PODCAST GUESTS

Chris Hodge

Chris HodgeSince 1984, when Chris helped start Admiralty Beverage, a beer and wine distributorship in Portland, OR, his passion for and understanding of the beverage industry has only intensified. It’s been a great road so far, with 18 years at Columbia Distributing (in varied roles including Director of Sales and Marketing and their first Director of Craft and Specialty Brands), plus building a business and an amazing team as CEO of Worthy Brewing in Bend OR. Now Director of Sales at Oregon Fruit Products, Chris still thrives in the pleasure and honor of working with the scrappy, talented, and innovative people who make up the Craft beverage world.

“We’re a community, and I’m so pleased to be able to share my experience with the rest of you. Cheers!”

Gary Sernack

Chef/ record collector/pinball wizard/ bourbon enthusiast/entrepreneur/ decorated brewer…. Gary seems hard to put in a box, and he likes it that way.  Known affectionately as the “mad scientist” of the Asheville brewing scene, Gary has created a following fueled by his passion for his profession which shows in the mind-blowing and never-ending combinations which continue to ferment both in his breweries and his imagination.  Lorelai, his 11-yr-old (and the namesake of Bhramari’s award winning IPA) may sum it up best:  “He’s very nice and he opens my eyes to a lot of new things.”

 

Meaning of the name Bhramari 

 The world’s first word for black bees and the Hindu Goddess of bees. Culinary inspired, locally and globally infused, and experimental at its heart – we at Bhramari Brewing Co. want to always create what inspires us so that you might be inspired as well. Find balance, find whimsy, and discover something completely new in every sip of a Bhramari brew.

SEASON 2, EPISODE 1: THIS JUICE IS WORTH THE SQUEEZE!

PODCAST HOST:
TOBY TUCKER – DIRECTOR OF SALES, COUNTRY MALT GROUP

GUESTS:

CHRIS HODGE – DIRECTOR OF BREWERY SALES, OREGON FRUIT PRODUCTS

GARY SERNACK – FOUNDER AND HEAD BREWER, BHRAMARI BREWING CO.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Exploring Chris’s extensive history in the beer brewing industry.

  • From canned filling to craft brewing, hear about the evolution of Oregon Fruit Products.

  • Aseptic versus canned fruit and which you want to fruit up your beer.

  • Getting over the fear of using fruit in the fermentation process.

  • How fruit can complement every style of beer.

  • How Oregon Fruit Products chooses which fruit to release each season.

  • Using fruit to discover new refreshing flavors.

  • Gary talks about how he uses fruit in some of his brews.

  • Using different kinds of wood to smoke meat.

  • The setup that Gary uses to develop new beers.

  • When in the fermentation process Gary adds fruit to his brew.

  • The fajita effect; hear about the power of colorful beer.

  • We ask Gary about his infamous but great tasting pizza beer.

  • Why Gary will never use garlic in his beer.

Transcript - This Juice is Worth the Squeeze

SEASON 2, EPISODE 1

 

[THIS JUICE IS WORTH THE SQUEEZE]

Host: Toby Tucker, Country Malt Group

Guest: Chris Hodge, Oregon Fruit

 

[00:00:09] TT: Welcome to another episode of The BrewDeck Podcast. I’m your host, Toby Tucker. Today, we’re talking all things fruit. And I saw a t-shirt that said, “Fruit at the finish,” recently with the tagline — it said “Just Fru-it.” Like the Nike slogan, Just Do It. But Just Fru-it instead. It was for a triathlon, but the slogan aligns pretty well with the craft brewing industry trends that we’re seeing right now. It’s a lot of breweries just fruing-it. Just going in with all things fruit in their beer, and so really excited to talk to my guest today, my good buddy Chris Hodge from Oregon Fruit Products. How are you doing, buddy?

 

[00:00:48] CH: Toby, good to be with you, man. Thanks for the opportunity to get in front of the crowd of beer lovers and fruit lovers out there.

 

[00:00:54] TT: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we kind of both know about this explosion of the use of fruit, particularly for brewing. I’m very excited to have you on as a certified cicerone and Director of Sales at Oregon Fruit Products, who’s a very valued partner at a Country Malt Group. Let’s start with some low-hanging fruit to kind of peel back the banana, so to speak.

 

[00:01:16] CH: Oh, boy.

 

[00:01:17] TT: Did you always know that fruit was your jam?

 

[00:01:20] CH: Oh, my God.

 

[00:01:22]TT: I decided to do it because —

 

[00:01:22] CH: I always knew that beer was my jam, Toby. I started the beer business in 1984 and started a small distributorship back before craft brewing was even a thing. I think they actually referred to it as microbreweries back then. I spent 10 years building an arsenal of amazing beers from around the world and hooked up with some original craft brewers back in the mid-‘80s, late ‘90s. Little tiny breweries like Widmer and Deschutes and Full Sail and Rogue and some noted big pioneers of the industry back then. Then I spent about 24 years after we sold our distributorship to one of the largest distributors in the US. And I managed all the craft and import brands for about 24 years for Columbia Distributing.

 

Beer is in my blood. When you ask the question about fruit, I spent many years traveling to Europe and hanging out with a bunch of crazy Belgians who helped introduce the idea of fruit in beer. And became a Belgian fruit beer lover. Sitting here today with you, I couldn’t imagine back in the ’80s and ’90s that fruit beer would be on the leading edge of innovation for the craft industry.

 

[00:02:30] TT: That’s pretty interesting obviously the history that you had in the beer brewing industry if you will. What I need is like a hi-hat on my end when I throw in kind of corny intros like that, so no more. I promise.

 

[00:02:43] CH: I’m sure the audience expects it.

 

[00:02:45] TT: Right. By this point, yeah. Evolution of Oregon Fruit Products. How did you guys go from canned fruit for pie filling to aseptic fruit puree for the craft brewing industry?

 

[00:02:57] CH: It was a really strange and almost sort of natural evolution. Oregon Fruit has been around for 85 years. This is our 85th anniversary. For about the first, I don’t know, 50 years or so, it was owned by a family out of Salem, Oregon. Back in the day, people loved canned fruit, canned everything. The fact is, I think I grew up eating half of my vegetables out of cans. But what happened was as people’s tastes changed, so did the need for looking for something different than canned fruit to reach the audience.

