Changing gears from big brewing to micro

I DROVE TO southwestern Baltimore County recently to hear how beer is made on the other side of the world. In the Clipper City Brewing Co., I sat down with Ernesto Lazaro Igot, who told me about the beer-making and beer-drinking practices in the Philippines, his native land.

Igot is new to Clipper City, but not to the beer business. He was a top brewer for San Miguel brewery, one of Asia's largest breweries. As a manager of technical services, he supervised beer-making at 13 breweries and two brew pubs.


He quit his job in 1997 to come to the United States, where he settled in Wheaton with his wife, Eva, an attorney, and their three children. After waiting 2 1/2 years for immigration paperwork to be processed, he returned to making beer.

A few weeks ago, Igot, 48, who once supervised breweries that produced 8 1/2 million barrels of beer a year, began working as a brewer at Clipper City, a local craft brewery that turns out a fraction of the San Miguel production. He will be one of the crew assisting head brewer Scott Dietrich.


"I used to wear ties and long-sleeve shirts and tell people what to do," says the dark-haired Igot, who has an easy smile. "Now I wear rubber boots, T-shirts and do things myself. Now I can practice what I preach."

Igot said he had to adjust to a different scale of brewing operations.

"Basically, the principles are the same in a big or small brewery," he said. "At both, sanitation is very important, and so is yeast management. But here at Clipper City, we use people power. At San Miguel, we used computer power. Operators ran the brewery by sitting in front of computer screens."

The Baltimore brewing operation is much more hands-on, he said. "Here we open the valve ourselves."

Clipper City's Hugh Sisson, who hired Igot, said he was delighted when Igot's resume came across his desk. Sisson said that Igot's years of experience with large-scale brewing can help Clipper City improve its efficiency.

Igot said he spent most of his first month at Clipper City watching the operation. Eventually, Igot said, he plans to offer advice on technical matters, such as how to get the highest yield out of the malts and hops used in the brewing operation, and how to lengthen the shelf life of the beer.

Igot told me about the differences in beer-drinking habits between the folks in Philippines and in the United States.

In America, people seem to drink one or two beers a night, he said. In the Philippines, beer drinkers may not indulge every night, but when they do, they consume much more than one or two beers, he said.


"Beer drinking is an occasion. People drink and talk and laugh and play," he said, adding that cases of beer are emptied at such gatherings.

Consequently, the type of beer popular in the Philippines is pale pilsner, a lighter, less bitter brew that goes down easily.

Another difference, Igot noted, is that while men and women drink beer in America, most of the beer drinkers in the Philippines are men.

Finally, he said, in both countries, a key factor in beer sales is how prosperous people feel. "If the sugar harvest is good, or the coconut harvest, or the rice harvest, then people drink beer," Igot said.

I have never been to the Philippines, but as a guy who likes his suds and watches his wallet, I know what Igot is talking about.