Plenty of beer lovers dream of leaving their desk job to seek their fortune (and please their palates) in the beer industry. Some, like Nathan Berrong, actually make the leap. He recently joined the craft beer ranks at Three Taverns in Decatur, leaving a full-time job at CNN for the whirlwind role of selling local beer.
Berrong’s passion for brew was no secret. His job was coordinating live shots, but he also started an Eatocracy column, Berrong on Beer. For about two years he blogged about top brews, industry trends, and beer gift ideas before he was introduced to Brian Purcell, the founder of Three Taverns. Now, Berrong is one of a four-person team that bottles on bottling days, collaborates in creative meetings, and puts beer in people’s hands. I recently caught up with Berrong to see what he's been up to.
How does Three Taverns differ from other local breweries? We’re all Belgian style. There’s no other Belgian brewery in Georgia, and, as far as we know, we’re the only one in the Southeast.
You guys sought out some special talent. Joran Van Ginderachter is our head brewer. He’s from Belgium where he brewed professionally for years.
Talk about the brewing process for Belgian beers. It’s a pretty specific technique. A lot of breweries will just use a Belgian yeast strand, but we go a step further with step mashing. We have a four-vessel system, meaning we break up the brewing process into four different steps. Most breweries use a two or three-vessel system. We think it adds consistency and prevents flaws in the beer. Our mash kettle and lauter tun are separate (many breweries combine this part), so in the mash process it allows us to change the temperature quickly. This is so we can extract the most sugar from the malt, so it will turn into alcohol more easily. We also have a bottle-conditioning warm room.
How does that work? We add sugar and yeast to the beer bottle and crank up the temperature to 75 degrees. The beer will go through a second fermentation. Joran has a lot of experience doing sour beers—we’re starting a sour program this year.
YES. We need more sours. We’re ordering oak and wine barrels. Everyone wants sours right now. In Belgium they’ve been brewing and drinking sours for decades. It’s a normal style there, so I think for Joran it’s kind of funny to see all the excitement.
Any new beers in the works? We’re releasing a big quadrupel, Quasimodo, out sometime in March. Brian’s homebrew quad is kind of what put him on the map. In a blind tasting at Brick Store Pub that included St. Bernardus Abt 12, Rochefort 10, and Westvleteren 12, the panel ranked the Quasimodo at first or second. It will come in 750 mL bottles, 10.5 percent.
Quasimodo is named after the hunchback we all know? Yes, Brian is a history buff. The old truck outside the brewery is named Esmeralda. The Single Intent (basically a Belgian blonde) is based on the “single”—a name we’re reintroducing. The name went away because monks started keeping singles at the monastery. Theophan the Recluse is our Russian Imperial Stout with Belgian yeast—it’s named after a Russian monk.
Sours, a quad—what else? We’re testing out a beer that will be our interpretation of the classic Belgian Dubbel style. Brian’s tinkering with it on his homebrew system. We’re looking to do some collaboration brews pretty soon, too.
Can you say with whom? It’s a little early, but we’re in talks now. We’re really interested in being community-focused—working with other breweries. We’re all trying to educate more people, get them to drink good, locally-made brew by people you can meet, who are using pure ingredients.
Has anything surprised you about being on the beer making side of the business? While the craft beer industry does try to stick together, at the end of the day, there’s limited tap space. I wish when Three Taverns went on somewhere, Miller Lite or Bud Light would come off, but that’s not how it works. They’re going to take off another craft beer. I wish it wasn’t like that.
Do people think making beer is more exciting than it really is? I walk into a brewery during the day and there’s no party. It’s a business. And it’s really hard work. You’ve got a full day, then tastings at the brewery, other events, and festivals. I have a lot of fun sampling beer with accounts and talking about beer. But it’s a hustle.