Shortly before heading to the World Beer Expo, which took place on May 17 and 18 in Frankenmuth, the first-ever U.S. brew master for Labatt USA, metro Detroit native Ryan Brady, stopped into Hour Detroit‘s Troy office to talk about his love for beer and the process of perfecting the company’s new easy-drinking lager, Labatt Blue Citra.
Hour Detroit: How did you get started with beer?
Ryan Brady: I grew up about a mile from here in Troy. I graduated from Troy High and went to U of M for undergrad. It’s fun to be back and representing the brand. I got started in this industry about six years ago. I took a position at a craft brewery in Washington, D.C. called DC Brau, just entry level, holding boxes and stuff like that and slowly worked my way up. Now I’m a Brew Master at Labatt USA. I’ve been in this role for almost a year now.
For those of us that are not too familiar with the process, what goes into making beer?
There are four ingredients to beer: water, malt, hops, and yeast. The yeast is what turns the sugar into alcohol. The malt and the hops are what provide the flavor and aroma of the beer. The malt is the grain, that’s typically roasted barley and that’s what gives the beer its color, its body, and a lot of its flavor — especially the bread character because it’s the same grain you’d make bread with. Hops are a plant related to the cannabis plant. They’re cousins and are typically added during the boiling process to help preserve the beer and also provide a lot of its flavor and aroma. There are beers that smell like orange juice or grapefruit juice, but it doesn’t actually have any of that fruit in it. That’s all from the hops.
What trends are you noticing in the beer industry?
Hops are everything now. General industry papers tell you what people are buying, and in beer right now, it’s easy to say that hoppy beer sells. It used to be that hops were a small part of the process, just to add a little bitterness and aroma. But as tastes have changed, starting mostly in America and filtering out to the rest of the world, at this point hops are almost like a drug. The more you have it, the more you want it, and the more intensely you want it. Twenty years ago, you might have a Sierra Nevada, which is still made and very popular, but people thought it was killing them it was so bitter. Now hard-core beer drinkers don’t even think that it’s bitter anymore. It just keeps progressing.
Can you tell us about the process of making Citra?
Our idea [for Citra] was not to make craft beer. We’re not trying to be Bells or Founders or [anything] like that. We wanted to give the consumer a taste of that [craft beer] without trying to be that. We added citra mosaic hops to the beer. Citra, obviously being the name, provides the fruity taste and aroma to the beer. They are more on the dry side. That was our goal in the innovation process, to give the Labatt Blue and Labatt Lite drinkers, someone who is not used to drinking craft beers, a little bit of a taste of what is popular with craft beer. But not go too far with it. After a lot of test batches, we narrowed it down to a hoppy, easy-drinking lager that fit our portfolio but was also a really good beer.
In your beer journey, how has it been transitioning from craft beer to a bigger brewery?
At the end of the day, it’s mostly like an attitude change. The process is the process. If you make beer well, you’re doing it the same way. The size of the tank is different, and the amount of ingredients is different, but if you’re doing it the right way, it’s little tweaks based on the equipment you have. But going from a craft brewery where you have this kind of brand identity — we’re independent, we’re craft, and people are holding you up here — and working for Labatt, they don’t think of you in the same way. They think of you as something different. It would be easy to go online and read reviews and get upset, feel bad about yourself, but that’s true even at some craft breweries. We get more of it because we’re “big beer,” but everyone gets terrible reviews or get talked down about. Anything that people are passionate about, and people are very passionate about craft beer, which is great, there is hate involved. We deal with more of it, and I understand it.