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Portico Brewing's Alex Zielke [5 Questions]

Author // Jeff Wharton

When we heard there was another brewing company opening up in the Boston area, with a German trained brewmaster, we knew we had to go check it out. It was in a small bar in Camrbidge, MA's Harvard Square that we first tried Portico's beer in early 2012, and we knew we had to have more. They've been growing around Boston since then, adding tap handle after tap handle and putting out some seriously delicious beer. They joined us at both Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale as well as Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest and we always look forward to getting another chance to drink some of their delicious beer. Somehow, between making and selling beer, we were able to get a hold of head brewer Alex Zielke to ask him some questions.

Portico Brewing Team
The Portico team at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest. Alex Zielke is second from left.

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?

Alex Zielke: I wasn’t really into craft beer until I took a ‘Beers of the World’ class in college. Yes, my school offered that for credit.  I had some equipment left over from my failed attempt at making wine the previous semester, so a friend and I decided to try homebrewing beer instead because, why not.  After college I kept homebrewing while I worked in biotech, a job that came in handy because I could use the autoclave to sterilize tons of bottles.  Like many other brewers, I found my weekend hobby much more fun than my weekday job and in late 2008 I decided to take the plunge and focus on brewing.  I quit my job and moved to Berlin for six months to join the Brewmaster program at the Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB).  After Germany and a short stint interning at Rohrbach's Brewery I came to Boston, met Alex and Ian, and here we are.

DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or moment) that made you love craft beer?

AZ: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the turning point for me. That was my gateway craft beer. Growing up in Seattle, there were so many incredible local breweries to choose from.  My friends and I used to spend Sundays going on brewery tours, usually first to Red Hook, then over to Mac and Jack’s.

DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one beer can be from your brewery.

AZ: Off the top of my head, I'd say:

  1. Troegs Nugget Nectar
  2. Zunft Kolsch, Erzquell Brauerei
  3. Left Hand Milk Stout
  4. Southern Tier Unearthly
  5. Alchemist Heady Topper
  6. (and of course) Portico Fuzzy Logic

DCB: You have one night in your favorite beer city. What city are you in and where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?

AZ: My favorite beer city is still Seattle, and this adventure would be all beer.  I would start out in the burbs on the eastside (Woodinville) and hit up Dirty Bucket and Triplehorn brewing.  Last time I was in town I had a great Dirty Blond Ale and IPA at their respective places.  Next, and assuming I am not the one driving for this escapade, I’d head one town over to Redmond to stop at Black Raven Brewing for some of their amazing cask ales and then over to Mac & Jack's, for posterity's sake.  Then out to Seattle to the Pike Brewing Company just off the waterfront for a sampler and probably a pint.  After all the beer, grab a bowl of fresh mac & cheese at Beecher's Handmade Cheese just up the street in Pike Place Market and then head north to Fremont. In Fremont a quick, or not so quick, stop at Brouwer's for some Belgian beer, and then head north again to finish off the night at Naked City Brewery & Taphouse.

DCB: What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?

AZ: I'd probably still be working in science, doing a post-doc in microbiology or maybe working for another biotech startup.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?

AZ: Maybe it's because I am from Seattle, but I'm actually a pretty big fan of coffee. Sure it gets you going in the morning but there is also a lot of depth and flavor to coffee if you get it from the right place.  I am not talking sugary frappa-whosawhatsits, but black, fresh brewed coffee that tastes like roasty, dark chocolate.

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Alex!