Mar 2012 16

by Justin Beckner

During a trip to Iowa (don’t ask me why I was there) I came across a brewpub called the Olde Main. It was slightly after noon and I was thirsty so I went inside. Upon speaking with the bartenders and other patrons there, I found that everyone in the bar knew a lot about the beer they were drinking. This was a place where beer was appreciated rather than simply consumed – this was my kind of bar.

The Olde Main had six classic styles of in house brews on tap. The vats that gave birth to the delicious beverages rested just beyond a sheet of glass behind the bar. As I sat there enjoying my beer –– A Scottish Ale called “Off Kilter” –– I began to ponder the rich history of beer brewing process. Everyone can enjoy the obvious effects of beer but it takes another breed to enjoy the science behind it.

I arranged to meet with the brewmaster Jeff “Puff” Irvin the next morning for a tour of the beer making process. Puff spoke with true passion as he explained each step taken to ensure that the beer at Olde Main is held to the highest standard. The following is an interview with Puff, an architect of delicious beer. A thorough explanation of the process used at Olde Main can be found here.

Justin Beckner: What are your credentials as a brewmaster?

Jeff “Puff” Irvin: I have an undergraduate degree in Biology from Iowa State University. Then I went to the University of California Davis and I graduated from the Master Brewers Program down there. Then I came back here to Ames, Iowa and started brewing beer.

JB: Was it always your plan to become a brewmaster or at what point did you decide that was what you wanted to do?

JPI: I had a job as a bartender here to put myself through undergraduate college and I wanted to learn more about the stuff I was serving so I did some brewing experiments at home before I went to school for it. I took a class at Iowa State called Plants & People where we talked about how plants have impacted society over the years so we learned a lot about the ingredients that go into making beer which I found to be really interesting. But I always had a passion for spirits, beer and wine, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to get accepted to UC Davis. I’ve found that brewing beer has been a great fit for me and I’ve been doing it for the past eight years.

JB: Now, on the website people can check out the brewing by way of photos and your process is very well explained. You describe your brewing process here as being very “traditional”. What does that mean exactly?

JPI: We basically use large buckets to brew the beer which is a very old process. We don’t have a lot of the state of the art technology that some places can afford. But people have been making beer the same way for a very long time. We make it 500 gallons at a time. There are some things that we need to take into consideration because of that but the general process is the same as brewing it 5 gallons at a time in your home. It’s not rocket science.

JB: How many people work here?

JPI: The brewhouse in just myself and John, and then we’ve got four part-time guys who come in from time to time. We’ve also got a full time sales guy who’s always out on the road trying to sell the beer.

JB: Is the marketing world as difficult for breweries as it is for things like music and independent films?

JPI: It’s very similar in the fact that there are a lot of great breweries out there who are very good at marketing their product. In that sense, even though we’ve been around for eight years, we are still very new to the marketing aspects of the industry. We do have aspirations of getting bigger and hopefully soon building a new facility off site from here to keep up with production. We bottle five of our beers right now and we’d love to add some more seasonals to that.

JB: In your experimentations with making different kinds of beer and liquors, what would you say is the oddest ingredient you’ve ever used?

JPI: We do a chocolate porter here every year where we add 45 pounds of real Bavarian Chocolate – that’s our winter seasonal and it sells really well. We do an Irish Red beer for St. Patrick’s Day. We do a pumpkin brew for our fall seasonal. Some of the crazier stuff we do are our one-off runs. We did a 13 grain beer that had a bunch of holistic aphrodisiacs in it like Horny Goat Wheat Powder and Yohimbine. That was kind of funny and it sold well after we explained what was in it. We did a 4 Oat beer which we made with malted oats, flaked oats, toasted oats, and then an oat cereal that I can’t tell you the name of it because I called the company and since it is marketed to kids, they wouldn’t let us use the name anywhere. I can tell you that it was Magically Delicious – that’s what we called it. The interesting thing is that the cereal we used had marshmallows in it. We poured the boxes of cereal into our mash tub, so that was pretty interesting. We did a double IPA last spring which ended up being like 15.5 percent alcohol content. We used a process called dry hopping which we’d never used before here. It was a delicious beer but it was really a messy process. We’d like to make it again but we’ve got to figure out a better way to strain it from our tubs because it tends to clog everything up.

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