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Published on October 29th, 2012


The Beer Baron

In the daytime he is an ordinary social scientist, but in the evening he becomes the “Beer Baron”. Who is this mysterious figure, and why has he chosen to combine sociology with the production of alcohol?

The reason that Popular Social Science has landed an interview with this mysterious figure is that he is an old aquittance of mine from my days at the University of Wisconsin. I remember that even back then he was passionate about beer.

I have met up with Torbjorn at a golf course. He is the kind of sociologist who feels most at home outside the office, either at a café or a pub, or in the outdoors pursuing one of his many leisure activities. So it was no surprise that Torbjorn suggested we do the interview while playing a good game of golf.

A Housing Sociologist

We meet at the golf course in the afternoon. The always polite Torbjorn gives me the honor, and I tee off first. The first hole is a par 4. My drive is straight, lands just in front of the two bunkers close to the green. Torbjorn’s drive is a bit shorter, but places itself nicely on the fairway. We are both pleased with our opening shots. I take advantage of the good mood following the perfect tee off on this warm August summer day and start the interview:

So Torbjorn, can you tell our readers something about your academic interests?

- Most certainly I can. I am a sociologist, my specialty being the sociology of housing. My main interest is the variation in housing conditions between the different generations, from the young student at his dorm through the suburbs with wife and 1.9 kids to the nursing home.

And you also have a background in demography…

- That is absolutely correct…

Torbjorn now pauses the interview, as he is preparing his wedge for a difficult chip over the bunker at third hole. He lands it perfectly on the green, picks up the green-fork, and continues the interview while he is repairing the ball mark.

- Yes, as you mentioned, demography is a natural topic include when writing about the sociology if housing. Demography is absolutely useful in a micro perspective as each individuals choice of housing is.

The Beer Baron

So tell us, how did you get the name “The Beer Baron”?

- Well, I’ve always been passionate about my beer. There is nothing I enjoy more that sailing on Lake Mendota in Wisconsin with a fresh cold bottle of APA. So I guess the name got stuck with me when studying demography at UW Madison. Even one of my Professors had a try at home brewing.

Can you tell us something about the process of making beer?

- It’s said that the brewer makes the wort, but the yeast makes the beer. You need to mash your grain to convert starch to sugar through a natural reaction. Then you need to boil your wort adding hops to give your beer a balanced bitterness. Then it’s the yeast you add who converts the sugars to alcohol and the wort to beer.

 How can you combine being a social scientist with being a home brewer?

- There are both similarities and differences between those two things. Regarding the former, you need an eye for details in brewing in the same way you need an eye for details when watching your dataset when running those heavy statistical analyses and when applying it on more qualitative data. The difference is that when working as a scientist you get bombarded with impressions, brewing, on the other hand, has more similarities to meditation. When I’m brewing I’m alone. You are more in the hands of the process, than the process is in the hands of you.

Quite surprisingly, your favorite baseball team is not the Milwaukee Brewers, why is this?

- Well, they are a Wisconsin side, but I would never support a team associated with Miller, as it is a representative of the industrial brewers of Milwaukee. When it comes to brewing, I’m more into craft beers. And I’m more of a local patriot, so I support Madison’s own University side. But I do support the Packers in football.

- Well, it has been a great round of golf and nice seeing you again. But now I must head home to my brewery. You know, you don’t get the name “The Beer Baron” by staying at the golf course all day. Since you won this round of golf, I’ll treat you to a fresh IPA the next time we meet.

And with these words my afternoon with “The Beer Baron” came to a close.


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