Interview: brewmaster Chas Cloud (Surf Brewery)

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Craft Beer Ventura

Former real estate developer Chas Cloud left the industry after finding inspiration with homebrew. He started working in the BJ’s brewhouse in Oxnard and graduated to brewmaster of Surf Brewery in Ventura, where he’s embraced craft beer and surfing. We met at the 2012 L.A. Beer Week festival, and Cloud shared hop-fueled insights.

At what point did you know that you would work with beer for a living?

It’s kind of a funny story. I used to work for a real estate developer, and hated the job. Every day, I would go on my lunch break, by myself, and read books on starting a brewery and brewing beer. That market tanked, I found myself without a job and I decided I was going to pursue my passion. The guys at BJ’s – Dave Griffiths over at Ladyface – was the head brewer there and took a chance on me. The rest is history.

Would you consider Dave a mentor?

Definitely. 100%. Even to this day, I call him up with questions and we bounce ideas off each other. Really good guy.

When will you collaborate on a beer?

I haven’t thought about that. It’s one of those fun things where we’re doing different styles. That would be something fun to work on.

What was the first beer you ever brewed? It doesn’t have to be professionally.

The first beer I brewed was in the basement of a house I lived in, in college, with a porter kit. I bought my dad a Father’s Day present, a homebrew kit, and I got him all the equipment and everything. He said, “You can brew it and I’ll drink it.” That never happened. I was in college and I decided, “I’m going to brew this.” A friend and I went down and did everything wrong and brewed this porter that still in my mind is the best beer I ever made. “I made this. This can happen.” From then on, it was just this spiral, more and more.

Do you have a porter on the roster now?

We do. It’s kind of a robust porter. We serve it on nitrogen…Still that style is one of my favorites that I gravitate towards.

What’s the criteria for a beer you brew at Surf?

We’re not trying to do anything too wacky or out there, but we’re still trying to make a good drinkable beer. In the same thought, we also want to do something different. Our South Swell Double IPA – in Southern California there’s a million double IPAs out there – so we wanted to do something different. We sourced all Southern hemisphere hops. Our rye pale ale, we didn’t want to do a standard pale ale, so we decided to make it a more malt forward beer showcasing rye grains. Our cream ale, we didn’t just want to do a blonde, so we decided to incorporate a little corn flavor. We’re trying to stick somewhat close to standard styles, but not get too crazy with it, where there are only going to be a select few who are into it.

What’s your top selling beer?

Top selling beer by volume, I would probably say is the Mondo’s Cream Ale. It’s just a very approachable style. The general public, who aren’t the most beer savvy people, are into, but put it in front of somebody that understands what a cream ale is, and they understand it’s a good beer. I think our rye ale, our County Line Rye, is really the beer that’s going to make a name for us.

How do you go about naming your beers?

We definitely try to stick to the local Ventura surf scene. A lot of our beers are named after surf spots. Mondo’s kind of a mellow beginner surf spot. We tied that to our cream ale, which is more of an approachable, gateway entry beer to the craft thing. County Line Rye has more aggressive malt flavors, hop flavors. Surf Break is a little more aggressive, performance oriented beer.

What’s your favorite part about working with beer?

Making beer. As a brewer, you sit there and you spend hours and hours of cleaning and scrubbing and doing all this menial stuff. In my mind, that affords me the ability to go have that day where I spend it making beer.

What’s the most difficult part about making beer?

Making the beer. It’s difficult. It’s a physically demanding job, and at the end of the day, I’m spent. I go home, eat dinner and crash. It’s physically exhausting. It’s challenging in that aspect. And a production set-up like we have is also difficult. We have five, six different brands that we’re pushing out, and to be able to keep all of those in stock and plan what needs to be done, keep ‘em consistent, that’s been challenging.

What’s the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration?

The most recent new beer that we came out with, we teamed up with this Ventura Limoncello Company that cranks out this award-winning limoncello. We have a lot of local citrus, so we decided to go and team up with them and do a lemon wheat. I talked to the limoncello guys and they told me a little bit about how they process the lemons to make limoncello. They put me in contact with the growers and decided to do a local lemon beer, and using some of the techniques of limoncello and incorporate them into lemon wheat. It’s called Lemon Wahine and it’s going to be released next Saturday.

Wahine? That refers to women in Hawaii?

Princess in Polynesian. When we first opened, we did our Wahine, which was a Belgian wit. It’s kind of our loss leader for beers. It used its own yeast strain, so it’s very difficult financially to keep that beer in stock. Since then, we did Strawberry Wahine. We did a strawberry wheat beer and now fall came and we teamed up with the lemon guys to do a lemon beer. So we did Lemon Wahines. Wahine’s sticking to the wheat beer theme.

How are you able to maintain balance in your life?

Surfing and beer. There’s nothing better. You get stressed out at work, you get stressed out with family stuff, you go and you make beer. Just that focus that it takes. You clear your mind of everything else and focus on the beer. You clear your mind of everything else and go surfing. It keeps you sane.

If you could only drink one more beer, and it’s not one that you brewed, what would it be and why?

That’s a really, really tough question. I would try to say something really unique. Probably if I had one more beer to drink in my life, I’d go and talk to my brewer friends and say, “What do you guys recommend? What’s tasting good to you right now?” I think the brewers always have the best idea of what’s good to them. I’d talk to Dave at Ladyface, Eric at Hollister, Jason at Anacapa and just find out what’s good and fresh.

Address: 4561 Market Street, Ventura, CA 93003

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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