Meet the Brewers : Christopher McGarvey

Meet the Brewers : Christopher McGarvey

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  Check out his instagram at  @brianlantzphotography

Christopher McGarvey is the Brewmaster at Front Street Brewery whose journey with beer started homebrewing soda in college and has led him Front Street Brewery Brewmaster.

Where are you from?

East Peoria, IL

 What first got you into brewing?

My college roommate and I decided we wanted to try making our own ginger beer soda because we were adventurous cooks.  We bottled it in re-used IBC root beer bottles with corks, which proceeded to fire off spontaneously in the night with a loud bang as the bottles carbonated.  I drank one of the open bottles I found the next day and got food poisoning for three days.  So I guess that complete failure incited my stubborn perfectionist spirit, and I set out determined to get it right, but with beer, where no pathogenic microbes can live.

How long have you been brewing?

I started homebrewing in 2005 and quickly devoured every book on the subject.  I used to sneak onto the Northern Brewer discussion forum during a summer internship in the engineering department at Nelson Sprinkler Company for hours at a time, and a lot of my early ideas came from exchanges there.  I became an assistant brewer at FSB in 2011, and brewmaster in summer 2016.

What was the first beer you made?

The first recipe I concocted myself was a clone recipe of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.  The first beer I made as a professional brewer was Tomb Rocker, my special honey and heather Scotch ale that I’ve brewed every year since 2007 for Easter in the Orthodox Church.

 What is your favorite beer to make?

I consider Tomb Rocker to be my magnum opus.  There is no other beer like it in the world.  If I were a monk, this would by my Trappist ale.  It drinks almost more like a fine port than a beer, with layers and layers of complexity and a grapey, vinous tang, plus the cool, slightly minty flavor of Scottish heather flowers.  It has won over a lot of people who thought that they would never like a beer at all, and they try it and find that they love it.  And now that we are brewing it at Front Street Brewery every spring, we have my priest and my choir come in and sing and pray, and

we bless the beer with holy water for the joyful time of the church year.  All that said, it’s a real pain to make, a really long, tedious brew day.  So probably my favorite to actually brew is our English bitter, which smells wonderful in the mash.

 What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?

Not to sound too cheesy, but something like divine providence.  I had no plans or ambitions to be a professional brewer, but when I graduated from seminary in 2010, my classmate Fr Peter Robichau convinced me to move here and be choir director for St. Basil Orthodox Church.  I went to Front Street Brewery because I like good beer and it was the only show in town, and I ended up becoming friends, then roommates with the brewmaster, Kevin Kozak.  I needed a job really bad and he got me one working at the host stand, where I was almost a decade older than everyone else.  Eventually, I won the FSB homebrew competition and became the natural replacement as Kevin’s assistant brewer when the former one moved out to Hollywood.  So I’m an accidental pro brewer, and I consider myself very blessed and very lucky to be able to do it for a living.

Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other places do not do?

Well, I’m pretty sure we’re the only brewery in town using holy water.  Besides that, I hope people will recognize the finesse and nuance that we’re crafting into every pint we produce.  It takes incredible patience and persistence to fine-tune the beers the way we have.  We do an in-depth sensory analysis of every single batch of beer we brew, as well as blind tastings of our beers against the best examples in the style.  And we tweak our recipe a little each time until we get it perfect.  We’re about a year and a half into a revision of all our recipes, and many of them are on the 14th or 15th version.  It’s really starting to pay off.  But we won’t be done until they’re our perfect favorites in a blind tasting, and when that happens, we’ll do a big public reveal of Front Street Brewery 2.0!

What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?

A growler.  Haha.  Our philosophy here is completely dedicated to harmony, balance, and drinkability, whether that’s in a pilsner, an IPA, or a crazy experimental beer.  If we’re doing our job right, you’re going to find yourself with an empty glass before you know it, and you’re going to want another.  To me the sign of a truly great beer isn’t how much it bowls you over on the first sip, but how surprised you are to find yourself at the bottom of the glass.  Where did it go?  I need more.  That’s a great beer.

Meet the Brewers : Kevin Zelnio

Meet the Brewers : Kevin Zelnio

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  Check out his instagram at  @brianlantzphotography

Kevin Zelnio is the head brewer at Wrightsville Beach Brewery. Zelnio began brewing while living in Sweden and eventually brought his talents back to Wilmington, NC. Last week I asked him what his journey into brewing was like.

Where are you from?

 Born and raised where the Mississippi flows east to west in the Quad Cities, mostly on the Iowa side.

What first got you into brewing?

 A good friend of mine started to dabble in home brewing and I joined in a couple times. But I didn’t really get into it until I moved to Sweden several years ago and lived out in the woods. I was working from home as a science writer and consultant and had a bit of time on my hands. Beer is also pretty expensive there and controlled by a state-run alcohol monopoly, so the nearest place I could get a beer was a 45-minute drive away. It became more of a practical thing for me, as well as a creative outlet!

How long have you been brewing?

 This is my sixth year as a commercial brewer.

 What was the first beer you made?

