Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Nearly 60 Triangle beer enthusiasts are spending a few hours later this afternoon at Natty Greene’s in downtown Raleigh where the North Carolina Brewers Guild is hosting a panel of six highly respected, award-winning brewers. The dialogue today will revolve around recipe development, if we stick to the plan, but I’m sure there are bound to be a few tangents.  We’ll learn the stories behind the brews — the brews that have placed at Hickory Hops, the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. What goes on inside these brewers’ heads while they’re creating that next beer for you to try?

Are you a member of the NC Brewers Guild? Are you a craft beer lover? You shouldn’t be one without the other. The NC Brewer’s Guild is a consortium of brewers, vendors, retailers, and enthusiasts (that’s you!) focused on promoting North Carolina beer.

Wifi willing, I’m going to live blog the discussion. I’ll publish new content every 10-15 minutes, so please excuse any crappy writing in need of editing.

Our panel today:

The panel begins at 4:30 p.m. Stay tuned…

nc beer guild

flickr photo by jenny_downing

How  did each of you get into professional brewing?

Jamie/Foothills: Homebrewing, of course, in Georgia, then volunteered at Blind Man Ales during his last two years in college, 17 bbl brewery, very rudimentary, sort of like homebrewing.

Paul/Duck-Rabbit: His boss at a college job homebrewed; he decided to do it too. Several years later, he wanted a career change and decided to do what he loved — brewing. Went to Siebel, got a job and never looked back.

Steve/LoneRider: Avid passionate homebrewer who always dreamed about his own place. At Cisco he worked with a homebrewer who inspired him to kick it up a notch. He and his partners started setting money aside and got lucky on a batch of brewing equipment at a good price. Had a lot of help from skilled friends.

Chris/Fullsteam: Started out homebrewing. Met up with Sean Wilson about three years ago and started helping him. Opened Fullsteam four months ago with Brooks Hamaker.

John/Highland: Started homebrewing the year after he graduated high school back in ’84. He was Highland’s first employee and worked there until he qualified to go to Siebel. When he got back the brewmaster job was open and he took it.

86% of the audience here are homebrewers.

How do you keep the same flavor profile when you go from bottles to kegs? Prime the keg. Trust your palate and test the amount and kind of sugar you used. There are widgets you can use too. Or you can quit priming and force carbonate instead.

What is your philosophy behind the line of beers you brew?

John/Highland: No real philosophy, just quality. Focus on quality control.

Chris/Fullsteam: Using as many local ingredients as possible, making southern-influenced beers, like the slow food movement.

Steve/LoneRider: Generally migrate toward traditional beers, where one beer will be all about hops, another malt or yeast character — good variety to sample.

Paul/Duck-Rabbit: His passion for beer originates in his passion for food — beer as food. What’s delicious? He doesn’t brew it unless he loves it. Since they’re tiny they can do what they like. Duck-Rabbit specializes in dark beers — doesn’t feel the need to hit every point in market.

Jamie/Foothills: Makes beer he likes to drink, tends to like hoppy ones and that’s reflected in the beers.

By the way, I’m enjoying a really nice Natty Greene’s Brown Ale right now.

How does your water source affect the  beers you make? Duck-Rabbit adjusts the water, most brewers do. LoneRider does too. Fullsteam is using filtered Durham water. Highland has to adjust, water is too soft.

How much does your yeast strain affect your profile? Highland has a house strain, but for seasonal beers they choose strain that’s appropriate. LoneRider carries a few strains, traditional German one. Picks strains that highlight malt character — English White strain. Duck-Rabbit uses one yeast for his. Fullsteam uses Wyeast 2112, California Lager. Foothills sticks to his regulars.

How do you create your recipes?

Jamie/Foothills: Early in the morning when he’s jacked up on coffee – favorite time to do that. More feel than anything else.

Paul/Duck-Rabbit: Recipe development happens over the years, drawing on all his experiences. Tastes lots of beer to get inspiration and ideas and combine that with his experience. New brewers: brew lots of batches and alter one variable each time so you learn its effect.

Steve/LoneRider: Know your ingredients, understand how they work. Taste elsewhere, find a good example of a style, read about key components of style and put twist on it. Make small pilot batch several times with adjustments.

Chris/Fullsteam: Lots of cooking at brewery on Friday using agricultural products. Pays attention to what people are using in their food. What beer would go well with this? Come up with concept for final product before figuring out the recipe.  Inspired by Jamil Zainasheff and what he’s doing.

