Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ray Hodge, Brewmaster and Master Brewery Builder, Blowing Rock Brewing Co.

To be the Brewmaster who has built and opened two breweries in two years and also reached two state distribution while your total 35 bbl systems are brewing at capacity, you'd have to consider yourself a success.

Such a person is Ray Hodge of
 Blowing Rock Brewing in Blowing Rock and Hickory, NC.

His is a success story and also a bi-coastal one: Homer, Alaska; Outer Banks, NC; Sacramento, CA; and eventually Blowing Rock. And at each spot, he built a brewery. From my recent conversation with him, here's what I have learned.

Starting as a homebrewer back in the '70s, Ray got an early start on a brewing career by participating in only the second class offered by UC Davis' Brewing Science's short course (one week) in the mid-80s. That led him to Chico and a meeting with Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman, who hired him to work with Brewmaster Steve Dresler (who is still Sierra Nevada's Brewmaster), a stint that lasted a couple years until he had the opportunity to build and open a new brewery in Sacramento, CA, the River City Brewing Co. Being in the very early stages of craft brewing, with practically none of the excitement so evident today, River City failed and Hodge found himself back in Alaska, this time in Anchorage. His new task? Build yet another brewery.

Bird Creek Brewing, opened in 1991 with a 10 bbl system. Ray not only was gathering expertise in brewery building but also was amassing a collection of successful recipes. And since the Alaska breweries bottled their beer, he also learned the ins and outs of packaging.

After a few more enterprises in Anchorage including the Midnight Sun Brewery and the Railway Brewpub, he took some time off to become an organic farmer selling greens and vegetables to markets and restaurants. So, where does North Carolina fit into this, you ask. Well, now that you've asked, I'll tell you. The farming experience led to an opportunity at Weeping Radish Farm Brewery on the Outer Banks in Grandy, NC. At the time, there was a need for a brewer who could repair the equipment, update the recipes and get the brewery going again. Ray filled that need once more.

But before Ray could call Blowing Rock home, his career required yet another trip to Alaska, this time to Wasilla (that's got a familiar ring to it, for some reason) and to create the Last Frontier Brewing Co., a 10 bbl system whose output was mostly 22 oz. bottles (bombers to most of us).

Couple more years had to pass before the long-awaited phone call came. In 2013, the owners of Blowing Rock (which had formerly been Boone Brewing) needed him to build a new 5bbl system and bring his recipes with him. And last year, while working on that brewery, an opportunity arose to acquire the Hickory property and open the American Honor Ale House to serve good food and their freshly brewed beers. A NC mountain home at last, and the rest, as they say, is recent history!!

Blowing Rock, NC

Hickory, NC

Ok, enough history, what about the beers? I tried several of their beers, a flight at a time, and was very impressed with each one. In the pic below, l to r, is their summer Stout (6.6%abv), the Double IPA (7.8%) and their Farmhouse Peach Ale (5.9%).  I also tried their Scotch Ale (Wee Heavy) and like the balance and the abv (7.8%), a lighter version than many I have tried.

More about their beers at their website.

Ray's brewing philosophy basically comes down to "... not wanting to knock them off their bar stool [with alcohol], but wanting to sell a beer that that person is going to want two of."

I'll drink to that. Cheers!

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