Meet the (Brew)Masters
While we love a good cocktail or glass of cabernet, some autumn days simply call for beer—specifically, a seasonal craft brew. Complex and refreshing, for many of our favorite fall activities there just isn’t a better beverage pairing. Inspired by Oktoberfest, weekends spent tailgating, and evenings enjoying a cold one next to a warm fire, we contacted a few of our TSG brewmasters to find out what goes into creating a great seasonal beer…and the perks of what could arguably be considered one of the best jobs around.
Roaring Fork Beer Company
Who: Chase Engel (pictured above, right), Founder and Head Brewer at Roaring Fork Beer Company in Carbondale, CO.
How long have you been brewing? I’ve been brewing beer for ten years now. I started as a homebrewer while I was in college and got instantly hooked. Within about 6 months I had found a job in a brewery, and the rest is history.
Favorite fall beer? I always look forward to an Oktoberfest in the fall. I drink a lot of hoppy beers and light beers in the summer, so once it starts to get cold I look for something maltier but still crisp…Oktoberfest seems to fit that bill perfectly. One of my favorite fall activities is having a BBQ and watching college football all day with friends; Fest beers are built perfectly for sessioning over a long day of BBQ and football.
Tips for hosting a beer tasting? I always start with the food for a food pairing. Chances are you can find a beer to pair with just about any food at your local bottle shop, so why not make the food you want and let the beer follow suit? Because I’m obsessed with seasonality I would start with finding vegetables and other produce that’s in season, come up with your recipe, and then try to either match or contrast the flavors of the food with your beer choice (hopefully you can find a seasonal beer to pair with it). I like to do 8-oz pours for each pairing so that you get a chance to really get to know the beer and how it interacts with the food before your glass is empty.
How do you develop a seasonal beer? When I look at developing another seasonal beer I always start with simply thinking about what I would want to drink. Every season has a beer that naturally fits well within the weather and the availability of ingredients, so it never takes too much thought to figure out what to brew. For fall we brewed a fresh hop IPA, which was natural because the hop harvest was at the end of August; an Oktoberfest; and an oatmeal brown ale, which is dark enough to feel hearty and warming on the increasingly cold nights but still isn’t quite as big as a stout or porter. Once I know the beer I want to make I go search out beers in the style from other breweries, taste them, and write down what I like or don’t like, and then try and make a recipe that includes elements of what I liked about other breweries’ beers and put my own personal spin on it.
What’s the best part of your job? The best part of my job is that I get to see, touch, feel, and drink everything I make. There’s nothing abstract about what we do…at the end of a long day it’s very rewarding to be able to see pallets of kegs of beer that we made ourselves, and then of course to go drink and enjoy that beer with others.
Champion Brewing Company
Who: Hunter Smith, President and Head Brewer at Champion Brewing Company in Charlottesville, VA.
How long have you been brewing beer? I’ve been brewing professionally now for 2 years, and brewed at home for 4 years before that.
Favorite fall beer? One of my favorite fall beers is our Kicking and Screaming Pumpkin IPA. It’s perfect for hanging with friends in the backyard. I also enjoy the Schlafly Pumpkin Ale.
Tips for hosting a beer tasting? For a beer tasting, it’s usually best to avoid intensely flavored foods and cheeses in order to be able to take in the small differences and nuances between beers. It’s also best to go from lighter beers to darker, stronger beers in order to avoid overpowering more delicate beers. For beer pairing, I recommend reading Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table.
How do you develop a seasonal beer? Most of what I do for seasonal beer development is based on what’s coming available as far as specialty ingredients go. Lavender and other herbs in the spring are fun, and then we use seasonal local fruit as it comes ripe in late summer and early fall.
What’s the best part of your job? It may seem simple, but the best part of my job outside of working for myself is going to work in a brewery every day! They’re fun, busy places to be, if you can handle the noisy atmosphere. And it smells great!
Rail House Brewery
Who: Brian Evitts (pictured above, left), CEO and Brewmaster at Rail House Brewery in Pinehurst, NC.
How long have you been brewing beer? I started brewing just over 20 years ago in Saratoga Springs, NY, while in the US Navy. I knew I needed a hobby to keep myself out of trouble (which was easy to get into at the age of 21), and I was very interested in the science and chemistry associated with brewing beer.
Favorite fall beer? With so many amazing styles available today, it’s hard to narrow it down to a favorite, and it really does depend on the atmosphere and event. So, for watching football, give me an American Amber Ale; for an outdoor fire I would love an Irish Red Ale; for a music festival, definitely an Oktoberfest; and after a hike, I would want a porter to replenish my carbs.
Tips for hosting a beer tasting? Start the appetizer with something light, like a blonde ale or pale ale—unless its a salty appetizer, then go for the IPA. With the entree it really depends on the meats. I always like IPAs with anything spicy, and grilled burgers and steaks. With fish or chicken, consider something lighter in flavor, such as a Belgian Saison or German Lager. For the sweets and desserts, pull out your stouts and porters.
How do you develop a seasonal beer? Lot of experimentation. We make small, five-gallon batches, and really get creative with it, adding various ingredients (vegetables, spices, and sometimes even meat) throughout the different processes to see where we capture the flavors and aromas we were seeking. Once we find something we like, we try it out in our pub with our best customers. If they enjoy it as much as we did, we order ingredients and make more of it for shipping.
What’s the best part of your job? Working with the people that make up the craft beer industry. Anyone who wants to be in this business understands how to work hard, but they also know how to play hard. It is so much fun to be a part of an industry where your competition is also your closest friends, friends you would do anything to help out when they run against an issue or problem of their own—just as they would help me.
If you find yourself in Aspen, Charlottesville, or Pinehurst, stop by and try the award-winning craft beers created by these passionate and talented individuals. In the meantime, support your local brewer by hosting a tasting or having a seasonal brew on hand to serve in addition to the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon at your next dinner party.