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Can you name that yeast?

Interview by Rich Rabassa

Give us a little background.

Well, I'm originally from Long Island, New York. I have a degree from SUNY-Stony Brook in history and secondary education. I was a high school social studies teacher before a brewer. Yeah, the kids drove me to drink and get everyone else drunk - just kidding.

Where did you study brewing?

I apprenticed at James Bay Brewing Co. in Port Jefferson, NY. They convinced me to go to Siebel, where I took their Short Course in Brewing Technology back in June '97.

After a while, I moved to Maine and worked for a couple of different breweries: Rocky Bay Brewing Co. (Rockland, ME) and Belfast Bay Brewing Co. (Belfast,  ME). I then moved to Charlotte in Sept. 99 where i became the assistant brewer at Rock Bottom.

After a couple of years not knowing when and where I'd be transfered, I was offered and accepted the Head Brewers position here- back in June of 01.

What type of beers do you brew?

We do both ales and lagers. Year round brews include: American Light Lager, German Pilsner, Red Ale, American Brown Ale, IPA, Cream Stout. We do a variety of specialties throughout the year.

What's the most popular?

Of course, the Light Lager is the most popular, then the Brown. Out of the specialties, the Marzen (Oktoberfest) and the Hefe-Weizen.

Which is your favorite? And why?

Hmmm. To be honest, I think all of our beers are according to style. Personally I like the Brown a lot. Of the specialties- the hefe. But, these are my personal taste. I just like those styles of beer. The Browns have a nice mix of hops and malt (though I like more malty beers. sorry i'm not a hop-head anymore- used to be). I like the hefe because I love that yeast. The flavor and aroma are just simply amazing. Even when it's fermenting, I love to walk into the brewery the next day and smell it. Nothing beats that.

Do you ever brew experiment with recipes?

That's a tough question. Since we're such a big company, we're not given that much freedom with experimental brews. Though, from time to time, I have the ability to switch up my specialties. Most of our experimental brews are done at our Chattanooga location.

Have you ever had a stuck mash?

Yes. It's not as bad as people think. It can be easily corrected. You really just have to really monitor your recirculation and kettle runoff. Though, it really sucks when it happens to a bigger beer (ie:IPA).

Describe the equipment you use?

We have a:
• 10bbl Specific Mechanical system. It's a single step infusion mash
• 5 10bbl fermenters and 1 12bbl FV
• 10 10bbl serving vessels and 2 12bbl SV's

(yeah, that's a lot of beer on hand at any given time)

What's a typical brew day like?

Getting up really early and going home pretty late! It's actually a lot of hurrying up and waiting. I am constantly watching my brew, so I plan not to do much more than that on those days.

Oh, it also gets pretty darn hot and sweaty and you must like to get wet. Water is your friend.

What's the batch size you brew?

I try to have a target volume at kettle full of 340 gal. Hopefully getting about 300 servable gallons.

How many pounds of grain does that take?

That really depends on each individual beer. Anywhere from 300lbs to 650lbs.

Ever brew with extracts? Perhaps in a pinch to get a batch in and out quicker?

To be politically correct: "no". We wouldn't do that. We want to produce "real beer".

Have you ever homebrewed?

Yes, that's how we all get started.

Any tips for the homebrewer?

1) be patient.
2) try to be as consistent as possible.
3) use the best ingredients possible.
4) sanitation!
5) have fun, drink beer!!!


David Gonzales, Head Brewer
Rockbottom Brewery Charlotte


401 N. Tryon St. Suite 100
Charlotte, NC 28202

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How would a homebrewer become a brewmaster? What would you recommend as the logical path to take in such a career shift?

Most people ask me if they should go to brewing school. I think it's a bonus,  but the majority of the info you'll learn is hands on. If you wanted to get into "the biz" I would suggest going to a local brewery and see if you can spend a day brewing with the brewer. If you like it, then try to volunteer your time (unless they're hiring assistants). More than likely, you'd do grunt work (clean kegs, tanks, shovel mash, etc.) hey- we all did it. It's part of the job.

Do you ever get tired of beer? Perhaps switch to wine on occasion?

Most definitely. To be honest, I don't drink as much beer as I used to. You get burned out. Now, don't get me wrong, I truly love beer. I love to try new beers- something I haven't had before.

But I also appreciate wine, though rarely drink it. I love to go to wineries and try different kinds. Being a brewer, you get an appreciation for the craft. Oh, yeah, I do this with breweries too, wherever i go!

My drink of choice recently has been Captain Morgans, as well as beer.

