Know your local brewers

The Malt Alchemist: Bill Drew, owner and brew master at Craggie Brewing, recently celebrated the brewery's two-year anniversary. He says his unofficial title is Malt Alchemist. Photo by Anne Fitten Glenn

Brewer interview: Bill Drew of Craggie Brewing Company
Ever wondered who exactly is behind those local brews you’re sipping? We have. So we decided it would be fun to run a series of interviews with the brew masters behind Western North Carolina's beers.

First up is Bill Drew, owner and brew master at Craggie Brewing Company (http://www.craggiebrewingco.com). He says his unofficial title (and his email address) is “Malt Alchemist.” The brewery just celebrated two years in business. Drew is known for his unique session beers — from the ginger and spruce-tip-flavored Antebellum Ale to the fiery Bourbon Chipotle Porter.

Here’s what Drew has to say for himself.

Xpress: How did you get where you are now?
Drew: I got interested in beer and the mechanics of brewing while I was in college at Elon University. Then studying abroad opened my eyes to the European beer culture, and my fascination has turned into a passion. I have been commercially brewing since 1997. I have worked in breweries, run beer festivals and even written an article or two about beer. I spent eight years at Highland Brewing and one year at Dogwood Brewing in Atlanta. For the past four years, I have been the owner and brew master of Craggie Brewing Company.

How did you first get into brewing?
A friend of my father’s was an investor in the now defunct Blue Rooster Brewpub (open for a year in 1997-98 next to Barley’s Pizzeria & Taproom). Highland was brewing their beers, so I went down to apply. They weren’t hiring, but they said I could apprentice to see if it was something I really wanted to do. I was hired two months later.

When did you drink your first beer and what was it?
My dad was a Budweiser man, so I’m sure that was my first beer as a kid. The beer I drank while studying abroad was the Australian brew, Castlemaine’s XXXX Lager.

When was your craft beer epiphany and what beer were you drinking?
Dixie's Blackened Voodoo Lager is what made me want to explore the world culture of brewing beer. Drinking a 10 percent ABV Guinness Foreign Extra Stout at the Kulminator in Antwerp, Belgium, made me proud to be a craft brewer. And drinking Lowenbrau at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, made me want to open my own brewery sooner rather than later.

What are the top three favorite beers you’ve brewed in the past year and why?
Burning Barrel Bourbon Chipotle Porter because it was a collaboration between myself and my brewer (head brewer D.J. McCready). It was a learning experience for him and a great beer for Craggie's lineup. Brewer's Sake because it was an evolutionary step in my education into fermented beverages. Coconut Brown (coconut and cocoa nibs in a brown ale) because this is the beer we chose to brew from Just Economics' home brew competition and it really fits Craggie's brewing philosophy.

What’s a style of beer you haven’t brewed that you’d like to try brewing?
At some point, I would like to try and brew a black lager like Dixie's and an old ale like Theakston's Old Peculier.

What’s the biggest brewing snafu you’ve experienced?
We were brewing a batch of Swannanoa Sunset and the grain bill was a little off. It came out darker than usual. Instead of dumping it, we called it Toubab Brewe. And the rest is history!

What do you like to do when you’re not brewing?
I was an avid gardener before my daughter was born. I enjoy the Zen-like feeling of tilling the soil, growing and pruning, and mulching. Now when I am not preaching the Craggie gospel at beer festivals or potential accounts, I spend all my free time with my daughter creating wonderful memories and learning experiences.

If you were a style of beer, which style would you be and why?
I think most brewers answering this question would pick something Belgian. Our life experiences are the ingredients that make up who we are. Those ingredients help us to become stronger, to mellow us out over time, and to guarantee a good time where ever we are. We are so multifaceted and complex that you need more than one of us to get the job done.

What question would you like to ask other brewers?
If you weren't brewing beer, what could you see yourself doing career-wise? My answer would be: “Going into sustainable farming with heirloom varieties of plants and animals or archeology."

Thanks, Bill Drew, for the beer. Quaff his beers at Craggie Brewing’s Public House at 197 Hilliard Avenue and on draft around town.

— Send your Brews News to Anne Fitten Glenn at brewgasmavl@gmail.com

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