 

Back in about late ’80s, Oregon Fruit, one of their new up-and-coming superstars at the time decided that there was a need and a desire to have these fruits turned into a pureed form. They didn’t know what the hell they were going to do with it, quite frankly. It was funny because if I look back at the histories of what happened with Oregon Fruit, they had this Heinz Ketchup aseptic puree processor. For the first five to six years they had it, they kind of just made purees occasionally just for the hell of it and they found that there were some food manufacturers that liked it for industrial use.

 

Then there was a brewery out of Louisiana, Abita Brewing, and they were developing a beer called Purple Haze. They were one of the first big-time users of fruit. Then there was a little brewery in Eugene, Oregon called Steelhead Brewing. A good friend of yours and I who is an amazing brewer on her own accord, Teri Fahrendorf, decided that raspberry would be a great addition to one of her beers she was making at Steelhead. That was sort of the jump-off point for realizing that the fermentation world really was a great home for these pureed fruits, and it’s been a rocket ship since the late ‘90s. I joined in 2016 and have seen our business literally quadruple within just four years.

 

The need is there, and now we’re seeing that craft in itself is screaming for innovation. Thankfully, the Oregon Fruit purees are a really easy and fun way to add amazing complexity to a huge variety of different beer styles.

 

[00:04:14] TT: Yeah, absolutely. Very popular, very popular. You mentioned Teri Fahrendorf. We actually had Teri on a podcast here recently, talking about the Malt Innovation Center. So she’s been around, and it’s an interesting story that you mentioned that she was playing around some fruit back in the days.

 

[00:04:32] CH: Yeah.

 

[00:04:33] TT: Tell me about, and I think the listeners would like to hear too, the general fundamental differences in flavor or aroma in canned fruit versus aseptic. Can you add in any additional information on the two or give anybody some information that might help them in the brewhouse?

 

[00:04:54] CH: Absolutely. I think the fundamental difference is that puree fruit is just that. It’s pure fruit, no sugars added, no anything added quite frankly. What we found is that by the processing that it goes through, the pasteurization process to become an aseptic,  commercially sterile product. It locks in and captures all the aromas, color, flavor components that you would expect out of biting into a fresh mango, for example, or cutting open a pineapple and smelling the tropical aromas. Whereas some of the other methods of fruit processing, whether it’s canning, drying, freezing, you name it, there’s not a lot of them that can capture the true essence of the purity of the fruit.

 

One of the things we do too is the first decade of aseptic processing — we would try to source as local as possible. As we know, farmers have had a really challenging time these last 20 or 30 years. And we were able to source 90% of our fruit within a 100-mile radius of our facility in Salem, Oregon. Willamette Valley being a very fertile growing area. Those days have changed. We still try to source, where possible, locally. But we’ve now broadened our reach to capture all the great fruits from some of the tropical growing regions. Even with those types of fruits, we’re still able to maintain a really intense fruit experience. Which I think gives our aseptic purees sort of a little bit of a head start when it comes to using them for a brew that you want to really exemplify the nuances of the fruit.

 

[00:06:26] TT: Yeah. Speaking of brew, and I am nowhere close to being entitled — a brewer by any means. I certainly like drinking beer and I’ve homebrewed a little bit. But I sense, and since speaking to some folks at the brewery, in certain breweries that there’s some fear of brewing with fruit in general. How do you kind of get people over that hump there and kind of talk them off the ledge and get them to try fruit in their beers?

 

[00:06:49] CH: Well, first of all, it’s legitimate. I don’t know if fear’s the right word or just the fact that the unknown of what works best. And here’s the deal. There are multitudes of ways to infuse a beer with fruit properly and there’s no perfect way. There’s no right way. There are a couple wrong ways and we won’t focus on those. But the ease of use is really amazing. Basically, we recommend that they dose during primary fermentation. You can do it during and after the secondary. But there’s a lot of folks now who I think, for all the right reasons, do get a little leery if they dose the beer after cold crash. Just because there is a possibility of secondary fermentation. But even those, if maintained properly, filtered properly, can be sold with confidence.

 

The real starting process is do innovation small benchtop trials. If you’ve got a pilot system, great. If you don’t, we send free samples all over the world of our purees. Brewers themselves will tinker at their desktop, their bar top in their brewery with these samples to really identify when they want to add the fruit, the level of intensity of fruit they expect out of the beer. And then obviously, we’re obviously always available to talk, and I’d love to talk about fruit and beer to give people ideas on how they can get the most out of their fruit investment. I mean, it’s no secret that cost of goods is really a critical component of what brewers are concerned about, whether it’s your malt, your hops, yeast. Fruit now is a big part of that cost of good component. So we want to make sure that if people are going to do a fruited beer that they get the most out of their fruit.

 

[00:08:33] TT: Yeah, absolutely. Outside of myself, as far as Country Malt Group, we’ve got a large portion of our sales team, our brewers by trade. So certainly available to share some knowledge as well specifically on Oregon Fruit and brewing with it. You mentioned Teri over at Steelhead and Abita. Any other breweries that you remember that were kind of the first to start buying fruit puree from you guys?

 

[00:08:57] CH: There’s so many. I really would prefer not to mention names. I will tell you that our customer base number is in the thousands. We’re currently doing business in about 13 countries outside of the US as well, and the good news about the fruit brewing world is that it touches every type of brewer out there — the smallest one-barrel system brewer all the way up to some of the largest corporate brewers of the world. Everybody’s playing with fruit now.

 

I do know back in the earlier days, back in the ‘90s, fruit really wasn’t a thing in the craft world. I mean, hops reign supreme. I mean, how many years, I’ll count about 20 years, where IPAs were all people could think about, talk about, and drink. It wasn’t until around 2010 when we started to see that saturation was running rampant. Brewers were looking for something different, and that’s when Oregon Fruit really realized that, “Oh, wow. If this thing takes hold, every brewer in the world is going to at some point want to play with fruit.”