In recent years, how have you seen the understanding of beer change?

Most definitely! Especially in the South. It seems like people just want to drink it, not caring about what the different kinds are and flavors. It's discouraging and something that we would all love to change. That's why I love beerfests so much. I get to talk about beer and brewing to people. Education is the key!

The Microbrewery craze has diminished quite a bit in recent years. What
are your thoughts on this? Do you think it will make a comeback? Become
as strong as it was in the mid 90's?

It's sad, but a reality. To be honest,  look at Americans in general. They look for the next fad. It was inevitable that there would be a shakedown. Some areas of the country are doing better than others.

I don't know if there will be a comeback. Only time will tell. I think there definitely is the potential.

The recent introduction of these malt beverages (ie: Smirnoff Ice, Citrona, etc) is truly hurting the market. My personal opinion is that it's pathetic. People want to drink alcohol to get drunk and party, but they want something that's sweet. Beer has too many carbs and fills you up.  Wine is too snobbish, and you have to be careful with liqour. What really upsets me about this situation is that it's the big guys (AB, Coors, Miller, even Carolina Blonde!) who are "making" these products. They're the ones hurting the little guys. Of course they still make the profits and we lose the beer sales. I apologize for my tone with this, but I have strong feelings.

Tell us about Rockbottom in the North Carolina? Are they pleased with their reception in Charlotte?

Oh, most definately we're doing well. Of course we've been hit with a changing market, but everyone has. When we build a location, we research it for a few years and go into a location that will do very well. Although, I think we could be selling more beer (but doesn't everyone). I also think we're very positive for Charlotte.

Tell us about the brewing community in N.C. and the Southeast in general. Comeraderie among competing brewers.

What I love about brewing is the comeraderie. It's awesome.. I think the brewing community here is great. Yeah, we're competing with each other, but as brewers, we all love and celebrate beer. I think the Southeast is thriving in the beer market whereas it has passed in other areas. Hopefully it'll be sustained by the time the next renaissance hits.

Any advice for the novice, quality beer drinker? Perhaps someone trying
to branch out from the standard commercial beers?

Yeah, go out and expand your taste buds. Try new brews.

Prime example: the love of my life was not a beer drinker until we met. Now she loves beer and loves to try new ones.

Have you noticed any shift in the taste of beer drinkers at Rockbottom over the years?

Yes! Beers that you would normally think would sell (ie: pale ale, porter), don't. They are awesome brews, but the Charlotte public still loves their light beer.

What's next for Dave?

Good question. I really don't know. Whenever I move on, I plan on staying in the biz. I know too much about it, and truly love it. Maybe back to the distributor aspect. Maybe a brewery rep. Who knows?

Any other thoughts, anecdotes, comments?

Really just educate yourself on beer, brewing, and being safe: respect beer and alcohol in general. If you do start brewing professionally, make sure you have good socks. Those rubber boots suck without them.

Here are some HBA favorites:

Clone Brews:

Homebrew recipes for 150 commercial beers.

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All 150 recipes come with separate extract, mini-mash, and all-grain instructions. You'll also find tips for replicating any commercial beer so you can make your own clones when you discover a new favorite!

Brewmaster - the craft beer board game:: If you appreciate good beer, you'll love BrewMaster: The Craft Beer Game. Using mechanics similar to the classic card game rummy, players combine cards to produce six beer styles including ale, stout and Belgian. In doing so players will use some of the 90 beautifully crafted cards representing real beer ingredients.

ProMash brewing software:: ProMash is designed to meet any brewer's needs, from the Home Brewer to the Professional Micro Brewer. ProMash is organized with an intuitive interface built for needs specific to the brewing process and has a complete, context sensitive Help system. ProMash runs on the Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems. ProMash was voted Best Of The Net for Brewing Software and Best Of The Net Website by The Mining. Co (now About.Com), May 1999

Homebrewer's Gold:: by Charlie Papazian Charlie has taken his many years of experience and knowledge and converted the World Cup International Competition Winner's recipes into 5 gallon batches you can brew at home. 426 pages.

Cru Select Cabernet Sauvignon:: This variety is King of the noble grapes. Grown worldwide, it is a medium to full-bodied red with a distinctive black curranty flavor and hints of mint and cedar. Perfect for those cold winter nights.

Cellars Classic Bergamias (Beaujoulais): This refreshing, light bodied red has become a favorite wine for the holidays. The Gamay grape variety gives it a cherry and candy flavor with a hint of raspberry. Best enjoyed young.

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