Chris Pennington is the brewer at R. Shea Brewing Co. The Akron brewpub, located in the city's Merriman Valley neighborhood, is in the process of opening a production brewery and restaurant in the Canal Place complex downtown. The brewery is named after founder Ron Shea.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: The short answer: Because I didn't want to become a teacher anymore. While working at Thirsty Dog to make ends meet, I was attending a local university and realized that teaching would be more of a chore than a passion. I wanted a passion that I could look forward to every morning for the rest of my life and teaching wasn't that. Getting to see what brewers do on a daily basis at Thirsty Dog seemed like a more natural fit for me and gave me something new and exciting to pursue, so I started my journey to become a professional brewer.
Q: What has been the highlight of your brewing career so far and why was it so special? (Maybe it's been a beer that you brewed, an award that you won, an idol you've met ...)
A: Experimenting with Ron and Jesse [Dolar] has produced many highlights for me. That little brewpub in the valley is my (our) playground. It seems that the most difficult beers to make have reaped the most rewards. The NEIPAs we've been developing have led to a beer we're really excited to release — a rendition of our Death by Smoothie. We were having attenuation issues with a double NEIPA so I asked Ron if we could toss in some strawberries to make the yeast happy again. Well, it worked and after an addition of vanilla beans, I can't wait to share it with everyone.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite craft beer trends now?
A: I like beer trends. Beer has been around since agriculture and hasn't changed too much in modern history. After craft beer became a thing 30 years ago, good ole' American ingenuity with a dash of capitalism has transformed traditional styles and I really like it. I've always judged a brewery by how well they can do the old stuff and still keep up with modern beer innovation. It just speaks to the amount of thought and respect to beer itself as a whole.
Q: What's your best-selling beer and why do you think it's so popular?
A: That'd be our West Coast Citra IPA. It's not bright and ultra bitter like traditional West Coast styles but it sure does use a lot of hops from the West Coast. I think people like it because it's a soft and fruity introduction to the style itself. They can venture off to more bitter stuff but they always come back for more West Coast Citra.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/brewed and why?
A: Bells Two Hearted Ale is the most solid beer out there. You can find it just about anywhere and it's always an amazing beer. Aside from my daily IPA, mainly my tastes go with the seasons. When it's cold, I'm drinking heavy stouts like our Defying Gravity or Carbon Black. When it's hot, I lean toward bright beers and IPAs but if you put a Two Hearted Ale in front of me, you're sure to put a smile on my face.
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