Thursday, October 22, 2015

Birds Fly South's Shawn Johnson - Profile

Many successful brewmasters today describe their first attempts at brewing as a failure. Such is the case with Shawn Johnson, brewmaster and co-owner with wife, Lindsay, of Greenville's Birds Fly South Ale Project Brewery.

Lindsay, l, and Shawn with friends at Swamp Rabbit's 2015 Septembrew Fest.

Shawn with Bob Sylvester Saint Somewhere Brewing in FL.
According to Shawn, his first attempt ten years ago, a pale ale made from a kit, was a disaster. But, unfazed he continued and from experience working with Bob Sylvester at St. Somewhere Brewing, in Tarpon Springs, FL, plus his own continued home brewing skills, he has set a course to offer the Upstate (and everyone else eventually) a brewery focusing on Farmhouse Belgian style ales with an emphasis on sours. 
All this while maintaining a full-time active service career as an aviation engineer in the US Coast Guard, moving to our area in 2014.

Shawn is enthused about this style of beers, largely the result of his work with St Somewhere, but it appears to be the style that just spoke to him and he's become an evangelist on the subject. He says he wants to produce "pitcher sours," beer that people will want to drink again and again.

Currently he brews at Thomas Creek Brewery while waiting for the appropriate space to become available which will allow him and his wife to finally make their dream of having their own brewery come true upon his retirement from the service.

Brew day at Thomas Creek, always a Friday due to scheduling restrictions.

Barrel storage at Thomas Creek. Sours gotta age!
His brews are aged in prepared wooden barrels, usually white or red wine barrels ,  using the solera method, which Wikipedia describes as " a process for aging liquids such as wine, beer, and brandy, by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages, with the average age gradually increasing as the process continues." According to Shawn, this means a "continuous supply of sour for blending fresh beers, and more important, local sourced fruits and spices."

BFS has three core saison-style beers that I've tasted, most recently at a Community Tap event which featured Shawn pouring samples to us uninitiated in farmhouse/saison sours:
Brand New Eyes,a dry-hopped tart saison; Rustic Sunday, with rye and Rumblefish, a hoppy pale ale.

Shawn is very good at explaining saison complexities.

Tasting at The Tap. Brook Bristow (wearing lawyerly tie) appears to really appreciate sours.

Just finishing up after a timely release is a seasonal sour Pumpkin, which might sound unlikely but I enjoyed the taste I had of it, fresh from the fermenter. He also released a session sour-IPA, Yoder which was intended as a one-off but was so successful that he's not ruled out making it again.

Florida photos by Blake Coleman.

If you'd like to know more or even follow BFS, visit their Facebook page (and learn about his recent trip back to Florida for some collaborative brewing with old and new friends) or to really support sour beer, their Gofundme page will let you do just that.

So, while Shawn is waiting for his ideal brewery site to appear, you can look for his beer at the usual suspects' taprooms. I can personally attest that these beers are worth searching out.


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