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Master Brewer of the Month: Eric Warner
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously but you can be damn sure we take our beer seriously!”. That is the business card of Karbach Brewery, one of CFT Group’s customers in Texas that recently installed a new CFT Group’s canning line in their brewery. Let’s know more about Karbach’s brewing styles with this interview to their Master Brewer Eric Warner.
Eric, when did you start your career as a Master Brewer?
Well, one could argue that I started my brewing career in high school, but officially I graduated from the brewing program at Weihenstephan in 1990.
Are there any funny stories you would like to tell us about that period?
One of my first gigs was to help install/commission a brewpub in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories Canada. In January. This was supposed to mainly be summertime operation, and these guys decided that the best brewing water came from a river 10 miles away. Of course, this river was frozen solid so we had to take an ice auger and then pump the water into a custom stainless tank they had mounted on a flatbed truck!
Which beer do you like making best and why?
I’ll always be a big fan of German style lagers. They are what I cut my teeth on, I like the taste of them a lot and to make them well requires patience and attention to detail. Not a lot of flashy ingredients, but just good blocking and tackling.
Which 3 beers, that aren’t your own, have a place in your refrigerator?
That’s a tough one, but a really good Munich Helles would be one for sure. Like Augustiner or some of the good ones from the smaller breweries in Bavaria. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a timeless classic that never disappoints. Finally, to round things out, a good Tripel like Westmalle or Chimay white.
Is there a beer that you haven’t managed to taste yet that you’ve always wanted too?
I honestly think I’ve tried just about everything EXCEPT Chicha, which traditionally was made with spit. I’m open to it though, but just haven’t had a chance to try it.
Outside of brewing, what are your other life passions?
Get me outside! Fishing, cycling, hunting, snowboarding, fishing, hiking. I also like to cook.
Do you think the aesthetic aspects of a beer bottle or can is important (artwork, label, etc.)?
Absolutely! The complete package matters. A well crafted beer should have a container/label that conveys quality and is consistent with the vibe of the brewery. I’ve been really lucky to work with Flying Dog and Karbach. Two breweries with uniquely different labels, but I’m convinced that the success of each of those breweries is attributable in part to the strong and distinctive graphics on their packaging.
Can equipment “make the difference” during the production process of a beer? In which way?
Yes and no. Certainly if your equipment can’t control key parameters necessary to make quality, shelf stable beer then you shouldn’t be using it. But, I think equipment can be simple, low speed/low output or fast and highly sophisticated and you can make great beer in either case. The trick is that the economics have to match the size/speed of your brewery AND you have to have the right team in place to take care of your equipment no matter how large or small, how fast or slow, how simple or complex.
Which equipment of the CFT Group are you working with? Which are its main advantages for your production process?
We have a CFT Group canning line and a CFT Group bottling line. This is actually our second canning line and we purchased it since we were so happy with the first one. The first line was pretty much the depal, rinser, filler/seamer and some basic conveyors, but our newer, 480 cpm line is fully automated, front to back with depal, rinser/filler/seamer, can warmer (not a pasteurizer, but we ‘warm’ the cans up to the dewpoint to avoid condensation), tray former, palletizer and all other conveyors, inspection equipment, etc.
We also recently purchased a small bottle filler from CFT Group. We still package the vast majority of our beer in cans and kegs, but there are niche opportunities for bottles that we like to play in.
For me the CFT Group equipment is a great value. There are more expensive options out there, but they aren’t necessarily better.
CFT Group packaging equipment allows us to run high speed with automation, but at a better entry price than some of their competitors. And obviously, the quality is there in terms of DO, hygiene, etc. otherwise we wouldn’t have even considered CFT Group!
Which other brew master would you like to work with? Can you explain why?
Hmmm. That’s a good one. Nobody specifically is coming mind but I’d say either a really old salt who knows every trick in the book, or a young brewmaster to see how they think about beer.
Which advice would you give to someone looking to become a brewer?
Like all things really, I think it’s smart to gain practical experience before doing any formal schooling. First, you get a flavor for what it’s really about. Maybe the hard work and long hours really aren’t what you’re looking for! Second, the ‘formal’ part of the education will make a lot more sense with some practical experience under the belt.
Is producing beer technique only, or is there room for improvisation?
I always say, just like cooking, it’s part science, part art. Mostly, because there’s always something with every batch that didn’t go 100% to plan or turn out exactly as you wanted there’s a lot of ‘improvisation’ that goes into getting that batch back on track and meeting your quality standards, particularly when you’re dealing with a smaller, less automated brewery.
Name 10 songs on your playlist during a brewing cycle?
I like the blues, classic rock, alternative rock, jazz, classical. Just about anything other than country, which I of course catch a lot of shit for since I live in Texas!
What is your first memory about beer?
My dad let me try Coors out of a wee little 7 oz. can or something like that in the late 60s, early 70s. I would have been in like first grade maybe. I don’t remember hating it or loving it, but definitely remember the experience.
Is there an expression about beer that you hear people say all the time that you don’t like? And why?
Sure, that’s easy “I don’t like beer.” I was ok with people saying that 20 or 30 years ago, but now that there are SO MANY styles of beer out there I don’t buy that anymore. That person just hasn’t found the beer they like yet!
Karbach Brewery online: