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Interview: Michael Jordan

Boxing Cat Brewery suffered a crippling loss last May with the untimely death of partner, brewer and bard extraordinaire Gary Heyne. But they managed to stay afloat and even move forward with a ne...
2010-11-05 13:11:00

Boxing Cat Brewery suffered a crippling loss last May with the untimely death of partner, brewer and bard extraordinaire Gary Heyne. But they managed to stay afloat and even move forward with a new branch. The next step was to find someone to helm the ship. Enter Michael Jordan. He arrived just last week. We caught up with him to talk about beer and the enormous shoes he has to fill.


SmSh:Okay, let's start with the essentials. Who are you and where are you from?

Jordan: So my full name is Michael Jordan... Yes, just like the basketball player. I have my father's name so we both are used to the jokes and references to basketball. Too bad I am not a tall black guy... I was raised in Spokane, Washington and lived in Portland Oregon from 1991-2008. The last 2 years I was living in Denmark brewing beer in a small town called Haderslev, which is about 30 minutes from the German border.

SmSh:What got you into brewing beer?

Jordan: I began home-brewing in university around 1993 while studying life sciences... In 1995 I had part time classes in university and began working in a microbrewery in Portland called Nor'Wester Brewing Company. I began in the packaging (bottling) department and eventually was trained to do everything in the brewery. That was the start of my brewing career and I have enjoyed it enough to make it my lifelong profession. Last time I counted, I've worked for seven breweries and brewed in eleven different brewhouses.

SmSh:Is there a certain personality type that gets into brewing beer?

Jordan: I think most micro-brewers/craft-brewers are similar in that they enjoy making something themselves and at the end of the day they can enjoy the fruit of their labor. Most people really enjoy the process of making beer and like the industry as a whole. We often are passionate about what we do and enjoy talking to people about the art and science of making beer. Also, I have a formal education in sciences and brewing so in that way I am a bit different from some other craft-brewers. But, I feel there is a gradual change that is occurring as the industry in the USA is getting competitive and having an education in brewing helps separate yourself from others, so more and more craft brewers are educated brewers.

SmSh:What were your first thoughts when you saw a job opening for a brew master in, of all places, China?

Jordan: I was rather surprised. I'd heard about craft brewing in China but had never talked with anybody about it. The job opportunity struck me as being unique and exciting and a real chance to get in the craft brewing community in China while it’s still young.

SmSh:Aside from the jet lag, have there been any snags to getting started here?

Jordan: No real snags thus far... Just getting used to living in such a large city. It's nice to be back in a city and have modern day conveniences available at my fingertips nearly 24/7. I've only been here a week though. I fully expect some interesting snags to appear.

SmSh:I understand this is quite a dramatic career move for you, not just because you’ve moved to the other side of the world, but because you were working for a much larger operation in Denmark. What inspired the move to a smaller brewery?

Jordan: Well, the market in Denmark is very competitive and most large breweries are losing market share. I also didn't have a lot of creative opportunities with my last job... Not only that, my job post involved malting, which can be interesting, but ultimately I’m a brewer at heart.

SmSh: How much creative license will you be getting on this job?

Jordan: Kelley and Lee [Kelley Lee and Lee Tseng, the owners] have given me a lot of room for creative license. I am free to make anything I want as long as I think it will sell. In time I hope to push the envelope a bit... I have a few ideas and I'll probably be the first person to brew certain styles of beer in China. Stay tuned!

SmSh: By now, I’m sure you’ve tasted some of Gary Heyne’s beers and seen the recipes he’s left behind. In what ways, if any, do your brewing philosophies differ?

Jordan: I think we share the same brewing philosophies in general. The only difference might be that I am used to larger production and repeatability in brewing so the character of the beer is as consistent as possible.

What style of beer is your specialty?

Jordan: I'm not sure I have one that I consider to be my specialty... I've brewed a lot of pale ales and IPAs as they're very popular in Oregon. I’ve also produced a lot of Hefeweizens and feel like I can show most brewers a trick or two about brewing them. In the end, though, I really just like to focus on brewing beer that is interesting, complex but very drinkable.

SmSh: What kind of beers can we expect from you?

Jordan: I would like to brew a few different Belgian style beers including Wit and Saison. I'd also like to brew a Black IPA somewhere down the road. I foresee a seasonal rotation of beers in the works, too... The challenge right now is sourcing enough quality ingredients to make all these different beers. And that's my immediate goal, to source some different specialty malts and hop varieties.

SmSh: When can we expect them?

Jordan: I want to brew a winter beer in the next several weeks and have it available by mid-December. Some tweaks and adjustments are being made to the current beers and they'll be available rather soon. I've brought some Simcoe hops hops with me and will use them in the IPA. I just brewed this batch today and it should be available in two or three weeks.

SmSh: You’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill. Are you in any way nervous about how you'll be received?

Jordan: Yeah, I have heard some stories about Gary. I wish I would’ve had the chance to meet him in person to experience his passion for life. But I am not really nervous about how I'll be received. I am outgoing but perhaps a bit "quieter" than Gary. I can only be myself and have fun with what I do and share that passion with others.


With the new Boxing Cat at Sinan Mansions, there are now three locations in Shanghai. Click here for their listing information.