Just in time for their 3rd Anniversary and with Veterans Day having just passed, we bring you the latest brewer courageous enough to sit in the Comfy Computer Chair of Fame. Swatting away our grueling questions as if they were just practice targets, CellarMonk is proud to present to you Navy veteran and head brewer for Railhouse Brewing, Mr. Brian Evitts. SALUTE.
Name(s): Brian Evitts
Brewery Name: Railhouse Brewery
How long have you beer head brewer/brewmaster there?
Three years, since Railhouse’s inception. Our third anniversary is December 1.
Any type of formal training in brewing science or art? If not, how did you learn the craft?
I learned by home brewing for 15 years--10 years all grain. I also had 8 years working in a chemistry background in the US Navy. Before opening the brewery, I knew I needed some commercial training, so I took a course with the World Brewing Academy, Siebel Institute of Technology.
If you will, a brief history of your brewing experience (where have you brewed)?
Railhouse Brewery is my first commercial brewery experience. I had brewed for 15+ years as a home brewer and studied extensively on my own (home and commercial brewing text books, online courses, blogs).
How large is the brewery (# of barrels annually)?
Last year's production was just under 1,400 barrels. We expect that to double next year. We’ve purchased an additional conditioning tank to allow us to increase capacity.
Is it automated or is there a lot of exercise involved in your brewery's operation?
Very manual, almost no automation. We still stir in the mash manually! Only automation is our solenoids to keep temps stable. We recently purchased a new bottling machine and labeler, though it will be a couple more weeks until we have them up and running.
Have you ever had a bad batch? If so, how long did it take you to figure out what caused it?
Yes, we had three bad batches in the first year. It was due to us using open fermentation tanks, and we did not have enough of a positive pressure environment so we had some sour beer straight from the fermenter. Took us about three weeks to fix the issue.
Is there more pressure put upon you as head brewer in a smallish brewery to try and match other small breweries in offerings?
Not really. We love to taste other breweries' beers, but we concentrate on what we are making great beer that focuses on the malt rather than on the hops. There is a lot of pressure to make certain seasonal beers—pumpkin for example—and we have decided to offer more seasonals due to the high demand for them.
Can you give a hint if anything might be coming from your brewery (new brew, special brew, etc.)?
We will have a couple new seasonals in the coming year, but for now, those are under wraps. More exciting to us is we are now distributed statewide in North Carolina. We partnered with Mutual in November.
Please describe the weirdest ingredient you have ever put in beer.
Straight honeysuckle flowers (hand picked), in a honeysuckle / blackberry beer we did about a year ago. Very tasty – we couldn’t get enough flowers to do it again this past season.
I just did an experimental batch of winter ale and used local pinecones. It will be another couple weeks before I’ll know how it’s going to taste.
Do you or your brewery attend the large beer gatherings (i.e. Great American Beer Festival, Zythos, etc.)?
We participate in the World of Beer festivals every year here (Durham and Raleigh) and several other local beer festivals. That doesn’t mean we won’t participate in festivals outside the state in the future.
Any awards, either for you or your brewery?
First Place Stout, North Carolina Brewer's Cup: Mastiff Oatmeal Stout, 2013
First Place English Brown Ale, North Carolina Brewer's Cup: KA-BAR Brown, 2013
Best Brewery --Peoples Choice, NC Beer Magazine, July 2013
Best in Show Gold Medal (1st Place) - Mastiff Oatmeal Stout, Blues N Brews Festival - Fayetteville NC, June 2013
One of five best beers in North Carolina--Mastiff Oatmeal Stout, NC Beer Guys, April 2013
Railhouse Brewery: Moore County Entrepreneur of the Year 2012
Most every workplace has some type of tradition. Does your brewery 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.
We have had several different traditions over the last three years, mostly defined by the employees. Our current assistant brewmaster yells “Brew Day!” throughout the brewery on brew day; it’s quickly become a tradition.
Have you traveled outside of the United States to experience another beer culture, in say, England or Germany? If so, what was your impression.
I have traveled a lot outside of the US, but all in Asian countries. I can’t say that I was impressed with the beer offerings there, and unfortunately I did not take much beer experience from it.
If you had to pick a favorite beer from your brewery and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why?
Mastiff Oatmeal Stout – so many beer drinkers have a set impression of a stout as being thick, essentially a meal in a glass. Stouts are unique due to their flavor profiles, not necessarily due to their body. Our Mastiff Oatmeal Stout is a very refreshing beer, one that can be enjoyed several times over a session without feeling full. We have nicknamed it “Summer Stout.” We can almost always pleasantly surprise people who are expecting a “traditional stout.”
If you were omnipotent, what would you change (first) to improve our beer universe?
Taxes. The taxes on craft beer manufacturers. I would love to see those decrease.
Any advice for those aspiring (kitchen/homebrew) future pro brewers out there?
Read, study, and learn the trade. If you can hang out with a brewer for a day, that’s even better.
***Personal & Background***
We see that Railhouse is very veteran oriented. Could you give us a little background about that?
We are 100% veteran owned. The brewery is owned by myself (8 years US Navy) and Mike Ratkowski (10 years US Army). Our sales and marketing person (Lisa Lange) is former Coast Guard. Given our proximity to Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, our brewpub caters to our US Military and veterans, and you can feel this as you walk in and see every branch of the military represented along on walls.
Last weekend, we unveiled our memorial to local fallen soldiers. It has a beautiful display with the names of those lost while on duty. We announced this to our local patrons, and quickly (and sadly) had 60+ names to put on the memorial. That number is now up to 120.
Are there any specific ways that Railhouse is reaching out to the veteran community?
Every way possible. We give our time, money, and beer to organizations that help active military, veterans, and their families. We also volunteer our brew pub for military-related events and fundraisers. Some of those charities include Military Members in Action (MMIA), Wounded Warriors, Old Glory Legacy Foundation, Special Forces Charitable Trust, and the USO of North Carolina.
Favorite beer and food pairing?
There’s still nothing better than a nice steak and a great ale.
In the kitchen I make a mean? (beer related)
Chili made with our KA-BAR brown ale.
What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
There is no time away from the brewery. As an owner and brewmaster, I am pretty much here all the time. When I’m not, I spend my time with my girls.
Are you married? Any children?
I have three girls.
Any final thoughts?
We are excited about our recent growth and our new partnerships. We partnered with military knife maker KA-BAR Knives a little under a year ago (our brown ale is named KA-BAR Brown), which has allowed for some fun cross-promotion. Our new distributor, Mutual, has allowed for statewide. All of this will allow us to grow as a brewery and hire more individuals in our community. We hope that will include veterans.