Caleb Brown is in charge of the sour brewing at the Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. The Akron brewery opened a new tasting room dedicated to sour beers called the Thirsty Dog Sour Haus in March.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: Before I started here, I was really interested in homebrewing and fermentation in general. I had been working at a grocery store in the wine and cheese department, and moved to the meat department shortly afterwards to be trained as a meat cutter. After about six months of training and working, early mornings looking at a big bowl of chicken livers, I had a moment when I realized, I need to get out of here.
So, I thought, 'I am interested in brewing, why not try Thirsty Dog?' The rest is history. When I was just homebrewing, I was really interested in all the science behind everything. I love the process of taking an idea for a flavor and making it into a beer. The place where art and creativity connect with science and process is what keeps me loving this work.
Q: What's your favorite and least favorite part of brewing sour beers?
A: My favorite thing is rediscovering old processes. Unlearning what you think you know about brewing. For example, you would never want to sparge with boiling water, or pitch your yeast at 95 degrees, or let it cool outside overnight, if you wanted to make a 'normal' beer.
My least favorite part is dumping beer. But sometimes you learn more from mistakes than from a medal winner. The work and hope you put into an idea to see some of the product take a turn you didn't expect keeps me on my toes trying to figure out how to guide the beer to the destination that I want it to end up at.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite craft beer trends now?
A: One of my favorite trends is the push for local ingredients. Hops from Michigan or Ohio are way different than the ones from out West. The same for grain and yeast. The local factor can get way over hyped and turn into marketing jargon but when it is done right, it is really great. I also love the trend toward balanced and drinkable beer. The rise of lagers and some of the English styles is great. Sorry, I picked two trends.
Least favorite trend: the push for all the adjuncts — whether it is to make a pastry stout or a milkshake beer. It's not that I hate all of those beers. They can be done well and some are really good. I just like to drink and make beer that I want to come back to. I want balance and drinkability. Yes, a 14 percent maple doughnut candy stout would be great to taste, but you are not going to drink it day in and day out.
Q: If you had to recommend one Thirsty Dog sour — and only one — that people try. Which would it be and why?
A: The Berliner Weisse. It is the most drinkable and complex sour we have right now. I love the style and have worked on it a lot. I am going to cheat a little and also say it would be the next one we are making. We are always pushing the boundaries of what we have made or what we want the end product to be. Right now, some of the new beer that we are working on is going to help redefine how people look at the sours that Thirsty Dog makes. We as a team are really excited about some of the new beer that we are making.
Q: Which beer — any beer in the world — do you wish that you created/brewed and why?
A: Pilsner hands down. The drinkability and complexity of a good fresh pilsner is unlike anything I know of. I also love finetuning processes and pilsners are all about process. The slight changes you make turn into big flavor differences. To try some of the old lagers made hundreds of years ago would be a dream come true.
Editor's note: The Five questions with ... appears each Friday. If you would like to participate or would like to nominate someone to participate, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.