Easily one of my more entertaining evenings in the past few weeks, I got a chance to sit down with Tomas Sluiter, founder of Culmination Brewing. In short, Tomas is a jack of all trades: motorcyclist, musician, master brewer, and someone who finds inspiration in madness. We will get to that in a few minutes…
Originally from Michigan, Tomas and April Sluiter moved to Portland over 12 years ago. Tomas started his brewing career at Old Market Pub and Brewery and then branched out on his own. Known for his varying tastes and styles of beer (you can literally have everything from a cider to a stout to an IPA at his brewery at any given time), he’s created an atmosphere of experimentation and collaboration in their brewery, and ultimately, he crafts each beer with a piece of his character and authentic self. In other words, when you drink a Phadrus IPA, you drink the personification of Tomas Sluiter.
In his own words:
“David, a perfect beer can be evolved from imperfection. An accident, an experiment or a moment of inspiration. It’s humanity. It’s like a piece of masterful music – it’s the flaws in it that make it human. There is beauty in imperfection. Without imperfection there is no hope. Without darkness light can not be. In a sense, it’s our madness that keeps us sane”
The example he gave was the Scottish Ale. Legend has it that, Scotland suffered from a dearth of available hops, so somewhere along the way, other ingredients such as heather tips got thrown in, and in the madness, Scottish Ale popped up. In his view, that very madness and imperfection spawned the pursuit and achievement of perfection. It’s an interesting paradox, no? This of course spawned the musician in me to draw an analogy to musical flaws (or imperfections) in masterpieces (like the starting drum count in Rock N Roll by Led Zeppelin, the start of Panama by Van Halen and other Van Halen songs, and the start of the Jimi Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower….). In essence, just like Socrates claims in the Phaedrus by Plato, some of life’s greatest blessings flow from madness. That mantra is the Tomas Sluiter I know. To him, “that beer, the Phaedrus is the Culmination of my adult life. Everything from the recipe, to the process, to the label.” (as you can see, even the name Culmination Brewing holds deep meaning for him).
From this discussion, I learned even more about Tomas. I turned off my reporter switch and just started talking music and got to know Tomas as a person, versus just a brewer. The result fascinated me. Every bit an artist as he is a brewer, he told me that one of his dreams since his twenties was to take a motorcycle across America, stop in several cities, and do a beer collaboration and record a song with each brewery. Oh yeah, he’s an accomplished musician and photographer too…did I mention a jack of all trades above? I dove into this as expected from a rock and roll drummer, and we then tipped back two more Phaedrus’s and doled out what his dream band(s) would be for this mad project.
First, we started with the guitar, which seems like it would be easy. Nope. After several iterations (see picture below), he settled on Richard Thompson from the band Fairpoint Convention and a toss up of Michael Hedges and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I can only imagine the anthemic riffs that would come from that trio…for the solo specialist, he elected the legend, Yngwie Malmstein...next up was to choose who the vocals would be. For this, again, like a mad scientist, he artfully chose an amalgamation Neil Young, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, David Grohl, and Kenny Loggins. I may or may not have picked that last one….eh hem. Oh yeah, he also chose Prince as the multi-purpose musician to do cameos throughout the tour…Next up, we had to select bassists. I plugged hard for Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, and Victor Wooten, but I got voted off the island. Even Jaco Pastorius got the boot…Sheez!!!! Tomas settled on John Entwistle. Next up were the keyboard players. This was pretty easy. What band cant choose the guy from Mike and the Mechanics as the Keyboardist? Neither of us knew his name…so, he’ll just be the “Mike and the Mechanics Guy”…kind of like Tracey Morgan on SNL….and, before anyone cries foul, please see Tracey’s SNL skit on the subject which you can find here. Last, and definitely not least, it was time for the drummers. My favorite, and obviously, the most important part of the band (I’m biased, shoot me). We selected the following amazing drummers to create madness on the skins: Kenny Aronoff, Max Weinberg (to get the Mellencamp versus Springsteen effect), Buddy Rich, and John Bonham….just imagine that…that’s like a Phaedrus on steroids….
At the end of the day, a few things remain clear: 1) Tomas is definitely an enigmatic figure who puts his entire heart and soul into each concoction. 2) He’s a jack of all trades, and one of the most interesting people I’ve met in the industry, and 3) I’m excited to write more, perhaps about his odyssey on his motorcycle…