Q & A With Kerry Caldwell, Assistant Brewer at Belmont Brewing Company: Updating Classics, Bragging Rights + How To Be A Lady Brewer
In the late 1990s, Long Beach's Belmont Brewing Company was at the top of its game. With a longtime homebrewer named David Blackwell at the helm, beers from BBC -- which is the oldest operating brewpub in Southern California -- began picking up awards at local and international contests. Soon, its Strawberry Blonde became one of the first L.A.-area beers to be bottled and sold in stores.
Since then, however, the craft beer world has changed drastically and BBC's decade-and-a-half-old pale ale, stout, golden ale and amber recipes -- once on the forefront of the industry -- have been little competition for the aggressive flavors and experimental styles of modern-day brewers.
Kerry Caldwell -- Blackwell's assistant brewer since last summer -- is slowly changing all that.
As one of only two female commercial brewers in the greater Los Angeles area (the other, Caldwell's friend Hayley Shine, is the brewmaster at Rock Bottom Long Beach), the Idaho-via-Placerville transplant has brought about some small but much-needed updates to Belmont Brewing's beer program, which today also extends to a sister BBC -- Bonaventure Brewing Company, inside the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A.
From suggesting different yeast strains for their year-round brews to making new seasonal beers based on her own recipes (think: black IPAs and British-style old ales), Caldwell is coaxing the independently successful BBCs back into craft-beer relevance.
We caught up with Caldwell early one morning as she watched over a boiling kettle of beer (while wearing pink rain boots) and talked about being a new female in the industry, breaking Blackwell out of his shell and why BBC will probably never brew a triple IPA.
Squid Ink: Have you ever worked on a commercial-sized system before here?
Kerry Caldwell: No. I never even had my own homebrewing system. I've only homebrewed with other people, so technically, this is the first time being in charge of this type of equipment. I never brewed entirely by myself, I've always had friends who homebrew and like to have company.
SI: Was it easy to adjust?
KC: The same basic process happens, but the hardest part to get used to here was cleaning. Brewing is the same everywhere, but to get the equipment clean is different at every brewery because they're all laid out differently. Like this manifold that we have here is really convenient, but I've never seen any other brewery with a manifold like that. Hayley [Shine, Brewmaster at Rock Bottom Brewery, Long Beach] has these levers all over the place and they're all down by your feet, so she has to run around and turn them on that way. Every brewery is set up a little bit differently.
SI: Blackwell seems to be open to brewing new styles of BBC beer for the first time in more than a decade. Did he need any convincing?
KC: As long as we have the malt and as long as we have the hops, he doesn't care because that's where the problems arise. I mean, we'll never run out of malt -- we can brew the maltiest, sweetest beers ever all the time -- it's a matter of the hops. We buy on contract, so we can't really get more, especially if a big brewery like Stone is buying up all the new hops. So we use what we can get and make do. Our goal isn't to become the next Stone brewery. We just want to be a brewpub that makes good beer and good food.
SI: What are some of the little changes you've made to the year-round beers?
KC: Blackwell was using a dry English ale yeast for everything since he started here 14 years ago. When I came in, I asked why we were using this yeast and he said, 'Because I like it.' Well, okay, but why are we using it? White Labs product number 001 is called California Ale Yeast and I thought we should be using that. He said he didn't want to use what everyone else was using, but I told him that everyone uses it because it's good not because they're not creative.
So instead of just refusing me, we've been experimenting. We tried another English ale yeast, we tried a British ale yeast and he didn't like either one of those two, so now we're trying the San Diego super yeast and that's the one we've been using for several months now.
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