Wayne Wambles started out as a homebrewer in Enterprise, Alabama, and made his pro debut in nearby Dothan at Poplar Head Mule Company. He crossed the state lines into Florida and started brewing for Buckhead Brewery & Grill in Tallahassee. Since then, he’s commanded tanks for Buckhead Brewery in Atlanta and Foothills Brewing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Wambles currently practices alecraft in his role as the head brewer of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery. We recently caught up by e-mail, where Wambles better explained his background and approach.
How did the Cigar City opportunity come about?
I was brewing for a brewery in North Carolina in 2008. A colleague of mine contacted me and told me that she had two job interviews and had decided that she was going to take a job in North Carolina instead of Tampa. She said that she was thinking about what the owner wanted to do and I immediately came to mind. She told me that I needed to contact the owner and speak to him about a job. I sent him my resume and we conducted an interview over the phone. About two weeks later, I was told that I was hired and I signed the contract and moved to Tampa, Florida.
What’s your first beer memory?
I don’t know how far back you want me to go with this. I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old that my father and his brother would drink Miller Lite out of the can on the weekends. On one occasion, my father asked me if I wanted to taste it. It was awful. I didn’t drink beer again until my 21st birthday.
What was the first beer you homebrewed, and how did it turn out?
My first beer was a stout. The fermentation lagged for 2-3 days so it was phenolic. Then, when I was attempting to rack the beer into the bottling bucket, I forgot to tighten down the valve on the bottom of the bucket. Beer is now leaking all over the kitchen floor. I put my arm into a dilute bleach solution and then stuck it into the beer in the bucket to tighten the valve and this caused chlorophenols in addition to the already present phenols. It wasn’t a good experience.
What do you think differentiates Cigar City beer from other breweries?
We make beers that we like to drink. We also feel that there are not many boundaries. We experiment with nontraditional ingredients, techniques and concepts. We implement culinary ideas into our concepts at times. We age our beer on nontraditional woods such as Spanish cedar, lemon and grapefruit. We are constantly searching for new ideas that will add character to our beers and speak for our concept and our local culture.
What’s the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your approach with it?
We brewed the first in a series of three Imperial Saisons that we are brewing as a collaboration with The Bruery out of Placentia, California. We wanted to show the consumer what a big difference using different types of wood on the same base beer would have. The first one will be aged on Spanish cedar, the second one on lemon wood and the third will be aged on grapefruit and/or orange wood. We hope to see the face of wood aging change in the near future. There are a wide variety of woods that you can age beer on besides oak. It offers the brewers more possibilities and the consumer more options.
Would you say that you have any brewing mentors?
Gary Essex was the first commercial brewer to give me a chance. I apprenticed under him for 6 months and the he walked away from the contract job he was working and let me take over as head brewer.
What did he teach you?
He taught me the ropes of craft brewing. Cleaning, sanitizing, etc. Six months after I ran the brewpub that he left to me, he hired me to help run a chain of brewpubs in the Atlanta area. I will never be able to thank him enough. He believed in me and gave me a chance when no one else would.
Where do you like to drink, and what do you like to drink, when you’re not at work?
One of my favorite beer bars is in Dunedin, Florida. I live in Oldsmar, Florida so it’s closer to home. It is called Dunedin House Of Beer. I like it because it just feels like a beer bar. Nothing fancy…the smell of stale beer occasionally and the owners are nice folks. I usually drink IPA if I am drinking beer.
Who are some other brewers that you really respect in the industry and how come?
Joe Short for being so innovative and implementing culinary into zymurgy. John Mallet from Bells makes great beer and gives a great seminar. The success rate of the brewers from Port Brewing Company is really impressive. Peter [Bouckaert] from New Belgium and his ideas about making a beer, not a style of beer. John Maier was my original inspiration when I became more serious about home brewing because of all the flavor and body that his beers have.
How do you feel about collaborating with other breweries, and do you have anything in the works?