Meet Your Maker

He’s been a jack-of-all-trades during his lengthy brewing career, but now Pat Korn is a master of barrel-aging, the most complicated practices at Green Flash Brewing Company, the fourth largest brewery in the U.S. As overseer of Cellar 3, a North County inland facility stocked to the rafters with wine- and spirit-tinged oak receptacles, Korn is responsible for the most outside-the-box (or barrel) brews from this local ale powerhouse.

Brandon Hernández: What road led you to Green Flash and the role of barrelmaster?
PAT KORN: I started brewing in 1993 at Karl Strauss Brewing Company. I’ve been at Green Flash for five and a half years and took over the barrel program about three years ago. When I became barrelmaster, I had already been experimenting with different Green Flash beers in different barrels with different microbes and wild yeasts. At the same time, I was talking to winemakers about their processes and talking to other barrel people about their methods. I combined a little of this and a little of that to come up with what we do today at Cellar 3.

When it comes to barrel-aging beers, people talk about “bugs” a lot. What’s up with that?
“Bugs” are the different micro-flora that we use to make funk and sour beers. These bugs are flying and lying around in everyday life. Some are wild yeasts, some are bacteria, some are good for our beer, but most are really bad for our beer. For Cellar 3, we use our house Brettanomyces strain, which we isolated out of the first wine-barrel we ever used and have continued to use in almost every beer we make here now. We also use different strains of bacterias, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.

What are some things brewers have to be mindful of when barrel-aging beer?
In barrel-aging, you really are at the mercy of the barrel and what microbes you do or do not add to the beer. Every time we come up with a new beer idea, we sit on it and mull it over for weeks at a time and dissect it and do it all over again to let it fully gestate in our brains and come up with any and every problem that can arise. Once the beer goes in the barrel, you really have no control over it. It’s human nature to want to succeed, but, in barrel-aging, one month your beer can taste great; the next month, horrible; the next month, it’s great again. Having the wherewithal to know this can happen and accept this, knowing you’ve done the best you possibly can to make a great beer, is part of the job. If you are not willing to accept failure before you even start the process, then you probably shouldn’t do it.

Green Flash just introduced a new Barrelmasters Reserve series of super-small-batch beers. What can we expect?
I’m really excited about a barley-wine we aged in brandy barrels for four years that has now been in Elijah Craig 12-year-old barrels for almost two years. Yes, six years of aging. The flavors are just all over the place; tasting it takes a bit of concentration. It tastes more like a Tawny Port to me than a beer. We’ve also had our Trippel aging in gin barrels for almost two years now. The botanical notes are really coming through and complement the ester-y, fruity nose from the beer. I’m thinking we might make a few kegs of that with some locally foraged sage and buckwheat from a friend’s farm. Another possibility is a Belgian-style Golden strong ale with raisins aged in Woodford Reserve Barrels.

What are some of your favorite local breweries?
I have always thought Alpine Beer Company made some of the best-tasting and well-made beers, not only in San Diego, but all of the U.S. Just something about that brewhouse lends a distinctive flavor that is perfect for making West Coast IPAs. True story - The Brew House at Alpine was once downtown at Hang Ten! Brewing, where [local brewing legends] Paul Segura and Chuck Silva brewed together back in the ‘90s. Fall Brewing Company is a brewer’s brewery. Rarely do you not see other breweries’ brewers drinking there. They make great examples of beers to-style that are always clean and exhibit a certain finesse. Then there’s Automatic Brewing Company. [Brewmaster] Lee Chase is one of the smartest brewers I have ever met, and his beers reflect his years of knowledge and his overall worldview on brewing.
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