Meet our Brewery Staff
My usual answer is; “The one that’s in my hand.” That sounds like a rather flippant answer, but it’s really not. My feeling is that there are really no “good” or “bad” beer styles, only those styles that are more or less suited to the time and place you’re at. For instance, I don’t think you would want to drink a doppelbock right after you finish mowing the lawn, just like a light American lager isn’t what I want when I’m sitting in front of a cozy fire on a cold winter evening. There are some styles I prefer, but I can happily enjoy almost any well-crafted beer given the right circumstances.
I think the last Beer judge Certification Program (BJCP, 2008) style guidelines listed about 80 distinct style categories. There are also many other rarer substyles and other variants that are recognized by other organizations. I think I’ve brewed more than half of the 80 major styles at one time or another. But, I really can’t say I’ve enjoyed making any one more than another. They each represent a set of unique challenges, and, the challenge is to “get it right”. That means being absolutely true to the craft – using the right materials and processes to produce the freshest, most flavorful and most stylistically authentic beers possible. I’ve often said, there is no single secret to making great beer. The secret is that there are hundreds of small things that you have to do correctly to make a great beer. I really enjoy working with focused attention on the small details, and applying the discipline that is necessary to produce great beer. I think that’s the real kick for me.
I think my chemistry background gives me a unique perspective and depth of understanding on the process. But, it is that science, blended with the art of brewing that is so much fun for me. The art comes into play in the manipulation of the process, which can radically affect the final product. Manipulation and control of the process is extremely important in brewing. You can give me two identical sets of ingredients, and by manipulation the process I can make you two very different beers. Remember, you’re taking what are essentially un-characterized biological materials that differ from year to year and batch to batch and from them you’re trying to make a pre-conceived and reproducible product. The fact that you can even come close just amazes me. So it is that geeky blend of science and art that I enjoy. The other thing I enjoy is that it is a sensual process. I really like the sights and sounds, but especially the aromas and flavors of the materials and the final product. I love it all!
Wow, take me back to the beginning! I had a neighbor who lived across the street from us when Lynne and I lived in Chapel Hill. He was a home-brewer, and one afternoon in the spring of 1989, he invited us to a small party on his back deck. He served us some of his homebrew, and it was unlike anything I had had before. Now, I had been drinking imported beers from Europe for years, but the freshness and flavor of his home brew was remarkable. I politely asked for more! I was hooked. Later that year, my wife Lynne, bought me my first home-brewing equipment, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, I can honestly say that I can blame my brewing mania on my neighbor, who introduced me and initially mentored me, and on my wonderful wife, who facilitated it. Thank you so much, Lynne, I love you!
I’m hoping that we can align our brewery with the developing local academic brewing programs to host students as interns and to offer other professional training opportunities. I’ve had the opportunity to direct scientific laboratories that were highly regulated. I’m very familiar with monitoring and testing procedures that help maintain both quality and production efficiency. So, I feel I have a lot I can teach. To put it in perspective, I remember that I learned a lot about chemistry during my undergraduate training. However, I really learned how to apply that knowledge when I got my first laboratory job. Same thing here. I want to help “polish the apple” before we send it to market. If that apple is shiny enough, we just might keep it!
There are three phases to that – formulation, production, and evaluation. For formulation, we begin by researching how the beer was produced, using what ingredients and what processes, by relying on the brewing literature and other sources. This lets us identify measurable standards for the final product. I always like to purchase commercial examples of a beer style for taste tests, to help “hone-in” on the aromas, tastes, color, and mouth-feel for a style I want to make. (Yes, it is hard work, but somebody has to do it!) That may help us refine our approach. Second comes production. We crush the grains, chiefly malted barley, mix the crushed grains with water, and hold it at a series of specific temperatures. These temperature rests allow enzymes in the grain to break down the starches in the grain into soluble sugars. The sweet liquid is drained off, and the grain bed is washed to extract additional sugars. The extract is boiled with added hops to make unfermented beer (wort). The wort is rapidly chilled to fermentation temperature, yeast is added, and the beer is allowed to ferment, producing alcohol in the process. After fermentation is completed, the beer is pumped to conditioning tanks, where it is carbonated and clarifies. Finally, we serve it directly from the conditioning tanks to the bar, or we can off-load it to kegs that are kept in our keg cooler. Cheers! The last step, the one that most people forget, is to objectively evaluate the final product. Is it correct for the style? Did you meet the pre-defined parameters for the beer; color, gravity, hoppiness, etc. If not, why not? Can you tweak the recipe or the production methods to make it better next time, etc. The cyclical process of research, production, and evaluation is what helps you refine and improve the quality of your products.