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A Pint With: Yuseff Cherney, Head Brewer of Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits

This week we take our brewmaster interview series to San Diego. Brewmaster Yuseff Cherney makes excellent beers for one of our favorite breweries, Ballast Point Brewing Company. Grab a pint of (delicious) Calico Amber and join us!

Name: Yuseff Cherney
Location: San Diego, California
Occupation: Head Brewer/Head Distiller

How did you get into brewing? I was introduced to home brewing back in 1990 by several friends in San Diego. I began building my own brewing equipment as there were few stores offering advanced brewing wares at that time. Most of my information came from brewing books.

How did you end up at Ballast Point? While attending UCSD I was asked to teach a brewing class through the Extension Program of the Crafts Center. I jumped at the chance and figured that now I really needed to know as much as I could about brewing so my students would not stump the professor. About a year into the class I met the two people that would change my path (going to law school): Chris White and Jack White. Although no relation, the two Whites both had an extreme interest in brewing and Jack turned out to be my new boss at a freshly opened home brew shop called Home Brew Mart. Chris, one of my first students at the beer class, became my brewing partner and later the founder of White Labs Pure Brewer's Yeast, now the leading supplier of yeast in the U.S. Home Brew Mart was Jack's stepping stone to a brewery and within a few years Ballast Point was opened in the rear suite of Home Brew Mart.

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Do you have a signature brewing style? Is there a thread that ties all of your beers together? The beers we started brewing back in 1996 were what we felt were traditional beer styles brewed with a San Diego interpretation. We have always tried to take styles we love and make them with a twist, such as add a more aggressive hop character. There really is no common thread to our brewing as we use all sorts of different yeasts and ingredients, so each beer is distinct in its own way. Many breweries tend to make 5 different kinds of the same beer, and blindfolded you may have a hard time telling them apart. I guess the one common tie is that they are all what we like to drink.

What is your life as a brewmaster like? What do you do each day? It used to be waking up at 5 a.m. and brewing until about 3 p.m., but now as more brewers work in our facility my role has evolved into doing a little of everything. I have been doing the repair work, welding, plumbing etc. as well as designing our new distillery and running it. Web site work, brewing taxes, inventory control, H.R. issues, expansion design, equipment manufacture, recipe design etc. all fall into my role as Head Brewer.

What is them most challenging part of your job? Dealing with equipment failure while trying to maintain the hectic brew schedule.

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What is the most exciting beer you've brewed? What was the weirdest one? Every new recipe that we brew on our larger system is exciting. As you are brewing, you wonder if you did the recipe calculations right and are constantly second-guessing yourself. Dropping the hydrometer in the wort is nerve-wracking as you wait to see if the gravity is right, and then you still won't know what it will taste like for a few weeks. The weirdest beer was probably the Victory at Sea Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter, just because we had to brew 100 gallons of cold brewed espresso with improvised equipment.

How do you get inspired to make new beers? We always look back to our roots for new beer recipes, home brews that we have already brewed in the past are the usual go-to brews. All the new emphasis on making something that no one has ever thought of before is driving a lot of us to brew outlandish beers. I think brewers sit around drinking and think, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could brew..." and then they do it. There are no traditions that bind our feet like some other brewing communities that have been making the same few beer styles for hundreds of years.

20100310sculpin.jpgYour Sculpin IPA is one of the top-ranked IPAs in the country. Can you tell us a bit about how the recipe originated and how it is made today? The Sculpin was a collaboration of home brewers and our brewers. The recipes from two top ranking home brewers (George Cataulin and Doug Duffield) were combined and tweaked by Colby Chandler to be brewed on our brew house as a 465 gallon batch. Everyone involved in the brew either works in our home brew shop or the brewery, so we knew we had a great beer before we brewed it big. It went from 5 gallons to 465 gallons to 2480 gallon batch size, and will soon go into full production as a regular in our line up year round.

Why do you think San Diego has become such a beer mecca? The home brewing scene has been so good for so long, with a combination of great home brew clubs like Quaff and a great store (Home Brew Mart). Many of our local brewers got their start at our home brew shop, or were introduced to great beer by one of the people that belong to Quaff. White Labs, which was founded in San Diego, also played a huge role, allowing local brewers access to great brewing yeast.

Do you have a favorite Ballast Point beer and food pairing? I am on a barbecue kick right now. Just got a Traeger smoker for Christmas so the brisket and pork butts have been the thing lately and the Calico goes real well with barbecue. Colby makes a smoked lager in the style of Bamberg Rauchbier called Abandon Ship and that one has worked its way into many of my barbecue dishes as well.

What is coming up for the brewery and distillery in 2010? In the next few years? We will be undergoing an expansion next few months with a about 50% growth expected. Hopefully the same goes for the distillery as well. More Sculpin will be coming out along with more specialty beers like Victory at Sea and Sea Monster etc. New beers will be coming out in 6 packs as well as 22 ounce bottles. One day Devil's Share Bourbon will be out too.

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