Diving into Dark Lagers, Distribution and Diversity with Town Brewing’s Brian Quinn

Diving into Dark Lagers, Distribution and Diversity with Town Brewing’s Brian Quinn

It may not be a cure-all for every mental hurdle, writer’s block or breakthrough you’ve been seeking, but a brew or two can have just the right effect when it comes to simmering those creative juices. Town Brewing describes its origination story as, “Once upon a Sunday afternoon… Brewing beer. Drinking It. Creative juices flowing.” Thankfully the result of those brew sessions (and a healthy helping of hard work and determination over several years) has delivered Charlotte’s FreeMoreWest an ambitious brewery in Town Brewing backed by a highly thoughtful, educated and passionate head brewer in Brian Quinn.

We lob Brian a handful of heavy, heady questions in our latest profile which he handles just as well as he’d brew a deliciously nuanced Czech dark lager.

As head brewer, you’re constantly keeping up with beer trends, breakthroughs and the styles your customers are responding to. What is an unpopular or underutilized beer style you enjoy that you’d like to see more beer drinkers discover? I have been very pleased to see craft brewers diving head first into the world of lager brewing more in recent years. Nice crisp pilsners and lighter lager styles are certainly having their moment in the craft beer scene. These styles have always been favorites of many brewers, and have finally been gaining traction with craft consumers as well. These are not easy beer styles to brew well.

Lagers are a labor of love, and brewers need a solid understanding of fermentation science, coupled with patience, to achieve the desired crisp, clean lager fermentation character. We brewed a Czech-style dark lager [tmavé pivo] at Town called Shadow Puppets, which has been my beer of choice recently. I would love to see dark lagers (schwarzbier, tmavé pivo, dunkel, etc.) gain more popularity among consumers.

The dark beer landscape is full of high-gravity, adjunct-laden, pastry stouts right now. Don’t get me wrong, these beers can be exceptional, and certainly have their time and place. That said, it is becoming harder and harder to find standard-strength dark beer options that have not been riddled with a mélange of pastry-inspired adjuncts.

Personally, I love nice sessionable dark beers and hope that craft brewers will capitalize on the growing popularity of lagers among consumers by exploring some of the many amazing dark lager styles. Dark beers are a tough sell, especially in the South, but I hope that as the craft beer market continues to mature consumers will be more inclined to set aside their hazy IPAs and explore the full range of beer styles.

Town Brewing’s head brewer Brian Quinn.

The west side of Charlotte has been emerging over the last several years with new development, restoration of existing buildings and even the city’s soon-to-debut seltzery. How would you describe the vibe on Charlotte’s west side?

We are so incredibly fortunate to be located in Wesley Heights/FreeMoreWest during this period of fast-paced, exciting development. We have a great cohort of regulars, and the volume of foot traffic we receive definitely contributes to the taproom’s laid-back, relaxed, neighborhood feel. I’m excited for more breweries and restaurants to open on the west side to continue building our area as a destination spot for great beer and food. We love collaborating with other breweries and businesses, so the more growth that occurs on the west side of Charlotte, the more opportunities we’ll have to form lasting relationships and engage in fun collaborative projects!

In a post-COVID-19 world, where do you see Town Brewing and the Charlotte beer scene in five years? Navigating this pandemic has been a major challenge for breweries, especially those who rely on taproom sales for the vast majority of their revenue. I think in the coming years we will see more breweries diversifying their revenue streams, diving into the challenges of widening their distribution, and canning their beers – not only in Charlotte, but across the nation. Breweries with packaging lines were certainly able to weather the storm of COVID-19 more easily, capitalizing on increased to-go sales and off-premise sales at grocery stores and independent bottle shops. Purchasing a canning line is definitely under consideration at Town, and we are actively researching different options.

In the meantime, we intend to work with Iron Heart, a mobile canning company, more frequently and we are planning for new can releases every six weeks. Hopefully a vaccine or an effective therapeutic will be available soon, but until then we will continue to do our part as a business to ensure a safe and clean taproom environment, and to have plenty of to-go options available. Adhering to physical distancing requirements, increased sanitation procedures, and wearing face coverings is extremely important if we hope to keep our taproom open and our staff and customers safe during this time.

It’s clear you place a high value on education, discussion and as evidenced in your upcoming panel discussion, inclusion. How did your series of interesting panel discussions become part of Town’s identity?

Education, both for staff and customers, has always been a priority for us at Town Brewing. Beer education is extremely important to me, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Siebel Institute’s Master Brewer Program, studying brewing science in Chicago and then gaining practical brewing experience in Munich at the Doemens Academy. Our other brewer Greg Nichols also has formal brewing education from UC Davis on top of an extensive food science background. I received my Advanced Cicerone certification last year, and we require that all of our bar staff pass at least the first level of the Cicerone program. This commitment to education has not only allowed us to produce quality beer – something that is extremely important in an increasingly competitive market – but our hope is that having a knowledgeable staff also translates to a more enjoyable and engaging customer experience. We also have big plans to roll out a series of educational beer dinners this year as well!

Our series of panel discussions was born out of the belief that you can never stop growing and learning as a beer industry professional. The brewing industry is extremely close-knit and collaborative, and being able to dive into interesting topics with colleagues from different breweries and different sectors of the beer industry can be very rewarding. We have had panel discussions on careers in craft beer, the rise of hazy IPAs, and the recent explosion of the hard seltzer category. While the audience tends to consist mostly of industry professionals, we have found that many craft beer fans also enjoy being able to pick the brains of our panelists on these topics.

Our panel discussion coming up this Saturday, July 18, will focus on fostering diversity in craft beer. We will be virtually streaming this panel discussion on Facebook so anyone can feel free to post questions for our panelists. This panel discussion will take place on the same day we are releasing Many Faces, a West Coast IPA. Proceeds from the sale of Many Faces will go towards the North Carolina Brewers Guild’s Diversity Scholarship Program that funds travel, lodging, and conference expenses for people of color and women attending the NC Craft Brewers Conference. Our brewery scene in Charlotte is something special, and several other breweries have generously agreed to sell cans of Many Faces to raise funds for this scholarship program as well.

We plan to expand the Many Faces initiative each year; brewing new beers to raise funds with the ultimate goal of making craft beer a more diverse and inclusive industry. We are also in the early stages of developing an immersive brewery internship program (paid) for people of color and women to gain meaningful professional experience in brewing, sales/marketing, and taproom management/event planning. Having recognized that our industry still has a long way to go, the Many Faces Initiative is one way we have decided to respond with action toward a long-term commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusivity.

Bonus question: it’s no secret Charlotte and the Carolina Panthers ownership is gunning to host a future Super Bowl. If the NFL required a locally produced beer to be submitted as part of its application, which style beer would you create to seal Charlotte’s bid? Interesting question! I think a hoppy lager, brewed with local pilsner malt from Epiphany Craft Malt, would be a great beer to enjoy on game day. Playing around with some newer German hop varieties to impart some pleasant citrus and floral notes could be exciting. I would probably opt for a light dry-hop with Mandarina Bavaria and Hallertau Blanc, all rounded out by the smooth, soft pilsner malt backbone. The perfect brew for someone looking for a game day beer that is crisp, light, refreshing, and sessionable!

If only you could reach into your screen to grab a beer.