 

Again, we have barrel-aging programs, the milkshakes, the slushies, the hazies, the sours, the kettle sours, the Berliner Weisse. You name it. Every beer style out there when done properly can really shine with a little dosing of fruit.

 

[00:10:22] TT: Absolutely. I’m getting thirsty, jeez. I mean, you guys are lucky to be kind of located where you are up in the Pacific Northwest. But you guys do a lot of fruit puree. Tell me about the process of procuring whole fruit from all over the place, not specifically out of Pacific Northwest. But you got to look for a lot of different fruit. Tell me about that process and what goes into it.

 

[00:11:42] CH: It was about eight years ago when the idea of releasing seasonals was spawned. Basically, it came from all of our years of experience. Ours being — our CEO also spent over 20 years in the beer business. We believe that having a seasonal program was critical to keeping relevant. At that point, we released a couple fun fruits that we thought, “Oh, this will be cool to play around with.” Well, every seasonal with the exception of two, I think we’ve released 24 seasonals just in the last six years, has become a year-round product. What we realized is that sourcing was a challenge.

 

So the majority of sourcing from outside of the US where fruit has to travel thousands and thousands of miles is IQF fruit, whereby during harvest they will process the fruit into an instant quick freeze setup where it’s either chunks or in a slurry format. Then that’s shipped to us and then we use our aseptic process to turn it into a commercially sterile product that brewers can use. As you all know and your teams know, I think that’s one of the bestselling points. It’s ready to use when it shows up. It can be shipped ambient, stored ambient, and it really captures the essence of the fruit from where it was grown.

 

It’s really just a matter of making logistic decisions on committing to sourcing. Those sourcing agreements, you have to basically sign up for, “Okay, we’re going to buy x amount of thousands or millions of pounds of fruit.” And you got to commit to making sure that we have access to that fruit. That’s the real challenge is the growth of this category has been explosive, as you and your teams know. Our contracts on a world scale have quadrupled just in the last three years because the demand for the tropicals and citrus and all the fruits that you can’t grow in the Pacific Northwest.

 

[00:12:44] TT: Wow. I can’t imagine whoever in your company is responsible for going out and finding all this stuff. It seems like a huge task. Well, you mentioned kind of seasonals, and then I know you guys have new releases every year at least. We had lemon come to the market from you guys this year and then key lime last year. Tell us about the selection process for choosing new releases and why those selections are made.

 

[00:13:10] CH: Two things. We have a very strong foodservice channel of business — that’s sort of the third leg of the stool at Oregon Fruit. We look at food trends, we look at international flavor trends, and then most importantly we listen to our customers. We have been asking customers for the last five years, “What do you guys want? What do you all need? What do you want to play with?” We’ve hit a couple duds. There were a couple wacky fruits that we heard about, we tasted, and we thought, “Oh, this will be interesting and unique.” It really depends upon those three components; food trends, flavor trends, and then most importantly combining those two channels of information with what brewers are looking for.

 

I got to tell you, the Craft Brewers Conference about three years ago, there were two or three fruits that were mentioned that now have become mainstays for them. What we do is we source enough fruit for one or two big production runs. We sort of temper the demand with what we think we can source. Then if the demand stays high, we’ll continue to have it as a year-round item. In fact, the ones you’d mentioned, the Meyer lemon is year-round. Mango, pineapple, pink guava, those were all seasonals that have now become year-round. Blood orange was a seasonal.

 

What you’re seeing is our portfolio will grow to a point where we figure we can still manage it properly, keep the sourcing fresh, and also cater to the needs of the marketplace. That’s why you’ll see citrus this year being a big focus for us. In addition, we’ll do some wacky stuff. We were bench topping some kiwi, some dragon fruit. Basically, I would encourage all the listeners and all of your customers and your teams to just continue to throw ideas our way and just keep in mind nothing is too weird.

 

[00:14:55] TT: It’s good to hear. So some of those duds, when you taste them, they taste fantastic. But is it just the combination or the end product and the beer that just doesn’t do it justice? What happens there?

 

[00:15:08] CH: Well, you kind of nailed it. It’s a little of both. During our benchtop trials, we’ll do all the sensory that you need for PH, Brix levels, aroma, color, everything you would do for a typical beer sensory. However, when you take that fruit and once it’s been processed — and mix it with the PH of the hops and the alpha and beta acids and the fermentation process and some of the esters that come off from different types of yeast strains. Not to mention the enzymatic sort of activity that goes along with some of these fruits, you don’t know what you’ll get.

 

One example was a soursop which we did which I thought smelled like gym socks mixed with blue cheese. It was weird. But I got to tell you, man, for whatever reason, we mixed it with a little tangerine to take that bite off. And at first, people are like, “What the hell is this?” The next thing you know, a year after it was gone, people were like, “Where’s that soursop that you guys had that one time?” It’s like, “Wow.” There are some pretty good ways to test a beer or a fruit to see if it’s going to work well, but there’s no perfect method.

 

There are some that have just surprised the hell out of me. The key lime that we made for a seasonal I thought was incredibly intense, almost over the top too tart to even work. It’s been turned into some of the most amazing beers I’ve tasted. There’s brewers that are using it in tequila barrel-aged beers. They’re using it in gueuzes. You’re taking sour with even more souring and turning into just a luxurious margarita-type beer. It really tests the boundaries of the artisan within each brewer that we know love to push the boundaries of strange flavor profiles.

 

[00:16:53] TT: That’s what I love about this industry. These brewers will try anything. They really will.

 

[00:16:58] CH: Yeah. They’re creative geniuses sometimes, Toby. I got to tell you, man. I’ve talked to some brewers who will take a combination of our fruits, mix it together in some sort of concoction you would never think of trying. We had a brewer in Canada that did this massive release of a grapefruit pomegranate. To me, it sounds like really contradictory flavor profiles. Freaking amazing, blew people’s minds.

