What it takes to brew an award-winning craft beer

Lumberyard Brewing Company is home to the Railhead Red, an award winning beer, June 23, 2019.

Flagstaff is a town filled with several craft beer brewing companies and small bars in the downtown area. One of Flagstaff’s award-winning brewing companies and restaurants, Lumberyard Brewing Company, takes its craft very seriously.

Lumberyard Brewing Co. is a restaurant and brewery located in downtown Flagstaff on South San Francisco Street. The company brews its own beer in-house and competes with some of the top Arizona brewers such as Huss, Santan Brewing Company and Four Peaks. Lumberyard’s beer has received a lot of attention over other local state beers spanning the past couple of years.

According to the brewery’s website, out of Lumberyard’s seven crafts beers on tap, four of the beers — Railhead Red Ale, Flagstaff IPA, Knotty Pine Pale Ale and Humphries Hefe — have all earned the company a combined 16 national awards.

The company’s most popular craft beer, The Flagstaff IPA, has earned a total of seven awards since 2009. The Flagstaff IPA is Lumberyard’s version of a west coast Indian Pale Ale (IPA). A west coast IPA focuses mainly on the large number of hops put into the beer when brewing. The number of hops and flavor added in the west coast IPA is one of the reasons Jene Almquist, the head brewmaster at Lumberyard, believes their rendition of the beer has won so many awards and is the most popular at their restaurant.

“The west coast IPA is known as the king of the beer world,” Almquist said.

The west coast IPA is king of the beer world and Lumberyard’s rendition is the king of their beer house. What goes into making a batch of the beer however, is often overlooked.

“Some people have an idea that it is like making soup,” said Mike Devlin, brewer at Lumberyard. “You are kind of adding things together and then a day later you have beer.”

When it comes to brewing beer, there are a lot of misconceptions, the biggest being the ingredient Lumberyard’s most popular beer is known for: hops.

“Hops is only a very small percentage in the weight in beer, even though it has a big impact on what beer is,” Devlin said.

The goal of a brewery is to brew beers that customers will like to drink.

“Some people like a clear beer that is filtered and others like a more cloudy beer,” said Devlin.

However, it is difficult to determine what a good craft beer is. Everyone has their own palate and determines what a good beer is to them since there is no clear-cut definition to what makes a great beer.

“I think a good craft beer is something that comes out the way you want and tastes good, but other people also enjoy,” Devlin said. “They come up and say, ‘Oh, I really like that beer.’ That is what makes a good craft beer.”

Lumberyard offers six different styles of beer ranging from amber ales with a balance of crystal and caramel malts to the Guiness-style porter that contains black and chocolate malts. It is a long process to make a batch of Lumberyard’s craft beers, clocking in at roughly 22 hours to complete a single batch. Eight hours is dedicated to the actual brewing and the additional time is the fermentation process, where the yeast consumes the sugar in the beer, and then lastly the filtering process.

However, it’s not the process that makes a good beer. It is the brewers who make a good beer. The brewers are the ones who put in countless hours making sure Lumberyard produces good quality beer.

“After watching my brewers during the week, you come to realize it is our brewers that make a good craft beer because they care about quality and production of the beer,” Almquist said. “They also come in late at night and stay longer to ensure we are not running out of the beer to hold the demand.”

The passion of brewing beer comes from the brewers. One of Lumberyard’s Brewers, Devlin, started brewing in 1994 and continued to brew for the lack of what there was on the market.

“I couldn’t find the beers I wanted to drink,” Devlin said. “You couldn’t find the variety we have today. It was the beginning of the brewing revolution, so you had to brew the beers you wanted to drink.”

Even if he likes the beer, it is the reactions and feedback from the customers who buy and drink the beer that keeps him coming back to work every single day.

“Being proud of something that you have done and having a good quality product that other people enjoy as well,” Devlin said. “Knowing that other people come to us and be like, ‘Wow, I really like what you did,’ It’s a craft and it is something you can be proud of doing.”

The end product of each brew eventually reaches the bar and sits among the company’s national and local competitors. The manager of Lumberyard, Kelly Hanseth, said she believes there is one big reason a Lumberyard beer, such as the Humphries Hefe, is more popular than other beers.

“They remind me of a mountain town,” said Hanseth.

The small Flagstaff brewery is determined to give this mountain town good quality beer every time a patron takes a seat at the bar and the company’s brewers’ passion clearly fuels the craft.