Brewer Profile: Gary Burleigh

Gary Burleigh

@The Brewerie: Erie, PA

Profiled by Ken Carman

Last year, after I performed in Erie, I swung by The Brewerie for the third or fourth time, a brewpub which is in the old train station in Erie.

I wasn’t ready. I was surprised. Gary, the brewer, must have heard someone was asking tech questions and he sat down next to me at the bar.

I told him I’d be back next year to interview him as part of the brewer profile series here at PGA.

So this year I walked in though the main doors…

…through the huge train station lobby…

…sat down at their bar and quaffed one of their most recent Belgian brews, at 10%. What, you expected Mr. Needs a Whack by a 2×4 to the taste buds to order something else? …and patiently waited; blathering with other beer snobs, geeks, or whatever the Hell you wanna call us, and here comes Gary.

Bald. Beard. Blackish eyes that bore into you like that indigenous, mind-controlling eels from Star Trek II, you know the ones that made Chekov do the bidding of the villain, a “dance” one might call the “Khan Khan?” (I’m kidding, Gary: just kidding! And, yes, Gary, sometimes I do go quite a ways for a joke.)

I swore he’s seemed in his late 40s, but he’s 60 and with a deep, solid, laugh. He reminds me a bit of Jessie Ventura. Gary’s hard to miss when he enters the room. The difference is everyone runs to him, rather than away from folks like me. Maybe my “pleasing odor” isn’t supplemented by malt and hops like Gary?

Yes, I know. Look at the picture again, and then my description, and you’d never guess about the laugh, the charm. But it’s there: in serving tank capacity quantities.

Gary started homebrewing in the 80s, began brewing professionally in 1998 at Erie Brewing, and then 2006 when The Brewerie opened. He is part owner along with Chris Siriani; whom I haven’t met. When he started at Erie Brewing he basically discussed brewing a lot with the original brewer at Erie Brewing: Brian Hollinger.

Gary isn’t “classically trained” as a brewer. And he agreed with me that tends to make him more experimental.

“I was brewing my Hopness Monster and I said, ‘Hey, what if we threw peppers there? We do that kind if stuff all the time. What if we put in this, or that?”

Soon he and the bartender were chopping up peppers: the same bartender who is a homebrewer and won the fruit beer category in the Longshot competition for his 3 Berry Wheat. I got a growler of to take to my beer tastings in Beaver River. Too light for moi’, but very berry and still nicely balanced and I knew at least one regular who would love it, love it, love it.

You see Gary brews, but he doesn’t hog the equipment. He’s all for others contributing to the beers on tap, and they do get the credit. There was another local brewer who had his beer on tap when I visited: the brew named after him: “Lavery.” That was great news because for a pub that has always had a nice selection any other day I’ve visited, they were down to four due to beer festivals, events and such.

Feeling a little “tapped,” Gary? Can’t you hear them cry…

“We’re waiting for you.”

He told me they were waiting on more grain and then they would, “Brew, brew, brew…”

Gary did study: to be a physician’s assistant, which is what he did between Erie Brewing and The Brewerie. These days he does more bending over to pick up grain bags and hops than holding needles or asking others to bend over.

Ewe. I think I’d prefer brewing too.

It took a while to get the funds: seems getting a loan/financing was problematic for a while. They finally opened September 26th, 2006 in the same train station location Hoppers was in: the original location and name of the pub attached to Erie Brewing.

And having visited The Brewerie no more than a year or two after they opened for the first time, they opened up with better beer, generally, than EB has had over the years, in my opinion… if for no other reason than they’re willing to go out on a brew limb with exotics once in a while. Even if that might mean some brew gremlin might saw it off. Yet of all I’ve tasted here I have yet to find any ACME brewed beer here, as beer brewed by Wiley E. Coyote with the “help” of ACME products.

Is that an anvil in your wert, or are you just “ironing” out some mineral profile problem in your water?

What was I writing about. Oh, Gary Burleigh, that’s right!

I asked Gary what I ask every brewer: “Skipping sanitation, what advice would you have for homebrewers?”

“Most homebrewers make a mistake with good temperature control in fermentation. Beer yeast is very sensitive to temperature changes, fluctuations. Having a room dedicated just to fermentation at the right temperature would be a good idea. Back porches can work well, and I have known brewers who make the wise choice of just not brewing in June, July and August.”

Note to homebrewers: this brewpub is in pretty far north of the Mason Dixon. Those in the South who wish to follow this advice might want to extend that from May to mid/or early-October. That’s my own personal suggestion.

He also said he is a big believer in the need to get the oils out of hops, bringing the temp up to at least 200.

Gary said he’s fairly content with where they are, brew-wise, but wouldn’t mind having a bigger system. What they have now was originally purchased as a BOP system by Gary and his wife: a “brew on the premises…” what they originally planned to open. In my opinion they made a far better choice opening The Brewerie. I have been traveling since the 80s and seen many BOPs. Every one, except one in the Shrewsbury, Mass area, is closed now.

It’s a 3.5 barrel system by Price-Shornston. We agreed, if I remember right, that I would Google the name when I started writing this. Never guess what? Google didn’t care how I spelled it. I got squat for spelling advice. So if I spelled it wrong… I spelled it wrong.

They use many brands of pellets for hops; they rarely dry hop.

“To me most dry hopped beers smell grassy and it really doesn’t add to the flavor. You really can’t make ‘hoppier’ beer by dry hopping.”

One thing he ranted about that filled my beer lusting heart with joy was…

“…the fake hop crisis. It was really artificial: with the intent of getting brewers to sign some contract. Most brewers I meet who did this complain that they pay more than I do. That’s what the reason for the crisis really was: to get brewers to pay more for hops and to get them to sign a contract with one company.”

Gee, that kind of unfair business practice would never happen in the beer industry, would it? Cough, cough, A/B and Miller… cough, cough… threatening distributors who dared to carry craft beer… cough, cough… and pushing for craft beer killing legislation. Cough, cough, sputter, fume. Nope “never” happen.

Gary has also added his own special tweaks to the brew system. What you see below is his keg washer made of hefty pvc.

And that keg washer being put to use…

Gary uses various yeasts: including Safale 05 and 05. He suggests if you use Belgian yeast, in some cases, you’d better be sure to let it ferment out completely. “It binds to the sugars and if it doesn’t completely ferment you’ll ruin the beer.”

Actually his description of the result wasn’t just “ruin the beer,” It was more like “you’ll get pale, or tan, and very ‘blah,’ instead of actual beer.”

For sanitizer he uses KemSafe or Perasan Hydroperoxide.

With this system do 460 barrels a year. Gary said his partner wants to get into bottling, but he really wants nothing to do with it.

I want to give a shout out to the homebrewer/bartender Gene Young. I remember him from my last visit. It’s rare that I run into a bartender that knowledgeable and personable. Unlike the bartender at Willamantic this year who practically admitted to me she wasn’t fond of her job because of beer geeks, Gene is one, and also winner of the 2008 Fruit Beer category in the Longshot competition.

Curly black hair, maybe in his 30s (I’m guessing!!!), about 5′ 8″ (Guessing!!!) and craft beer/brewing focused. (Not guessing!!!) This is the kind of person who want serving your customers and working with your brewer.

So I left The Brewerie with a growler filled with Three Berry Wheat and a special 22oz bottle of Gary’s Hopness Monster Gary gave me. (Thanks!!!) This is a brew I’ve had many times, and enjoyed… but this one has peppers it it too.

And I left very, very happy.


Brewer Profile is a column by Ken Carman honoring those who brew beer and their craft. Brewers featured may be homebrewers or professional brewers.
©Copyright 2010
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

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