In Milwaukee Record’s “Meet A Brewer” series, we aim to introduce you to some of the professionals behind the scenes who are responsible for making your favorite local beers. The recurring series—sponsored by BeerPass MKE, the only app that partners with Milwaukee bars, restaurants, and breweries to give you a free beer every single day you go out—continues with Water Street Brewery (including the Milwaukee location rebranded as “The Brewery”) Director of Brewing Operations George Bluvas.

Milwaukee Record: When did you start in brewing and what brought you to where you are today?

George Bluvas: I always thought I was a good “bad kid.” I was in high school and I had a really good chemistry teacher and I was really interested in what he was doing. He taught me how to distill. Through my high school career, I got interested in making alcohol and fireworks. I started with ciders—just literally like “prison wine” with fermented apple juice and yeast—and then beers came a few years later. By the time I was in college, I was throwing home brew parties where I’d have four or five kegs of my own beer. Rather than paying five dollars for a cup and drinking Miller Lite all night, I invited people to come over and drink my stuff and would have little notebooks out by everything.

For formal schooling, I have an A.S. in chemistry and I’m a third of the way through the brewmaster program at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, but by and large, it’s been 30 years of hands-on learning from people. Much more boots on the ground than schooling.

MR: What are a few of your favorite beers you’ve ever made? It could be home brews from those house parties, things from the modern day, or maybe something you’re working on now that hasn’t hit draft lines yet.

GB: I’ve been lucky enough to enter a lot of beers in national competitions. I have 20 medals from national competitions—Great American Beer Festival, North American Brewers Association—where a bunch of guys get together and judge beer on their merits. In 2016, I won two gold medals at North American Brewers Association for my Kladruber Porter, which is a really, really strong Baltic porter, and a Scotch ale that I had been working on for a while with a cherrywood smoked malt. They’re both big beers—sipping, really complex beers—that I’m really proud of. I think brewers are really happy when something off the charts is also really well accepted. I like using weird ingredients, like sumac and forged stuff. I made a beer with crickets in it a while back. Sometimes that stuff hits and sometimes that stuff isn’t something the customer wants.

MR: If you had to narrow it down to just one or two beer styles, for a desert island situation or something, what are your favorites?

GB: Off the top of my head, Belgian trappist beers—the darker, heavier beers that are done in the monasteries or in that style—and the Czech pilsner. When it’s fresh and really good, it’s exceptionally more hoppy and bitter than any American lager. If I could do a really clean, really hoppy, bright pilsner and a really funky, crazy, dark trappist beer, that would be my everyday drinker and my sit down at the end of the night thinker.

MR: On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, what are some of your go-to macro beers. I see you at shows a lot, so when you’re at X-Ray Arcade or somewhere else without much in the way of draft lines, what are you reaching for?

GB: I’m a sucker for all the old school stuff. If it’s Puddler’s or The Newport, it’s easy to grab a bottle of Miller High Life. I like a can of Pabst, a can of Schlitz, an occasional Hamm’s. When it’s 90 degrees out at a street festival, it’s not the time to drink an imperial stout.

MR: Do you have any non-brewing hobbies or passions?

GB: Ice hockey. I’m actually the captain of the team that’s sponsored by my brewery. Every week, I enjoy getting together with people who are much better hockey players than I am. I’m a motorcycle and car enthusiast, but that’s falling by the wayside a little bit. I’m going to turn 55 this year and I don’t ride as much. I like hiking and I recently took up kayaking. I’m trying to do it all!

MR: I know another passion you have is live music. Are there any favorite musical artists?

GB: I love live music. When I first came to town, the Unicorn was open. Odd Rock was just ending and The Globe was just starting. I saw so many great live acts. Recently, with Steve Albini’s death, I realized a lot of it was that Chicago punk and industrial sound: Pegboy, Didjits, Shellac. Then in the mid-’90s, I discovered the punk scene in Green Bay with bands like Boris The Sprinkler. It blew my mind.

Other favorites are Big Black, Old 97’s, Descendents, anything Bob Mould touches, Mr. T Experience, Motorhead, Anthrax, Soundgarden, Fluff, J Church, and Promise Ring that hit me for an album or two and, for whatever reason, I still listen to them in high rotation. For newer stuff, I like bands like Teenage Bottle Rocket, The Bronx, Idles, Viagra Boys, and Frank Turner. Like most old people, I still have a CD collection and a car with a CD player in it.

MR: Staying in the entertainment lane, do you have any favorite TV shows, movies, or games?

GB: I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. I am a dungeon master, so I create worlds and have people interact with those worlds. I play RPG video games and sci-fi horror games.

MR: What are some of your favorite local haunts? Any favorite restaurants, bars, et cetera.

GB: I love dive bars. If you hang out with me for any stretch of time, we’re going to be at places like The Newport, Puddler’s Hall, and Champion’s. At the same time, we just went to Ester Ev and, boy, was that place good. The food and waitstaff were both incredible. I love high-end supper clubs. Punk bars like Sabbatic and Last Rites. Promises. Give me a nice dive bar with good characters inside and I’ll hang out there too long.

MR: Back to brewing, are there any brewing misconceptions or things you’d like to use this platform to clear up? This could be directed at consumers or other brewers.

GB: Back in the ‘90s, I was working at Lakefront as a guide and brewer and working at Water Street, and people would come in insisting bock beers were made with the crud at the bottom of the tank and all these other weird misconceptions about how beer is made. Now it’s maybe gone too far in the other direction, but I’m glad that the American consumer has made itself knowledgeable about a product and has really returned American brewing to a high level. We have dynamite beers that are now being emulated by other countries, whereas we used to kind of beer the laughingstock of the beer world back in the ’70s.

MR: Any Milwaukee or Wisconsin breweries that you’d like to shout out?

GB: When I’m asked who’s my favorite brewery in the state, I usually say Central Waters. That’s a really, really good brewery. I don’t have real children, but I have people I’ve trained in brewing: the brewmaster at Young Blood in Madison, the brewmaster at Turtle Stack in La Crosse, and a brewer at Third Space. I’m really proud of all of their success. They worked their ass off, did great work with me, learned, and now they’re successful other places.

MR: Onto my James Lipton question. Fill-in the blank. Brewing in Milwaukee is…

GB: I originally wanted to say “difficult” because the consumer is really moving to these canned cocktails. I work for a restaurant, so I don’t care if you buy one of my beers or a Miller Lite or a High Noon. That’s money going into the business. But it is a little disappointing that after what seemed like a high point, consumers aren’t as adventurous as they recently were. At the same time, I think brewing here is flourishing because there’s all these great breweries in Milwaukee and they’re not going away.

MR: Is there anything, either for you personally or for Water Street, that you’re excited about in the near future?

GB: The company had a single owners and he’s passed it off to his kids. They have a younger look at what they’d like to do in the future, so Water Street Brewery downtown is now “The Brewery.” It’s a younger, hip bar. The Admirals come in there after games sometimes. I’m excited that, even though not everybody is drinking my beer, the places are full and they’re successful. When we do a huge sales weekend, nobody bothers me as long as the beer is flowing. I have job security and they’re letting me brew a few more crazy things as we back off some of our standard beers. We replaced an amber lager we’ve been making since day one. Is it a great beer? Yeah, but I’ve made it for 30 years. We’re replacing it with a revolving specialty, so I can do something new every batch. I’m excited that I get to brew more varied styles and they just let me go with things. I think the future is pretty bright.

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Full “Meet A Brewer” series archive