 

[00:17:23] TT: Just got to try it. That’s it. You mentioned, like, taste combinations. I have a good buddy of mine that one of his favorite combinations is red wine and Doritos. It’s the weirdest thing like, “What?” I tried it and I wasn’t a big fan of it but, yeah, he loves it. Danny, if you’re listening, I’m sharing your secret. I’m sorry.

 

Being in the fruit industry, do you have fruit smoothies for every meal? I mean, with the access to such fantastic fruits. Or you’re like a meat and potato guy and just tired of anything fruit?

 

[00:17:55] CH: Well, okay. I’m a dude and I got to tell you. I love fruit but I have a banana, and that’s my fruit of the day. I got to tell you. Honestly, I just don’t eat a lot of fruit. I mean, I think fruit is amazing. My kids eat fruit like three times a day. I thought fruit beers back in the mid-’90s were like a passing fad. I drink more fruit beer in the last five years than I’ve had my entire life. And I’ve drank a lot of beer. You know what? If you have a really well-made fruit beer, it becomes a whole different drinking experience.

 

[00:18:30] TT: You’re right, and I completely agree, yeah. All right. Well, a guy that only likes bananas and is in the fruit business. Interesting. Going back, what is your favorite food? I know you like fruits. I’m just giving you a hard time. So what is your favorite food? Let’s just say it’s your last meal that you could have before you jump into a coffin. What meal would that be?

 

[00:18:51] CH: I really like a really well-seared rib eye that’s been aged properly. And a giant lobster tail right next to it that’s been just dripping with butter. Maybe throw in some thinly sliced potatoes on the side and then, yeah, a nice glass of red wine.

 

[00:19:10] TT: Man, thirsty and hungry. Wow, this is taking a hard left. That’s for sure. All right, okay. What’s your favorite beer, seltzer or? We talked a little bit about your fruit but anything you’re particularly drawn to these days?

 

[00:19:25] CH: I really think it’s important to think about that last part of that sentence, these days. So with a 34-year history in the beer business, I’ve gone through many I guess different eras of beer-loving. I will never forget traveling to Belgium. I think the first time was in 1988. For almost seven or eight years, all I could drink, all I could think about when I thought about beer was Belgian beers. And I went — I ran the gamut of not only traveling to Belgium multiple times but falling in love with all the beer styles.

 

Then I went through my German phase. I think there was a time during the mid-’90s where IPA to me was everything a beer was meant to be, and I drank my way across the world of IPAs a couple different times. And I still love an IPA. The fact is, if I were to choose one beer that I would just drink on a daily basis, it would be an IPA. I have really in the last two years done a huge amount of research on pilsners. I love a good pils. I don’t really care what style of pils. I just love a really well-made pils.

 

Then the fruit beers to me, I love a fruited sour. I mean, if I were to pick one fruit style of beers, it would certainly be something that was made either kettle-soured or true wild ferment sour. Because I think to me that really brings out the character not only of a fruited or sour beer but it really is the best marriage of a fruit with a fermented beverage. I mean, personally, that’s where I lean for sure.

 

[00:21:02] TT: All right. What about the strangest or wildly weird beer that you’ve ever encountered?

 

[00:21:10] CH: Well, this whole category of slushies and milkshakes.

 

[00:21:14] TT: Yeah, you’re right.

 

[00:22:15] CH: I have no clue how or why. All I know is I’m really glad that people have fallen in love with these wacky concoctions.

 

[00:22:23] TT: Me too. I got to retract that question because, yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess I was thinking about myself here because one time when I first started, I visited this brewery. And I will not name this brewery. But he made a beer using the fungus of a deceased person’s toenail. I guess he utilized it and then cultured a yeast out of it and made a beer. It was — I don’t even have words for it. When he mentioned it to me, I’m like, “You gotta be kidding me.” But I tried it and I wouldn’t have known one way or the other but just strange, strange. But I applaud the brewers out there for being creative. That’s for sure.

 

[00:22:07] CH: The good news is there’s nothing that’s too weird. If you look back in the ’80s and ’90s, the McMenamins Group in Oregon, all their brewers were allowed to do anything they wanted to do. I mean, remember those eras when people would literally —

 

[00:22:24] TT: Oh Yeah.

 

[00:22:25] CH: I don’t care if it’s Pop-Tarts or Snickers bars or whatever. And the fun part was there was nothing that was ever too weird. In fact, it’s sometimes the weirder, the better, I mean, and most of those breweries, a lot of them at that time were using open fermenters. So not only did you have the wackiness of the ingredients but you had the weird, wild yeast strains that would impart those unique flavors. So I’m a true believer that there is nothing that’s wrong with innovation. But I think to stay commercially relevant and to have a brand that’s going to continue to grow, you have to push those envelopes to make sure that you are unearthing every potential flavor profile that might someday be a superstar hit. You just never know.

 

[00:23:05] TT: That’s true. Well, for the listeners out there, Oregon Fruit Products just has a massive array of just awesome selection of fruit purees. The 42-pound aseptic packages I think we pretty much stock every DC we have. Just a fantastic lineup and we’re very appreciative of you, Chris, and your partnership along with Country Malt Group to kind of help spread these out and make them very easily accessible to our customer base here in North America. So I definitely appreciate you coming on.

 

What’s interesting is I think in The Whirlpool episode next, we’ll be talking to a gentleman who I guess has a culinary background and now brews. We’ll be talking about a little bit of fruit and non-traditional ingredients. For those listeners, stick around. You definitely want to hear that.

 

Chris Hodge, thank you so much for joining us again today, and I really look forward to seeing you again when all this COVID stuff goes away but definitely a wealth of knowledge with Chris. If you’ve got any questions about Oregon Fruit Products, reach out to your Country Malt Group territory manager. Then if it’s something we can’t answer, we will certainly get in touch with Chris. Chris, any final words for our listeners here?

 

[00:24:14] CH: I just want to say to the Country Malt team that I couldn’t be happier to have such a great working relationship with some super talented beer and food lovers across North America. One of the best relationships we built was with your teams. Even though a big chunk of our business is direct with brewers, our reach and the depth and breadth of what we can do together is super exciting. So I look forward to hearing from you guys and all the listeners out there. Toby, thank you so much for giving me the time to bend your ear a little bit, and hope everyone has a great holiday season.