John/Highland: Does a lot of side-by-side comparisons and playing around.

Adjustments from homebrewing to larger brewery system? Take into consideration the fact that the caramelization won’t be there like it is in a direct fire system; need to up the caramel malt. Adjusted mash temperature, or would dry out more. Hop optimization is different, need to back off from hops. Efficiency is way up. Lot more control, for example, fermentation temperature. Learning the new system, they’re all different.

Olde Rabbit Foot — Olde Hickory, Duck-Rabbit and Foothills collaboration beer: Imperial stout recipe, chocolately, honey, super roasty with barrel aging. They got lucky. Damn, I would love to try that.

Behind the Brews: photo by Kevin Myers

What new things are you working on these days, as far as recipe formulation?

Jamie: Using chocolate, messed around with different varieties and characters of cocoa — this year Papuan New Guinea and Ecuadorian. Casks beers.

Paul: Working on a new beer, will have more of a hop profile than others, experimenting with lesser known hops, one from New Zealand.

Steve: Experimenting with higher alpha hops, smaller quantities, more efficiency although messier in kettle.

Chris: Using a lot of adjuncts (yeah, no kidding) — paw paws, figs, pears. Scotch ale with rosemary. Pepper beer, went Jamaican route, sweet brown with a jerk rub from Carrboro. Herbs grown at brewery.

John: Plays with a 3 bbl system. Chocolate cherry stout. Has some barrels from Biltmore Estate Winery.

How do you maintain consistency given variability in ingredients?

Chris/Fullsteam: Keep an eye on OG (original gravity). With sweet potato, adjust grain when they make the second batch.

John: Adjust for color too. They have to worry about stability of bottles too; they keep bottles in different environments and test them. If you are going to change based on ingredients, blend new stuff with the old stuff.

Steve: Don’t take the ingredients for granted but make adjustments on the fly, document as they go. If there’s an issue, he can figure out what was different. They do vertical tastings of different batches.

Paul: Learn how to read the malt analysis, judge and adjust. They’ll change suppliers if they’re having to compensate too much. Taste the beer a lot so you can recognize changes. Understand science well enough to know where the change is coming from. Keep library of past batches so you can compare. As you grow, add lab tests.

How do national awards affect production process?

Jamie: Look at judging notes, but doesn’t change anything. We stop making that beer, ha, kidding.

Paul: We dance more.

Steve: We run out of everything, hard to keep up.

Where do you want to be in the future?

Jamie: Want to bottle in new facility.

Paul: Wants environment where employees can continue to grow in their careers, responsibilities. To do that, company has to grow.

Steve: Keep employees happy. Be a regional brewery, get bottling line out of space, tackle the state.

Chris: Expand tanks for rotating seasonals, barrel program, canning line. Need more tanks to expand out of Triangle.

John: In seven states, good enough, wants to grow organically. Quality is better keeping beer closer to home. No magic number.

What do you wish you had known?

Investors with deeper pockets. How much paperwork it takes. Or square footage. Or ceiling height. Working with regulatory people.

Biggest piece of advice for someone looking to start a brewery.

Work at a brewery, work hard, even if you have to work for free. Work in as many different breweries as you can. Work in a brewpub and a brewery.

What do you do with your test batches? Everyone said they end up in the tasting room.

That’s it!!

Support your local brewer!

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7 thoughts on “Behind the Brews: Live Blogging with the NC Brewers Guild

  1. lasullivan says:

    Very interesting! Wish I had gone with you. I would’ve loved learning about the intricacies of craft beer. Thanks so much for sharing these insights. I have to say, my mouth was watering the entire time just thinking about really GOOD beer. 😉 Speaking of which…

    1. deirdrereid says:

      Sounds like you would like a brewery tour! It helps to see the equipment and visualize the whole brewing process, and the samples at the end are part of the educational process too. Could be time to visit one of our local brewers. 🙂

  2. Thank you for serving as our live blogger for the North Carolina Brewers Guild! Looking forward to seeing you at an upcoming American Marketing Association luncheon! I really appreciate this! See you soon, mamacita!

    Cheers to the hops!

    1. deirdrereid says:

      It was my pleasure, thanks for asking me, Audra. Sveiks!

  3. Shieldsy says:

    Great summary! It’s nice to have an archive of this discussion.

    1. deirdrereid says:

      My pleasure, Chris. Can’t wait for the next one!

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