Meet the Brewers

In Food & Drink by Sarah KutaLeave a Comment

It’s pretty hard to think about Boulder without thinking about craft beer.

And really, what better way is there to spend a crisp fall evening or a blustery winter afternoon than visiting a taproom and having a few beers with friends? Whether you’re into hoppy IPAs or nutty stouts, you don’t have to go far to find something tasty to drink in Boulder.

We wanted to learn more about how the beer magic happens, so we checked in with a few Boulder County brewers to learn the secrets of the trade and their go-to beers for when the temperatures start to drop.

Connor Ventura

Conner Ventura. Photo by Mark Leffingwell

Head brewer at Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., 5455 Spine Road, Boulder

What do you enjoy most about brewing beer?
I see beer as a catalyst to community and culture. Over the past five years, our little community has grown quite wide. Seeing the reactions and responses to new beers or simply how our products can temporarily transport someone to a better place and time makes it all worthwhile for me.

How would you describe your brewing style or philosophy?
Never overcomplicate things. Less is more. Everything should have a purpose and reason.

What is your biggest challenge as a brewer?
I am in a constant state of researching, ideation and monitoring. All too often, I find it’s hard for me to actually stop working.

What are the characteristics of a well-made beer, in your opinion?
Balance is the most important factor in a well-made beer to me. No ingredient should ever overpower another. Everything should complement and build off one another.

What are your favorite beers to drink in the fall and winter?
I tend to indulge in bigger beers throughout the fall and winter, typically moving toward barrel-aged stouts and barleywines as the seasons change. However, I always have at least one good pilsner and IPA in my fridge.

Tim Matthews

Tim Matthews, head of brewing operations, Oskar Blues. Photo by Mark Leffingwell

Brewmaster at Oskar Blues Brewery, various locations in Boulder County and beyond

What do you enjoy most about brewing beer?

The intimacy with the process from ingredients to the science. There are still moments that can only be justified by “gut” feelings derived from that attachment.

How would you describe your brewing style or philosophy?  

Synergistic. All the ingredients must play off each other. For example, even when you have an incredibly hopped up beer, every component must be utilized and expressed in a way that supports that direction and gives it the proper amplification.

What is your biggest challenge as a brewer?  

The theory and process of brewing beer is not a set science. The challenge is constantly going back to your conclusions from years back and taking the newly acquired knowledge from recent practice into account. Have enough confidence and try to refute yourself.

What are the characteristics of a well-made beer, in your opinion?

First, express yourself. Make sure you are not just trying to copy. Then build upon that with a process that leaves nothing for granted: raw material quality and handling, sanitation and understanding what each piece of the process is bringing. Have a good understanding of sensory analysis with the practice needed to keep your senses keen. All that should lead to great beer.

What are your favorite beers to drink in the fall and winter?

Dry and roasty beers are great. But my favorite has to be Sierra Nevada Celebration – elegant caramel malts and traditional American hop varieties fresh from harvest.

Sam Scruby

Sam Scruby. Photo by Mark Leffingwell

Head brewer at Upslope Brewing Company, 1898 S. Flatiron Court, Boulder, and 1501 Lee Hill Road, Boulder

What do you enjoy most about brewing beer?

I’ve always enjoyed the creative aspects of making new beers. It’s like playing with Legos but you get to drink it. Independent, craft brewing came from a place that encouraged taking risks with new flavors and ideas and I have always embraced the adventurous creation of beer. It’s a phenomenal feeling when you get to sit down with a stranger and have them enjoy a beer that you created.

How would you describe your brewing style or philosophy?

I want to use the highest-quality ingredients and the latest technology to achieve the best tasting beer possible. I love learning about traditional brewing processes, but I find that trying to replicate and regulate beer to traditional techniques is ultimately confining. I believe strongly in technology as a route to make a superior product.

What is your biggest challenge as a brewer?

Brewers are essentially glorified janitors that often trade in better-paying jobs or opportunities to pursue their passion. It can be a physically demanding job, and trying to retain and inspire brewers is a challenge. The prestige of being a brewer wears off quickly if one doesn’t truly enjoy refining their craft and continuing to learn on the job.

What are the characteristics of a well-made beer, in your opinion?

In today’s world of the new, newer, newest beers, I want a beer that is consistent and dependable. I truly believe, given 10 attempts, that just about anyone can make a good beer once. For a beer to truly be great, it should be delicious every time I drink it. That is the mark of a truly well-made beer from a great brewer.

What are your favorite beers to drink in the fall and winter?

Fall is all about malty German lagers in my book. Bust out the Melanoidin malt, it’s time to slay Oktoberfests, Marzens and Dunkels. I love the bready, caramel depth that a well-brewed lager can showcase.

Winter is the only time of year that I want to drink bigger-ish (above 6% ABV) stouts or barrel-aged stouts. It’s pretty hard to beat a well-balanced bourbon barrel-aged stout when it’s below zero out.

Ryan Wibby

Ryan Wibby, co-founder and head brewer, Wibby Brewing. Photo by Mark Leffingwell

Brewmaster and president at Wibby Brewing, 209 Emery Street, Longmont

What do you enjoy most about brewing beer?

Tough call for me here as I love so many things about brewing beer. One of the things I love the most is all the physical labor. I know this may sound counterintuitive but I really love brewing beer when it is hot and sweaty. In these types of conditions, you can really push yourself to the limit and really see what you are made of. I also really enjoy all the chemistry and physics involved in the brewing process. Each step in the brew day has a purpose and has a distinctive effect on the final product. To me, this means that to make the best beer possible you need to have a complete understanding of the science behind each step of the brewing process.

How would you describe your brewing style or philosophy?

“Anything an ale can do a lager can do better.” I believe that the cold fermentation and aging seen with lagers allows us to create a wide range of flavors that are comparable to almost any flavor profile seen in the world of ales, yet have a crisp, clean finish leaving your pallet wanting more.

What is your biggest challenge as a brewer?

Currently, our biggest challenge is keeping up with demand, which is a great problem to have. Since our lagers take a month to produce, compared to the five to 14 days for an ale, it takes a lot of planning and patience to make sure we don’t rush our beers in order to fulfill the demands of our thirsty customers. The quality of our products is of the utmost importance.

What are the characteristics of a well-made beer, in your opinion?

Drinkability is the most important characteristic of a well-made beer. Nowadays there are a lot of gimmicky beers that are super creative and interesting but in my experience are only enjoyable for half a glass at most. I do commend the creativity of these brewers, but I believe that a beer that can be enjoyed over and over (responsibly, of course) is more important than brewing a beer that sounds interesting on paper.

What are your favorite beers to drink in the fall and winter?

Wibtoberfest is my favorite fall beer. This delicious amber lager is well balanced and flavorful yet the crisp clean finish makes me want another while I wear my Lederhosen. My favorite winter beer is barrel-aged double Dunkel. This dark strong lager is brewed with cacao nibs and then layered on Madagascar vanilla beans. The beer is then aged further in a bourbon barrel adding another dimension to it. The smooth combination of vanilla, chocolate and bourbon flavor make this beer perfect for warming up next to the fire on those long cold winter nights.

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