Brewer Bytes with Summit Brewing Co.
An Interview with Damian McConn, Head Brewer
Posted on 4/2/2013 by Chops
It's hard to believe that the Summit Brewing Company was originally founded in an old auto parts warehouse. But that's exactly what happened back in 1986 when local brewer Mark Stutrud and friends decided to brew up some tasty Twin Cities beers. Success came quickly for the brewers. They won a gold medal at the 1987 GABF and even graced the cover of Michael Jackson's New World Guide to Beer in 1988. Today, Summit brews are Minnesota staples and they enjoy a great deal of demand from beer fans all over the country. We recently caught up with Head Brewer Damian McConn, who was more than happy to offer up some Brewer Bytes.

What inspired you to get into brewing?

I was raised in a small town in the Irish countryside, and conducted a significant amount of research for a secondary school project based on a local brewery and distillery. Throughout the research I came to understand the unique combination of science, technology, art, history and innovation that is required to operate a successful brewery. This seemed to tie in well with my existing interests in engineering, science and history so I pursued a degree in brewing science and went from there. Most brewers might say they were inspired to get into brewing through their love of beer. For me, love of the building blocks of brewing came first.

What is your favorite beer or style to brew?

Irish brewers have black beer running through their veins, so for me Porter and its sibling Stout will always command a strong place in my heart. Porter was arguably the world's first commercially available beer style, borne on the back of the Industrial Revolution, beloved by commoner and aristocrat alike. While the dry style of Stout is perhaps best known, there are numerous iterations allowing for great creativity on the part of the brewer.

What is the most challenging beer for you to brew?

Delicate lager beers such as Helles and Pils will always showcase flaws in ingredients and technique. Literally there is "nowhere to hide" for the brewer. We perform an endosperm mash and a traditional decoction for our Czech Pils here at Summit. On a practical level, holding the husk in the case until mash-off tends to greatly lengthen the brew-day, preventing the mill-in of successive brews. The resulting production schedule challenges can be tricky to manage, but we believe there is a tangible if subtle benefit for the beer by adopting this traditional mashing approach.

What was your worst brewing experience?

While working for a brewery in Europe, one of our operators inadvertently sent hot alkaline cleaning solution into a cold fermentation vessel still containing large amounts of CO2. The resulting extreme vacuum was too much for the VRV and caused a slight tank implosion. We had a hell of a time pulling the tank out of the FV farm for repair. Not our finest hour.

What was your best or most rewarding brewing experience?

My first brewing position in the US was at a brewpub here in the Twin Cities, where I had an opportunity to recreate a beer based on a recipe from the brewery in my hometown. This company closed during the 1920's, so it was extremely rewarding to attempt to recreate one of its flagship beers. The folks back home got quite a kick out of my effort to bring the idea to fruition all the way over in Minnesota. To me it certainly drove home the point of how closely linked history and tradition are to science and technology in the modern brewing industry.

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Damian McConn, Head Brewer at Summit Brewing Company
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