Brewer Profile: Heather McReynolds of The Cannon Brewpub
In this installment of our occasional Featured Brewer series, we interview Heather McReynolds.
We met Heather at the Savannah Craft Brew Festival over the 2011 Labor Day Weekend. Despite her claims of being an introvert, she put on a fascinating presentation about “The History of Women in Brewing.”
Her enthusiasm about brewing great beer is contagious, and her pride in being one of the relatively few female commercial brewers in the country is obvious.
Unfortunately for us, Heather didn’t bring any of her creations to Savannah for sampling, but that just gives us an excuse to plan a Road Trip for Beer to The Cannon Brewpub in Columbus, Georgia, where she is the head brewster. (What’s a brewster? Read on.)
Name: Heather McReynolds
Where you live: Columbus, Georgia, but grew up in Gainesville, Florida.
Family: Boyfriend, Matt, and my child in dog form, Lucy
Day job: Head Brewster at The Cannon Brewpub
Any other personal stuff you’d like to add? Growing up, I didn’t like beer, but then I turned 21 and started drinking good beer, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I’ve been in the craft beer industry for the past seven years, filling the roles of beertender, beer bar manager, brewpub manager, and finally, brewster (Brewster is the feminine version of brewer, by the way.) Even though I love beer and homebrewing, I never considered brewing as a career choice because I didn’t think I was physically capable of doing it. The opportunity arose, I took it, and now I’m mad I didn’t start brewing sooner!
How long have you been brewing?
Homebrewing: 3 years, Commercial brewing: 7 months
Did you start by homebrewing?
1) Experiment and push the boundaries as often as you can
2) Make good beer.
What kind of brewing setup do you have/work with?
I’ve got an 8bbl Specific Equipment system with six fermenters.
How much of your brews are “from scratch”? (Do you grow your own hops or grains, yeast strains, etc.?)
None now, but I hope to someday! I’m a big advocate of beers featuring locally-specific ingredients, and I’m jealous of breweries that have their own strains.
What is your biggest brewing triumph?
My first commercial lager! I wasn’t sure I could do it on my rig, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. The beer had to be difficult too – I had to drive an hour and a half each way to Atlanta to get more lager yeast when the fermentation didn’t start. But I put it on tap a week ago, and about half the batch (90 out of 170 gallons) is already gone! It’s a great feeling when you can see the results of your hard work. (Editor’s note: This interview was submitted a few weeks before publication. Unfortunately, that batch of lager is likely gone.)
Your biggest brewing failure?
Not really a failure, per se, but I think a shortcoming on my part. I realize that the best way to sell beer is for me (as the brewer) to get out there and sell it, either by engaging my guests or going out into the community. However, I’m such an introvert and it really takes a lot to get talking and push myself into the limelight. Is it weird that most times I’d rather be around beer than people?
What are you drinking right now (or just drank or getting ready to drink)?
My wonderful beer nerd neighbors brought me the end of a bottle of The Bruery’s Coton. I have great neighbors.
Besides your own brews, what are your favorite beers?
It depends on the situation and what I’m in the mood for. But I have some favorite breweries. I love Dogfish Head, Cigar City, Hitachino, Mikkeller, Rogue, Birra del Borgo, and Brooklyn, to name a few.
What are your goals for your brewing?
Make good beer, and make it fun and interesting. And try not to set the place on fire.
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer someone who is thinking about becoming a brewer?
Read everything about beer that you can, and don’t be afraid to clean.
What has been the most useful resource for your brewing (book, website, store, mentor, etc.)?
Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentationby Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff makes me want to be a yeast cell in my next life. Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers is pretty much my bible. When I have a specific question, homebrew forums rock. Old homebrewers know more about beer than most people working in breweries today.
Anything else you want to add?
If you really love craft beer, show it! Get other people excited about craft beer too, and it’ll make the world a better place. It could lead to world peace. You never know.
Thanks to Heather for taking the time to do this interview, and we’re just a bit giddy to have our first female brewer, er, I mean, brewster, in this series. If you are a brewer, brewster or know one who might be interested in being the subject of one of these interviews, please shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.