Jim Lueders has spent the last two decades building an impressive resume in the beer brewing biz. He's attended the Doemens brewing school in Germany, visited breweries in more than a dozen countries, and toured industry conferences across the states. He even helped crank out Bayern Brewing's debut batches in Missoula in the late '80s.
But you won't catch Lueders stirring mash or hauling grain in any one brewhouse for very long. In the world of microbrews, he's peripheral—the man behind the brew tanks, so to speak. Clients know him as "The Beer Doctor." His job isn't making craft beer, it's helping breweries around the globe make it more efficiently.
"He is a bona fide beer geek, I shit you not," says Dale Harris, owner of the Zion Canyon Brewing Company in Springdale, Utah, and a former Lueders client. "The guy knows stuff about beer that people just shouldn't know about beer."
Lueders is the founder, president and sole employee of Bitterroot-based Lueders Consulting, which for the past 18 years has fostered worldwide growth in the microbrew market. He offers services ranging from brewhouse installation to staff training and recipe formulation. With global beer enthusiasm on the rise, his business is booming.
"I have more interest in craft brewing than I think I've ever had," Lueders says. "I get calls pretty regularly now. It seems there's a real interest in craft brewing and a lot of people who want to learn more about it and how to get into the business."
Over the years, work has taken Lueders to microbreweries in Japan, Africa and the Caribbean. But for all that international travel, he tends to undersell the romance of his jet-setting lifestyle. Sitting in his Stevensville home, surrounded by brewing tanks and machinery of his own, Lueders remains soft-spoken and modest about his accomplishments.
"It's satisfying," he says flatly.
Lueders grew up in Illinois at a time when few Americans strayed from what he calls the "characterless" pilsners brewed by Budweiser and Miller. He had his Midwestern favorites—Stroh's, Leinenkugel's—but Lueders eventually began spending money on more flavorful import beers. By the time he exited college, he was immersed in homebrew culture, constantly tweaking recipes to get just the flavors he wanted. That obsession with brewing landed him in the backroom at Bayern as an assistant brewer in 1987.
Five years and one German brewing education later, Lueders wound up in Portland as brewmaster at the then-new Saxer Brewing Company. According to Kerry Gilbert, who co-owned Saxer at the time, Lueders was a tireless employee who spent hours brewing five-gallon test batches of the company's original beers.
"I particularly remember the dark beer he did," Gilbert says. "It was the most unbelievable stuff I'd ever tasted. He called it a stout, but it almost tasted like chocolate."
Lueders' early work with Saxer eventually provided the framework for Lueders Consulting. He oversaw the entire building process in Portland, and assembled the German-manufactured brewhouse himself. Even today Lueders says he relies on that experience to help clients do the same.
Work at Saxer didn't last long. Gilbert says his business partner at the time decided to hire a brewmaster from Germany, a one-man decision that Gilbert believes was "the wrong one." Saxer lasted until 1999, and Gilbert says the beer was never as distinctive as what Lueders created.
"I don't think we ever got the taste that Jim got out of his little five-gallon deal," Gilbert says.
Lueders doesn't shed any tears over his departure from Portland. Now he spends most of his time introducing newbies to the brewing process. For instance, shortly after leaving Saxer in the mid-'90s, Lueders traveled to St. Louis, Mo. and helped establish the Morgan Street Brewery. Co-owner and 20-year restaurateur Steve Owings remembers The Beer Doctor well. None of the Morgan Street partners knew the first thing about brewing, and found Lueders' knowledge "tremendous."
"We just won the gold medal for the Golden Pilsner at the World Beer Cups," Owings says. "That was one of Jim's...We beat beers from all over the world with that thing."
Despite all the globetrotting, though, Lueders seems restless. Ten years ago, he hatched an unusual plan: to open a zero-emissions brewery in the Bitterroot, the first of its kind in the world. The idea came partly from his education with Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives—a global network of environmental projects—in the late '90s. In fact, zero-emissions technology is the one subject that generates noticeable enthusiasm in Lueders.
"Why have waste?" Lueders says. "Let's use it all. Let's not call it an output. Let's call it an input for some other process...Then we operate more efficiently."
The concept for Lueders' Wildwood Brewery is grand. Heat from the brewing process will keep the building warm. Spent grains will support a mushroom grow out back. Worms from the garden could be used to create alkali cleaners for the brewery's equipment.
In Lueders' mind, nothing will be wasted.
But first Wildwood needs to get off the ground. Lueders spends so much of his time helping other breweries get started that he's found little time to work on his own. The brewhouse—which he bought from the owners of the former Saxer in 2002—will take another month or two to set up. The interior of the barn that houses Wildwood remains skeletal, with incomplete bathrooms and exposed concrete. He admits he's months away from an opening.
But The Beer Doctor does have one thing ready now: a full lineup of recipes ready to brew.