Thursday, August 30, 2012

Interview with Sam of Against the Grain

 My interview with Sam Cruz of Against the Grain

In my last blog post I shared my interview with Paul of Apocalypse Brew Works. This week, I would like to share my interview with Sam Cruz - one of the founders of Against the Grain (aka AtG) of Louisville, KY. 

Against the Grain is a brewery that was founded by four friends who met at the Bluegrass Brewing Company. Against the Grain actually created a video to explain the 'completely true and epic origin of Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, KY, chronicling the rise of "The Four." In other words, how Against the Grain came to be.

This is Sam

The member of the four that I was able to meet and speak with is Sam Cruz. Sam is a fellow who has a strong passion for the beer Against the Grain is brewing and the beer industry he is a part of. In this interview Sam shares how he got his start in the beer industry, his connection to and love for Chicago, and his excitement for the future of Against the Grain and the beer scene in Louisville.

Did you homebrew before you became a professional brewer?
I am a home brewer.  I have been home brewing since about 17 years old.

If so, for how long were you homebrewing before you made the jump to the professional ranks?
I took a job as the keg washer for Bluegrass Brewing Company in 2005.

Did someone introduce you to homebrewing or did you come upon it on your own?
I'll attribute my first exposure to  home brewing to a good friend and neighbor of mine growing up.  Brandt was about 8 years older than I and I idolized him.  So one day I dropped by to say hello and saw him brewing.  When I questioned him about what he was doing, he explained he had bought a kit to brew up beers that were unavailable in the market.  Of course, my being 17 and unaware of the range of styles of beer, was more interested making alcohol.  :)  So with a great idea to skirt the law and make my own beer for I and my friends, embarked on the journey of making beer.  Little did I know, I would fall in love with the art and science associated with it.

Is there a beer style that you enjoy brewing more than others?
Ive always enjoyed brewing with non-traditional ingredients.  So I'm not really hung up on any particular style.  Really, I enjoy the challenge of creating a procedure for a brew or perfecting something already in use.  Hence the love of nontraditional ingredients.

Do you recall the first beer that you had that made you go ''wow that is good!!'?
My first 'good' beer was probably Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  On the first sip, I knew I was in love.  Sweet/Bitter crisp and balanced (although at the time, I'm sure I thought it was the hoppiest beer ever).

The Against the Grain sampler tray enjoyed during my visit

Before you considered becoming a brewer, what did you do for a living?

Sweet Irony....I was a counselor for adolescents in addiction recovery.  I know....weird.  I have always been interested the processes the brain goes through in addiction and recovery.  In addition, I feel like I have a keen sense of the importance of promoting responsibility when dealing with any alcohol.  We have been given a gift to create and enjoy alcohol, and it should not be taken for granted. 

How long have you been brewing professionally?

I have been in the commercial brewery profession at some capacity for about 11 years.  

During our conversation, a few weeks back, you mentioned that you had spent some time in Chicago and that you went to Siebel. Are you originally from Chicago? 
I am not, but I love the Windy City!  Its magical to me.  There is so much diversity of culture and art.  Not only that, the food and beverage industry there is really on the edge of innovation.  You have amazing eateries, ranging from amazing hot dog joints (Hot Dougs), to beer centric restaurants (The Publican)...that's not even touching on the great brewpubs that have popped up recently.  Revolution and Haymarket are an inspiration to all of us in the brewery biz right not...good stuff there.  And I'd be foolish for not mentioning the food centric beers that Jared Rouben is brewing over at Goose Island.  He's the real deal.  I'm a big fan of things going on in Chicago.  You have some amazing people up there!

Do you recommend aspiring professional brewers consider going to Siebel?

I'd definitely recommend any aspiring brewer to attend Siebel!  I was fortunate to win a scholarship awarded by AB Vickers to cover the cost of the Concise Course offered by Siebel.  While only a short course, I believe it was what I needed to get propelled forward to take a serious brewer position, as well as the amazing opportunity to network with some of the worlds best minds in the business.  

What do you think is more important for an aspiring professional brewer - a brewing school certificate/diploma or experience in a brewery?
They both share a great deal of importance in proceeding in this biz.  The information you receive in a school environment definitely allows the aspiring brewer to focus on the tasks that are most important.  But there is no replacement for the value of 'digging out'.  If you're mentored by a good brewer, it can be a priceless education.  Lastly, there is no substitute for a good work ethic.  Brewing is hard work.  Its often hot, dirty, and frustrating.  If you don't have the guts to stay until the job is done, you don't belong in this business.

