Craft Beer Revolutionist
A pioneer of Vancouver’s now-thriving craft beer scene, James “mad scientist” Walton, BSc’85, has always gone against the grain.
I never really wanted to do things the way everybody else did them.
People don’t forget about me. It’s like: “That guy – he’s got vampire fangs and a long Dracula coat!” [laughs]. You don’t [lose] that guy in a crowd. I’m James Walton, and I own Storm Brewing in Vancouver, and I started it 25 years ago.
The brewery is kind of unique, in that I built it all myself. I’m the brewer [as well as] the owner. My degree is in botany. I have always been interested in plants and medicinal things, so I make some really crazy beers.
[While at UBC] I would make beer at home, and I always took back some beer when I went to UBC and shared it with everybody. It’s probably the beginning of when I started to think “Oh – people really like beer!” I took bio-chemistry at UBC [and thought] I should get my act together. As soon as I did that, I realized: “I know so much about that, now. I should really start my own brewery.” So that’s when I started Storm Brewing, in 1994.
I went around scrapyards and found old tanks, stuff like that, and put them in my yard for a while, until I found this “beautiful” building that we’re in [laughs]. This mash tun is made out of an old yogurt-maker. It had a top on it for stirring, so I cut that part out and mounted it up there sideways, and that became the grain mill.
When I started, it was a very obscure field to be in, and all my friends thought I was crazy. I think I call myself “mad scientist” just because I like how it sounds. I kind of identify with [animated character] Rick Sanchez. He’s a mad scientist that’s always drunk.
<Brew kettle starts steaming and overflowing> Mike! The kettle’s boiling! A little excitement – we don’t have a very good control system, and it just goes full-tilt…
For the first 20 years I was here, hardly anybody knew about the brewery. Since we started doing growlers, though, people come in, and it’s like: “Oh my God! You’re a genius!”
We have 16 taps, so we’ll put on eight or nine new beers every week. All my crew – we all talk about it and throw ideas back and forth to see if we can brainstorm up a new beer – so we call [the new beers] Brainstorms.
<Tastes a sample beer, and reacts with surprise> What am I drinking?
I like making beers that are based on desserts, because that’s the best part of a meal [laughs]. Who really wants a steak and kidney pie beer?
All the new brewers have come here and asked my advice, or just really appreciated stuff that I’ve done over the years. When you’re a brewer, you’re basically making some magical thing that changes people’s perceptions, and it’s fun. People really appreciate it.
<As filming wraps up> OK -- resume normal operations! Now, should I have a beer, or should I really do the paperwork?