Meet the Brewer – An interview with Scott Shuler
Scott Shuler [ facebook ]
12 Gates Brewing Company
How long have you been head brewer here?
I’ve been the head brewer since the end of April, so around 6 months.
Do you have any type of formal training? If not, how did you learn the craft?
No formal training as far as professional schooling or education. I learned from home brewing in a homebrew class. Progressed from there, read a lot of books and independent studies. I brewed a lot of home brews and just learned as I went. I then joined a homebrew club which allowed me to meet a lot of other homebrewers. From there my ambition and my desire to brew turned into a desire for commercial brewing. So through the homebrew club i was able to find Three Palms Brewing, down in Tampa, and was hired on as a bartender – So I actually learned more about commercial brewing from the bar side. I learned about craft beer, the draft system, how different beers are made, and all of that. While I was there I also did some Cellaring, so I was doing a lot of cleaning, treatments, and preparation. I continued on there until I was hired by Two Henry’s Brewing Company, in Plant City, as an Assistant Brewer. Six months after joining them, I worked my way up to the Head Brewer. I remained there until I came up here to Buffalo.
So I guess the next question has to be, why do you always find breweries with numbers in the name?
Good luck I guess? I never realized that until now.
Let’s talk about 12 Gates…
How large is 12 Gates Brewing Company (# of barrels annually)?
Well we brew off of a 30 barrel brewhouse so, roughly, we will net around 930 gallons per batch. Our Fermentors are twice that size so it takes two batches to fill up each of our fermentors. So we will brew twice in a day consecutively, or we will brew the same beer in two consecutive days so we can fill up the fermentor. From there we can calculate up to around 5,000 barrels with our current setup.
Is that larger than some of the other breweries in town?
Yes, we are one of the largest. Aside from Southern Tier, I believe we are the largest in the area.
Is there any automation in our brewhouse setup or is there a lot of manual tasks involved in the operation?
A little bit of both. On our site, because of the amount of grain and water we deal with there needs to be certain forms of automation regarding how we get the grain in and how we remove the grain. Other than that a lot of our controls, such as out temperature and steam, operates like a steam locomotive up on the brewhouse. It has to be hands on. Any bigger system than what we have would need to be more automated as it’s just too much to track.
Have you ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
I’ve never had a batch go bad per say, but I have had some technical problems where the power has gone out or a piece of equipment to fail, which made the beers go sideways, or to be different than what we anticipated. With doing that a lot of creativity goes into play where we will end up having a one off of a special beer. Coffee and Chocolate work very well in covering up temperature issues.
Is there more pressure put upon you as head brewer in a smallish brewery to try to match other small breweries in what we offer or what you brew ?
I would say yes to the pressure, just because of the volume we brew there is very little room for error. It’s just such a large quantity. In brewing the different varieties we need to be a bit more intentional in what we brew because we will need to be able to sell it.
Can you give a hint if anything might be coming from 12 Gates Brewing Company in the near future?
We recently released a traditional German DunkelWeizen, which if you have ever had a traditional Hefeweizen – which is light colored with a little of banana and clove – this is a darker maltier version of it that we brewed traditionally, fermented traditionally, and we are even carbonating it traditionally. So we have forgone a lot of modern brewing techniques to keep it very traditional. Other than that we have a lot of small batches as well as some new full batch beers. Some of these that I can currently mention are an Elderberry Wheat, a “Buffalo Tripel”, and a White IPA.
Please describe the weirdest ingredient you have ever put in a full production beer.
The weirdest ingredient I ever put into a beer was roasted jalapenos. At a prior brewery we brewed a roasted jalapeno blueberry porter, so after the porter was done fermenting we would add the jalapenos in and let them age as is you would brew a hop. After that we would add the blueberry puree and let that age and settle down. Why that beer was so unique is that while brewing that beer over such a long time I developed an allergy to jalapenos and basically any hot peppers so now I can’t go near them.
So I guess it’s safe to say no Jalapenos in the future of 12 Gates ?
Not necessarily. We have a great Cellarman, Dave, who is very talented with peppers and spices, so he will be able to handle that.
Most every workplace has some type of tradition. Does 12 Gates Brewing Company have some type of tradition on brew day or at another time? For example, using a special tool that has been around for a very long time, play specific music while brewing, etc.
Music, yes. We love listening to music while we brew. It’s a huge part of our process. For example if we are doing an English beer I will put on some Pink Floyd. If we are doing a German beer I’ll put on some German music. On Fridays we listen to Techno. There is one other tradition though. After the boil we transfer it to the whirlpool, which settles all the particulates out of it. At that time we have a mandatory “stop at work” to enjoy a “whirlpool beer”. We each stop what we’re doing, grab a beer, go sit outside, and recap the day. We have to do this… We’re a brewery. If we take ourselves too seriously then we are missing a big part of it all.
Have you traveled outside of the USA to experience another beer culture, in say, Germany or Belgium?
Unfortunately no. As a teenager I was an exchange student in Germany, but I was relatively young so although I experienced some traditional German beers I never experienced them as a brewer. It’s definitely a bucket list thing for me though. I would like to experience Oktoberfest in Germany, or go to Belgium to learn more about the traditional belgian beer and sours… hopefully the opportunity arises for me to do that.
If you had to pick a favorite beer from 12 gates and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why?
That is a tough one. If it were a total stranger I would probably point them to the Pale Ale as it’s my first recipe I did from scratch here. It’s super clean with a nice balance of hops and malt. I think it’s a good representation of our beers.
Time to get personal
If you could sit down with anyone (living or dead) and have a beer, who would it be and why?
I would probably say Trevor Rogers. He is the head brewer of De Garde Brewing in Tillamook, Oregon. De Garde Brewing is my favorite brewery. They do sours and wild ales, and to be able to take something with so much variables and consistently produce great beers, ranging from 3% to high ABV with such consistency in flavor and fervor. I would love to sit down and pick his brain.
What would be the first question you would ask him?
I would start simple with “What got you into brewing, where did the passion originate from?
Staying personal, what is your favorite beer and food pairing (keeping in mind that we are in Buffalo, home of the chicken wing?
I think it’d be unusual… but a Beef on Weck with a La Fin Du Monde or a Duchesse de Bourgogne – because you would get great contrast with the Flemish Brown or the Belgian Tripel. It would be such a delight to be able to have the Beef on Weck, which is such a staple around here, with such a unique styled beer.
In the kitchen I make a mean…?
Breakfast. I love to cook. I love cooking everything. I’m a morning person and when I wake I love cooking. I’ll make a souffle or a mean keish. I’ll destroy a kitchen before 6am.
What do you like to do in your time away from the 12 Gates Brewing ?
Well I’m married and I have been for a little over 12 years. A brewers job requires many hours a week and it can be exhausting and demanding, so when I’m not here I enjoy spending time with my wife and my dog. I’ve also been enjoying exploring Buffalo and getting out in nature, going to the dog parks, etc… Basically decompressing from the work week.
Any advice for those aspiring (kitchen/homebrew) future pro brewers out there?
Probably the biggest advice, that was given to me by good friend and professional brewer is to “write it down”. When you are brewing, write it down. If the temp fluctuates, write it down. You can always brew great beer but if you ever want to be able to repeat it you need to be exact. Repeatability and consistency is a huge part of brewing. There are just so many variables. Any slight fluctuation needs to be noted. Write. It. Down.
Any final comments for the readers?
Yeah, try 12 Gates. We’re one of the new kids on the block but were aspiring, we’re passionate. We want to brew good beer, we want to brew great beers. We want to brew beers that Buffalo will love. We want to brew beers that Buffalonians will love.