Another thing that was mentioned during our conversation was that Against the Grain is expanding. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your expansion project and when it will be completed?
We are currently expanding our storage capacity.  We have added a 600 square foot cooler for packaged product storage and are looking into adding some tank storage soon.  We have also created a space to quadruple our current barrel aging storage area.  We will use the barrel aging storage area to focus on some unique and innovative bourbon barrel aged beers, as well as expanding our current wild and soured beer program.  This expansion will allow us to produce a larger volume of beer for distribution.  We will remain draft only for the time being, but have our sights set on some very limited big bottle releases in the future.

This is what you see when you face the bar at AtG

When I visited Against the Grain, I was told that you were one of its four founders. How did you meet the other three founders, and do you all brew or do you each have different roles at Against the Grain?
Its a long story.  My partners and I were all employed at Bluegrass Brewing Company at one time or another.  Both Jerry and I were the Brewmasters of our respective breweries in the group.  Adam was our assistant (understatement, he was also finishing law school and taking the bar). Andrew was in the front of the house.  We were all friends and had always talked about what we believed would be the perfect fit for a new brewery/brewpub in the Louisville market.  Well, without spending a ton of time on the details, one day the question came up to all of us...."have you all ever considered doing this as partners?"  After some lengthy discussions over many pints of beer, here we are!
Our roles at AtG are all very different at this point, we have allowed ourselves to settle into duties that we are naturally talented at and will often defer to each other when it makes sense.  That is the beauty of the AtG partnership, I am confident in saying that I can trust my partners to handle their area of expertise, as they are the best.
I no longer concentrate on day to day brewery operations.  I will often assist in concept beers or assist in scheduling of different beers.  But for the most part that is managed by our official Brewmaster (and partner) Jerry Gnagy.  I am currently sharing the responsibility of managing the restaurant portion of the business, as well as handling all things marketing and sales for AtG beers.  Adam, has one foot in the brewery and the other firmly planted in the accounting and finance management of AtG.  He is also the president of Kentucky's first brewers guild (the KGB-Kentucky Guild of Brewers).  Andrew, would be considered the general manager of AtG and is responsible for management of operations of the restaurant/employees/ and optimization.
There is some overlap on these duties, but for the most part we have delineated positions. 

What are your thoughts on the Louisville beer community? By 'community' I mean other breweries, homebrewers, and beer fans.
We are in a very exciting time here in Louisville in terms of craft beer!  Within the last year, there have been 4 breweries open, and it is my understanding that there will be several more in the coming year.  Most would think that competition is scary, but I don't really see it that way.  With a fledgling market like Louisville, it is really promising to see other business persons willing to take a chance on this.  It means, I and my partners are seeing what everyone else is seeing.... a massive increase in interest for good beer!  Not to mention you get more folks to work with locally.  
In addition to new breweries, we also have some of the best beer bars.  I reference the Holy Grale, The Louisville Beerstore, The NachBar, Sergios World Beers, RichOs Public House... I could go on and on.  

How does Louisville compare to other beer loving cities that you have visited?
Louisville has a lot to offer any beer loving visitor.  In comparison to cities the same size, I'd say we are on par.  We have a unique offering of Bourbon and good food though, that I would say sets Louisville a bit higher than others.  I love it here, and I'm glad I am able to make beer here.  
If I had one complaint, it would be that the folks of Louisville don't yet realize how good they actually do have it.  There are some amazing things happening here.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job would have to be everything!  I love this business!  As I mentioned before, brewing is a difficult task.  But what in life, that's good, is easy?! Ill gladly take it all!  Where ever some thing goes wrong or there is a customer complaint, etc....there are always 20 other situations where things worked exactly as planned and 50 people are happy with the beers we serve.  The beer biz is the shizz!

This is one of the first perspectives of the inside of AtG you see when you enter

What do you enjoy the most about the craft beer industry and its fans?

I enjoy the the people involved in this business mostly because of the jovial nature of what we are producing.  I mean, its beer... its here for us to enjoy.  So good times usually follow that.  As to the people involved in the beer biz, most are great folks who enjoy being happy.  So its often a lot of fun to work with others.

Do you have any advice for homebrewers looking to improve their skills?

The best advice I could give is to read everything you can.  Then try to consistently produce something.  While we don't do that, we focus on consistently producing a quality product.  If you can get to where you can reproduce the same beer consistently and that beer is good....its likely you will consistently produce good beer...and that is what its all about.

