Enegren Brewing

Written by Tom Becham for professorgoodales.net

About a year ago, Ventura County, California had yet another craft brewery open within its borders.  Enegren Brewing is located in the city of Moorpark.  It took me this long to get to Enegren simply because Moorpark is somewhat remote if you happen to live in western Ventura County.  Moorpark is a bedroom community for Simi Valley, and has traditionally been home to many Los Angeles commuters as well.  While not so sleepy as it has been in the past, due to proximity to the Reagan Presidential Library and numerous Hollywood types who now call Moorpark home, Moorpark still has a small town feel to it.  Indeed, my earliest childhood memory of Moorpark is the Egg City facility that used to be on its outskirts, which could be smelled from miles away.  That facility has been gone for years now, but Moorpark still frequently gets painted with that same brush.  Many people don’t get to Moorpark unless they specifically SET OUT for the town.
In short, Moorpark seems like a poor choice of location for starting up a new craft brewery.

Yet somehow, Enegren Brewing is making it work.

In fact, in the short time that Enegren has existed, it has somehow managed to make its way to the taps of almost a dozen local bars.  And on the sleepy Saturday afternoon of my first visit, they were also doing a slow-but-steady business filling growlers for walk-in visitors, too.

Enegren Brewing is located in the inevitable industrial warehouse most craft breweries seem to occupy.  But this being Moorpark, they are also a mere few blocks away from residential areas, too.  Even by craft brewing standards, Enegren’s space is small; Alesmith’s tiny brewing facility in San Diego is larger.  The “tasting room” is just a small bar, taps and a couple of chairs wedged in between the entry foyer and the brewing vats. (Photos, details of the brewing operations and equipment can all be obtained on the brewery website: http://enegrenbrewing.com/ )

It is the beer that shines through all of this, though.  Enegren has restricted itself to making just two core beers, year-round.  Their flagship in called Valkyrie, and is roughly in the German Altbier style.  Of course, Enegren’s California Alt is a bit different from the mainstream German Alt (a somewhat rare style to start) in that it is slightly stronger in ABV, more malty and stronger flavored.  Yet it retains a very Germanic balance.
Protector is Enegren’s Double IPA (This is California; it’s the law for a craft brewer to make a DIPA).  And while Protector does pile on the humulicious goodness, it is also well-balanced with a strong malt backbone.

Enegren’s current seasonal offering is a Belgian Saison called Golden Spur.  This is a nice, fruity, mellow Spring quaffer.  While I hesitate to describe ANY Saisons as either typical or not, this one doesn’t seem to have quite the funkiness of the Belgian examples I’ve tried.  That may, perhaps, be due to having it straight from the tap without bottle conditioning.  In any case, it’s still a pleasant drink, and akin to Firestone’s Witbier/Saison hybrid, Solace.

Enegren is also likely to be experimenting with a couple of things at any particular moment.  They usually have a dry-hopped version of Protector using a single hop (which varies with each batch) called Protector Hop Project.  This can be an instructive experience for any beer geek seeking to expand his or her knowledge of specific hop flavors and aromas. And that may be why Enegren Brewing does this.  You see, Enegren “Captain of Operations”, Chris Enegren, is truly enthusiastic about what he does, and can’t wait to impart what he knows to visitors.  Chris has also set up some automated processes in his tiny brewing space, which are also quite instructive.

In fact, in my interview with Chris (below), he may say some things that sound a bit naive or disingenuous if you’ve never met him.  But he truly has a missionary spirit regarding craft beer. This was demonstrated by his offer to me of a “tour” of his brewery, completely unsolicited by me.  As it is such a small place, the tour consisted primarily of standing in one spot and turning around as he explained the processes to us.  In other words, Chris Enegren, his brother Matt, and college friend Joe Nascenzi are all “the Real Deal” and seem committed to their craft far more than to any money that might result from it.

Tom Becham: Your website gives some info about your background in brewing. But let’s go a bit further back. Did you grow up in a beer drinking home? What was the prevalent beer?

Chris Enegren: My parents always had beer in the house. They didn’t drink that often, but they would always have a beer after a long day of work in the yard or sailing in the summer. Beer to us always seemed as a reward. They weren’t craft beer people by any means. Their beer of choice was Coors Light.

TB: Enegren Brewing frequently uses the phrase “the glory and power of beer.” What was your “AHA!” moment when you discovered that about beer? Was any specific kind of beer involved, and what about that beer made you feel that way?

CE: We have always viewed beer as a reward for a hard day’s work and something that brings people together. You never hear someone say: “Wow, what a day, lets go out for a martini.” It’s beer that you go out for. Also, Matt and I never really hung out when we were kids. Either I would torment him or we just had different interests. Ever since we started getting into beer and brewing, we’ve been best friends. Joe came on board when we needed a place to move our brewing system. Joe and I had been playing on the same lacrosse team for about 3 years without really ever talking much. That all changed when we both realized that we were craft beer people.

