Food News

Inside the Fermenting Mind of Drew Huerter, Head Brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company

Drew Huerter is the 28-year-old head brewer at Dallas' own Deep Ellum Brewing Company. How can such a young tyke have the burly discernment necessary for a proper brewer, you ask? Well actually, he has a long history in the business. Twenty-eight years, as a matter of fact. His mom and dad founded the Kansas City Beer Meisters the year he was born and his dad won a home brewing national title in 1984. It seems their baby was destined to be a hophead, and that he is.

Recently I chatted with Huerter about their new bottling line, how he comes up with his brews and how cool it would have been to know him in college.

You have a new bottling line. We'd been running on a little home brew contraption [which is why they so rarely bottle and sell beer in stores], but we just recently bought a used line from some friends of mine in Michigan -- Short's Brewing Company.

What's the first beer you'll bottle? We're not sure exactly what the first one will be, but the first four will be the rye pils, Farmhouse Wit, IPA and Double Brown Stout. Those all should be launched about the same time.


DEBC recently released a new beer, Wealth and Taste, which was aged in wine oak barrels. ... Yeah, we had them lined up here and they actually classed-up the joint a bit.

Had you aged beer in barrels before? When I was in Schlafly we did a quarterly release of a bourbon barrel imperial stout. And also when I was there I ran a tiny nano-brewery called Mattingly Brewery Company, and I started a sour barrel program there called Funky Friday the Thirteenth with one of the same barrels. So, I took a Jim Beam barrel [and] aged an imperial stout at one brewery, then took that barrel to another brewery and put a Belgian style dubbel in it and inoculated it with wild yeast and bacteria and let it sit for nine months. The idea was that every Friday 13th we'd pull some out and put it on tap. Unfortunately the place closed after just one.

How do you come up with your beers? Some deep dark secret corner of my subconscious, I suppose.

Actually I draw different areas, whether it's other brewers or other art forms that I appreciate, such as music or the culinary arts.

Sometimes it's a seemingly clever idea. One day I was passing through the airport and saw a sign about blackout dates and I thought, "Blackout dates? I want to brew a beer called that."

Others have been inspired by musical groups or literary characters.

Did your dad teach you the tricks of the trade? Yes, he's a home-brewer and taught me how to brew. He actually recently brewed his 300th batch. He won a national title in 1984 when I was just 1. So, he was brewing way before it was cool. He's quite the trailblazer. Is it intimidating to have dad that cool? He could easily show you up, right? Well, there was a time, but lets just say I passed him on the right. He still brews very good beer; I really look forward to going home. Every now and then he's a source of inspiration too. Wealth and Taste being one example. He brewed his first Belgian golden strong, and he named it Wealth and Taste and I told him I wanted to use that name. He was fine with it.

Do you ever ask Dad for advice now? Hopefully next year we'll start doing pro-am beer at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, and most breweries hold a competition to determine who their collaborators are for each year. I'm hoping we'll just be able to bring my dad down and use something out of his recipe book for that event.

That'd be a nice tip-o'-the-hat to dad. I think it's a cool way to tell our story too.

And what do you consider that story to be? Well, we've touched on a big part of it with my family roots in home brewing. But, we can take it back even further to my grandfather who use to make wine at his farm. Somehow between earning two MDs, running a farm and raising a family, he was able to make wine.

When did you first start brewing? I went to school in St. Louis to study chemistry and about half way through my third year I got pretty jaded about having to work in a lab, and even more so about possibly having to teach it to people. So, I started thinking about what I could use my skills for and thought, "I think I can use this stuff to make beer."

Where did you get your first home brewing system? I inherited my dad's old brewing system. Once he got really into brewing, he didn't want to mess with 5-gallon batches any more, so he made his own 10-gallon all-electric set-up in our basement in Kansas City, while my mom was in Mazatlan on a girls' trip. She came home and dad had built a brewery in the basement.

Ha! I guess she couldn't really complain much since she was at the beach. Luckily, she's really in to beer too and was pretty excited about it.

Your parents keep getting cooler. What was your first batch? I did a year's worth of research before I brewed my first batch. I jumped straight into all grain brewing, which is like making your own stock instead of using Campbell's soup.

I suppose you quickly became the big man on campus? I had to move off campus once I started brewing. We threw some pretty epic parties. We'd do "kegs and eggs" for Mardi Gras.

Eggs? St. Louis has the third-largest Mardi Gras celebration behind New Orleans and Rio. And eggs means it would start in the morning and go all night. So, those were some of our biggest parties. Once word started spreading that we had our own home-brews on tap, the parties got bigger. After school when I moved to a house, I upgraded to a system where I could do even more and the parties got even bigger.

So, while other kids were drinking Natty Light ... Yeah, we were taking the punk rock approach. I ran the numbers though and our stuff was cheaper than the stuff you could buy at the store and the quality was way better.

Did you graduate? No, never graduated. It just didn't pan out. I actually went to work for a lab briefly, then got my first job at a brewery and haven't looked back.

Absolutely. Absolutely. I've realized it's all a debt trap anyway.

Do you have any party tips for kids (21 or older) who want to get started making their own beer? Do your homework. Investigate your own tastes. The most important thing, other than developing the proper sanitation techniques, is developing your own vision. After you get the science down, then become an artist. What do you want to come across in your beer? What's the over arching goal? What themes are you trying to explore?

It seems the brewers that fail to inspire me are the ones that lack vision. I can't tell anyone what their vision is, it's developed on their own.

You pull some of your own inspiration from music and bands. Do you have any suggestions for others? Pink Floyd has always been great for me. I like to listen to Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and since I've moved down here I've really latched onto The O's, The Old 97's and Boys Named Sue. In Kansas City there's a band called The Elders; they're an Irish-folk based rock kind of thing and so if you're looking for something to get you in the mood for brewing an Irish style or any Celtic style ale, that's definitely good to get you in the mood.

Do you often act wildly obnoxious at bars and talk loudly so everyone knows you brew beer for a living? I usually try to stay low key. But, if I'm at a bar and I know the people, I usually ask for a taste of our beer just to make sure that it's doing OK. After that, I usually drink one of my friends' beers. It does usually bring a smile to my face when I see someone order it. Or if I'm at the bar talking to someone for a while about beer, and then finally when I tell them who I am, to watch them stand up and yell to everyone, "Hey, you know this guy over here..." Those are amusing moments.

I don't like to draw a lot of attention though. It's not about me. It's about the beer .

So, what do you always keep you in your fridge at home? Beer. (Quiet)

Oh. (Quiet) Specifically, I almost always have a pilsner and an IPA of some kind. And I usually have to have something sour and something dark because those are what my wife likes to drink.

What's been your favorite beer that you've brewed? Ever?

Yes, ever. Back to middle school if need be. The one I'm most proud of would be the first commercial batch that came out of a brewery that I designed and built, the Mattingly Brewing Company. The beer was called the Abominator, which I aged for almost a year because I was testing the system and didn't know what I was going to get. It was a 13 percent smoked dopplebock. For 13 percent it was so smooth. One of my friends came down and had three of them and I had to offer him a ride home. He thought it was 7 percent.

So, in terms of favorite beer, instead of choosing one based on merit, I choose that one for sentimental value.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.