Congregation Ales Brew Master

You've seen the place, you've tasted the beer, but have you met the master behind the brews?

Thursday, November 7, 2013 | 3:25 pm

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Congregation Ales Brew Master

Congregation Ale House is not the ordinary alehouse. Aside from its unique ambiance, what sets Congregation apart is its own brewery. Congregation Ale House is not just a venue to consume brews; it creates them too.

Congregation Ale House in Azusa recently re-opened its doors, boasting a custom 10-barrel brew house. But a brewery is not worth much without a brew master to helm it. Good thing Congregation has in its fold Brew Master Caleb McLaughlin.

A 39 year old family man with a wife and three kids, McLaughlin has been brewing for about 20 years now. “I got involved with Congregation about a year ago. I was a friend of Travis (Ensling), he’s one of the owners,” says McLaughlin. “I always brew at home. I wasn’t actively brewing and commercially brewing the last five years, but I kept brewing in my garage and stuff. So I used to give him samples here and there.”

When Ensling wanted to dive into the brewing industry, it’s no wonder he called up McLaughlin to invite him to join the new project. “I was very grateful for him wanting me to be a part of the project and I wanted to be a part of that, and he felt the same way about hiring me as a part of his project. It just kind of worked out organically,” says McLaughlin.

Becoming a brew master is a long process of learning and experimentation. McLaughlin says one can attend schools in Germany or even locally, “there are programs here in America. There’s the Siebel Institute in Chicago. They have a pretty good intensive brew master course,” he says.

However, in McLaughlin’s case, “I could say I learned the ropes in the brewery itself, a lot of book time at home, and just a lot of trial and tribulation in over 20 years.”

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Working with John Myer, who started the Hop Revolution in the 80s, and with Matt Brynildson, brew master for Firestone, McLaughlin learned from some of the best. “Just learning what works and what doesn’t, you know,” McLaughlin says. “Once you learn the basic process, it’s all about your technique. If you got your sanitation and process down, and you’re a good cook in the kitchen, you can pretty much put some together.”

In a typical workday, McLaughlin works about 8 hours. “What I make in that eight-hour process is the solution which I add to a fermenter. You put that into the fermenter, then you add your yeast. Yeast is a very critical component of any alcohol-making,” McLaughlin explains. “The yeast goes on to eat the sugar that I have created and that creates alcohol and CO2, that’s a byproduct of yeast getting sugar.”

He also describes how different kinds of yeasts yield different beer characteristics “as far as taste, flavor, aromas — that’s a super critical component and a real big factor in the finished product as far as what yeast you use to ferment the beer.”

“I could make the same sort of solution and split it up into three different tanks and ferment it with three different yeast’s and each one will taste probably different even though the base recipe that I made was the same,” McLaughlin adds.

Currently, the brew master is working hard “trying to nail a few recipes right now so we can have some staples at our facility that people can look forward to come and drink,” says McLaughlin. “One of them is called ‘Dark of the Covenant’ –It’s a dark, hardy, kind of like an American strong ale style or old ale.”

McLaughlin continues, “We also have ‘Praise On’ which is traditionally like a Belgian farm-workers’ ale. I’d say a little highly carbonated so it’s got some pop to it, but a paper-cut kind of citrusy with some yeast and that’s a lighter ale that we’re trying to brew.”

Congregation Ale House has become a huge part of the beer revolution, “we’re just really excited to be a part of the new ways of craft brew. I hope that people come and check us out,” says McLaughlin.

To get an update on their Brewery, go to  http://www.congregationalehouse.com/ and sign up for weekly newsletter which features the Brew Master himself. The newsletter section is called ‘Notes from the Fermentation Chamber’.

The Congregation Ale House brewery is located at 619 N Azusa Ave., Azusa. You can also call (626) 334-BEER for more information.

Other Congregation Ale House locations are at 200 S Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 403-BEER and at 201 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach, (562) 432-BEER.

To learn more about Congregation Ale House and its upcoming events, visit http://www.congregationalehouse.com or call (626) 578-0166 for more details.

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