Do you have any advice for the homebrewer that is considering becoming a professional brewer?
Before you enroll in school, get some books suggested by the BJCP or Cicerone programs and read up....then go volunteer at any food service production facility.  If the work is daunting and not your bag... I wouldn't mess with being a brewer.  There are a million other spots in the craft beer industry that may suit you (don't discount a love for drinking good beer... we all need a keen palate for sensory and sales).
But if you do dig the hard work and challenges that come with being a 'maker' then, dig in somewhere.  Work your way to the top or out to another challenge.  Sacrifice and move for the job.  The best brewers are the folks who don't give up, ever.

Are there any upcoming Against the Grain beer releases that you can tell us about?
As I mentioned a bit earlier.  We are expanding our barrel aging and sour programs dramatically.  Keep an eye out for those, I know you wont be disappointed ;).

Many thanks to Sam Cruz of Against the Grain for taking the time to answer my questions. The next time you are in the Louisville, KY area, do yourself a favor and stop in at Against the Grain. You will not be disappointed!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Interview with Paul of Apocalypse Brew Works

In late July, my fiance and I visited Louisville, Kentucky. While we were there, we visited the Louisville Slugger museum, the Holy Grale, Ramsi's Cafe on the World, and a few breweries around town. One of the breweries we visited was Apocalypse Brew Works. Unfortunately, we did not have time to sit down for a proper chat with the owners, but one of the co-owners (Paul) was kind enough to give me his card so I could send him some questions via email. Today, I wish to share with you that (email) interview with Paul of Apocalypse Brew Works. Enjoy!

Did you homebrew before you became a professional brewer?
If so, for how long were you homebrewing before you made the jump to the professional ranks?
All three of us partners were homebrewers before going professional.  I, Paul, homebrewed for 10 years.  Bill and Leah each homebrewed for about 15 years.  This gives us a about 40yrs of combined brewing experience.

Tap list the day of our visit to Apocalypse Brew Works

When we talked at Apocalypse Brew Works you mentioned that brewing is a part time job for you. May I ask what your other part time job is?
I do Quality Engineering and have background in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.  My partners have experience in graphic design and plumbing/hvac/boilers

How did you come up with the name of your brewery?
We were tossing around names and liked the sound and concept of Apocalypse.  After all, how many types of companies can actually get away with calling themselves Apocalypse and expect to get business?  We also like to think we are providing a service to the community so they can feel prepared and have fresh beer through any type of Apocalypse that might occur.

Do you recall the first beer that you had that made you go 'wow!' (in a good way)?
Mine was a Sierra Nevada clone.  The beer was on target and had a wonderful pop from dry hops.

How long have you been brewing professionally?
We have been open to the public since May 2012.  We started this journey in August 2011.

What are your thoughts on the Louisville beer community? By 'community' I mean other breweries, homebrewers, and beer fans.
The Louisville Beer Community is very supportive and growing rapidly.  We are adding new beer festivals all the time, the LAGERS homebrew club is adding many new members, and the KY State Fair is growing every year in number of entries and judges.

How does Louisville compare to other beer loving cities that you have visited?
Louisville has a long history with craft beer that started in the 1800's, faded a bit after Prohibition and the 1980's but has come on over the last 20 years thanks to the growth of microbreweries here and the quality of beer they've been producing. We're also fortunate to have a foodie community here that not only embraces good food but good beer.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Serving beer on a lively weekend evening when everyone is in a great mood and loving our beer.  How could you not love having a job that revolves around wonderful beer?

Photo of the bar area at Apocalypse Brew Works

What do you enjoy the most about the craft beer industry and its fans?
It is a lively and growing industry with a very diverse and passionate group of fans.

Do you have any advice for homebrewers looking to improve their skills?
Fresh ingredients, flawless sanitation, temperature control, and have fun.

Do you have any advice for the homebrewer that is considering becoming a professional brewer?
Do your homework and proceed carefully because there is so much more to it than just having award winning recipes and actaully brewing the beer.

Are there any upcoming Apocalypse Brew Works beer releases that you can tell us about?
This fall, we will release our 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse series which will be strong and unique beers representing the Black, White, Red, and Pale horsemen.

Is there a beer style that you enjoy brewing more than others?
I really love English style beers because of their very refined and balanced nature.

I would like to thank Paul for taking the time to answer my questions. I really do appreciate it.

