Brewer Profile: Chris Ward
In the latest of our occasional Featured Brewer series, we interview Chris Ward, currently a homebrewer but with plans to give make his Archangel Brewing Company concept a real craft brewery in Tampa, Florida, this year.
Joining Chris in the endeavor will be his soon-to-be wife, Megan Vaughn, and his friend and brewing partner, Jesse Ganzer.
It was a real pleasure getting to know Chris, and his love and passion for the craft of brewing really comes through in this interview. We wish him the best of luck with his plans, and can’t wait to taste his beer.
Name: Chris Ward
Where you live: Currently – Long Island, New York. After my wedding in May – Tampa, Florida
Family: Just my beautiful fiancé Megan for now; the kids will come after the brewery is up and running.
Twitter, blog, Facebook, etc.:
Any other personal stuff you’d like to add?
Archangel is the result of many years of dreaming, but it wouldn’t be a reality without the people around me that pushed me and help make it possible. There are dozens of people who have helped in some way large or small, but my fiancé Megan and my wonderful friend and brewer Jesse Ganzer, who are taking this leap with me, deserve a great deal of credit and thanks.
How long have you been brewing?
I started brewing shortly after I turned 21 so almost 5 years now. At first it was mostly the occasional Irish Dry Stout inspired by a beer soaked trip to Ireland, but once I got the bug, I was brewing as often as possible.
Have you ever worked in a commercial brewery?
Never in a “professional” brewery. Just my humble home brewery operation for now.
What is your brewing philosophy?
I believe that beer is art, not just a means to an end. Every aspect of a good craft beer should be carefully planned by its brewer. When a proper pint is served to you and you take in the aroma, and the appearance, the taste, the “mouthfeel,” everything involved should be the result of careful planning and passionate brewing. I want to show people that don’t already know, and continue to show the ones that do, that beer is more than a fizzy yellow ad campaign. I don’t think beer should be limited to four ingredients, but I also don’t think it always has to contain nine. My brews range from simple to complex and everything in between, I don’t think one style is better than another, they are just different. When you drink my beer, you should be able to see into my soul as it has been poured into everything I craft.
What kind of brewing setup do you have?
Currently we operate on a Blichmann 20 gallon brew kettle with a smaller mash tun, but in the coming months we are upgrading to a 30 gallon brew kettle and another 20 gallon BoilerMaker for the sparge tank. The garage was taken over by a brewery; there are a slew of carboys and fermentation buckets, grain mills, wort chillers … It’s a beautiful place.
How much of your brews are “from scratch”? (Do you grow your own hops or grains, yeast cultures, etc.?)
Right now we don’t have the means for home-grown stuff, but it is something we are very interested in. I’m not sure how well hops will grow in Florida, but we would like to try. We will also play around with yeast cultures once we get established; that’s Jesse’s department he is the more science-minded of the two of us.
What is your biggest brewing triumph?
That’s a tough one. It’s probably one of two, and my opinion changes depending on which I drank last. We made a Cascadian Dark Ale (yeah, I still like that name the best) which we married with some Coffee beans and it’s just fantastic. The other would be our “mole poblano” inspired imperial stout. It’s a big 10 percent stout with poblano peppers and cacao nibs. Though, if I am honest, the biggest triumph comes every time somebody drinks anything we have made and looks at us and just smiles.
Your biggest brewing failure?
Easily our attempt at making an alcoholic root beer. We just approached it the wrong way. It was early into our career and it was more of a fun experiment than anything else, but it failed … miserably. I tend to not look at mistakes or shortcomings as failures. We learn from everything, and anything can be corrected in the future. If anything it’s the “failures” that make us better brewers.
What are you drinking right now (or just drank or getting ready to drink)?
I’m about to make some chili with the previously mentioned Mole Poblano Imperial Stout, so I am sure I’ll drink one while I make it. I’ve also been digging Southern Tier’s Choklat lately. What an intense aroma.
Besides your own brews, what are your favorite beers?
Generally speaking some of my favorite breweries are Cigar City, Dogfish, and Stone (not to leave out all of the others that I love, but I could be here all day). As far as individual beers, it depends on my mood I guess. Jai Alai, Arrogant Bastard, Chicory Stout, Spruce Tip Ale by Skagway Brewing. Again, I could go on all day, and I hate leaving off so many amazing breweries.
What are your goals for your brewing?
Nothing short of global domination of course! OK, not really. Our goals are simple. We want to sustain a decent enough lifestyle, be able to provide a future for our kids, and slice out a nice wedge of the market for ourselves. I want to provide a high quality product for our local market, and hopefully dip into some other areas if we are able to expand. We all came from New York, so it would be a proud moment to see our logo on the wall at Rattle n Hum. It is more important to us that our product be of the highest quality then the highest quantity. Selfishly, I’d really love a gold medal at the GABF or 10. We just want to be able to do what we love for a living, and enjoy life. That’s the point right?
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer someone who is thinking about becoming a brewer?
Reach out. Put yourself out there. At this stage in the journey I have found nothing more helpful than just reaching out to people. Introduce yourself and amazing things happen. The craft beer community is one of mutual respect, everybody I have encountered wants to help if they can. It is incredible to see some of the doors that open themselves just by opening your mouth.
What has been the most useful resource for your brewing (book, website, store, mentor, etc.)?
Again, just talking to people is probably the best resource for the business side of things. It might be overwhelming to think about when you are a home brewer, but guys like Sam Calagione, and Joey Redner, they answer their e-mails and will offer some truly great advice. Asking specific questions helps. Sam probably gets 900 “How do I start a brewery?” questions every day but a specific question about yeast is going to stand out. As far as learning to brew as a home brewer, look to the books of Charlie Papazian, John Palmer, Randy Mosher, Ray Daniels etc. Also sites like homebrewtalk.com are a big help.
Anything else you want to add?
I’d like to just add one final thing. If you are just getting started in home brewing, or are thinking about it but not sure if you want to make the plunge, or even if you are a home brewer looking to go pro, just do it. You can talk to a million people and hear a million different things, people will try to tell you what fancy gadget you need, or what technique to use, but you have to do what is right for you. A great beer isn’t made with the best equipment in the biggest facility by someone with the most expensive degrees and training. All of those things are nice, but they are nothing without the right person controlling it all. The human element in brewing is the most important. If you are passionate and love what you do, just go out and do it and let the product speak for itself. Never underestimate the value of hard work, dedication, and passion.
To learn more about Chris and the impending creation of the Archangel Brewery in Florida, read the story at Beer in Florida.