Marc Gottfried drinks Kräftig on the job. And he’s paid for it, too. It’s one of the perks of being a brewmaster. But there’s a whole lot more to the job than just drinking lager. From helping create the Kräftig recipes to overseeing the entire brewing process, Marc is a man committed to quality. Meet the guy who spends most of his waking life surrounded by beer: Brewmaster Marc Gottfried.
What drew you to the beer industry?
While I really don’t know for sure since I was so young, I usually attribute it to the immense presence of the beer industry in St. Louis. I lived in Connecticut until I was 12 and we didn’t have any one industry that the region wore like a badge of honor. Curious, I went on several brewery tours with my mom and I eventually started homebrewing at the age of 14. Keep in mind my mom was a nationally-respected microbiologist and textbook author, so she humored my new hobby for its scientific value. My interest piqued after a meeting she set up for me with now retired brewmaster, Phil Columbatto, who offered encouragement and advice. We are still good friends today.
Why did you choose to specialize in lager?
Honestly, it was just how the cards fell. I was working at a homebrewing shop when I got my start at Morgan Street Brewery. I became Assistant Brewmaster at 19 and Brewmaster at 21. Morgan Street only produced lagers, which was brilliant because while lagers take up to three or four times longer to make and are therefore more expensive to produce, other pubs weren’t doing it. It gave me a chance to learn about something lesser known in the craft brewing world, which eventually made me attractive to Billy for his venture into the world of premium lager.
What inspired Kräftig’s recipes?
When Billy approached me, he had a vision for what he wanted to create. He had contacted a famous brewmaster overseas and received a recipe for a helles style beer, like a light Oktoberfest. We knew we’d have to make some changes to lighten it up, so we brewed the original beer and worked from there. After about seven different versions, we had two recipes we liked and they eventually became Kräftig Lager and Kräftig Light.
What has been the biggest challenge working as a brewmaster?
When I transitioned from being a craft brewer using a 15bbl. manual brewhouse to a premium lager brewer using a 1440bbl. fully-automated brewhouse, it was and continues to be very challenging. The process isn’t like making lemonade where you can just double or triple a recipe by adding more ingredients. There are countless variables to take into account when trying to make a beer in a brewery other than the one it was developed in. We piloted Kräftig and Kräftig Light in a small format, and when we realized we had a winner, I had to blow it up for production.
What do you find most rewarding about being a brewmaster?
This is a pretty big dork answer, but the fine-tuning of a recipe to maintain consistency. You hear slogans like “The same recipe since 1901…” but that’s never true. I like to say that we never brew the same recipe twice in an attempt to make the same beer every time. As brewers, we are dealing with crops and their ever-changing characteristics. The brewer must pay attention to the analyses of these crops and alter the recipe so that they have the same effect on the finished product.
Where do you see William K. Busch Brewing Company in 10 years?
The next ten years will be full of surprises! I see us building a brewery very soon that will be an amazing place where people can come and enjoy themselves. We intend on introducing a line of craft beers in addition to Kräftig Lager and Light. As Billy and Christi’s kids have come of age, several have shown interest in the industry and I see their active participation in the business continuing. While the company bears the name Busch, I think St. Louis will continue to recognize us as a small, American-owned family company that loves the region as much as they do.
What inspires you?
Witnessing a consumer buying our beer. A legitimate sale without influence from my being there or having talked to them first tells me that we are doing something right. That person decided to give up some of their hard-earned money in exchange for something we made. It inspires me to maintain our level of quality so that we do not let that person down.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Free time? Just kidding, there is some. I am a real homebody since I travel a lot for my job. I enjoy woodworking, reloading ammunition, participating in the shooting sports, boating, four wheeling, waterfowl hunting, and being outside with the love of my life, Laura.
What’s your favorite food to eat with Kräftig?
I’m a big BBQ fanatic and I have recently been learning how to smoke meat, so I’ll answer this as a cooking question as well. I like to smoke pork butt over Kräftig Lager instead of water. You can really pick up the malty notes in the finished pork. Also, I did some deep-fried alligator tenderloins with a Kräftig Light Dijon sauce that turned out rather nicely. I bring it all together by pairing the dish with the beer I made it with.
What’s your favorite beer to drink and why?
This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I mostly drink Kräftig Light. I just think it’s a great all-around beer and it’s pretty much the only beer in my fridge. I also like Urban Chestnut Zwickel and Ku’Damm for some local favorites. I don’t have much of a palate for bitterness anymore. I like hops, but over the years of brewing premium lager, my tastes have drifted to the lighter side. I love the märzen or Oktoberfest style, but many American brewers have mutated it to where it’s no longer authentic. Try Paulaner or Ayinger from Germany if you want to know what an Oktoberfest should taste like.
What’s the craziest beer you’ve ever tried?
A very long time ago, there was a homebrewing competition where the goal was to make the most disgusting looking beer that tasted fantastic. This one guy made a jet-black beer with squid that he had cooked to the point of being flavorless. The white squid tentacles in the black beer were a gross contrast, yet the beer was quite good – a schwartzbier, I think.
If you could have a beer with anyone who ever lived, who would it be and why?
My mom. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for her vision on an obviously sensitive subject given the age I was when I started. Brain cancer took her quickly, and while she got to see some of the fruits of her labor, it would be nice to share a Kräftig Light with her… or two.
Being a brewmaster ain’t easy, but Marc Gottfried does a great job of making it look that way. Kräftig wouldn’t be the same without him. Prost to you, Marc!