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MankerBeer Meets: Pre-CBC: Sam Cruz/Against the Grain

Against the grain, that’s where I’ll stay
Swimming upstream, I maintain against the grain

Photo: Steve Coomes / InsiderLouisville.com

Photo: Steve Coomes / InsiderLouisville.com

Yeah, it’s hard not to start with a quote from one of my favorite bands, Bad Religion and the song with the same name as the brewery whose brewer and co-owner I will present you with in the next sentence. Sam Cruz is his name, co-owner and brewer of Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse is his game. He is also part of the four man team which decided it was time to do something different, why follow the mainstream and brew what is expected or tradition? Why not just go with what you want to do? Consequently, the brewpub and smokehouse in Louisville, Kentucky have their own take on how to brew beers. Without being over to the US most Europeans have probably not had a beer from ‘AtG’, except maybe at Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen where thanks to Mikkel’s friendship with the American brewers visitors have been able to occasionally find a new and exiting AtG beer.

Personally, when I try new beers from a new brewery I like to know about the brewers, the brewery and its history. Knowledge is king and might often explain the story and variety of flavors in the beer. So what better way to prepare for CBC than to ask Sam all about the brewery, music, that Justin Biibier kid and about anal pleasure. Oh, sorry An Ale Pleasure.

 

MankerBeer (MB): Against the Grain is as much a brewery as a concept of what beer is and can be – tell us about the story and the brewery?
Sam Cruz (SC): Essentially, we were tired of the regular old ‘stuff.’ At Against The Grain, we have thrown the, traditional, mode of thought (producing the same thing over and over…i think they call it consistency) and shifted our thoughts to producing amazing beer consistently, which can be any given style or twist on it. We hang our hats on quality and want people to know that there is a world of options out there….and we make them…and to top it all off, they can all be good!

 

MB: You have a certain approach to what to brew, and in my opinion a great one – with a spectrum of six categories (Session, Hop, Whim, Malt, Dark, and Smoke) which is enough, then you brew beers that fit into any of them – when did you come up with that idea? Why not make a few beers and keep them rolling?
SC: The truth is that our entire business concept is based on the idea that we can produce new and exciting things, always changing. In a previous life, we were brewers for Bluegrass Brewing Company, while there we noticed a trend of the ‘specialty’ or ‘seasonal’ beers we made being the first tanks to empty. This coupled with the boredom of repetitive brewing of the same brands led us to decide that what the world needed was a brewery that threw caution into the wind and was willing to experiment. Much like the path carved by our friends at Mikkeller, the object is to produce beers without boundaries. To not be afraid of experimentation and innovation.

So why not make the same brands repetitively….well…. its boring. I like to drink different beers, I think that its about each beer being an experience. Since we are making so many different beers, we can use them as a tool to inform or teach our customers all the nuances about beer that we love.

 

MB: Any beers that have been brewed so far that turned out way different than what you expected and which you weren’t satisfied with?
SC: We’ve actually had a great deal of success and have yet to put a ‘dog’ in the market. So I guess the answer is no. Some of the beers are received better by folks and others not so much. But up to this point, everything is as it was intended to be. Since we are so experimental at times, we are often identifying new flavors expressed in beer, so ultimately we are looking to create something for everyone at some point or another.

 

MB: The four founding fathers of the brewery all have different background within the food and/or beer industry – do you all share the same idea on what you want to create with the brewery or what do you disagree on?
SC: So far we are all on the same page. The beauty of the team we have assembled is that we all have very different areas of expertise, while still being skilled and experienced brewers. So naturally the decision making process lends to the most adept of the four of us, in any situation, drifting into a leadership role for the given situation. When it comes to the beers, the synergy amongst us allows us to create ideas for beers as a group.

 

MB: I love your graphical profile with the bearded tattoos hop freak – who is behind it all?
SC: We are very fortunate to have found the right artist to reflect the personality of our brands. Robby Davis (a Louisville native), is responsible for our illustrations, label/poster design, and overall branding (logo). A little story…I met Robby years ago at a back alley art show known as The UnFair. I was checking out the work there and happened onto his stuff. Immediately I knew he would be the one for my beers. So I took a card and told him he’d get a call someday to design the labels for my beers. At the time he didnt take me all that serious. So right as we were getting the project together and deciding on who would do our branding, I tracked him down and the rest is history… He is now a vital component in our brand imagery and the direction of our brand design. Id have to say, there is no one on the planet who is more ‘in tune’ with the Against The Grain brand. If you’d like more information on Robby, you can find his website… www.robbydavis.com

 

MB: You opened up just 2 years ago, in retrospect – should you have done anything differently?
SC: Its hard to say that we would have done anything differently. I can say this, had I known what I know now, we would have planned to brew more beer for distribution. We have come to a point where our distribution sales are as important and fruitful as our in-house sales. Against The Grain is located in a baseball stadium, so we do a substantial amount of beer sales at the tap here in Louisville, but I and my partners believe it very important that we spread the word and message of our brand all over the world.

