About two and a half years ago, I did my first brewer interview. Not entirely confident on how seriously brewers would take me, I decided to choose a new brewery because I felt they’d be more likely to talk to me.
Without hesitation, Shannon Carter of Shannon Brewing answered my email and was happy to welcome me into his home to talk beer, show me the home brewing system he was working on, and also give me his vision of Shannon Brewing. The story he told was rich with a love of history, heritage and, of course, beer that came with a focus of detail and specificity from the years of working in graphic design and running his own businesses, previous to starting the brewery.
It seemed fitting that my first interview after changing over from the Fort Worth Brew Scene to Good Brew Guide, to talk with Shannon and catch up on the past two years. The luck of the Irish was apparently on my side, you might say, and our conversation was a great conversational look at the brewery that has been working hard and building something great.
Good Brew Guide: Wow, it’s been a while!
Shannon Carter: When was the last time we saw each other? Was it two and half years ago?
GBG: I believe it was the actual brewery opening. I brought my family and coordinated with a few friends, who now work at Martin House and hung out on the almost-finished patio. It was a mad house for y’all, but fun time. I know my kids loved playing in the gravel outside.
SC: That’s right! It was a crazy day. We have a lot of families who regularly come to the taproom when we’re open. It’s a good mixture of people.
GBG: That makes sense for the area, being right here in the middle of a growing suburban area. (The brewery is located in Keller, a suburb of Fort Worth.)
SC: Totally. It’s actually pretty neat to see how many families we have out here. People of all ages make us apart of their Saturday tradition.
GBG: Back when we first met, that was something you spoke about wanting to do is to get intrenched in the local community. And by local community, you meant Keller first.
SC: Absolutely, it’s been great to see people love what we’re doing, supporting Samantha Springs, and be active in the community right along with everyone. We’re a part of not just events that Keller puts on, but we’ve become a place for people to hold events at as well. For example, a local author is doing a book signing here next week. It’s something that goes back the breweries and pubs in Ireland that we take on. In Ireland, they are sort of the local place for people gather and find out the news or gather for events. We are continuing that tradition on here at the brewery.
GBG: Speaking of the brewery, two years in, how are things? What has changed or grown? I’m seeing y’all in a lot of places outside of Keller, so that tells me your reach has grown extensively.
SC: The brewhouse is still the same fire-brewed system. We have a new canning line, and it’s definitely been keeping us busy. Especially since joining Andrews (Distributing), they’ve kept us on our toes and gotten us into a lot of places we just didn’t have the time or staff to get to. This also means we’re brewing often enough that were are to capacity space wise. We have two cold rooms and we find ourselves stacking deep and tall with kegs and cans with the fermenters full, too.
GBG: How often are you brewing now?
SC: At least three days a week, or at a minimum, two. If we brewed more, we wouldn’t have a place to put them, tanks or cold room. We’re filling tanks as soon as they are emptied and filling space in those cold rooms as soon as Andrews picks the kegs and cans.
GBG: That smells of a likely expansion sometime in your future.
SC: We need to at least get some more cold room space soon, that is something that’s primarily on my mind. Our biggest and most recent change / addition / purchase is our centrifuge. This is going to revolutionize several things for us and really take us to another level in several areas. I’m really excited about it!
GBG: I remember going to a tour several years ago at Revolver and Grant (Wood, head brewer) explaining to me how key their new centrifuge was going to be in producing better and more consistent beer. How is it going to change things for Shannon Brewing?
SC: He’s right and it’s going to be big things for us, too. We are always looking for ways to improve and, if you drank our beer a year ago, I would tell you to try it again because it’s better from even a year ago. We’ve got our recipes pretty well nailed down, but we’re constantly looking for ways to improve anywhere we can and this centrifuge is going to help us both on the beer side and the production side of things.
The first thing is better (more) recovery of the beer from the tanks going into the kegs or cans. The filtration system is beyond comparison when you consider how much you can lose when going from tank into the portable receptacle. Secondly, with the centrifuge, we’ll be able to get out any remaining yeast or hop particles that are floating around in the beer, which is going to ensure that we don’t have issues with beer going bad after a period of time or even refermenting in the can. Due to the improper storage of our beers, by fans or local stores putting our beers on warm shelves, rather than keeping them at cold room or cellar temperature, we’ve had a few issues with some cans. This is where you have to think about more than just making the beer, but how it maybe stored, and in turn, make changes to make sure bad things don’t happen when it’s out of your control.
GBG: Unless this was a drastic issue, I have to think that beer was sitting too long wherever it was. Bedroom closets or a liquor store shelf are not cooled to 50 degrees. Any beer could have issues with that.
SC: Right. These issues were not widespread, but when it effects even a few customers, we listen and want to right the wrong. If I directly sold you that beer, I’d tell you I want you to take care of the beer as much as possible, but I can’t follow it to your house or store. Things happen. But, I also believe this is partly a market issue right now, too. Filtering is not cheap and most small breweries don’t do this. With the sheer amount of beer out there, you have to think about what happens to your beer when it leaves your brewery. For many of us, we know how we want you to enjoy our beer, but what happens when 200 different breweries find themselves on the same shelves? Some beer sits longer than it should, at home or at the store.
GBG: Would you say this situation is something that encouraged you to make a purchase like this?
