Paul Gardner is the brewer at Buckeye Lake Brewery in Buckeye Lake. The brewery and tasting room — which has announced plans to open a brewery and tasting room in Reynoldsburg — sells its beer in squatty 12-ounce bottles.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: I first dipped my toes into brewing nearly seven years ago after finally trying a true craft beer (see below). Using a Mr. Beer system — essentially a glorified plastic (barrel-shaped) bucket and pre-hopped malt extracts— generously provided by my future wife, I managed to make a few batches that were indeed fermented malt beverages, but they were a far cry from the quality I could buy in stores.
I've always been one to immerse myself into a new hobby, and as none of these beers were good by any standard, I knew I needed to invest time and effort into learning the art that was craft beer. I set out to begin building my first brew system, and started the path which lead to where I'm at today.
Q: What was the first craft beer that you ever tasted and what was that experience like?
A: My very first craft beer was the venerable Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing. It is a massive beer in both strength and flavor, and that first drink punched me square in the face. It was awful. Burnt, bitter, blackness that wrapped around my tongue and dominated my mouth. I was not prepared. The bottle was dumped, decisions were rethought, and I finished the night with a Sam Adams Boston Lager.
A week later, dragging my father along to help share the drinking duties of another mysterious craft beer, I tried Harpoon's Leviathan, another equally massive beer (though in hoppier terms). I was blown away. The huge flavors of American aromatic hops became my siren song. I had to have more. I had to make more. I began brewing because of that beer. My Dad became my brew partner, and we drank and educated ourselves through the extract days of the Mr. Beer system, all the way up to a half-barrel, near-professional system that has seen over 100 batches.
Oh, and I now love Old Rasputin. It shall always have a place in my heart as the beer that almost broke me.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite craft beer trends now?
A: My favorite craft beer trend is the deeper education that craft beer drinkers are involving themselves in. Five years ago, I could give anyone at a beer fest an IPA — half would shotgun it while shouting their love of hops, the other half would grimace and explain why they hated hops and that bitterness was ruining the beer. Today, I could offer the same beer and have a group around me asking what hops were used, how long did the beer sit on dry hops, how do I make it hazy/clear. It is remarkably refreshing to make beer for people who enjoy beer as I do, from a standpoint of immersing oneself into the product, rather than simply a beverage to lower inhibitions. When the fans of the beer are as excited and knowledgeable about the product as I am, it allows me to have much more fun making that beer, as I know I am among kindred spirits, and let's face it, drinking beer is always better with good friends.
My least favorite trend is the sense of elitism that seems to stem from these trends. I understand glitter beers and brut IPAs and pastry stouts aren't for everyone. But that doesn't make them bad beers. Uneducated brewers make bad beer. Any beer style can be pure gold or destined for the drain. And if someone loves a sparkly stout that had 125 pounds of sheet cake tossed into the mash tun, then I am happy for that person and their love of beer. On the same hand, people who stick to pilsners and cream ales are just as valid. To me, beer is about community, friendship, and sharing good times with a brew (of any style) in hand. There just isn't any room for style shaming. Beer is love.
Q: What's your best-selling beer and why do you think it's so popular?
A: Our best seller is Shovelhead, an 8.3% double IPA that's heavy on tropical fruit and citrus. It feels nowhere close to 8.3%, and often the aroma of fruit juice will greet you from halfway across the room. We use a blend of mostly Citra and Motueka hops, which brings out a unique tropical citrus vibe that is as enticing as it is delicious. It isn't a New England style, but it has enough body to feel like juice on the tongue. It really is a perfect beer for its style. Big, tasty, and bursting with flavor.
Q: Which beer — any beer in the world — do you wish that you created/brewed and why?
A: I wish I came up with Tart of Darkness, an exquisite offering from Bruery Terreux. I love complex beers, and a sour stout approaches the maximum of how complex a beer can be. In my opinion, it is perfect. Tons of dark fruit flavor, juicy sourness, notes of smoke and roasty chocolate. On paper, it sounds like a mess, but one sip of this blessed elixir and you understand that you have perfection in your glass. Honestly, nearly every beer that comes out of the Bruery pushes me to be a better brewer. The mastery they have over their craft is astounding, and they use methods and ingredients that require education and dedication in order to produce liquid gold. Patrick Rue, hit me up and we'll get a Buckeye Lake/Bruery collaboration going. I'll design the shirts.
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