Four Corners Brewing Company's head brewer, Zach Petty, started brewing at home almost a deceade ago and worked at the craft beer emporium Homebrew Headquarters for two years before he began volunteering at Four Corners last year. He studied under the previous head brewer, John Sims, for six months before taking over that position when Sims left in June. We recently got to chat with Petty about the local beer scene, his first beer with dad and the effects of tornadic conditions on the brewing process.
What's the greatest misconception about being a brewer? A lot of people think we sit around and drink beer all day. A majority of the time I'm a glorified janitor. It's a lot of cleaning. You have to clean and sanitize to get to each process, then you do the process, and then you clean and sanitize once you finish the process.
In 2010, there were just two local craft breweries. Now there are more than a dozen. What do you think about the explosive growth of craft brewing locally? I think that beer drinkers in North Texas are getting more educated. Even in my time working at Homebrew Headquarters, I saw how much that knowledge base grew. Customers know what they were looking for. Once you start to step out the box of the big three, you start discover new things and people get hooked on certain styles of beers and discovering more of what they like.
Is there room for more growth? Well, San Diego County has around 50 breweries, so there's definitely still some room to grow.
What's in your beer fridge right now? It's running a little low, mostly just a few home brews. Dog Fish Head Bitches Brew, which was in honor of Miles Davis' record. Real Ale's 2008 - 2013 Sisyphus. Me and a buddy have been buying about 10 of those beer a year so we can have vertical tastings. Samuel Adams' triple bock.
Ever had a colossal brewing mistake? So far not in the brewery, but definitely at home. One day a buddy and I were doing a double brew day in the garage and we had really gotten to a point that we couldn't stop. Well, then tornado sirens start going off. We just stayed hunkered down in the garage, but then there was this 40-degree temperature drop at one point. We had to recover from that, then one mash had to stay in the mash tun for two and a half hours as opposed to one hour. It was just one of those days that didn't go according to plan.
How was the beer? I didn't even bother to bottle it.
Do you have any advice for budding brewers? 1. Cleaning and sanitizing is the most important thing. 2. Support your local home brew store, not because I worked at Homebrew Headquarters, but because even if you're getting your ingredients cheaper online, locals will go out of their way to help you, they'll taste your beer and give you advice, set you up with new ingredients that you wouldn't normally try. They can actually help you improve your skills as a brewer, unlike a mail order company. 3. Don't not do something because someone says it can't be done. Try it. The worse thing that can happen is you lose a five-gallon batch of beer. Don't be afraid to experiment.
Have you found any invaluable beer that are great resources? The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian is a great resource. I still refer to it from time to time because it always brings me back to basics. Also, Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, which is basically exactly what the title says: how to build a beer recipe from scratch. It's sitting right next to me every time I write a recipe.
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What's the hardest part of your job, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the best part? Hum. I don't know... (pause). The hardest thing is having to deal with problems in the moment. You really have to be able to think on your feet. Adapting to different situations while you're brewing. My favorite part would have to be being alone in the brewery on the brew stand, at night and listening to the noises of the brewing process. It's a real peaceful place to be.
Are there any styles, ingredients, trends or brewing processes that you're really excited about right now? One of the new techniques that's becoming more popular is hop bursting. I do it with home brew a lot. Usually in an hour-long boil, you throw hops in right at the beginning of the boil to get your main bitterness, and add more hops at the end to add flavor and aroma to the beer. In this process, you leave out the bittering addition, and add a bunch of hops in the last 20-30 minutes of the boil. You have to use more hops to make up for leaving the bittering addition out, but the result is a bitterness that fades quickly and a really full hop flavor and aroma. It was actually a customer from the hombrew store that turned me on to that technique.
What's the best beer you've ever had? It would have to be the beer I had with my dad after he finished playing a show. My dad was the bassist for Point Blank, and one day he had a show in Fort Worth. I had just turned 21 that week and went to see him play his show with a buddy of mine. On the way home after the show, my buddy and I picked up a six pack of Newcastle Brown Ale and parked in front of my house. My dad got home after us and came up and sat on the tailgate with us and had a beer. How many kids get to see thier dad play a rock and roll show, and then just have a beer with them?
What's the most ridiculous or far-fetched thing you've ever done to get beer? One time my roommate and I drove down to Houston and bought $650 worth of craft beer that we couldn't get in Nacogdoches. There was nothing but mustard, cheese, and beer in the fridge after that.