SC: Yes and no. I want to do what’s best for the beer myself and my team are making. It’s not to say a complaint or two didn’t influence it, but when you are doing something like running a brewery you want to address these issues when they happen, as well as before they happen. Purchasing a centrifuge was something I would have done, even if we weren’t having this issue. I would say this is just good business more than anything. It’s in my best interest, both as a brewer and a brewery owner, to constantly find ways to improve my product and that means making investments like this.
GBG: It makes a lot of sense to me. Making beer, wanting to make it better and better for the customer.
SC: Exactly. The centrifuge is great for us and the customer and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make the right decisions to help the customer as much as we can. That’s also a reason we’re sticking to cans for all of our beers.
GBG: I remember your original designs from the press releases had both bottles and cans. Did you drop the bottles from your line-up?
SC: At this point, all of our beers are now going into cans. Originally, we were going to have a mixture of cans and bottles and then large format bottles. Cans are easier and we want to give more opportunity for people to enjoy them in more places, like the lake or on a hike. Plus, we can fit more onto a shelf if everything is the same size, which means getting more of our beer into more places.
GBG: Are you doing larger format cans, as opposed to 12 ounce cans, for the seasonal beers?
SC: We are sticking with 12 ounce for everything, but we’ll do a four-pack for the seasonals, as opposed to the six-packs for the year-round beers. That way you can break one off and hand to a friend or not get overwhelmed with having to drink an entire bomber on your own. Beer is made for sharing and we want help encourage this while giving the opportunity to take them more places. Consider something like a bourbon barrel-aged stout, it doesn’t taste any different from bottle to can and since there is no light being let in, it’ll stay fresher, longer. And if you are one of those folks that likes to properly age a beer, you could stack more cans in your cellar than you can bombers. Although, I personally would to drink the beer fresh.
GBG: Makes a lot of sense to me. It also provides the opportunity to share maybe two or three of the cans with some friends but put one back to personally enjoy later on.
SC: Exactly, we feel like it’s the best of both worlds in that regard. Bombers are great, but cans are more portable and infinitely more recyclable, as well. Moving beyond seasonals, you may not want to drink big beers all the time, so naturally the 12-ounce can proves to be just enough if you are cracking open a beer for a meal or whatever situation.
GBG: What kind of seasonals should we plan on seeing soon?
SC: One seasonal that I’m really excited about is our Chocolate Stout aged in bourbon barrels. It’s one that we have been really excited to share at our tap takeovers and we’ve received a lot of positive reaction to it.
GBG: Your Chocolate Stout is one that I’ve enjoyed more as you’ve evolved the recipe. Originally, it was more of a chocolate milk flavored beer, which for me personally was not really my thing because of the sweetness. I feel if you want chocolate milk, you’ll drink chocolate milk. But now I feel like you may have found that middle ground and it tastes like a proper milk stout with chocolate flavors. Now, I think I’m tasting the chocolate flavors from the malts and it’s more balanced and without so much from the sugar you may have added.
SC: That’s great to hear, that’s exactly what we’re going for. And really, what we’re going for with most of our recipes. One thing I’ve learned is that we are a malt-forward brewery, meaning that’s what I like and what I like to brew, so that is what we do – brew malt-forward beers. Take our IPA, for example. People who try our IPA will find that there is a flavor that their hoppy-preferred palates aren’t wholly used to, because with our IPA the malts are just as forward as the hops are. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing, but it sort of harkens back to our Irish heritage and how they made (what would become) IPAs, when the British brought the style to them. Hops were a preservative back then, not something used for flavoring. And it’s true that people do love their super hop-forward beers, it’s just not our goal with our Shannon IPA. I wouldn’t say that we might not do a more hop-forward IPA, at some point, but it would be outside of what I prefer.
GBG: What you are describing reminds me of trying my first American IPA* years ago, after being used to British ESB’s (Extra Special Bitter). I really didn’t know what was going on or if this was even a good beer.
SC: It’s a flavor preference that one could say was brought on by the expansion of beer styles here in America. Especially for early craft breweries building up the focus of creating new and flavorful beer as opposed to the big macro breweries tasteless swill, this was awesome and it’s great that the more hop-forward beers are still so popular, but that’s not what we (at Shannon Brewing) focus on. And I’m completely okay with going against the grain a little bit with that movement. We’re different because this is what we like, not because every one else is the same. I’m not saying that (other breweries) are exactly alike, but this is what makes us a little different.
GBG: I would say there is room for that, especially in North Texas. As more breweries open, we become more diverse in the range of styles that breweries focus on. You almost have to, if you want survive with the number we see opening up.
SC: There is a little bit of that survival part that makes us and the other breweries around town keep ourselves on our toes. It is probably the only real bit of competition between each other. Which is how it should be, honestly. Community (Beer Company) does what they do, Martin House (Brewing) does what they do, and we do what we do. It’s great!
GBG: Going back to the centrifuge, when should we expect to see beers run through centrifuge on the market?
SC: We’ve already run three batches through them, so we should see those on the market by the time this interview goes to press. I’m really excited to hear the feedback. We are very pleased with the results already and can’t wait to get these beers out into the market.
It was great to talk with you again!
Check out Shannon Brewing’s taproom featured on this weeks Sightglass.
*Editors note: As a beer fan in the beginning, I drank more English and Belgian beers before discovering American beers.