I sat down with Trace, Co-founder and Head Brewer at Elder Piper, to talk about his brewing style and some of his favorite recipes. I also learned what style of beer he’ll brew first to break in the Elder Piper brewhouse.

The Spark of Interest

What started your interest in brewing?

My college biology teaching assistant, Leo, asked me if I wanted to homebrew with him. We lived in Kalamazoo, so we went to Bell’s General Store and purchased a homebrew kit. That first brew was an amber ale. We called it “Fox Paws”. 

I have always been interested in cooking and biology.  Homebrewing brought those two interests together in a fun way. I kept going back to the homebrew shop all through college. When I graduated, I had the choice to continue on to grad school or get a job. I applied to Founder’s Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids and got the job. That’s where my real brewing education began. 

You have made over 400 different beer recipes throughout your professional brewing career. What is your favorite style of beer to make? 

I love to explore. My favorite brews are those that allow me to work with new ingredients or try a new technique. 

I also like to make once-a-year special occasion beers. I’ve brewed a barley wine for Christmas for the past 7 years. I always look forward to the brew day. Getting up extra early for a big mash and long boil, the oatmeal and caramel smell of the mash, I love the process. It is just as satisfying to taste the fruits of that labor once the beer is done conditioning. 

How would you describe your brewing style? Is there a beer that exemplifies your approach to brewing? 

I like to make balanced aromatically expressive beers on the drier side with a focus on unique processes. 

I brewed a table beer that was open-fermented with Brettanomyces and then bottle-conditioned with pear juice. It was lightly tart with big fruity and funky aromas and utterly crushable. That brew was an interesting process for me to explore, but you didn’t have to know any of that to enjoy the beer. It was interesting and delicious – that’s the kind of beer I like to make. 

That brew was an interesting process for me to explore, but you didn’t have to know any of that to enjoy the beer. It was interesting and delicious – that’s the kind of beer I like to make.

IPAs and Commissioning Brews

I am surprised IPAs haven’t come up yet. You’ve brewed some award-winning and very commercially successful IPAs – what do you like about that style? 

I crave hops. I think the popularity of IPAs comes from the diversity of flavors and aroma profiles that different varieties of hops present. From fruity, juicy, and full-bodied to piney and bone dry, there is a range of hop flavors and aromas to explore. It never gets old. 

What is the first beer you’ll brew on our system?

Stout! My wife, a former Sierra Nevada Beer Adventurer, says that Sierra Nevada makes a stout to commission all their brewhouses. If it’s good enough for Ken Grossman (Founder of Sierra Nevada), it’s good enough for me!

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