Customer of the Month – Martin Vargas

Martin Vargas

 

How long have you been brewing?  I started homebrewing in 2007. Growing up in Puerto Rico, we just didn’t have access to a lot of good beer. When I went into the army, I was introduced to many types of beer that I had never had before. So when I went back to Puerto Rico, I began researching how I could make some of these beer styles on my own.  Homebrewing at that time was not very popular, so we often had difficulty getting certain ingredients. I remember how excited we were to finally get access to liquid yeast from an online company. This really opened up a lot opportunities to make different beers. 

What is the homebrewing scene like in Puerto Rico?  Homebrewing was really just starting to get going. At that time, in the 80’s and 90’s, there were less than 100 people homebrewing. We had only one shop in Puerto Rico (Carribean Brewing), with access to limited ingredients. 

When did you start brewing professionally?  I officially started in 2011 when my friend and I opened up a brewery in Puerto Rico called Dacay Brewing. It was a very small production brewery and we self-distributed all of the beer ourselves. In 2014 I decided to move to Colorado to be near family. Colorado was considered to be the “Hollywood of Beer” and I really wanted to be a  part of it. Soon after moving here I was able to get a job working for Anheuser Busch cleaning draft lines. I also sent my resume into Dry Dock Brewing and received a call back from Doug Hyndman who was the Director of Brewing, but unfortunately, there were no positions available at the time. Eventually, I saw on one of the brewing forums that a position had opened up for the packaging line at Dry Dock. So I called Doug to see if I could get an interview and ended up getting the job. I worked on the Packaging line for 1 year and four months until a brewer position opened up at the South Dock facility. So I applied for it, and was promoted to brewer. This was about two years ago. 

What do you find easier, Homebrewing or Commercial brewing? The resources and equipment that are available in commercial brewing, such as closed systems, make protecting the beer from oxidation much easier. But Homebrewing gives you a lot more freedom to do what you want and make any style that you want.  But without access to some of the professional equipment, you have to babysit the beer a little more. Cleaning is also easier on a commercial system 

Are you a member of any brew clubs or organizations? No, I  have never been a member of any clubs except for the AHA.

Describe your brewing system or equipment. I have always used a simple non re-circulation system with boil kettle and coolers for both the HLT and Mash Tun. More recently I converted over to stainless vessels with a pump, although I still use an igloo cooler for the HLT. I realized that I could use basic equipment and still make quality beer.

Many commercial brewers stop homebrewing after they go pro, why did you continue to homebrew? Homebrewing is a great way to test recipes. It also gives you control over your own brewery. You can make whatever you want without restrictions.

What has made the most difference in your beer? Making yeast starters made the biggest difference in my beer. Trying to find someone at that time that would mail you yeast that was properly stored was a challenge, so we were forced to use dry yeast. Once we found a place that could send liquid yeast well packaged, and we started making yeast starters, it made a huge difference in the quality of the beers that we were making. 

What is your favorite beer style to make? I always enjoy brewing Pilsner’s because of the step and decoction mashing that it entails. You also really have to pay attention to the fermentation and conditioning process, making sure that you are controlling temperatures, dropping yeast etc

List of any other hobbies or interests. In addition to homebrewing, I have spent some time learning to smoke meats. I have always wanted to learn more about making mead. I had a friend in Puerto Rico who made amazing meads. Someday I would like to try it.

What recommendations do have for homebrewers that are interested in becoming professional brewers? Brewing is not just about making great beer.  A brewery is a business, so to be successful, learn the business side of things and understand how to follow procedures. You also need to have a certain amount of mechanical ability to fix things and understand how they work.