For Altitude Chophouse & Brewery brewer Jesse Brown, crafting award-winning beer begins with researching classic brewing methods and ends with a fistful of medals at the 2017 North American Brewers Association Brew Fest.
“The first thing is to do my homework and study the historical styles,” Brown said. “I look at brewing textbooks and reach out to other brewers. You also have to use good ingredients and have a great process.”
As a testament to the process used at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery, 320 S. Second St., Brown and co-brewer Patrick Root brought five silver brewing awards and five bronze brewing awards back from the brewers association beer fest in June in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“It’s really rare to rake in that many awards,” Brown said. “We’re a lot smaller than some of the participants. We took the most medals of any single brewery.”
Although Altitude Chophouse & Brewery is not a packaging brewery, Root said the brewers bottled up a few of the winning beers for customers to purchase.
A complete list of the brewery’s awards is at bottom.
Although the brewery typically wins 2-3 awards a year at the beer fest, Brown said 2017 was a hallmark year.
“We’ve been making great beer here for some time,” he said. “It’s no mystery that Wyoming has great water, and we use great equipment here and some of the best products. But after that, it’s up to us to execute and keep our standards high.”
While enjoying a beer with friends can be as simple as American pastimes come, the process to produce that beer is anything but, Root said.
“There’s a lot of science behind the brewing process,” he said. “You have to understand the water chemistry, the mash chemistry and how to handle your yeast and give it the best tools to do the job.”
Despite colleges across the nation jumping on the craft beer trend and offering fermentation courses, both Root and Brown said they entered the brewer trade through the more traditional route of apprenticeships.
“I was a bartender, and I had a lot more questions,” Brown said, explaining his initial interest in beer brewing. “I fell in love with brewing. It’s a balance of art and engineering.”
He said he worked his way up from cleaning in the back and managing the brewer’s list of tasks to taking over as head brewer at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery about a year ago.
“I really enjoyed beer to begin with, and then I got introduced to craft beer here (at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery),” Root said. “Then, I found out you could home brew and got into that. It blew my mind how many flavors were available.”
After working as the assistant brewer at the brewery for a few years, Root said he replaced Brown as head brewer Saturday.
Brewing might be laden with science and chemical processes, but it’s far from dull, Brown said.
“One of the things we really enjoy is we get to name the beers fun things,” he said.
“Problem with Authority,” “Keg Whisperer” and the soon-to-be “Cat’s Meow” are just a few examples.
“We also named all our fermenters after pop divas,” Brown said. “There’s Tswift, Celine D, Madonna and Beyoncé.”
But brewing isn’t all fun and games either. Brown said a short day can run about four hours, but on a long day, the brewers could be tending the fermenters, slinging bags of hops and moving beer kegs for upwards of about 12 hours.
“I wish it was a 9-5 job sometimes,” he said. “The actual fermentation is what dictates our schedule.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about the beer, and the awards are proof enough Altitude’s brewers put their mug where their mouth is.
“We went up against a lot of large brewers,” Brown said. “Melvin, a classic Wyoming brewery, won two medals. Black Tooth (Brewing) won two medals. Snake River (Brewing) won two medals. Little podunk Altitude? We won 10 medals.”