 With my aforementioned buddy we did a green tea pale ale with tettnang and cascade hops and green tea we bought from a market in Japan while at a deep-sea biology conference (my former life was a marine biologist). The first all grain brew I did on my own was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone.

What is your favorite beer to make?

 Stouts and porters. Nothing makes me happier than filling up the brewery with the smells of mashing in dark grains early in the morning!

 What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?

 While in Sweden, I lived in a small village and our neighbors there enjoyed the free beer I was constantly giving to them. They encouraged me to start selling it. After raising the money, I  selected a location in an old prison that was turned into a hotel in the small Baltic town of Västervik. Bryggeri Fängelset (literally meaning “The Prison Brewery”) was a small 3 barrel capacity brewery that I solely ran with my wife and business partners for almost 3 years.

Having honed the creative skill set and brewing process, my wife and I decided we could have better opportunities back home in the US. After suffering the cold north for far longer than I needed to, I landed a great job as a production brewer at Jdub’s Brewery in Sarasota, Florida. There, I got comfortable with large tanks and big machinery and learned the skills and techniques for high volume production brewing that I currently use now as the Director of Brewing Operations at Wrightsville Beach Brewery. Brewing on a 20 barrel capacity gives me the leeway and creativity I crave in a career while working with an amazing, supportive team. There is truly nothing better than making a product that people really enjoy.

 Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other places do not do?

 Every brewery has their niches and strengths. I love having the freedom to experiment with ingredients, like fruits and herbs, in the brewing process and playing around with barrels. It starts from the water — where I build up each batch’s water mineral profile from the ground up— to the final product where we measure parameters, dial in carbonation and monitor the quality of the fermentation and packaging processes at every step.

What is one thing you want your consumer to take away from trying your beer?

 The most important thing to me is that I brew up a wide diversity of styles and offerings. I don’t expect everyone that walks in to love every single brew I make, but hopefully they find a few very enjoyable and want to come back to see what is new. I am proud of every beer we put out and we always strive for the best quality possible in our products. I think it shows and I hope our customers notice it too!

 

 

Meet the Brewers: Blair Ferguson

Meet the Brewers: Blair Ferguson

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  Check out his instagram at  @brianlantzphotography

Blair Ferguson is the head brewer at Wilmington Brewing Company. Brewing was a hobby for a large portion of Ferguson’s life before he decided to begin brewing professionally. Recently I asked Ferguson about his favorite beer to make.

Where are you from?

Winston-Salem, NC .I attended Mineral Springs Elementary School. Go Bulldogs!

What first got you into brewing?

I’ve always liked to make things. I discovered home brewing when my interests turned to beer in college.

All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  IG: @brianlantzphotography

I had to give it a shot.  It was fun to make different beers and share cheer with friends. It still is.

How long have you been brewing?

As a hobby, off and on as life allowed for around twenty years. I have been brewing professionally since 2014.

What was the first beer you made?

 My first brew was an American pale ale. Luckily, it was drinkable and I continued brewing.  American pale ale was really the first beer style to showcase the amazing aromas and flavor of American hops.  I think it inspired a lot of brewers and its influence continues as evidenced by the popularity of IPAs today.

What is your favorite beer to make?

I really like making new beers.  Getting creative with recipe formulation and seeing how it turns out is gratifying.  Fortunately, we live during an exciting time for beer. Consumers are receptive to trying new and different brews.  Craft beer is a great marriage of tradition and innovation.

What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?

I wanted to make a living doing something I love.

Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other places do not do?

At its heart, brewing is a traditional industry.  So a lot of processes are similar. That said, we are a very quality focused brewery and are always open to tweaking our process to ensure the best product we can make.  If we discover a method that makes better beer, we will use it.

What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?

Hopefully, our beer sets the stage for healthy conviviality.  A great sensory experience from tasting a fresh product made with care should enhance the moment.

 

Meet The Brewers : Dean Kelley

Meet The Brewers : Dean Kelley

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  Check out his instagram at  @brianlantzphotography

Dean Kelley is the head brewer and Co-owner at Salty Turtle Beer Company. Kelley has been brewing beer since he made a brown ale from a kit in 2014. Recently I asked him about his brewing journey.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Massillon, Ohio. When I graduated High school, I joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Lejeune from

2005 until I got out in 2013. Have stayed in the area since.

What first got you into brewing?

I was overseas for a security contract and got into reading a brewing magazine I found one day. When I got home from the contract I decided that I wanted to try brewing and ordered my first kit and equipment.

What is your favorite beer to make?

I like making all different styles but if I had to pick one I would say saison.

What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?

I always thought it would be great to own my own business one day. It was always a dream until I meet one of my neighbors (Dan) while at his yard sale and realized he had the same passion. So, after that, myself and Dan pushed to make our dream a reality.

Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other places do not do?

I would say the process is pretty standard. The only odd thing is how Frankenstein-ed the system is. We are using a dairy tank for a mash tun and a HLT I welded up.

What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?

I want people to try things outside their comfort zone and not be deterred by the style or color. I am sure they will find something they like. And we always want to provide the customers with a great tasting product.

Meet the Brewers: Zac Brown

Meet the Brewers: Zac Brown

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography.  Check out his instagram at  @brianlantzphotography

Photo provided by Brian Lantz brianlantzphotography.com IG:@brianleelantz

Zac Brown is the head brewer at Waterman’s Brewing Company. Recently I asked him about his experience in the brewing industry and he had a lot of interesting things to say.

Where are you from?

 I was born in Manhattan, NY but raised in Teaneck, NJ which is about 7 miles from my original home in NYC. I have lived in 11 states of the US and spent time in Brazil as well.

What first got you into brewing?

 I was a Home-brewer in college, like many professional brewers used to be. I Home-brewed a lot and volunteered my time outside of work at any brewery or brew pub in my local area that would let me get my hands on a real brewing system.

Being from a music performance and music business background, brewing and the craft beer industry always appealed to me. I see music as a mix of art and science and brewing is absolutely the same type of trade. I also saw parallels between the business of music and craft beer.

In my later college years, I wrote my papers about the beer industry more so than the music industry. Much like I was a trumpet performer and had a role behind the scenes in the music industry, I always dreamed of being both a brewer and involved behind the scenes on the business side of things. I am now living that exact dream I had over a decade ago.

What is the first beer you made?

 Technically, my friend and I brewed one of those Mr. Beer kits as our first Home-brew in college. I soon after bought a two bucket Home-brew set up from Williams Home-brew Supply. We brewed an all extract pale ale for our first batch on my Home-brew set up.  My first solo batch on the commercial scale was a Double IPA at Long Trail Brewing Company.

What is your favorite beer to make?

 The majority of my career, to this day, was spent at a very traditional English style brewpub in San Francisco named Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery.  I gained a love and affinity for English Bitters and Porters while there.  Any recipe of mine that blends many different colors and styles of malted grain always holds a special place in my heart and my fascination with that creative and mathematical element of brewing is something I always enjoy.  My current recipe for Knotthead ESB at Watermans fulfills that criteria perfectly.

What made you want to start brewing on a larger scale?

 After being notified that I was getting laid off from my job as the Director of Ticketing for a non-profit World Music presenter in NYC, I reached out to a friend of a friend who brewed at Long Trail Brewery in Vermont for advice.   At the time, I had grown tired of the negative characters in the music industry as well as the lifestyle it required me to lead.  This friend, one of my best to this day, offered for me to come up to Vermont to interview for a Shift Brewer opening they had at the time.  I figured I had nothing to lose, so I did.

After five interviews in one day, I was hired as an entry level Shift Brewer and needed to learn how to brew on a 60 barrel, 4-vessel Brewhouse within a month of starting.  I enjoyed the culture of the company and the people I met there, so I figured it would be a good first step in to professional brewing.  When I moved out to California to pursue the next stage of my career, I focused on smaller brewing systems that allowed me to be more creative.  I haven’t turned back since.

Is there anything you do differently in your brewing process that other breweries do not?

 The basic process of brewing, from a step-by-step perspective, has to be the same for every brewery to fulfill the fundamentals of brewing science.  However, every brewery I have worked at has had slight differences in process and technique based on both equipment restrictions and/or brewing technique of the founding Brewmaster.  I stick to the fundamentals that I was taught from the several Brewmasters that trained me and have developed my own technique as a result of my various influences.  I would say my approach to the brewing process is fairly standard with an emphasis on the English Brewing style tradition.

What is one thing you want your consumer to take away after trying your beer?

 My favorite piece of feedback at Waterman’s is when a customer enjoys a beer they expected to dislike based on the style name or color of the beer.  With many beers in the 4-6% ABV range, I hope to find a match for every customer that walks in the door regardless of their preconceptions about beer in general.  Styles like the ESB, Grisette, and Copper Ale have all filled that gap for many unsuspecting customers here so far.  I hope to keep that going!

Meet the Brewers: Jim Deaton

Meet the Brewers: Jim Deaton

Meet the Brewers is an ongoing series to highlight the individuals who make the beer at our Wilmington breweries. Check back every week to see the latest interview. All photographs provided by Brian Lantz Photography .  Check out his instagram at  @brianleelantz

Jim Deaton is the head brewer at Bill’s Front Porch. From Jamestown, NC, he has been passionate about beer-making even before he was legally old enough to drink it. Deaton realized that while he wasn’t old enough to buy beer, he could definitely make it which ignited his career. Since creating his first brew, a double IPA, he has created many beer styles including his favorite to make, a class German style lager.

wilmington breweries

Photo provided by Brian Lantz brianlantzphotography.com IG:@brianleelantz

When asked what made him want to start brewing on a larger scale he said, “[I] Volunteered to help build a commercial brewery in Blowing Rock and worked my way up into a lead brewer position. It allowed me to make beer for the masses, not just for my friends and me.”

Check out Deaton’s work at Bill’s Front Porch and don’t be afraid to give him some feedback! Deaton says, “ Brewers are always seeking perfection. [The] more constructive feedback we receive, the better we can make our beers for you. Good or bad its always nice to see some responses about a specific style of beer. Don’t hesitate to ask questions; this is my love, my passion, and my career. I love talking to customers about specifics regarding the brewing processes.”