 

[00:24:49] TT: All right, Chris. Hey, I a-peach-iate you.

 

[00:24:51] CH: I knew you couldn’t do it.

 

[00:24:54] TT: I mean, I don’t know. I had to finish on it. All right, all jokes aside, man, thank you so much. Hey, make it a great weekend. Chris, we’ll talk soon.

 

[00:25:02] CH: All right. Thanks, Toby.

 

[00:25:04] TT: Thanks, buddy. Bye.

 

THE WHIRLPOOL

Host: Toby Tucker, Country Malt Group

Guest: Gary Sernack, Bhramari Brewing

 

[00:00:12] TT: All right. I’m excited about today’s guest that’s going to put on the old swim trunks and dive into the whirlpool with me today. I absolutely love to cook and play around with ingredients in the kitchen. And it’s interesting that I heard we had the potential of having this individual on. I read an article late last year, and I believe it was in Food & Wine Magazine, highlighting the Asheville Brewing scene. And how they’re just constantly pushing the boundaries of beer and food for that matter. So super excited when I learned that Gary Sernack of Bhramari Brewing was joining us. He’s out of Asheville, North Carolina. I’m super thrilled to have him on with me today.

 

For those that don’t know, Gary is known for not only his culinary approach to brewing and kind of the vast array of ingredients that he uses pretty consistently there at the brewery — but also a chef by trade. You’ll see what we mean when we kind of get into the meat of the discussion.

 

Gary, hey. I really appreciate your time. I know you’re a super busy guy and I appreciate you carving out the time to talk to us.

 

[00:01:12] GS: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

 

[00:01:13] TT: Yeah. I got to tell you, Chris Lovett, who’s our sales rep out there in North Carolina was like, “We cannot have anybody but Gary joining us,” so we’re excited. I’m excited.

 

[00:01:24] GS: Yeah. I love that.

 

[00:01:25] TT: We just got off a conversation with Chris Hodge from Oregon Fruit Products, which — I’m not sure if you guys use some of their stuff. It’s fantastic stuff. But let’s talk about fruit. Do you prefer to showcase a single fruit in your recipe development? Are you more of a — kind of a whole bunch of fruits? Just throw some stuff in kind of guy and see what turns out?

 

[00:01:45] GS: Definitely a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B, depending on what we’re trying to accomplish. I really like doing different combinations of fruits. It speaks to me just kind of how things play with each other. Certain things support things in certain ways that you can achieve with just a singular addition from one kind of fruit. I like other types of ingredients to see how they play with fruit; nuts, spices, herbs, whatever it may be. Yeah, man. A little bit of both for sure.

 

[00:02:14] TT: Yeah. You mentioned singularity versus — kind of some of the parts greater than some of the parts. I love smoking meat and I’ve been playing with different kinds of wood. Adds flavor in my meats. Cherry, for instance, is a fantastic wood to use to give that red kind of rose color, but it’s not something that I would use 100% on meat. It works great with a combination of pecan or hickory but it’s interesting you mentioned that’s very similar in the fruit world.

 

[00:02:39] GS: For sure, yeah. I love smoking meat too, man. I’m looking at my smoker right now, and it’s calling me.

 

[00:02:45] TT: It’s funny you mentioned that. I’ve got a piece of brisket that I’ve been brining. I’m going to throw it on this weekend and try to make some pastrami for the first time.

 

[00:02:52] GS: Beautiful.

 

[00:02:54] TT: Yeah. Giant slab of bacon I’m going to try out too.

 

[00:02:57] GS: Nice. I did a brisket last weekend and I smoked a tenderloin with some peach wood. I did barrel staves for the brisket which was fun.

 

[00:03:06] TT: Gosh, my kind of guy. Well, it’s interesting we’re talking about food. We’re kind of getting off-topic here. But there’s me, my wife, an eight-year-old, and a two-year-old, and we’re in a bubble down here like most people are and didn’t see the family over the holidays. But I’m still smoking a 16-pound brisket and eating leftovers for like four months. I don’t care. It’s a good time.

 

[00:03:26] GS: Both my wife and my daughter are vegetarians, so like — I can’t invite people over to help me eat all this food.

 

[00:03:33] TT: The good thing about barbecue is it lasts forever. You can pull it out of the freezer if you pack it right and it still tastes fantastic.

 

[00:03:39] GS: Yeah, for sure.

 

[00:03:41] TT: Again, this can — I know it completely depends on the fruit, but what’s your typical dosage range for fruited beers? Is there like a staple kind of generic amount or is it just — let’s throw some in there and see how it turns out?

 

[00:03:53] GS: I guess it’s like a general rule of thumb. Where I start is around 50 pounds per barrel of fruit. And that’s a lot of fruit.

 

[00:04:02] TT: Yeah, it is.

 

[00:04:03] GS: Obviously, you wouldn’t do that with something like a key lime or like a citrus. That’s really pungent or stuff that’s really pungent. For berries, that’s a good starting point for me, but pretty much around that range is where we sit. Once again, it really depends on what we’re trying to do. If we’re doing like a barrel-aged sour beer and we want to really focus on the nuance of that barrel character and make it funk-forward, we’re not going to drown all that out with a ton of fruit. We’ll just kind of use the fruit as a complimentary flavor to those things, if we even fruit it. I guess it really just depends on what we’re doing, what style of beer we’re doing, and what the end result that we’re looking for is.

 

[00:04:43] TT: Now, are you all rolling with a pilot system out there that you can just do some trials? Or is it like, “Hey, let’s throw a shit ton of stuff in there and see what comes out?”

 

[00:04:51] GS: We have a one barrel. My old homebrew system, I guess, is the one-barrel electric stout system, and we brewed on it up until about last year. Then I’m just like, “Man, it takes too much time just to make a barrel or two of beer.” We do have a pilot program where we’ll just take a little bit of work. We have a 15-barrel ABS system and we’ll just transfer a little bit of work to — I’ve got three one-barrel single-walled conicals, two two-barrel single-walled conicals, and a two-barrel jacketed conical that will just kind of shoot work off into and give it different treatments, give it different yeasts, give it different kinds of hops. We still have the means to experiment on a smaller level but we’re not necessarily brewing on a pilot system. We use the electric HLT as a caustic reservoir at this point.