 

MB: You seem to have a lot of fun at the brewery and just by looking at your webpage you get the impression that you all do what you love to – is Against the Grain the perfect place to work?
SC: Im a bit biased 😉 But I’d say yes. Right here and right now, we have very little turnover in our brewery and restaurant. We employ anywhere from 25 to 50 people depending on the season and most of them have been with us from day one. Our company philosophy is pretty simple… We love beer, beer is fun, we love fun. This philosophy translates to our team having a great time. Since our concept calls for a lot of upheaval and change, it is impossible to get complacent or in the rut of day to day work. So new and fresh ideas are always welcomed, quirky and fun projects are a must, and poking fun at, an otherwise, too serious world is apart of our thought process.

 

MB: There is both a brewery and a smokehouse, any amazing combos you could share? Why not with a side order of some great tips for music to it?
SC: Based on our being a smokehouse and frankly a hearty love of smoked beers, Id say any of our smoked beers with our signature smoked pork. Its slow smoked in a great big country smoker…low and slow. That shit is killer!

A great pairing of music and beer….perhaps you havent heard of the most metal beer ever…Save Ferrous. Any Slayer rip and Save Ferrous and youve got a pairing!

 

MB: Danish brewers Tobias and Tore from To Øl were over earlier this year and now we see the result at CBC – An Ale Pleasure, fittingly aged on two different woods. Hos was their stay at the brewery and what’s your opinion the beer?
SC: Tore and Tobias were great. I am eternally grateful that they were able to come out and work with us. It was a pleasure to hear about how things are going for them and what their thoughts on Kentucky were. I have to say, that the their stay was too short. We were almost on a whirlwind tour of party time here. The first night (they were majorly jet lagged) I took them to a seedy bar on the other side of the city and we got trashed. It was a good start to a busy weekend. The beer is amazing. For the CBC there are only 2 variations available, but we actually split the beer into 8 different parts and have aged them on all different woods. The one aged on cherry wood is my favorite thus far. I believe it will be at CBC. Very good recipe for the wood.

 

MB: So if you had to choose, would you rather down a sixer of Miller Lite or listen happily to Justin Bieber for a full hour?
SC: Since I was in a state college here in the US, I have a ton of experience crushing light beers…so for the sake of familiarity, gimmie the sixer! Id have to gouge my ears out if someone tried to force Bieber on me…. besides, isnt he a rapper now or something. :)

 

MB: CBC is not only a great opportunity to meet your European beer drinkers, but also a great place to meet some of the best brewers of the world. Its your first time at CBC, what expectations have you got?
SC: My biggest expectation is come away with a more accurate picture of the Euro beer drinker… but realistically, I expect to raise a little hell, drink some beer…pick on some folks. Eat foods im not accustomed too… Long for a nights rest at my country home…no seriously, im really looking forward to connecting with some of the other brewers out there. It has been, far and away, one of the most valuable tools knowing other brewers. There is so much to learn, so many ideas to gather, and of course a world of people to work with at some level. Im really looking forward to that.

 

MB: What should beer fans really not miss at Copenhagen Beer Celebration?
SC: We brewed a collab beer with Menno Oliver of De Molen, Bo & Luke. There will be a version of Bo & Luke aged in a port barrel after aging in a bourbon barrel…its fuckin rad! Get it. Beyond that, Everything going is pretty sexy… id drink them all!

 

Thanks Sam for giving us some insight into AtG and what you guys are all about! Now lets see what beers beer freaks at CBC will be able to try (changes may occur and different beers will be poured during different sessions)! The fantastic full list of beers at CBC can be found here (will be updated day by day).

Against the Grain CBC Beer List:

  • Shit Jeans
  • Goldern Sower
  • Green Dragon
  • Wakatube
  • Booby Trap
  • MacFannybaw
  • Port Barrel  Aged Bo & Luke
  • Kentucky Ryed Chiquen
  • To ØL & Against the Grain Collab “An Ale Pleasure” – aged on 2 different types of wood

Magnus "Manker" Björnstjerna

Grundare och skribent på MankerBeer.com. Från ett fokus på allt vad USA har att erbjuda och med en kärlek till gedigen amerikansk mat, bra bourbon och framförallt all landets fantastiska öl har Manker nu börjat förstå storheten i belgisk öl.

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  1. […] Earlier this year, you and Tore were over to visit Against the Grain with the result being poured at CBC, any new collaborations on its way? If not it’s the […]


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