Monday, July 21, 2014

Sam Scruby, New Head Brewer at Upslope Brewing Co in Boulder

Sam Scruby has just become the head brewer at Upslope Brewing, Alex Violette has resigned that position because he’s moving to Vietnam.  I stopped by a few weeks ago to interview Sam at the taproom.  He was very gracious to give me time while he was brewing.

Sam and some friends started home brewing after graduating high school.  They bought a standard home brew kit on the Internet. He brewed through college and got an internship at the Brewer’s Association then got a position on canning line as a technician at Upslope Brewing. He thought working at a brewery would be a good place to learn about the commercial aspect of the brewing industry. While working on the canning line, Sam would help set up filtration and do some cellar stuff so when a brewer quit he was a natural for the job.  
The first home brew was a Big Ben British pale ale where he and friends followed the recipe and thought it was pretty good. They thought they were good brewers. But as he was brewing in college he said the beers became progressively bad but he admits that it was probably being college guy and not being careful with cleanliness. On the commercial level, he brewed the first Christmas Ale at Upslope. It wasn’t his recipe but he got the opportunity to brew on a large scale.

I asked him what was a favorite beer he brewed and Sam said he likes the Milk Stout which started as a home brew recipe that he scaled up to brew on the 7 barrel system, it sort of his baby. The milk stout at Upslope was really good. I hope he gets to brew more of it for next winter. 

When asked what was the most unexpected beer he brewed and he said it was the 
Sour Mash Extra Pale Ale, a collaboration with Barrels and Bottles Brewpub in Golden. He said it was unnerving because of putting lactobacillus (which is part of a group of bacteria that changes lactose and other sugars into lactic acid) in the brew house. They had to drop temperature in the mash so the bacteria would grow. It turned out well but they had to use cleaning the whole brew house area with some kind of foam.  Sam said “it was scary because we were brewing a light American style lager next , a beer that Alex my boss was brewing. So if we didn’t clean correctly we’d find out about in the beer which would be unfortunate.” The Light American Style Lager is a session beer that is selling well in the taprooms.

When developing a recipe, Sam doesn’t have time to do 5 gallon batches anymore because it is a lot of work in small batch brewing.  He knows Upslope's brewing system and he can make a good beer with any of his recipes. He brews the beer then does little tweaks to later batches. It might sound a little egotistical but I have had his beer before and they taste great. 

With his new position as head brewer, Sam will be brewing at the Flatiron Circle facility and the other brewers will take turns brewing the specialty beers at Lee Hill.  Charlie who was Sam’s assistant will be  handling the barrel-aging and has knowledge of them plus tasting the beers.

Quality and consistency is a main issue at most breweries so asked how they handle this issue at Upslope, Sam said the they were getting into doing sensory panels and getting every ones opinion about the barrels but Sam and Charlie figures what they like in the barrels. modifying the process on how to correct bad flavors.

Sam believes the future of Upslope Brewing is expanding what Lee Hill is doing in source and barrel-aged beers with canning the beers. Just recently they had a release party at the Lee Hill taproom, on tap and in 19 ounce cans was the whiskey barrel-aged brown ale. It is part of the Lee Hill Series, a quarterly limited release series of small batch experimental beers. At the Lee Hill taproom they have 12 and 24 taps right now at the Flatirons Circle.

I asked him what would be his advice for those who want to get into the brewing business? Sam replied ,”A person would have to work hard. Some days aren’t fun when they can test your professional choice. Professional janitor with cleaning. They need to be a people person, getting along with others especially on those challenging days and can’t handle that it’s going to more difficult for you and the others. Get your foot in the door of breweries, show what kind of skills you have, there are many needs in the brewery.”

Sam’s philosophy on brewing beer is balance, that is premium in any style. It should be balanced whether it’s  sweetness, bitterness, hop profile, darker or lighter malt. The sweet spot for good beer when it finds a good balance maybe not between sugarness or bitterness.  He likes the creative aspect of trying new things. As a kid he was always building things with Lego's so this is the best job for that now it’s building booze and beer.

I asked if he thought the brewing industry in Colorado had reached the saturation point and he didn’t think so but the packaging market of the craft beer is becoming more difficult. Sam said, “You see in liquor stores there’s a finite amount of shelf space especially talking about cooler space where you want to house the beer. That will become more challenging for breweries but saturation point for smaller taproom setting not even close, think about how many there bars. many people go to bars to drink beer and in that sense assuming you can make money owning a taproom then there’s plenty of room for more breweries.   I don’t think were there yet.”

Right now there is a Hops shortage-Ingredient supply challenges for breweries with the Americans making IPA’s and super hoppy beers. I wanted to know if the hoppy craze would be affected by this and Sam didn’t think so, he thought there is always trends like session beers or the sour craze but within the hophead crowd, they might looking at other beers but they always go back to the hoppy IPA, it kind of  like the American style. It’s not a fad, it’s been around for the past 20 years, it’s hasn’t gone anywhere.
With that he ate his lunch while waiting for the next stage since I caught him on the brewing day. 

So congratulations to Sam as head brewer at Upslope Brewing. 

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