Gwen Conley is the Director of Production and Quality Assurance at Port Brewing/ The Lost Abbey in San Marcos.Â She has the responsibility of being Director of Brewery Operation Tomme Arthur’s production sidekick. For this week’s Friday Five, we’ll learn about her awesome background in sensory evaluation and quality assurance (hence the Twitter handle @SensoryGoddess).
How did you get involved with the craft beer industry?
One of the first roles I worked relating to the craft beer community was for Ball Corp. I was in charge of everything related to food, beverages, beer, wine and spirits when it came to package â€“ product interactions.Â When craft breweries started getting into beer in cans, I was very much a part of the group that led the breweries to feeling comfortable putting their beer into that type of packaging.Â Dale from Oskar Blues actually wrote one of my recommendation letters for me to become a judge at the Great American Beer Festival!Â Then I learned that Flying Dog Brewery was looking for a Quality Assurance (QA) Manager for their brewery in Maryland.Â This person was supposed to work with the Colorado brewery to make consistent products in both locations.Â But before I started, Flying Dog closed the Colorado location, so I ended up moving to Maryland and running the Quality Assurance Department.Â Once there, I also started their sensory program and food & beer programs. Tomme Arthur and I became pretty good friends while we were both judges for the GABF. I offered Tomme any extra help or advice with production at Port Brewing/ The Lost Abbey. Finally, after staying in contact for a couple years, Tomme mentioned he was looking for someone to help lead production and QA for his brewery. Not only did I immediately admire his production facility and barrel program when I came out to visit, but I can still remember how much I loved San Diegoâ€™s weather. But, really, can you blame me? So, since April of 2011, I have been a part of Port Brewing/ The Lost Abbey family.
Can you tell us about the â€śbehind-the-scenesâ€ť work you do for Port Brewing/ The Lost Abbey?
Not sure what I would say about â€śbehind-the-scenesâ€ť work I do here.Â Basically, I am in charge of making sure that all production runs as smoothly as possible.Â This includes brewing, cellar, packaging, barrel program, quality, etc.Â Itâ€™s a lot of hats but so very rewarding, because I am always learning something new! For example, with brewing, I am working alongside Tomme to create new recipes (like our Port Brewing Board Meeting Brown Ale, out next month), and manage the brewing schedule. The coolest aspect about quality assurance is that in some way it can be considered the CSI of beer making. In order to fix something that goes wrong, weâ€™ll investigate by back-tracking our steps. Each brewery will have their own scenario and procedure for QA, but itâ€™s what assists in creating a more consistent product.
Of all the super-cool projects youâ€™ve worked on with Tomme Arthur, which one has been your favorite so far and why?
I definitely have to say the Ultimate Box Set has been one of coolest projects Iâ€™ve worked on with Tomme. There is a lot of science behind barrel-aging, since each barrel has its own sensory eco-system. Plus, when the beer is ready, the beer is ready! Brewers donâ€™t really hold that control. Considering all of the barrels we worked with and sampled, that concept really came into play. Most of the Tracks were barrel blends, and the fun part about it was mixing and matching the ones we used. Our job was to find a good combination, and it was rarely perfect at the first attempt. So, currently, I am very excited about the Brettanomyces yeast Iâ€™m propagating (growing) for the brewery. For now, all I can really say is stay tuned!
If you could have an unlimited supply of only one Track beer from the Ultimate Box Set, which beer would you choose?
Whoa, talk about hard questions! There is NO way I could pick just one. So, I will give you my top three. By the way, as a note to readers, each track is chosen for different reasons, and I canâ€™t really say this is the exact ranking order. First, I have to mention Track #8. For this beer, we used Judgment Day aged in bourbon barrels, then added cinnamon sticks and dried chili peppers. This combination elicited great sensory reactions, so it was the most fun beer to see people sample.Â Beer drinkers would say that all ingredients reminded them of things like, Mexican chocolate and Red Hots. Plus, Track #8 was very well received at the Great American Beer Festival, where it won a bronze medal in â€śCategory 14â€”Experimental Ales and Lagers.â€ť Also, Track #6 was another favorite. In order to make this blend, we used mostly bourbon barrel-aged Angel Share and brandy barrel-aged Serpent Stout. This combination would make the final result a slight-reverse twist on our Older Viscosity. The main characteristics that made this track so nice was all of its complexity and booziness, but you couldnâ€™t tell. Finally, Iâ€™d have to say that Track #3 and Track #13 are tied for a place on my list. Track #3 is put together by a blend of Duck, Duck, Goose and Mellow Yellow, while the latter is Amigo Lager aged in wine barrels. Then, there is the unexpected Track #13. This track was composed of a cognac barrel-aged barleywine, with sour cherries and orange zest. Since they turned out to be great blends, all I really have to say about these two tracks is that I was very impressed with the final results.
Which San Diego brewery do you look forward to seeing more good beers from in 2013?
Oh, jeezâ€¦ uhh… Iâ€™ll have to say all of San Diegoâ€™s breweries! Everyone is just becoming more and more creative. The best part is seeing things done that are on the edge of change, like throwing new and cool ingredients into beer. Alpine, AleSmith and Ballast Point are a few that I have to mention for regularly putting together something exciting and innovative. Also, I will definitely be happy with whatever White Labs works on this year. They have a very unique tasting room, and itâ€™s an awesome way to showcase cool yeast. This is a great opportunity offered by White Labs for beer drinkers or brewers. Plus, The Bruery in Orange County is another place Iâ€™m very excited about, and their barrel warehouse… Oh, my gosh, itâ€™s great! So, overall, I am looking forward to witnessing what the newest craft beer trends are in 2013!
In addition to writing forÂ West Coaster,Â I also work at Stone Brewing Co.