by Sally Colby
Josh Brewer started brewing beer in his mother’s basement in 1995 and hasn’t stopped yet. After spending time at breweries in various locations, he served as the assistant brewer at Moon River in Georgia.
“That’s where I got a lot of training,” said Brewer. “My boss came from the production side, and I learned the right way to do things in a production brewery, even though I was working in a brewpub.”
Fast forward to 2008, when Trent Mooring and Stephen Hill began to do their part to revitalize the downtown area of Kinston, NC, by starting a brewery. When Brewer interviewed for the brewer position at what would become Mother Earth Brewing, he took some of his own beers and visited the building Mooring and Hill were thinking about purchasing. Brewer was hired as the brewer for Mother Earth.
The group determined what they wanted the business to look like, starting with the old building. Their vision was to renew the brick structure while preserving its heritage. Much of the original brick was saved – the first step in the brewery’s environmentally friendly makeover.
A six-kilowatt solar array provides 100 percent of the brewery’s electricity, and denim insulation fills the walls. Grain bags are donated to the North Carolina Forest Service for a nursery program that helps reseed forests and wetlands. The cumulative environmental measures earned Mother Earth Brewing a gold rating in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.
With so many craft breweries, what makes any one of them unique? “There are a lot of brewers out there doing different, funky things,” said Brewer. “I’m stuck in my ways with certain brews, so if I’m brewing a German pilsner, I’m not going to brew it with fruit and American hops. It deserves respect because it’s been brewed one way for a long time.”
In that vein, Brewer has maintained full-time production of a Kolsch and a Munich Dunkel since day one. Over the years, he’s added Berliner Weisse and other sour beers. “We’ve also had a selection of barrel-aged beers since the start and they’re doing well,” said Brewer. “Silent Night is one – it’s an imperial stout brewed with coffee and molasses then aged in whiskey barrels for three months.”
Mother Earth Brewing is close to the Outer Banks, a popular vacation spot in summer but empty in winter. “We like to provide classic brews to year-round residents,” said Brewer. “Kolsch is dry, crisp and easy. Weeping Willow Wit is a Belgian wit with orange peel and coriander, another easy-to-drink beer. Those two styles do really well for us.”
Brewer said Mother Earth’s unique champagne IPA is also a favorite. “The dryness makes it perceivably bitter, but it isn’t from hops,” he said. “During fermentation I add enzyme, and it converts all the sugars to simple sugars. The yeast eats every sugar in sight, and it’s mouth-puckering dry. The flavor components are from the hops at the very end.”
While Brewer has always been a fan of casked beer, he’s now introducing it to guests who discover it’s a new favorite. “It’s another outlet for people to have the same style of beer but served in a different way,” he said, adding that he’s done several pilot batches with hops. “We use whole leaf hops in our casks.” Since hops don’t break down the same way as pellets, Brewer had to make some changes in his process. “We’ve done some work with wet hops, which is easier because I can send the wort back to the mash tun that has hops in it. The mash tun has screens at the bottom so we can let it sit there before cooling and fermenting.”
A pilot system has been in place since the start, allowing small-scale experimental production. The original set-up was a one-barrel system, but a three-barrel system was added shortly into the business. While the system allows Brewer to try a variety of techniques and ingredients, he avoids experimenting with yeast cultures to avoid potential problems in the main production area.
Brewer said he tends to stick with tried and true styles, and enjoys hearing people say “I was stationed in Germany for 20 years and I haven’t had a Munich dunkel like this until now.”
“That beer has been brewed in Germany for 400 years,” said Brewer, “so if I can take someone back to that, it’s a big deal for me.”
Every year, Brewer collaborates with another North Carolina brewery for craft beer month in April. He’ll brew with them on their system for a week or so, then those brewers come to Mother Earth. “Being able to brew with different people is an eye-opener,” he said. “There’s an outside influence from people who have an ingredient in mind and we try to implement that – it gets me out of my shell.”
Brewer said the key to a good collaboration is working with similar styles and achieving different end results. “We might have a few ingredients that are the same, but there’s always some sort of twist,” he said. “Last year, we chose six Australian hops and brewed an IPA. He took three of the hops and I used the other three. Each of the six hops has different characteristics, and he used a different yeast. It was still an Australian IPA, but the hops and yeast were different.”
The Mother Earth taproom was recently remodeled, and part of the result was more handles. “We added 16 draft handles for a total of 26,” said Brewer. “That changes my job in the pilot room. Five years ago, I had three to four tap handles out of 10, and for the last two years, the pilot room has been one of them. That isn’t conducive to brewing a lot of beer as much as I can. It wouldn’t make sense to brew beer then have kegs sit in the walk-in cooler for five months, so I was looking forward to the remodel and getting more draft heads.”
Brewer said cross training throughout the brewery helps everyone learn about and understand the different aspects of the business. “I’ve brought some of the packaging guys to brew with me in the pilot system,” he said. “They’re newer employees who see the end result of the beer going into the bottle but they don’t know how it gets there. They pick a beer they like, I come up with a recipe and they spend all day with me.”
As for guests who might be new to craft beer, tasting room staff ask people what they like, try to match a beer with their taste and walk them through what they’re tasting. “More than likely they’ll understand better,” said Brewer. “The goal is to help someone who isn’t a craft beer drinker to become a craft beer drinker by the time they leave.”
Visit the business online at www.MotherEarthBrewing.com .