Friday, September 27, 2013

Brewer of the Week

Charlottesville is booming. Breweries are popping up left, right, and centre it would seem. The first of the new breweries in the area to pop up after the introduction of law SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints in their tasting rooms, was Champion Brewing, close to the centre of town, and winner, after just a few weeks, of the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year for Virginia. Today, we speak to their brewer and founder, Hunter Smith...


Name: Hunter Smith
Brewery: Champion Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I started as a homebrewer, like many commercial brewers. As my beers improved, my confidence grew, and I took courses from the local community college, taught by local brewers. As my knowledge increased, I felt confident I could handle the curriculum of the Siebel Institute. After a few years on the management side of the wine business, I jumped in here.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think the most important characteristic of brewers is the level of expectation for themselves. Not necessarily to be a perfectionist but to be demanding of one’s adherence to sanitation, to quality, and to safety standards. It’s not always rocket science, but having adherence to protocol and a lack of laziness. And without a clear understanding of ingredients, the recipes won’t matter.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I did! Our IPA and brown ales aren’t far off of where I got started, particularly our Melee Session IPA. Same with our No Retreat Wheat. Everything’s been a little tweaked in the scale-up.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Truthfully, I don’t, but for a few reasons, primarily that with our 3-bbl system we aren’t married to a ton of inventory and I still have the ability to be constantly creative with recipes the same way I could at home, but with the efficiencies of a pro rig. Also as both owner and brewer, my time at home is scarce and for my kids.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I think my favorite brewday belongs to our Olde Salt Oyster Stout, not only because it’s such a cool beer and fun process, but I also get to sneak in a few of the best oysters on the East Coast.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I haven’t as an employee, but I have enjoyed brewdays at both Devil’s Backbone and Hardywood Park, and we brewed a collaboration Rye IPA at Blue Mountain.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

I have probably drank the highest number of our Tart Berliner Weisse, via its drinkability and low alcohol, but I most like to slowly drink our ICBM Double IPA; I really love it.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

In my opinion, entirely. I think it’s important to play true to style, and modify if desired, but always keeping the original in mind. I like to wander outside of boundaries but it’s important to have a style compass. I feel the most strongly about this in regard to ingredients. I hate hearing that ‘new’ beers are other existing beers tweaked with malt coloring and canned puree and the like.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We have done collabs with Devil’s Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Breckenridge. I really admire all of their beers and brewers, truly. If I were to cherry pick another to do tomorrow, it would be Three Floyds. I love their beers and share their inspiration of heavy metal and hardcore.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Man, that’s a great question. There are so many great beers out there, there are plenty I wish I could take credit for. I’ll admit my most frustration with Jason’s Danzig Coffee Baltic Porter from Devil’s Backbone, because I want to do a coffee Baltic Porter, but it kinda feels like ‘seat’s taken.’ I’ve even got a Misfits tattoo, I feel like I got robbed! But Jason’s old enough to have seen them when they were still together, so he gets dibs, haha.

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