If you are able to visit Louisville, I recommend you take the time to visit Apocalypse Brew Works. You will not regret it (especially if you get a chance to try their Watermelon Ale or the Hurricane Hefe)!

Also, if you get a chance to stop by and try a beer from their 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse series, let us know what you think of it. Cheers!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Homebrew for my wedding

This November I am getting married to my girlfriend of 4 years. Throughout our relationship, we have bonded over a mutual appreciation of bizarre humor, traveling, burping, good food, and good beer. With our wedding being in November, I have set myself to the task of brewing at least two beers to be made available at the reception. Since it will be 'stout season' I want to make an imperial stout that can be savored and enjoyed that night and at our 1 year anniversary. In addition to the stout, I would also like to make a second beer that is not as big or heavy as the imperial stout. At this point, I am leaning towards a saison, pale ale, or a brown ale. I have a saison recipe that my fiance really likes, but I have not made a pale ale or a brown ale. I did want to do a Rauchbier or a bock, but my 'fermentation' room will not reach lagering temps this winter due to the addition of Couch (our dog) to our family.

At this time, my 3 gal. imperial stout recipe is as follows (but will probably change before brew day):

  • Malt bill
    • 9 lbs marris otter  (81.81%)
    • 1.0 lbs of chocolate (9.09%)
    • 0.5 lbs of crystal 80 (4.55%)
    • 0.25 lb of midnight wheat (2.27%)
    • 0.25 lb special B (2.27%)
  • Hop bill
    • 0.75 Northern brewer @ 60 mins
    • 0.25 Northern brewer @ 10 mins
  • Yeast = Wyeast 1056 (American ale)
  • Boil - 60 mins
  • Mash @ 153 F

For a brown ale recipe, I am considering the following for a 3 gal. batch.
  • Malt bill
    • 7 lbs Pale malt  (80%)
    • 0.75 lbs crystal 60 (10%)
    • 0.25 lb aromatic/biscuit (5%) 
    • 0.25 lbs of chocolate (5%)
  • Hop bill
    • 3/4 oz Fuggle @ 60 mins
  • Yeast = Wyeast 1450 (Denny's favorite 50)
  • Boil - 60 mins
  • Mash @ 153 F

If I have the time, I would probably make a SMaSH beer (Single Malt and Single Hop). Probably a pale ale.

  • Malt bill
    • 8 lbs of 2 row
  • Hop bill
    • 0.4 oz Chinook @ 60 mins
  • Yeast = Wyeast 1272 (american ale II)
  • Boil - 60 mins
  • Mash @ 153 F

Again, these are 1st drafts of the beers I am considering. I am rather set on brewing an imperial stout, but the second and third beers are up in the air. I am open to input on both recipes, and hope you will consider providing some feedback.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cheers to Illinois made beer!

Earlier this week, I came upon the @beerpulse tweet provided below.

Being a fellow who currently calls Illinois home, that bit of info really made my day. was citing the Chicago trip summary of Acacia Coast (the State Brewers Association Coordinator at the Brewers Association). Said trip summary can be found here.

In Acacia's trip summary, she shares a few noteworthy bits of info which are provided below. I've tabbed  my opinions to each point

  • The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild is already preparing for the 2013 Illinois Craft Beer Week
    • If they are starting this early (note - I have no idea when planning for the 2012 beer week started) I can only hope and believe that it will be better next year. This year's beer week was a lot of fun, and I hope the planning committee is up to the challenge of making IL craft beer week 2013 even better.
  • State rep Deb Mehl (D-40th district) attended the recent Illinois Brewers Guild meeting to learn 'about the breweries in her Chicago district, and how she can be of support to the growing industry.  She appreciates hearing about the booming industry’s job creation and is fully supportive of her district’s breweries, including Revolution Brewing Co, even though she doesn’t drink alcohol. Representative Mell said she’s always looking for good bills and is considering sponsoring a bill the guild is currently drafting.'
    • How great is it that a state rep of the Chicago area took the time to acknowledge the growing beer industry in Chicago by her presence at the meeting at Revolution? 
    • I really do hope that the bill the IL Brewers Guild is drafting gets her support. I am not sure what the bill being drafted says, or will say, but I assume it will be for the betterment of beer brewers in IL. That is something I fully support.
  • 'By Brewers Association (BA) counts, Illinois has 57 licensed breweries and approximately 67 in planning'
    • Perhaps the most exciting piece of news from Acacia's post. Even if, heaven forbid, any of the 67 breweries in planning do not make it off the ground, it is exciting to know that there are a lot of folks in Illinois that want to make beer here. 
    • Being a fan of beer made in Illinois, I am really excited about what new, Illinois made beer I will be able to try next year, and the year after that. Stay tuned!
  • 'Boosting membership with voting breweries and allied trade partners is also high on (the Illinois Brewers Guild's) list of goals in 2012'
    • The more active members the guild has, the better and stronger the Illinois Brewers Guild will be (in my opinion).
  • The first sentence of Acacia's final paragraph in her trip summary - ' Illinois has a thriving and vibrant craft beer industry, with a guild that is working tirelessly to support, promote, protect, and educate the booming businesses.'
    • We Illinoisans are lucky that we not only have so many great breweries in Illinois, but that the IL brewers guild is as active, 'thriving and vibrant' as it is. I am not sure what the state guilds around the country are like, but I hope they are as active as the IL guild is

