Head Brewer at Lonerider Brewing Co.
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series in which we scoured the country to find 30 innovative brewers and beer professionals under 30 years old, each of whom hopes to further the scope and breadth of the American craft beer scene.)
Ian VanGundy, 27
All About Beer: Tell us about your brewery.
Ian VanGundy: Lonerider opened the doors in January, 2009. It was started by three guys who worked together at Cisco. I graduated from Siebel Institute’s World Brewing Academy in the fall of 2008 and joined Lonerider just before the grand opening. I have been in charge of the brewing program ever since. Our portfolio consists mostly of malt- and yeast-focused styles, which are always brewed to the robust side of the style spectrum. The images associated with the beers are as robust as the recipes, as we create a tough outlaw character to represent each beer. We have grown rapidly, each year doubling our production. We are expanding our portfolio with more special releases and expanding our team with hard working creative people.
How did you first get into brewing?
My family and neighbors drank imports, craft beer and homebrew when I was a kid. The exposure was at a young age. By the time I was 18, I was well versed in breweries and beer styles. Around that time, I brought a couple cases of assorted craft beers to a week-long vacation on the lake with the family. My uncle, who was a bit surprised by my taste in beer at such a young age, divulged to me all that he knew about homebrewing one evening on the boat. A few months later he asked me if I wanted his brewing equipment and I took him up on it. I let the equipment sit in the corner of my apartment as I obsessed over brewing literature until I was ready to give it a try. I got hooked and brewed so much the local homebrew shop owner offered me a job while I was buying ingredients. I had to wait to turn 21 to start working there. I worked at the shop until I was 23 when I attended Siebel and joined Lonerider.
What was the first beer you ever brewed and where did you do it?
The first beer I brewed was a Bohemian pilsner. I brewed it in a one-bedroom apartment while I was attending Appalachian State University. I made sure that all my technical targets were met, and I think it would have been a decent beer but I followed a recipe that told me to crash-cool the carboy after four days. There was no mention in the recipe about reaching terminal gravity before cold-crashing, so I took it down to low 30s while it was actively fermenting. Doh! Warming it up didn’t really help so a couple days later I brewed an American pale ale that turned out great. A little too great, that’s why I’m here now!
What’s your favorite beer style?
I prefer to look at beer objectively and judge each beer to how well it meets its intentions. This practice has almost disconnected me from personal preference, but maybe not completely. I appreciate styles that showcase all of beer’s wonderful ingredients with balance and good drinkability. So, maybe Bohemian pilsner for a lager and ESB for an ale.
Do you have a mentor in the brewing world?
Yeah. Everyone I know in the brewing world.
What inspires you when you’re brewing?
Knowing that this is only the beginning. Things are just getting better and better for Lonerider and the local beer scene. Also, it’s the only job I’ve had where I don’t keep looking at the clock while I’m working. That’s a big quality of life achievement for me.
What do you attribute to your success?
Passion, a natural attention to detail and my parents’ support. Oh, and my girlfriend that sold all my beer for two years.
What do you think drives the popularity of craft beer?
I like to think it’s the flavors that brewers work so hard to make. But the local aspects of knowing it’s made in your hometown by a team of people in your community, as well as all the cool beer events that bring the community together both play a role. The fun, goofy, sometimes edgy marketing doesn’t hurt either. I think it makes people feel good, like freedom may actually exist. As I say a lot, good beer doesn’t sell itself.
In general, how do you think the next generation of brewers will shake up the craft beer world?
That’s a tough one. My fantasy world pictures way more breweries producing an increasingly high level of quality and chomping into the 90 percent macro beer sales until everyone’s happy and successful making lots of interesting beers while barely keeping up with demand. Although, there are some more pessimistic opinions out there with points that are hard to ignore. I guess we will just have to wait and see.
In particular, how will you contribute to that shake up?
I hope that I can help play a role in maintaining a high level of quality, education, appreciation and respect for craft beer amongst both brewers and beer drinkers in my area. I hope that as I get older and gain seniority in the industry, the newcomers can feel comfortable coming to me to avoid making the mistakes I’ve made. The higher the overall quality of craft beer, the more people will buy all of our brands.
Last one: Cascadian dark ale or black IPA?
Black IPA. I don’t know many Cascadians, but I know quite a few Americans and Black IPA sounds more like our style.
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