Serious Eats: Drinks
A Pint With: Wayne Wambles, Cigar City Brewing Head Brewer
Editor's Note: In today's edition of our brewer interview series, we're checking in with Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida. He has some exciting new beers and collaborations in the works, so let's join him for a pint.
Full name: Wayne Wambles
Title: Head Brewer, Cigar City Brewing
Tell us a bit about your career path and how you got to Cigar City.
I worked in the food service industry for many years. I started when I was 15 or 16 years old and worked just about every position in a restaurant, including bartender and wait staff. I became fascinated with cooking over time and that was my first step towards brewing.
I realized that brewing was cooking with chemistry and that every step of the process determines the final outcome. I was intrigued with it and started homebrewing, becoming quickly obsessed with it. Over time, I began to accumulate ribbons from entering and winning local and regional competitions.
There was a brewpub that was about 30 miles away from my home town. With the aid of another commercial brewer, I was able to apprentice under the brewer there until I took the helm after about six months. Another six months passes and I get a call from my mentor. He is opening up a chain of brewpubs in the Southeast and is looking for brewing staff. I take the job and work for this chain (Buckhead Brewery & Grill) for 5.5 years, ultimately leaving the company to move back home and work on another startup there. I get the doors to the startup brewery open and have beer flowing, but it is short lived.
I decide that I have to keep my resume up to date and want to continue to work in the industry that I love. Fortunately, Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina hires me as a brewer. I worked there for about 15 months until I came across a job post for the head brewing position at Cigar City Brewing. I reported to work for the first time on March 24, 2008, and never looked back.
How would you describe your brewing style?
An infusion of culinary with zymurgy. Taking food ideas and turning them into liquid. That approach is very challenging and extremely entertaining.
I also enjoy making traditional styles and this can be observed in the way that we approach most of our lagers. I approach ales differently and usually push the limits of many ale styles that we create. Higher alcohol, more hops, and more complex malt character are just a few examples of the way that I tend to approach ales. No matter how far I'm pushing the limits, I strive to achieve balance as well.
What is a typical day like at the Cigar City brewery?
Multiple things going on at once in the midst of expansion. It's controlled chaos on most days, but sometimes it gets a little out of hand. There are times in the past when I have wondered if it could get much worse and then something else in the brewery would break. But overall, it's great. I love it. I'm also blessed to have such a great staff. Without all my staff doing their job so well, we wouldn't be able to execute many of the beers that we produce.
Can you tell us about your new Cucumber Saison? How is it made?
It is a sessionable Saison at 4.5%ABV that has a refreshing cucumber character in the aroma and flavor. It will be around for a short period of time as a Summer seasonal this year. We hop it with Citra and Sorachi Ace. We make it by infusing cucumber essence into a low gravity Saison. Essence works incredibly well since it contains no alcohol. It is pure distillate from real cucumbers and it adds a wonderful crispness to the beer.
What other new beers will we be seeing from Cigar City in the coming year?
There are several collaborations that we are in the process of putting together. Mikeller, B Nektar, Blue Jacket, and Funky Buddha are a few of the players. I will leave this simply as a teaser...
Jean Ribault will be draft only and should be coming out soon. It is a French Pale ale with Calypso and Nelson Sauvin hops that is fermented with a French Saison yeast.
We have restructured our seasonal offerings. Some of the releases have been moved to different parts of the year with some of our year rounds transforming into seasonals. The new 110K is scheduled for production in early May. We will brew a one of a kind Humidor series this year.
There is a great deal of exclusive and small scale barrel aged beer that we will leak into the market over the course of the year. I don't want to get into too much detail. All I can really give you is the skeleton right now. I prefer to save the epidermis until a later date but it will be a pleasant surprise...
What beers and breweries inspire you?
Short's Brewing for their culinary-oriented beers. Firestone Walker is just great across the board but I also enjoy their barrel aged beers specifically. Founders makes very solid beers. I don't think that I have ever had a mediocre bottle of beer from Founders. Hill Farmstead with Shaun Hill at the mast is making great beers. He has moved quickly on to the beer geek radar and that is well deserved.
How would you describe the craft beer scene in Florida? Has it changed in recent years?
The Florida beer scene has definitely changed in the last few years. Florida breweries have stepped up the quality of their craft beer. We make beer on a different scale than we did anytime prior to 2010 or so. In addition to that, there are so many craft breweries either opening or scheduled to open soon in Florida.
What's next for craft beer, overall? Where do you see the industry heading?
I am worried that the industry won't be able to support all of the new craft breweries that are in process of opening or recently opened. The issue isn't that there aren't enough consumers of beer or demand but rather raw material supply. We are already allocating for hops years in advance in order to make sure that we can continue to produce our core brands. Word on the street is that the same might happen soon with grain supply.
I think that an even better industry to get involved in right now would be barley (or any other grain used in the manufacture of beer) farming or hop growing. That would insure a concrete pipeline over time as the craft brewing segment continues to exponentially expand. As long as we have a concrete raw material pipeline, the possibilities for craft beer are unlimited and stretch the boundaries of the imagination with their future potential.