The "Mad Scientist" - Thomas Vo '12


It’s your senior year at Saint Mary’s and the finish line is well in sight. You are planning your graduation party and decide to celebrate with your own homemade (err, dorm-made) beer.

This is what Thomas Vo ’12 did.

Vo continued to brew on his own after graduation and brought some of his home brews to a hangout session with the owners of the up-and-coming Calicraft Brewing.

That hangout session landed him the title of “Mad Scientist” for the brewery, responsible for research and development as well as operations, where he has now been for two years.

“The first was done on an electric burner. After Saint Mary’s, I still brewed a lot. When I did consulting, I brewed a lot,” Vo explained. “The common thread throughout, why this all makes sense, is that I’ve always been into flavors. I didn’t really drink all that much in college. I got into wine first because of cooking.

“The part about brewing that is interesting to me is anyone can really do it. Brewing not that hard. It’s learning from each time so you get better. A lot of home brewers don’t try to learn from it and try to analyze the process. 

As Vo explained, part of what Calicraft tries to do is push the boundaries of what beer is and to think of what beer would be like had it been invented in California, citing the uses of grape skins and wine yeast.

It has been an ideal fit for him and he has applied the lessons taught in his seminar classes at Saint Mary’s to his creativity in brewing.

“Seminar, it’s forced on you… If you ask the right questions, you can create the meaning and make it relevant to you,” he said. “That is a bucket of apricots. Can I ferment that? Can I make apricot wine, apricot beer? Why not? Asking the questions is really what makes it interesting, makes it meaningful.”

Vo doesn’t just look to other breweries for inspiration but the world around him. His inspiration could come from food, cocktails or even another business name.

The other day we were in Palo Alto and we saw the name of a business: Red Cloud. Could we make a beer that is a red ale that is supposed to be creamy?&rdquo

As an example, the brewery’s flagship item, “Buzzerkeley,” is a sparkling ale fermented with champagne and Belgian yeast and mixed with grape pomace (leftover skins).

The craft brewery has seen an infusion of creativity and artistry over the past decade and, in turn, has created a more educated consumer.

“I think there is this culture that geekiness is okay,” Vo said. “The level of discourse amongst the consumer is higher and I think it’s time for business to match that level and speak the same language.

Vo is currently working on his second Saint Mary’s degree and is slated to graduate from the professional MBA program in 2017.