Whether you’re a longtime follower of Summit Brewing Co. or a brand-new fan, one thing we make clear from the get go is our attention to quality, consistency and continual learning. We pride ourselves in our experimentation when it comes to ingredients and technique, as well as our desire to expand our beer line-up by adding in new and adventurous brews.
A huge part of this is the talent that makes up our Summit team. And over the last few years, we’ve been building out a stellar brew squad. Not only do they each bring a masterful knowledge of beer to the table, but they also have an insatiable desire to learn.
So, we’d like to introduce you to the members of our awesome Summit brewing team. Back in March, we met brewer Melissa Rainville. Now, we’re getting to learn a bit more about Summit’s Lead Brewer Mike Lundell.
Let’s start at the beginning! What made you want to get into the brewing industry?
I didn’t really know I could turn beer into a living! In 1996, I was running a scuba diving shop in Burnsville, Minn. A friend had just started at Summit, and I loved Summit beer, so why not join him! I quit my salaried job to work part-time on the bottling line, about 15-20 hours a week. I found extra hours cleaning parts of the packaging line. That showed some people I was serious about sticking around. I was given additional hours, helping to clean and rack kegs. Stacking 300 half barrels was a fun little workout! After 14 months on the packaging line, I was brought into the cellar, cleaning and sanitizing fermenters, and here we are!
From scuba diving to beer brewing! That is quite the transition. So, it sounds like you learned a lot on the job here. Did you study brewing?
Mark Stutrud actually trained me in the brew house at our current brewery on Montreal Circle. I had done some home brewing, so I understood the concept of brewing just not at this scale! I attended the MBAA Malting and Brewing Sciences course in 2004. My education is ongoing, I attend conferences/workshops every year. I am still buying books on brewing and beer styles. I was asked a few years ago by Sig, the retired Brewmaster at the Schmidt brewery on W 7th St. in St. Paul, “Young man, how long have you been brewing?” I answered, “15 years.” He said “You’re still a rookie!”
I imagine one of the best things about brewing is the fact there is so much to learn all the time. Styles are changing and new ingredients are popping up. There’s always something new happening! Speaking of beer styles, what was the first beer you ever had?
I’m sure I had sips of beer from my parents or grandparents, but the first beer I had to myself was in 1983, a Leinenkugel. My friend’s dad gave it to me. He said, “I knew your parents in high school, I think it’s okay to have one!”
I think we all have those family friends who have shared a beverage before! What would you say was the first beer you had that made you want to learn more about the beverage?
Schell’s Weiss beer. Coworkers turned me on to Schell’s, they had travelled to Germany and said the beer was authentic. That got me wondering what that meant. So, I started hitting liquor stores looking for anything that wasn’t Miller or Bud.
I think it’s great that we have a history of strong brewing in Minnesota and Summit has become such an integral part of that. How do you feel Summit has helped define craft beer?
Summit set the stage in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1986.
So true! It really revived that history of brewing and brought it into the mainstay. Outside of Summit, what beer do you think helped define the craft?
Sierra Nevada. They are still crushing after all these years. I’m sure some people will disagree, and that’s cool.
Sierra Nevada definitely has a legacy! And, while some people may disagree, I think that is another example of how expansive the brewing industry is. However, it’s that expansive nature and the ever-growing number of breweries that has some people worried about the industry. What are some challenges you feel the brewing industry faces?
Keeping beer relevant. With the influx of seltzers and other fizzy canned alcoholic drinks, the consumer has many more options. Keeping them aware/interested in beer is very important.
What do you think the future of beer is in 2021?
My dream, Lager Revolution! I would love to see that! However, I’m sure IPA’s will still be king.
I think there are many people that share that dream of a lager revolution. Makes me thirsty to think about the great beers we’d get out of that! Moving in a bit of a different direction, you are Summit’s Lead Brewer. What does having that title mean to you?
I’ve had this title for only a few months, so I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m too busy making sure we get beer to packaging so we can get it out the door into the hands of our consumers!
I know many people appreciate your efforts there! If you have had a spare moment to think about it, how do you think your perspective as the brewer who has been with Summit the longest shapes the team?
I just try and lead by example, answer questions as best as I can and help out where needed. I’m not sure I really shape the team, that’s not something I make a point of doing. Maybe ask them! What do I know, I’m still a Rookie!
I think that is a great mindset to have – leading by example. I’m sure the other brewers greatly appreciate your team player attitude, too! Now for a hard question! What is your favorite Summit beer?
I really like Keller Pils.
That is favorite among the Summit staff! It’s easy to know why though since it’s such a great beer. We’ll finish up with one last question about the brewery: Why do you love working at Summit?
It’s a great local company with a fantastic group of employees. I get to make beer for a living, I mean, for real! I guess Beer is My Life!