Endurance athlete Phil Cutti tinkers his way to top brew

By Derrick Peterman

Phil Cutti (left) with Headlands co-founder Patrick Horn (Derrick Peterman).

Phil Cutti (left) with Headlands co-founder Patrick Horn (Derrick Peterman).

Have you heard the saying “Never trust a skinny brewer”? Whoever said that never tasted Phil Cutti’s beer. When Phil Cutti wasn’t running, cycling, or swimming, he worked as an exercise physiologist in the Bay Area. He entered triathlons, biked all over California, and did open water swims like the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim, covering ten miles from Huntington Beach to Seal Beach in Southern California. But there was something else Phil loved to do outdoors besides test his endurance: brew beer. For eighteen years, he tweaked and tinkered with home brewing recipes in his backyard. Once he figured out the different recipes for his beers, he then focused on making each batch taste the same as before. One day, there came a moment where he tasted all the beers he made and realized “I’m ready!”

And with that, he changed careers, becoming the head brewer at Southpaw BBQ in 2012, a small brewpub in San Francisco where he still brews today. A year later, he took on a bigger effort, co-founding a brewery with Patrick Horn, a fellow homebrewer, and Inna Volynskaya, who previously worked in operations management at Lagunitas Brewing. They named it Headlands Brewing Company, after the South Marin County recreational area, reflecting the area they lived in and outdoor lifestyle they all enjoyed.

In many ways, Phil found the business of beer similar to endurance sports. “Starting and growing a business is similar to training for and executing a race plan,” he explains. “You set your objectives and work towards them on a daily basis. You continue to evaluate as you work through the process and make adjustments.”

Not content to just sell beer, Headlands also actively supports the environment and the outdoor community within Marin County. “We participate in beach clean-ups  at Muir and Stinson Beaches, and have had fun with trail maintenance projects in the Headlands and on Mt. Tam. We also support the Naturebridge non-profit and their efforts to connect nature with local youth.”

Headlands has three core beers: Groupe G Rye IPA, Point Bonita Rustic Lager, and Hill 88 Double IPA (see sidebar). Point Bonita and Hill 88 are named after landmarks in Marin’s Headlands while Groupe G is named after a World War II Belgian Nazi resistance group. The beers are currently brewed under contract at a couple Northern California breweries, but Headlands has its own brewery and tap room in the works, which Phil anticipates will open early 2017 in southern Marin County.

The high point in Phil’s brewing career was winning a Bronze Medal last fall at The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the Rye Beer category with his Point Bonita Pilsner. The GABF awards are the brewing industry’s version of the Academy Awards. Winning Bronze at the festival last year was an experience Phil describes as surreal. “I was in the auditorium, and all of a sudden, my beer is called,” recalls Phil of the big moment. “The Northern California brewers all sat together, and suddenly I’m getting a lot of congratulations. The rest of the day was a blur.”   

Phil continues to keeping pedaling, running, and swimming. He’s targeting late July for an attempt to swim the length of Lake Tahoe and has a 100k run planned for this fall. “Having the outlet of exercise has had great benefits over the last three years. The ability to hit the trails or dive in the Bay not only brings stress relief, but also allows for the creative thought process to tackle a problem or spark a new idea.”

The Beers of Headlands

Groupe G Rye Pale Ale: Lots of flavors going on in this brew. Headlands uses healthy doses of Mosaic hops to give the brew a spicy, floral character to balance with Belgian yeast which create their own spicy and aromatic qualities. As you might expect, it’s a lively brew with plenty of flavors going on, but it all tastes cohesive without going out of control.

Hill 88 Double IPA: Headlands co-founder Patrick Horn once described the motivation for their flagship Double IPA this way: “Lots of breweries make double IPAs by cramming as much hops as they can into them.  There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not what we wanted to do here.” The hops are fresh and assertive, yet balanced by a strong malt backbone and a slight sweetness. One of the few Double IPAs you don’t have to be a hop head to enjoy.

Point Bonita Rustic Lager: Winner of the Bronze Medal at last fall’s Great American Beer Festival in the Rye Beer Category. If you think lagers are tasteless and watery, this brew will change your mind in a hurry. Brewed with rye to give it a peppery note and lots of spicy Saaz, Liberty, and Crystal hops, it couples plenty of flavor to its refreshing drinkability. –DP