So, here's to Illinois made beer! May it continue to be a source of friendship, fun, commerce and good times!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beer and ebay

Image found at

Last weekend, the auction site ebay created a stir in response to their decision to remove some beer auctions from their website.. This took some people by surprise because, for some time now, people have been auctioning off beer on ebay despite ebays policy of  not allowing 'the sale of alcoholic beverages on its U.S. website, except for pre-approved sales of wine.' It seems the folks auctioning off beer were able to get around that rule by stating the 'value of the item is in the collectible container and not its contents' (an example of such a post can be found here). In other words, the bottle is more valuable than the beer within it. 

Now, I believe that ebay does not review every auction that is posted to its website, but how can a beer bottle (or any beverage container) be worth more than its contents? The lone exception, in my opinion, being OK soda cans. The soda within the can was terrible, but those cans were prrrty (regardless of what TIME magazine said)..

I understand why breweries such as Hill Farmsted and Russian River were angered when they learned their beers were being sold at incredibly high prices - they make beer for themselves and other beer fans to enjoy. Knowing that someone came and bought a bottle/bottles of their beer with no intention of drinking them, but rather to sell them at a mark up on ebay or somewhere else, keeps beer out of the hands of beer fans that may have traveled a great distance to try and purchase the beer with every intention of enjoying it. Thus, I think that the cracking down on beer auctions via ebay is a great thing. If that stance angers you because you make money by acquiring (rare) beer and then selling it on ebay, then fuck you. But if up until now, you used ebay to acquire beer to enjoy, then allow me to suggest other (probably cheaper) options for obtaining beer that is not available in your local market or that you were not able to acquire in your local market when it was released.

  • Trade for beer
    • It can be a bit unnerving trading beer with someone whom you have never met before, but you are lucky that beer people = good people. Trades can be arranged face-to-face with someone in your homebrew club or beer appreciation club. If you are looking to obtain a beer or beers that are not available in your local market, consider arranging a trade via beeradvocate (Beer Advocate's rules on beer trading can be found here). Keep in mind that it is understood, at least with trades arranged through, that the more inexperienced beer trader will ship their beer before the other trader will ship theirs. 
  • Make arrangement with a family member or friend that lives in a beer market that has the beer you are interested in
    • At this year's Dark Lord Day, I traded beer with a guy (lets call him Sam) who told me that he has a few Bruery Reserve Society Memberships that his sister (who lives near the Bruery) keeps tabs on. This same sister sends him the beer that the membership allotted for him. In addition, Sam (who lives in Ohio) asks his friends to travel to the Bells Eccentric Cafe for their beer releases to pick up a bottle (or more) for him.
  • Consider planning a trip/vacation around the release/obtaining of beer not available in your local market
    • My fiance and I are planning a pre-honeymoon trip before our actual honeymoon. The cities that we are considering are listed below. The thing they all have in common - great breweries that make beer that we cannot get in the midwest..
      • Portland, OR
      • NYC
      • San Francisco, CA
      • Seattle, WA
In addition to the reasons stated above, I think that the removal of beer auctions from ebay is a good thing because it may get people more interested in homebrewing due to the fact that some of the highly sought after beers (and other not so highly sought after beers) can be made at home as clones of the actual beer. A few examples are provided below.
If you would like to read a bit more about beer auctions on ebay, and the opinions of a few breweries, consider reading the posts at the other end of  the links provided below.

What are your thoughts on selling beer via ebay? Have you ever sold beer on ebay before? Have you ever traded beer via beeradvocate or other beer sites before? Let us know!