Beer Alien, being fascinated with all things beer, has begun interviewing the local brewers in order to better understand the humans that make the beer we love so much. Through these interactions we hope to better understand and appreciate beer and the humans involved in making it.
We had the distinct pleasure of talking with Callaway Ryan from URBN St Brewing.
Beer Alien: How long have you been a professional brewer?
This coming winter will mark the 10th anniversary of my apprenticeship at Live Oak Brewing Co. After that, I worked on bottling lines and worked in a craft beer store in Austin, TX until I moved up to Minneapolis, MN to work full time as a brewer at Surly Brewing Co. That was 8 years ago this month. It was the smartest move I ever made.
Beer Alien: What is your favorite part of the job? least favorite part of the job?
I love most of the brewing process, but I honestly think the days when something goes wrong might be my favorite. Having the team come together to creatively solve a problem and seeing it work is extremely satisfying. On a more macro-level, I still get a huge kick out of seeing people enjoying something I made with my own two hands.
Least favorite? Paperwork. Graining out is a vacation compared to a day spent staring at spreadsheets.
Beer Alien: How has your opinion of brewing beer changed from when you were a home brewer to now being a professional brewer?
In a lot of ways, it’s come full circle. In the early days, I thought Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was undrinkably bitter. I was more interested in Belgians and traditional British styles. I definitely experienced the Lupulin Threshold Shift at some point and went down the road of finding the latest giant IPAs and barrel-aged stouts (not easy in Texas in the early-mid 2000s). Nowadays, it’s usually a brown ale or a saison in my growler when I go home. I love pretty much any style of beer you put in front of me, but I definitely am drawn to the beauty of a well-made, balanced pilsner or pale ale.
Beer Alien: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional brewer and how long after realizing did it take you to become a professional brewer?
It was pretty quick. I’d say maybe 4-6 months or so in to homebrewing. At the time, I was working retail as a specialty coffee and tea rep, and knew that wasn’t a life I wanted to live in the long term. After our first successful all-grain batch, I was hooked. I loved (and still do) the combination of so many disciplines that fascinate me. History, biology, chemistry, engineering and drinking to name a few. Within a few weeks, I had taken out a personal loan and signed up for the only online professional brewing certificate program available at the time.
Beer Alien: Share your most interesting brewing disaster.
Surly was struck by lightning at least twice during the time I worked there. The second time, it took out half the power to our building. When I arrived for work at 5AM, I had to get our brewing pumps working again, as well as figure out how to open our automatic rollup door to get beer orders onto the delivery truck. While brewing. at the end of the day, we were only about half an hour off schedule. I was pretty proud of that one.
Beer Alien: For other home brewers that want to make the change, what advice would you give to them?
Other than start young? Come in with an open mind. Things move very differently in a production brewery, and if you are willing to trust your head brewer, you can learn a lot very quickly. That and wool socks.
Beer Alien: On your days away from the brewery, what activities do you indulge in?
I try and take in live music as much as my schedule allows. I’m happy going out see Behemoth or Charles Bradley or anything in between. Cooking, especially making Texas-style BBQ is about as close to meditation as I get these days. My family and I try to make it out to the beach a couple times a month, just to lay about and read. I like to play a video game as well, as time permits. Mostly shooters or puzzle games.
Beer Alien: Do you have an experience that stands out above all others during your time as a a professional brewer?
The firsts. What I remember of my first GABF was awesome. At my first CBC, I felt like I had truly arrived as a brewer. My first Great Taste of the Midwest made me realize what an amazing, tight-knit community I work in. And of course, the first pint of my own beer, brewed in my own brewery. It was the culmination of the 10-year journey I had set out on back in my friend’s kitchen in Texas. I’m not sure I’ll ever have a beer better than that one.
Beer Alien: How long did you home brew before you became a professional brewer?
I was homebrewing for maybe 4-5 months before I decided that this was the next chapter of my life. I had been exploring craft beer for another couple of years before that and knew it was where my interests lay. It was about another year before I was actually drawing paychecks from Real Ale Brewing in Blanco, TX.
Beer Alien: Do you still home brew?
Not as much as I would like. We occasionally will do small pilot batches at work, but I don’t really have the space or time to brew in our South Park apartment. I promised my daughter that we will brew some ginger ale soon.
Beer Alien: What was the first beer you brewed? What do you remember about the experience? (Come on, we all know the first time is an experience)
I believe it was a Kölsch from a mini-mash kit my friend Greg and I bought at Austin Homebrew Supply. He had a huge kitchen at the time. We only boiled over twice, and only one of the carboys shot krausen all over his closet, so I would say it was a pretty successful first day!
Beer Alien: If you could give one piece of advice to new home brewers, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to brew the same batch more than once. The devil is in the details, and each iteration is an even bigger chance to learn, if you are paying close enough attention. Yeast love oxygen, but beer hates it. Aerate your wort, and CO2 purge your bottles and kegs.
Check out the Beer Alien tour of URBN St Brewing: Beer Alien tour of URBN St Brewing
For more information about URBN St Brewing in El Cajon, CA, visit them here: http://www.urbnstbrewing.com/
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