VL: So, what was your inspiration?
BC: I was thinking about the beers
worldwide that I felt were the best.
To me there was a common theme —
they were always pleasing, and almost
confusingly so. In other words, [with] a
big stout you could just point to the roast
flavor and go, “Look how roasty that is.”
But you’d get these world-class beers and
go, “Wow, that’s good.” And you don’t
know why. My concept was that if you
got your complexity right and balanced, it
would come off on the palate as actually
being very smooth and easy drinking.
I thought, “If I do this right, and I get
this balance right, I’m going to trick these
folks into drinking beer that’s far more
complex than they’d ever dreamed they
would like. And I’m going to bring them
into our fold.” So, that was what I was after.
VL: How much of brewing is a science
and how much of it is an art?
BC: Brewing is more science than
art. To really make good beer, it’s about
process, and it’s about understanding real
subtle nuances of the process. The recipe
is the creativity part, but after that, you’re
crunching numbers, and you’re following
very specific processes. Interesting little-known fact I discovered at Boulevard,
and [it] continues to this day, is musicians
make good brewers, artists do not. Artists
tend to not stick to the flow and the plan
and the discipline. Whereas musicians
understand rhythm and that one thing
has to come after another for it to be
right; they have a feel for it. I’ve had a lot
of successful musician brewers.
VL: How did you come up with the
BC: Names are really hard. We’re really
bad at them.
VL: Switchback is pretty catchy, though.
BC: Switchback comes from trying a mil-
lion names. I’d keep a pad of paper next to
the bed. One day I was coming back from
a trip visiting some friends, and we’d been
trying to figure out a name. They had sug-
gested I think about my hobbies. I’m a cy-
clist but nothing about bikes sounded right
— sprockets, wheels — nothing worked. I
love to hike, but Long Trail owns hiking, so
I couldn’t do that.
As I got closer to home, I saw Camels
Hump, and I thought about the Green
Mountain Stage Race that I had done a few
times. They let non-pros do a ride. It’s Middlebury Gap and the Appalachian Gap;
you have to go across the mountains twice
and finish after 67 miles on the App Gap at
the very top of it. It’s all switchbacks. The
second I thought of Switchback, I liked
it — it doesn’t sound like any of my competitors; it’s a great reference to mountains.
I called a friend and asked her what she
thought about Switchback, and she said,
“Oh, it makes me thirsty just hearing it.”
VL: You also say that the word
Switchback has a deeper meaning. Can
BC: To me, Switchback became a
metaphor for life. Name the person
whose path was straight. I always wanted
to be a brewer but ended up making
bologna. When I went to Boulevard, it
turned out all that food experience was
really valuable. I got a big raise one year
because of the efficiencies I was able to
bring to production. To me, there’s no
bad experience. Even when you’ve had a
setback and you’re going the wrong way,
you’re still gaining experience toward
your goal. Very Zen, I think.
VL: If you could sit at your bar with
someone, living or dead, to drink a pint
of beer, who would it be?
BC: Strangely enough, I’d go straight to
presidents. George Washington. I had a
roommate who was a history major, and he
made me appreciate George Washington.
The world had never seen the leader of
an entire nation willingly step down from
power. My roommate pointed out that it is
really an underappreciated fact, that simple
act. No one wants to do that when they’re
at the top — interesting enough, since we
just talked about my succession. A
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