When Ian Burnett went to Denver at the start of October, his new venture, Brown Truck Brewery, had made about 280 barrels since opening in February. The co-owner and head brewer jokingly said he has no clue how much beer the final output will be for 2016 after he and his team came away with the Very Small Company and Brewer award at the Great American Beer Festival.
“I assume it will be more than expected,” he said.
The High Point, North Carolina brewery picked up a gold medal for American Light Lager “No. 10 American Lager” and two silvers with its American-Belgo Style “No. 4.5 Hops with Saison Added” and “No. 4 Saison” in the Specialty Saison categories.
No. 4.5 is a eight percent Saison that is very aggressively dry hopped with four different hops for aroma and not much bitterness.
“I wanted to create a wave of flavors where malt, hops and yeast esters all meshed well together,” Burnett said.
No. 4 has a very modest malt bill but makes up flavor and aroma with very interesting spices like lemongrass, hibiscus, coriander, ginger, lime leaves, and grains of paradise. It’s one of Burnett’s favorite beers to brew.
No. 10 is the most simple beer made at the brewery, but the one that needs the most time because Burnett said it can take months of waiting to let the yeast fall out during lagering.
“We don’t filter our beer. We let the Lager tell us when it’s ready to transfer,” he said.
In terms of sales, all three are pretty equal. So far, Burnett said, the top-selling beers have changed from week to week since opening.
“One week it’s the Lager, then the Scotch, then the Bretta Belgian Honey Blonde, followed up by our IPA,” he said. “I like how our patrons enjoy variety.”
The brewery won’t get a chance to be a repeat winner, using a 10-barrel system and increasing its production, Burnett expects his 2017 output to surpass the 1,000-bbl limit to be classified as a “Very Small” brewery.
The 2016 GABF awards are the first for the brewery because it’s the first time Burnett and Co. had ever entered a competition as a pro brewery, “unless you count the time the local paper unknowingly entered us in the Triad’s Best Brewmaster competition,” he said.
The entries were also happenstance as those were the three beers that were the most freshest for the brewery that currently self distributes kegs to a handful of areas near High Point, including Winston Salem, Greensboro and Kernersville.
“[That] Saturday was the fifth best day of my life,” Burnett said, citing meeting his now wife, marrying her and the birth of his two sons as the first four.
“At the awards, we sat in the back near the top due to the fact that we needed space and I didn’t feel like getting up at every other beer category letting the winners in and out,” Burnett said. “Our first category came up American-Belgo Style Ale and a good friend of mine, Michael Morris from Crank Arm Brewing in Raleigh, won. I jumped up and cheered. Silver came up and the first thing I heard was ‘number 4.5.’ I was stunned, [co-owner] John Vaughn jumped up beside me yelling, grabbed me then the next thing I know I’m fist bumping Charlie [Papazian].
“All in all it was an amazing feeling going up on stage, especially we were called up for Very Small Brewery and Brewer of the year, and I got a handshake from Charlie that time. Like I said, fifth best day of my life.”
When asked what it meant to win a GABF medal, Burnett said it was a personal dream come true.
“I hope I can buy some hops now without fighting tooth and nail,” he added as a joke. “We really just want to keep it simple and have fun.”
Now, Burnett and his team get to see how they can use the spotlight given to their efforts and work on expanding on it.
“Marketing is a side of brewing we are just now starting to get off the ground,” he said. “We wanted to grow by word of mouth and get people talking before we really invested in marketing.
“I think people are starting to know of us now.”
Although he doesn’t know if the medals are going to affect the business model, the plan remains the same for 2017: Make more beer and hopefully shake Charlie’s hand once again.
“I really want to expand our barrel program to an offsite location where I can get funky with some oak,” Burnett said, who noted that one of his “better calls” of 2016 was to hire Stephen Bethea from Foothills Brewing to help with the 10-gallon pilot system, freeing up Burnett to focus on brewing. “Most likely I’ll need to expand brewing so I can see upgrading our tanks to 20 barrels and maybe getting a canning line for our flagships and do 750ml cork and cage for seasonal and specialty beers.
“All in all, I don’t plan on changing much.”