We had been using the phrase “For the Glory and Power of Beer” for as long as we were brewing, but it really clicked when we were having our first real business meeting about who we wanted to be in the beer industry. It was then that we realized that we put so much effort and time into brewing because it meant something and that we were starting our little brewery for the beer and its glory first and not just as a meaningless business venture centered around making money. There is a real glory and power in beer and we want to share that with people.

TB: What is the philosophy behind Enegren’s brewing efforts? While you make very flavorful brews, you seem to have an approach in which you emphasize balance above all. What are your favorite beer styles to brew? Which have you not done yet but would really like to?

CE: We brew beers that we like and would be proud to serve to our customers. We tend to stay on the upper end of the flavor specs. for the particular style and use a lot of Munich malt and perform temperature programmed mashes which bring out more complexity.

Balance in our beers is something we try to shoot for. For example, our IPA has a nice malt backbone that we didn’t want to just mask with hops, but instead bring both flavors to the table. We also take the same IPA and dose it with another big hop addition to get that big hop forward California style IPA.

TB: Your flagship beer, Valkyrie, is a German Altbier. That’s a rather unusual choice. Why that style? Also, while my experience of authentic German Alts is somewhat limited, your version seems more like a Sticke, as it is somewhat stronger in alcohol and more intense in flavor. Was that a conscious effort?

CE: All 3 of us were always a fan of big malty beers. We brewed a lot of brown ales when we first started brewing and got into Alt beers when we advanced into the realm of temperature controlled fermentations. The only “Alt” style we had exposure to at the time was Alaskan Amber, which we liked, but wanted more flavor from. We started making an Alt with a big focus on Munich dark malt and it quickly became one of our favorite styles to brew. We started entering contests and winning awards. From there, we began tweaking little parts of the recipes from malt choices to mash temperatures. We chose to take this recipe into our commercial brewery because we felt that it was something different.

Our version of Alt is a bit different from the Dusseldorf style. The German style is more of a lighter session beer. They do however make a “Sticke” Alt which is a bigger seasonal version of the style that is very close to ours. We call our Alt “California Alt” since we use California Ale yeast fermented at 58 deg. F.

TB: Who would you say is your customer base? Who do you additionally want to draw to your beers?

CE: Our main customer base is of people that are interested in beer and the science behind it. We have our beer in lots of local bars, but people come to our brewery to talk about the beers and see the brewery and process. We designed our brewery in a way that people can see everything when we’re brewing, which is just about every Saturday now. Brewing is far too fascinating to hide behind a wall. We would like to draw more people that want to learn about brewing. You can develop much more of an appreciation for beer when you know a little about the process.

TB: How much has your background with automation helped you with brewing? Would you say the volume brewed is greater because of it? If not, what exactly have been the benefits to you?

CE: The main purpose of automation in the brewhouse is mistake-proofing. Some may think that the more automated a brewery becomes, the less artisanal its beers are. Consistency and artisanal are not conflicting terms at all. If you’ve made a great artisanal beer that everyone at the local bars loves, you better be able to do it again and again. There are 1000 things to screw up on a brew day and it’s important to be able to take some of the little things that could ruin a batch out of play.

For example: Mash temperatures: We have the ability to set the mash temperature, activate the mixer and focus on something else without having to worry about overshooting the temp and ruining the batch.

Level controls: Instead of monitoring the levels in 4 tanks during the sparge process, we’ve installed 6 float sensors.

Time: Its important to add different hops at different times in the boil. We have our recipes programmed into our command center and when it comes time for the hop additions, there is a pop-up screen telling the brewer which hops go in, in addition to a beeper and flashing light beacon to call attention.

Brewery automation will never allow the brewer to sit in a hammock and drink beer while the brewery does all the work. Instead, it allows the brewer to focus on the science like comparing current mashing profiles with previous batches and cleaning.

TB: What are your personal goals in the craft brewing industry? What are your goals for Enegren Brewing? Where would you like to see the craft beer movement going in the next decade or so?

CE: My personal goal in the craft brewing industry is to meet as many brewers as possible. I really enjoy visiting other breweries, seeing their processes and tasting different beers. I feel like every craft brewery is a small chapter in the greater craft beer revolution.

My goal for Enegren Brewing is to expand. We started out with a 3bbl system and kept our day-jobs so we would be able to grow a brewing business from the ground up with no financial issues. We wanted to make sure the beer was carrying the business and that we could focus on the beer first. Our current brewery was designed as a stepping stone into a much bigger brewery and judging on how we’re doing with respect to what we’ve forecast, we’re doing really well.

TB: On a lighter note, what is the most outrageous extreme you have gone to in order to research recipes, or obtain ingredients? Are there any humorous stories you have of brewing mishaps?

CE: For recipe research, Matt and I went to Dusseldorf to try every alt beer we could get our hands on.

Editor’s note: Tom and Enegren Brewing also provided two links to some interesting brewing adventures, or “mishaps” as some might call them… providing examples of what brewers have to contend with-PGA

Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.net.

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