 

[00:05:39] TT: Sure. Now, are you adding all your fruit into bright tanks, or what point in the brewing process? Or does it change depending on the beer that you’re brewing, not just in the kettle but after fermentation?

 

[00:05:49] GS: Sure. Most of our fruit we’ll add, maybe, like day three into fermentation. And then let the yeast chew on it there and ferment it out. We have been experimenting with not fermenting the fruit and kind of putting it in the bright. We mostly make our beer package stable. So once it goes with the cans, it can sit at room temperature without exploding. So we’ll ferment the fruit out and drop it out. We do unit tanks for everything, so everything starts to finish in the conical. That’s typically how we approach it.

 

More often than not, we’re fermenting the fruit out, adding all the fruit during fermentation, and so on and so forth. We definitely have done some unfermented fruit beers that are all the rage these days, but I can’t bring myself to send them out the door.

 

[00:06:34] TT: Really?

 

[00:06:35] GS: Well, not in the can. It’s just a matter of time. It’s not like an if scenario. It’s a when scenario.

 

[00:06:40] TT: It’s a when, yeah.

 

[00:06:41] GS: When it’ll explode into the back of someone’s car.

 

[00:06:43] TT: Yeah, actually. Yup. Talk about color saturation specifically with fruit and the kind of depth of that color. Do you find that if someone orders a beer let’s say with blueberry puree in it, for example, does the beer need to be straight up dark blue or blue-tinted for your consumers to say, “This is fantastic?” I guess what I’m saying is do you think they associate a particular fruit with a color in the end product?

 

[00:07:08] GS: I think so, man. And I love colorful beer. It almost has that effect when a sizzling tray of fajitas goes past you at the Mexican restaurant and you’re like, “Oh, what’s that? I want that.” I feel like if you’ve got a bright purple beer or a blue beer or a pink beer, it’s going to have that fajita effect. Who doesn’t like looking into pretty liquid, right?

 

[00:07:28] TT: No, that’s a good point. I like the fajita mantra there. I’m down here in Texas, so we get a lot of them. You’re right. There’s nothing better than that sizzling hot plate of fajitas and the smell of it. That’s great.

 

[00:07:39] GS: You go out to get some Mexican food, and you’re hungry, and that thing walks past you, and you’re ready.

 

[00:07:44] TT: Yeah. The bad thing is they serve way too many chips and salsa down here, queso. I mean, a lot of people don’t know what queso is, which is sad. But by the time you end up getting your food, you’re so full anyways.

 

[00:07:54] GS: I think of that as like a plus thing, like I’m getting my money’s worth because then I could take it home. I got a couple meals afterwards.

 

[00:07:59] TT: There you go. So trial and error kind of learning curve using fruit puree, specifically talking to the listeners that don’t have a whole lot of experience in using it. And kind of brewing with fruit, do you have any suggestions as far as dos, don’ts, successes, failures, any stories?

 

[00:08:19] GS: I’ve learned so much along the way, just messing with different fruits. We use a lot of fresh fruit and local fruit and organic fruit and when it’s in season as well. I guess with that processing, it is a big thing. I guess just really playing around with it. You got to do something before you can know how it acts and reacts and whatnot. I don’t know anything specific. I guess I’ve learned so much and I forgot what I’ve learned.

 

[00:08:46] TT: I’m sure that anything that comes out of the end result of messing around is going to be palatable at the very least, right?

 

[00:08:53] GS: Sure.

 

[00:08:53] TT: All we can do is try.

 

[00:08:55] GS: A big thing for us when making clean beer — because we have a mixed facility where we’re doing mixed-culture beer alongside clean beer. So sanitation is big for us. We’re pretty rigid about — say we’re using aseptic bags. They sit in parasitic and then we spray it with isopropyl. We’ve got a blow-by going on in the tank. We’re just pretty careful. We kind of are a little more cavalier when we’re doing mixed culture stuff because you’re competing with the established culture in there. And I’m not too worried about what else happens. I guess that’s up with the sanitation protocol.

 

[00:09:30] TT: Yeah. I would imagine for sure. I mean, sanitation is as big as anybody, but yeah. If you’re doing kind of a mixed bag of things up there, it’s even more so important. What’s your favorite fruited beer that you’ve had?

 

[00:09:40] GS: That I’ve had or that I’ve made — or both, I guess?

 

[00:09:44] TT: How about both? I’m just curious. What’s been one of those ones where it’s just light bulbs go off in your head or you start dancing a jig after taking a sip of it?

 

[00:09:52] GS: [inaudible 00:09:52] is pretty special or the framboise. That one definitely makes me dance a little bit of a jig. I had — I don’t remember what brewery it was. Somebody dropped off a can. There was a mix of marshmallow and vanilla and a couple different fruits. Obviously, I’m not painting enough of a picture that’s specific. I might have had a few in maybe when I had it, but I just remember taking a sip of it and being like, “Man, that’s good.” I wish I had more details for you.

 

As far as fruited beers that we’ve made, we did a pretty interesting one called Drifting Into Science that had a lot of fruiting. It was a combination of soursop, pink guava, and key lime. It was a blonde base that was sour for about 19 months in gin barrels. When it hit the palette, it was something that I’ve never really experienced before, so I didn’t even know what to make of it. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know that I like this.” Then once I got used to it and then drank it, it was exceptional, different, unique. I like when my palette is challenged and not in a bad way. It’s something that’s new to my sensory, so that kind of checked that box for me.

 

[00:11:04] TT: Are there any varieties of fruit puree that you feel are underutilized or don’t get the attention they deserve? That’s a broad question but is there anything that you think should be paid a little bit more attention to in the fruit world?

 

[00:11:14] GS: Absolutely. There’s a grape variety that grows around here called scuppernong and muscadine. The muscadine is a purple version of that, and the scuppernong is like a white or green version of that. I don’t know. Have you ever had them?

