When Justin Sproul joined Iron Hill in 1996, he was one of the original employees to join the company as we opened the doors of our first restaurant in Newark. As a kitchen prep/dishwasher/pizza guy/brewery assistant, he was always willing to step in and fill the role that was needed to keep things moving in a positive direction for the restaurant. The “Suds Buster” was even recognized as the MVP of the first friends and family event for his efforts at the dish station during this time.
In the summer of 1998, he ventured deeper into the brewery and he has planted roots ever since. In fact, after attending the Seibel Institute in 2001, Justin was instrumental in writing the recipe for Iron Hill’s most awarding beer, Russian Imperial Stout. He moved into a head brewer roll in 2002 and has been an integral part of the expansion at Iron Hill and the success we have achieved on the festival and competition front. Justin’s Pig Iron Porter submission was awarded a Bronze Medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival, remining a highlight of his brewing career and taking him a long way from his first trip to GABF in 1997 as a “trip winner” in Newark. He later took home his only GABF Gold Medal for his Vienna Red Lager in 2008 and a World Beer Cup double dip, consisting of a Bronze Medal for Abbey Dubbel and Silver Medal for Crazy Ivan in 2010.
A native of Maine, Justin has a strong passion for the Boston Red Sox and is always willing to talk sports and beer if you find him near the bar with guests after a hard day’s work.
Recently, Justin sat down with Brewer Magazine and shared his thoughts on various industry topics, here is a sampling of that discussion…
BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
SPROUL: I grew up in an industry where we replicated the classic styles of the world and putting an American signature on them by increasing the alcohol and making them more hoppy. In the last few years I’ve had to adapt to the acceptance of hazy beer which traditionally should be bright — specifically hazy IPAs which are now some of our top selling beers. I never thought I would have to tell a brewer his or her IPA is not hazy enough.
BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
SPROUL: Brian Finn (Iron Hill Regional Brewer) because he taught me how to brew beer. And Mark Edelson (Iron Hill Founder) because he taught me the business of brewing beer.
BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
SPROUL: Growing in the brewing industry — and specifically pub brewing — I worked by myself a lot and even when I did have help wasn’t always the best at delegating tasks. I frequently would just take care of it myself. In my current role overseeing six of our brewery operations, I can’t operate in that manner any longer. Over the last few years I have personally had to make changes to how I work with my six Head Brewers realizing I can’t just take care of it myself anymore. Now I have to work with them to make them better brewers through coaching and sharing my past experiences in pub brewing.
BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
SPROUL: I can’t really think of a piece of equipment or specific technology that has made us more successful in recent memory. I’d have to say what has made us the most successful is our people and the new ideas they bring to the table keeping us on the cutting edge of brewing new and exciting beers.
BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
SPROUL: Dump bad beer down the drain. Don’t try to salvage it or re-purpose it, just get rid of it if it doesn’t taste good.
Sproul led the successful development of Iron Hill’s Last Alarm IPA effort to support a fallen firefighter’s family in 2017.
Please note: Portions of this article were provided by Brewer Magazine with permission. You can find more from them at www.thebrewermagazine.com.