Brewer Profile: Lars Mudrak- Bandwagon

The Brewery
Bandwagon Brewpub
114 N. Cayuga St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607)319-0699

When I stopped by Bandwagon last year, for various reasons, I didn’t have time to interview Lars. I promised I would this year.

Here I am! Where’s the damn BEER?

Kidding.

Lars reminds me of my wife’s nephew. Damn, I’m getting old. As you can sort of see I graced his young presence with Ken’s spastic camera. So here’s a better picture: he’s on the left, in the brewery… only this time you can see him better. My other picture didn’t even come out. Erk!

The story he told was fascinating and weird. I find that’s not that unusual at any brewpub where I’ve interviewed the brewer: how he arrived at his brew-destination. Each brewer is so individual, for sure, but they almost always seem to come from different angles. Lars told me he started brewing around 16. You know why. The same reason far too many of us found some way to get beer, or whatever, back then. He started out with mead: admitted what they made was pretty bad. Graduated to cider: ditto. And then found his true calling by using some his father’s old brewing equipment. I know what you’re about to read seems such a cliche’, but it’s true: they were brewing in a bathtub.

His mother would ask questions like “how did my favorite pot get into the tub, Lars?” He claims his parents never knew. He made up something. And would use bleach on the tub to both sanitize and keep it nice and white. But before you claim his first beer must have been bad too due to the bleach, that’s not necessarily true. I used to sanitize with bleach as well. You rinse. And rinse. Then rinse again. In fact we both agreed, even if it’s a sanitizer they claim you don’t have to rinse, you rinse. He showed me the sterilizer they use now: Steramine.

Here are three claims I found regarding this compound…

“It is a quaternary ammonium compound, which is a very strong sanitizer.”

“Surfacine is a new, persistent antimicrobial agent that may be used on animate or inanimate surfaces. It incorporates a water-insoluble antimicrobial-drug compound (silver iodide) in a surface-immobilized coating…”

Quat(Quaternary Ammonium) is a great all purpose sanitizer, the only problem is its terrible on beer glasses. Quat will leave a coating behind or a film that prevents the glass from having a proper lacing effect. Steramine is a quat based product.

SOURCE

Not sure about the first. The web seemed to have little info on Sterasmine, which according to one brewer was also called “Surfacine.” If the second quote is true the “insoluble” bothers me, but since iodine is a common sterilizer in homebrewing and, as long as you rinse, you’re probably still good to go.

I haven’t noticed any defect specifically sterilizer-problem related at Bandwagon, except occasional head problems in some of the beer I had last year. Could be the problem the poster mentioned. Could have been something else.

Like Lars I just recommend rinse and rinse again. It doesn’t hurt and do you really want something in your beer the packaging claims you’re not supposed to get on your hands, like Star San? I don’t.

Lars found out about the job at Bandwagon from the brewers at Ithaca Brewing. He started out as a dishwasher (been the, done that, got sore feet standing forever on slippery surfaces doing that) …and now does 99% of the brewing.

Some of my favorite past brewing included a chocolate raspberry stout, double IPA (before the hops shortage) a pumpkin ale with local pumpkins, a Belgian tripel called the ‘Ella Fitzgerald’ A local peach wheat ale, peanut butter chocolate stout, and a beer called the ‘Royal Hoppiness’ I used hops, mostly noble, everywhere but the boil. mash, sparge water, first wort, and dry hopping, and a watermelon wheat.
– Right now I am mostly trying to improve consistency for distribution purposes. I would like to try a sour mash beer, a local barley beer, a stein beer, and I would like to incorporate real bananas into a beer somehow.

The day I was there Lars was brewing a light session beer called Pop’s Ale: an intro beer for those just discovering craft beer: I believe he told me Cascade for the aroma, Bravo for the bitter. Essentially a Blonde Ale. Here’s what beersmith.com says about Bravo…

Alplha Acids: 14.-17.%
Cohumulone: 29-34% of alpha acids
Beta-Acids: 3-5% w/w
Total Hop Oils: 1.6-2.4% v/w
Summit possible substitute

But be aware; you know how substitutes often work out. All the young malts make fun of them behind their backs, shoot them with wort-filled water pistols (also used to rinse grains while mashing), put whoopee cushions under their alpha acid units…

Their system is a two barrel system and he said they’re getting a 15 barrel, probably when they move the brewery to Interlaken, NY. The pub will stay in Ithaca. Possible bottling, maybe, in the future.

I must admit: he doesn’t have a hell of a lot of room. Low ceilings, cramped quarters and I half expected I-gor from Mel Brook’s take on Frankenstein to show up. Or was that “Franken-STEEN?”

If you’re really tall you might want to learn to duck at times, or someone will ask, “Will that be one lump, or two?”

Their heat source is a steam boiler.

Lars said they like to use local ingredients, and their Facebook page has pictures of homegrown hops they hope to be using. I suspect off premises: I don’t see a lot of space in this area of downtown to grow hops as pictured on their Facebook page.

I E-mailed Lars and he said his hop garden has Cascade, Centennial,. Columbus and Saaz, and that he does a fresh hop ale every Fall. Hopefully I’ll catch it when I’m up in October. I love, love, love fresh hop beer.

He said he has been brewing pro for about two years, total about six. He hasn’t any any training like Siebel, “But the problems I do have don’t seem to be anything Siebel would help with. It’s more using and adapting equipment that wasn’t originally intended for this purpose. Maybe if we get a real pro-system sometime like they use in the real big breweries it might help some.”

He went to college for business administration and environmental studies. He’s planning on taking part time courses in entrepreneurship.

Where the brewery is now use to be a hair salon.

They were really hurt in the hop crisis and had to keep changing recipes. “We were so small they didn’t even consider us for a hop contract.” They use pellet hops, but Lars does use whole hops from time to time.

They just started using Canada Malting Company for malt.

For homebrewers Lars suggested that they not worry as much about brewing exact to some recipe. “Don’t get super detailed about it. If you don’t have exactly what you need for some recipe just create something new.”

It was a short trip to Bandwagon. I had to get ready to leave the next day. It was a pleasure to see someone so young (22!) find such a great career so early in life. And, in our conversations, Lars gave me a lot to think about, just like the sign out in the pub does.

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Brewer Profile is a column by Ken Carman honoring those who brew beer and their craft. Brewers featured may be homebrewers or professional brewers.
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