 

[00:11:29] TT: Muscadines, yeah. I mean, family heritage way back, and they got them quite a bit in East Texas. They make wine out of it. But what did you say the first one, the scupperdine?

 

[00:11:37] GS: Scuppernong.

 

[00:11:38] TT: Scuppernong.

 

[00:11:40] GS: I believe it’s the state fruit of North Carolina, and it’s akin to muscadine. But as far as just such a fantastic fruit to blend into some mixed culture beer, man, it’s just musty and complex. You get a ton of sugar from it, so you get a nice re-fermentation. There’s just a ton of complexity, and I love the way that it plays with beer. I don’t see a whole lot of breweries outside of some neighboring breweries in North Carolina that are messing with it.

 

[00:12:08] TT: Interesting.

 

[00:12:09] GS: It’s good stuff.

 

[00:12:09] TT: Yeah, pretty good.

 

[00:12:11] GS: I love it when that season rolls around, and the fragrance is so pungent. We have like a thousand pounds sitting in the cooler before it goes into the beer. You just walk into the cooler and you want to live in that smell.

 

[00:12:20] TT: Man, sounds tasty. Very good. Any puree varieties not currently produced that you’d be interested in using? I could certainly ping Chris and say, “Look, buddy. You got to start producing this for Gary and his team.” Anything you’d like to see in puree?

 

[00:12:36] GS: Yeah. There’s more and more stuff that’s a few years back we didn’t have a whole lot of bulk aseptic purees that we’re kind of seeing come to the market now. I love lychee fruit. I’m starting to see some mangosteen that’s coming up. Fresh fig is one that I haven’t really seen a whole lot of. And sourcing fresh figs is a bit of a challenge in the bulk realm so that one. I’m going to stick to figs. Fresh figs, not dried figs. A fresh fig puree would be — if anybody’s out there listening.

 

[00:13:07] TT: I’ll see if I can make that happen for you.

 

[00:13:09] GS: Let me know.

 

[00:13:11] TT: Do you guys have prickly pear up there? I doubt it.

 

[00:13:13] GS: We do. We have prickly pear out in the outer banks, they grow. We did a beer festival out in the outer banks a couple years back. Me and my business partner, after a night of tying one on — and we’re just driving around and we’re like, “Wow, there’s like tons of prickly pear everywhere.” We just drove around and would knock on people’s doors that had these giant cactus, and we’re like, “Hey, can we harvest your prickly pear fruit?” We did and we brought home about 100 pounds of prickly pear.

 

[00:13:40] TT: Gosh. Was it after like a six-pack or something where you’re going there and you don’t think you need gloves because those things’ stubs will stain your hands forever?

 

[00:13:49] GS: Yeah. We were using our pocket knives. Luckily, they were really, really ripe, so we were just kind of like stabbing them and turning. They were popping right off, but yeah. Not so much in the mountains. A little too cold year-round for the fruit to grow. We’ve got a couple cactus in front of the brewery, believe it or not, and we’ll get small, maybe plum size at best prickly pear. I think around here. Probably not as big as in Texas I would imagine.

 

[00:14:12] TT: No. The Hill Country, it’s kind of the same. We get a bunch of them. My wife and I, when we could travel and we’d roll through that area of Texas, we do the same thing. We’d stop and grab a bunch of them and make jam out of it. But what a pain in the ass to work with. I mean, we actually just grill them. Just put them on high heat real quick and flip them around just to get those little stickies off them.

 

[00:14:31] GS: Yeah. Talk about beautiful fruit, right? That stuff is —

 

[00:14:34] TT: Just gorgeous. I think a lot of people just overlook that fruit altogether, but it makes some pretty good beer too.

 

[00:14:40] GS: I agree. We’ve made a couple different beers with prickly pear. It’s good stuff for sure.

 

[00:14:44] TT: Well, we’ve talked a lot about fruit, but you’ve just used a whole bunch of different ingredients and unusual stuff in beer. I hear about this infamous pizza beer. What the hell is that?

 

[00:14:55] GS: We make a beer every year for 4th of July called Pizza Ships. We partner up with a buddy of mine, Chris Evans, who owns the local tattoo shop, Divination Tattoo, and he does the art for it. He does an alias as an artist and his alias is Pizza Ships. We just named the beer Pizza Ships, and coincidentally he was working less than a block away. He came in and he saw the beer. He’s like, “That’s me.” So we ended up talking and we throw this little event every year where we’ll have a pizza-themed art show and pizza-themed trivia — and a Totino’s pizza roll eating competition. It turned into this fun event where everyone comes out, has a good time, drink the beer. Then we go to his tattoo shop and set off a bunch of fireworks.

 

It came about that there was this pizza place that wanted us to make a beer exclusively for them, and they would buy the whole batch, and we would be the featured beer at this pizza place. They wanted me to do something weird. A lot of people associate what we do with kind of off-the-wall different flavor combinations and unique kind of beer. So that’s what they wanted from us. I was like, “So you’re pre-buying the beer?” There’s no reservation, so I just kind of decided that I was going to make a beer with pizza in it.

 

Yeah. Initially, I was like, “Man, I’ll approach it where I’ll do tomatoes, fresh basil, and we’ll make some pizza crusts, and we’ll throw it in the mash, and like do it kind of a deconstructed method.” Then, whether it was me just being lazy or saying, fuck it, we ended up throwing some pizzas, dry pizza in, I guess. The beer came out fantastic. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but it ended up tasting pretty good.

 

Now, it’s kind of more focused as being just a pretty good hazy pale ale. And we make a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at the brewery, and we’ll throw like a couple in just for fun.

 

[00:16:40] TT: That’s crazy.

 

[00:16:41] GS: Yeah.

 

[00:16:43] TT: Pretty cool. At some point when I can travel again, I gotta get up that way and come visit you. You guys got a lot of cool stuff going on.

 

[00:16:50] GS: We got some wacky stuff, for sure. That’s probably one of the wackiest for sure.

 

[00:16:55] TT: What about herbs, botanicals, spices? I mean, you guys have done it all, anything that stands out that you’re just kind of keen to using.

