are very technical, and some are improvisational or practical. It also influences my beer naming.
Q. What type of music do you like to listen to while you brew?
A. I was raised listening to old country and I’m still a large fan, but I listen to an eclectic mix of early influential music, things that are nostalgic, things I listen to know and because of my kids, a lot of pop music.
Q. Do you listen to a certain type of genre of music?
A. Music influences evolve over time and can be location or experience specific. Music at Portland Brewing Company was generally controlled by the packaging staff. Long hours in packaging had a tendency to favor speed metal. Music wasn’t played in the brewhouse, but I was influenced quite a bit both as a brewer and musically by Sean Garvin (Assistant Brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery). He played a lot of Wilco, Niko Case, Postal Service, and Cat Powers; music I still listen to today. At Hopworks, the music was controlled by the first person in the brewery, but the music in large was chosen in a democratic manner. The music explored every genre of music possible (from bluegrass, to classical, to Disney). On occasion music was played to see how long co-workers could endure a playlist before needing to change the playlist. At CBA, there are only three of us in innovation, so the music is split equally and generally determined by task and mood of the day.
Q. Have you ever brewed a music oriented beer before? If so, please explain what and why?
A. At Hopworks, we brewed “Bitchin’ Camaro,” a Crystal Fresh Hop Lager (Dead Milkmen). Currently, the innovation team and I are working on a series of Imperial Beers with the working title, “Some Beers are Better than Others-“ an indirect reference to a song by The Smiths.
Q. Do you play any instruments?
A. I played alto saxophone as a kid. I own a lot of guitars (my dad, now deceased was in a country western band when I was a kid in Germany), but I don’t play any instruments.
Q. Who is your favorite musician and why?
A. Currently, it’s probably, First aid Kit. They epitomize the soul of some of my early exposure with the folk quality I listen to mostly now…
Q. What was the first concert you went to?
A. First concert I went to with my family was at the Fresno Fairgrounds and was Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys. The first concert I went to on my own was Public Enemy with Anthrax.
Q. What was the most recent concert you went to?
A. I recently tried to go see my friends, Rainer Maria play at Doug Fir, but my kids got sick right before leaving for the show.
Q. How do you discover new music?
A. Friends and Spotify.
Q. What are your favorite online/offline resources for learning new brewing techniques and ingredients?
A. MBAA’s Technical Quarterly. CBC. Jeff Alworth’s blog and books. Zymurgy magazine. Friends and peers.
Q. What are you excited about coming up at your brewery?
A. I’m always excited about collaborations. I’ve had some fun ones this year: Kirin, Agua Mala, Hopworks and I’m looking forward to a beer we’re making with Migration. I’m excited about the WW Pro/Am beer I helped with and some of our barrel aging projects.
Q. Spotify Playlist- Choose 10-20 songs you listen to while you brew?
In a Brewer's Playlist first, Thomas has dedicated these bonus tracks to his family.
1. John Barry | End Title (For my Wife)
2. Lenka | Show (For My Daughter)
3. Elvis | In the Ghetto (For My Son)
4. Cardigans | Iron Man (For Me)
See the complete list below: