The Building Blocks
To have any kind of success when it comes to brewing good beer, you have to be committed to the detailed processes. Believe it or not, all of these brewers say they spend most of their time cleaning and testing. This is the part where art meets science. “Everything is about quality control,” says Woods with Naked River. “We test the beer daily and make sure it is fermenting correctly.” At Naked River, it’s about being crystal clear. “I love the way it looks in the glass.”
“We have invested a lot of time and money in quality control at Riverside,” explains Krautstrunk with Hutton & Smith. Throw a bunch of new ingredients into the brewing process, which craft beer drinkers get super excited about these days, and you can understand why. “Once we started distributing beer throughout the state, we knew we couldn’t screw up. We have a full-time quality control manager and a part-time assistant constantly testing beer, cleaning, sanitizing, making sure everything is up to our standards. We also closely monitor the progress of the beer as it ferments, conditions, and is packaged. We routinely test for dissolved oxygen in the beer throughout the process – we have very strict protocols.”
Still, with all the extra steps, most of the beer out there is made from just four main ingredients. Essentially all beers fall into two key categories depending on how the yeast is fermented: lagers and ales. In lagers, the yeast is cold fermented, while in ales it’s warmer. Vary the yeast and any of the other building blocks of beer – hops, grains, and water – and you can create a wide variety of beer styles. “Within those four building blocks are a whole range of flavors. Jam and fruit flavors come from the yeast, malt builds the backbone of a flavor profile, and hops are the spices of the brewing world,” explains Kehoe with Five Wits. “You can have the same base recipe and use two different hops, and the two beers will taste entirely different.”
One of the biggest challenges to good brewing is duplicating that same good beer over and over. “I want the consumer to think and feel and know that the product is made with the highest integrity as possible – that it’s well-made beer,” says Boyd with OddStory.
“We try hard to make sure the beer we envision is the beer you get,” says Woods with Naked River. To keep up with demand for new styles and flavors, these local brewers work hard on their processes and often test smaller batches before they take it to the public. “My job is to make sure that idea ends up as a good recipe that makes a good beer,” says Kehoe with Five Wits. “You can look at a flavor profile and have to figure out how to bring it all together.”
Bauer with Heaven & Ale likes the same kind of challenge. “I think when looking at trends we are being pulled in opposite directions between intensity of flavors and nuance. I’m hoping to strike a balance.”
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes you have to dump a batch of beer. “It’s a punch in the gut to open the bottom valve and let the beer go down the drain,” says Boyd with OddStory. “If you have to ask yourself if you should dump it, then the answer is, ‘yes.’ It’s pretty easy to make really bad beer. That’s where cleanliness comes into play. If you do all of it properly, you will make a good batch of beer.”
With a drive to make the best beers across a wide spectrum, Hutton & Smith now sees an opportunity for more experimentation.“My favorite thing is a new recipe or scaling a recipe up from our small location on MLK to our large facility on Riverside Drive. The process from start to finish is challenging, and it’s rewarding to brew a beer that turns out as expected,” explains Krautstrunk.
Ultimately, it’s about the challenge, creativity, camaraderie, and community. “I enjoy the pride of being able to present something I made to the consumer, a friend, a family member and say, ‘Yep, I made this. Please enjoy,’” smiles Bauer with Heaven & Ale.
They share the belief that when one succeeds, they all do. “We are all on this ship together,” says Boyd with OddStory. “If you aren’t bringing people together, you might as well hang up your boots,” laughs Kehoe with Five Wits. “I love everything from the grunt work and designing the recipes to sweeping the floors,” shares Woods with Naked River. “At the end of the day, we make a pretty cool product.”