 

[00:17:04] GS: I love Makrut lime leaf, which is used a lot in Thai cooking. We’ve used it quite a bit over the years, and it just has this distinct, unique aroma to it. That’s probably one of my favorites, but we’ve used anywhere from cinnamon to holy basil too — you name it. We’ve probably put it in a beer. Szechuan peppercorns, all kinds of weird stuff. We did a pink peppercorn and peach farmhouse beer called Natural Born Farmer. It comes out pretty good. Yeah. I mean, really. I guess probably if I had to pick one that really speaks to me, it’s probably that Makrut lime leaf for sure.

 

[00:17:41] TT: That’s what I love about the brewing industry, just the creativity. And there’s no rules. It’s just so awesome, and I’m so glad you guys are doing what you’re doing. Is there anything off-limits to you? Anything you just absolutely hate or allergic to? Who knows?

 

[00:17:54] GS: Yeah. But I say that it’s off-limits to me but I’ve already made a beer with it. Maybe that’s why it’s off-limits to me. But garlic, man, doesn’t belong in beer at all.

 

[00:18:02] TT: Even if it’s black garlic?

 

[00:18:04] GS: And that’s what I did. We were approached by a garlic festival to make the beer for the garlic festival, so I made my own black garlic. And I made like a black garlic robust porter. The beer just would have been better without the black garlic, but it was an experiment. That’s one thing that I don’t particularly care to have in beer.

 

[00:18:24] TT: Hopefully, it wasn’t 105-degree day where we got people just pounding those things. I can only imagine the smell of the perspiration and the baños. Man.

 

[00:18:33] GS: Yup. There are certain things. It’s got to work. It’s got to taste good. I don’t care how wacky it is. You can’t just do wacky just for the sake of it. At the end of the day, the beer still has to taste good. For me, that’s my standard. If it doesn’t taste good, I’m not going to serve it. I’m not going to drink it. We’ll start from scratch.

 

[00:18:49] TT: Sure. Well, you probably get a lot of options as a shift beer at the brewery, but is there something specific? What do you tend to drink at home? It’s okay if you say a pilsner. It’s okay if you say wine. I mean, you’re around beer all the time, but is there something specific you like to drink?

 

[00:19:02] GS: Beer-wise, I really like mixed-culture farmhouse beers, not a ton of acidity like a balanced acidity. Give me anything in the lager category. I love a good Schwartz beer and I love IPAs. I really just love beer, man. I like it all, but those are probably my three as far as heavy rotation and what I have and like to drink. Those are the big three. Bourbon is very near and dear to my heart. You’ll find me at the end of the day with a Glencairn full of some sort of bourbon for sure.

 

[00:19:30] TT: We are in good company here. Well, we’ve talked a lot about beer and food for that matter. Is there any specific kind of food and fruit beer pairing that you think just will really blow people away, something that just really goes well together? I mean, you mentioned Thai food, some of the ingredients. Was there something that just stands out? You’re like, “This is just a badass combination.”

 

[00:19:50] GS: Yeah. All kinds of stuff, man. With the direction that craft beer has gone, there’s a beer for every single bite. I could throw a fun one out there that’s not really complicated that you’ll probably giggle at but a good Pabst Blue Ribbon with some General Tso’s chicken is —

 

[00:20:06] TT: That’s not funny. You know what? It sounds awesome.

 

[00:20:09] GS: That one is one of my go-to’s. There’s all kinds of fun flavor combinations and pairings that we do. We do them at the brewery every day. When there’s not COVID happening, we’ve got a suggestion on the menu for every single item of food that we have, so we kind of joke that we have a constant beer dinner every day.

 

[00:20:28] TT: My kind of place. Well, if you could do a collaboration with anyone in the world, who would it be?

 

[00:20:34] GS: Collaboration with anyone in the world. Oh, man. That’s a tough one. There are so many fantastic breweries out there. Does it have to be a brewery? Can it be —

 

[00:20:45] TT: No, no. Just curious to kind of who you look at as kind of an inspiration, if you will. Someone, you think that is doing a fantastic job, whether brewing, winery, food, whatever. Someone you like to work with.

 

[00:20:57] GS: Man, there’s so many, and we’ve had such an amazing opportunity to work with so many fantastic breweries. We did a lot of collaborations. And I love the camaraderie and the education that comes out of it. One brewery that I’d love to work with that we haven’t yet is Tired Hands out of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. I really like their approach. They definitely play around with a lot of different weird ingredients. And their mixed-culture program is fantastic. Let’s go to Buffalo Trace Distillery. I’d love to hang out there and collab with them in one way, shape, or form.

 

[00:21:29] TT: Both of them sound like a good time. Let’s see if we can try to plan that out as well. Anything you want to plug for the brewery, Bhramari, kind of what you guys are doing? I mean, I know it’s difficult for people to get out and about these days during COVID, but what are you guys working on? Anything interesting that you want to share with the audience?

 

[00:21:47] GS: We do a hazy beer festival, an invitational festival every year called Above the Clouds. We weren’t able to do it. We normally do it in September. And we weren’t able to do it this year, so we’re thinking about maybe doing a digital version of it where we traditionally have collaborated with a bunch of breweries, and we create some version of the hazy and hoppy beer. We’re starting to talk about maybe doing a send-off-like box of all the collaborations sometime in the spring. Maybe lookout for that. Hopefully, we can start gathering together again sooner rather than later, but that’s pretty much what we’ve got on the horizon and then keep pumping it out. Keep pumping out beer.

 

[00:22:27] TT: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll keep it rolling. Gary Sernack of Bhramari Brewing. Hey, Gary, thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us today. Your creativity and the flavors that you bring to brewing align with a lot of people who enjoy craft beer. Possibilities are obviously infinite and always an opportunity to try something new. So thanks for being that inspiration and appreciate you coming on. For you listeners out there, thanks for hanging with us. As always, keep your eyes and ears peeled for the next episode of The BrewDeck podcast. Until next time, I’m your host, Toby Tucker.

 

[00:22:58] GS: Thanks, Toby.

 

[END]

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