Introducing John Bryce, the brain behind the brewery at Mount Ida Reserve!
Where are you from, and how long have you been brewing beer?
I grew up in Richmond and have been brewing beer commercially for over 15 years. I’ve spent about 9 years here in Cville.
What sparked your interest in the beer industry?
I did some apprenticeship in a couple of small breweries right after college. I immediately fell in love with the process, the aromas, the science, the art, and the idea of having a delicious tangible product at the end of a physically demanding work day.
Do you have any formal education about brewing? If so, what was it?
Yes, I graduated (Certified Brewmaster) from Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin (VLB) in 2008. This was a fantastic experience and really filled in a lot of holes in my knowledge. The hands-on microbiology, wet chemistry, sensory analysis, and pilot scale malting were all great experiences. There’s no better way to study the biochemistry of brewing than total immersion in Germany with 27 other commercial brewers from 14 countries.
What are some of your favorite past projects you have worked on?
Opening my first brewery (Blacksburg Brewing Co.) at the age of 23 was crazy, but an experience that shaped me and my career. After that, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to work at Old Dominion Brewing Co. in the mid 2000s. ODBC was a pinoeer in the Mid-Atlantic and the largest craft brewery in the state for a long time; I learned a lot there. I’ve really enjoyed some of the special projects I got to work on with my friend Scott Zetterstrom, such as decommisioning the old Baltimore Brewing Co for shipment to Denmark and a handful of other crazy rigging jobs. I had some great experiences during my many years at Starr Hill – I’m really proud of what we accomplished there, and I’m proud of how my friends who are still there continue to build on that each year. I’ve had a lot of fun working as an independent consultant for the last ~4 years, and it’s been great to watch the industry grow while helping lots of different breweries make better beer. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed building & producing the Master Brewers Podcast for the Master Brewers Association of The Americas (MBAA) – there is so much technical brewing knowledge & research out there, and it’s really great to help connect thousands of brewers to that knowledge each week. There’s always more to learn. I’ve been working on some farm brewery projects lately, which has been an exciting excuse to work closely with the area’s newest craft maltster, and I’m particularly excited about Mount Ida Reserve…it’s going to be really special.
What vision do you have for the tap house at Mount Ida Reserve?
Well, Tom’s vision needs no refinement. He’s building an absolutely beautiful structure in an absolutely beautiful setting. My job is to deliver the best possible beer experience and make this the kind of place that you never want to leave. Quality comes first. We’re not trying to constantly push the envelope and make the next weirdest beer you’ve ever had. When you shuffle into Mount Ida Reserve and finally make your way to the bar after 10 minutes of gawking at the scenery, you can count on finding:
- A couple of traditional European lagers (ie. pilsner/export/marzen/etc.)
- Several hop forward beers of varying strength (ie. session IPA, IPA, Double IPA)
- At least 1 wheat beer most of the time (ie. hefeweizen/wit)
- Something dark (ie. stout/porter/schwarzbier)
- Something seasonal
We’re also planning to grow some barley on the farm, so eventually we’ll have some nice “estate beers” as well. You’re probably not going to discover many new, obscure beer styles at Mount Ida Reserve, but I hope you’ll leave saying…”wow, that was the best version of that style I’ve ever had.” Details matter, and we’ll be focused on them.
What is your favorite beer to make, and what is your favorite beer to drink?
My favorite beers to make are delicate European lagers – the true test of any brewer’s skill. There’s no 3 lbs per bbl of hops or 8% ABV to hide your mistakes behind. The flavors are nuanced and all details matter: water chemistry, yeast vitality, pitch rate, pH, TPO, etc. Everything has to be perfect and the proof is in the pint. My favorite beers to drink are…well, perfectly made European lagers…and session IPAs. I’ve attached an article that’s a couple of years old where I answer that question in more detail.
What is unique about the Charlottesville beer industry?
Charlottesville is a great place to drink beer because (I think) we’ve got a higher than average overall beer quality, with plenty of variety. We’ve also got a good mix of industry veterans as well as some fairly new entrants to the industry. The old timers are always willing to help the new guys make better beer, which means visitors are likely to have a good experience most anywhere in town.
How do you see Mount Ida Reserve fitting into the Charlottesville/Scottsville beer scene?
Well, I hope even more breweries will open along route 20, so we can create a beer trail from Cville to Scottsville that rivals 151. Regardless, Mount Ida Reserve is going to be unlike any other experience in the state. I can’t imagine a better, more beautiful place to drink a beer in Virginia – that just doesn’t exist. We’re going to brew some great beers and rumor has it the wine will be pretty great too…if you’re into that sort of thing 😉