Joe Lero is head brewer at Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron and oversees the sour and barrel-aging program. Thirsty Dog will release his latest creation, Rubus Dog, a Flanders-style red aged for three years with raspberries, on March 10 in bottles at the brewery. Thirsty Dog celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has opened a new brewpub in the Flats in Cleveland and is opening a new tasting room with food in Akron nearby its production brewery.

Question: Why did you become a brewer?

Answer: I think the answer to this question starts with how I got offered a cellarman position at Thirsty Dog. I was coming out of my fourth year of college in 2014 and needed a summer job to afford my fifth year victory lap. I had a fraternity brother who was working at Thirsty Dog at the time. I went in for an interview in June for some manual labor job on our old bottling line. Luckily for me with the recommendation of someone who was working there already, I got hired.

I had always loved craft beer and my first beer that I had was Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Shortly after that, I started being interested in Belgian beers and quickly adopted Trappistes Rochefort 10 as my favorite beer.

I had been working there for about two to three months when I was offered a position in either our warehouse or our brewhouse/cellar. I originally told our head brewer Brandon Benson that I wanted to be in our warehouse working on shipping and receiving. This seemed like the more logical position for someone who was double majoring in sociology and political science. I took the warehouse job and after a week of my family, friends, and especially my girlfriend calling me an idiot, I asked for a do-over and to start training to be a cellarman. Brandon was happy, considering he had gotten what he wanted over our warehouse manager.

After training for about four months, they were confident enough in me to start learning how to brew and the rest has been sharpening my skills and constantly learning new things. I soon gained an interest in other types of Belgian beers such as sours; which has been an amazing passion for me and a love-hate relationship that has been a driving force for my career.

Q: What has been the highlight of your brewing career so far and why was it so special? (Maybe it's been a beer that you brewed, an award that you won, an idol you've met ...)

A: This question is actually a tough one. I've been working in the industry for about four years now. I have had a few beers win some medals that I have blended or have been part of the blending process, but never one of my own recipes. In all honesty, there have been many moments that have been amazing both working in this industry and at Thirsty Dog, but I think the main highlight so far has been being a part of the craft brewing community.

It is such a great community and to be involved with everyone is great. There a lot of interesting people both young and old and of different life paths I have met. Outside of college, I have never been a part of a group so willing to lend a helping hand for anything big or small. Maybe everyone is so cheerful because they always are a few beers deep.

Q: What advice can you give future brewers to be successful?

A: I have a few words of wisdom that I have tried to live by in this industry. The first being trust no one and that includes yourself. I always end up double checking practically everything I do; I also write everything down in case I forget. This is not to mean I am not confident in my work or abilities but any moment you say, ‘This is oka.y I’m sure I hooked it up right.’ or something like that is the time you send a thousand dollars of beer to the drain and that is a crime that might as well be punishable by death. Anytime you blindly trust someone without double checking and something goes wrong, that is on you not the person who did the setup or anything else.

The second piece of advice I have is always keep sharpening your skills and sharpening your palate. For me, it is very important that in this position you be humble. You have to understand that in this industry with the growth that it has, there will always be a lot of people out there making better beer than you. Now you can look at that two ways: Either that you suck and you should not be making beer or you can look at it as always wanting to strive to be better. I choose the latter of the two.

Other than that, prepare to work harder than you probably have ever worked and prepare for a life of being a janitor to beer. It is not a glamorous job when you are covered in yeast, sticky wort, beer and sweat but at the end of every day you can go home and taste the work that you did.

Q: What's your best-selling beer and why do you think it's so popular?

A: I feel like everyone already knows this answer, but it would have to be without a doubt our 12 Dogs of Christmas. I often think it's what helps keep the lights on here at the brewery.

But we have been getting a lot of recent success from our new fruited IPA series that we launched last year. So far, we have done Blood Orange and we just recently dropped our Pineapple on the market this past week, so make sure to seek it out at your local watering hole. These beers have actually kept us a lot busier than we usually are after our sprinted marathon known as Christmas season.

The 12 Dogs popularity is pretty self-explanatory, but the fruited IPA series on the other hand is a little more interesting. I believe the craze around these fruited IPAs is based on two main customer groups. The first group being hop heads wanting more flavors out of their IPAs and the second being a new group of craft beer drinkers that might need a more approachable beer to get into craft beer to hopefully spread their wings and learn to fly in the craft beer world. Either way these two new beers are mighty tasty and refreshing.

Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?

A: My gut reaction to this is to say Cantillon’s Kriek. It one of my favorite beers and one of my favorite styles. The nuances of the specific cultures Cantillon gets from their spontaneous beers are amazing. On the complete other end of the spectrum, I also wish I created, the undeniable best beer known to the human race, High Life by Miller-Coors. I am a sucker for good cheap beer especially one that is proclaimed as the “Champagne of beer.” I think it's very valuable for brewers to have a wide range of appreciation and in my opinion any beer that is made well has a place in our beer universe.

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