In today’s post, we complete our profiles of head brewers who have assumed their posts since the publication of NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) in April.

On a small platform just inside the brew house at Nexus Brewery and Restaurant stand a pair of pink boots. They belong to Kaylynn McKnight who became the establishment’s head brewer after Manuel Mussen moved back to California in the spring. And, they are an emblem signifying Kaylynn’s membership in the “Pink Boots Society,” an organization of made up of women who work in the brewing profession. Kaylynn is proud not only to display them, but also to wear them — they indicate that she is part of a relatively small, but growing segment of the modern brewing industry. Centuries ago, most brewing was done by women; but with the industrialization of brewing in the nineteenth century, the role was assumed by men. But things are changing — and Kaylynn, one of four female brewers in New Mexico, is part of that change.

Kaylynn, who grew up in the Albuquerque, remembers how, as a child, she frequently smelled the aromas of her father’s homebrewing efforts. “At first I didn’t like the smell, or the taste of hops,” she remembers. “But I gradually got to like it.” The liking grew when she and her brother brewed a few batches of their own and increased further when she began a job as a server at Chama River, the Albuquerque gastro-pub.

‘I used to harass Ted Rice and Jeff Erway to let me go back into the brew house. I thought it was fascinating. And when Jeff opened La Cumbre in 2010 I applied for a job in the brewery.” Her first duties were far from glamorous: scrubbing floors, cleaning tansk, and finally transferring beers from one tank to another. Her duties increased and as La Cumbre’s production increased, she spent more time involved in the actual brewing process. “I had really good teachers, first Ted Rice and then Jeff Erway, and then Daniel Jaramillo.

Early this year, when Manuel Mussen decided to return to California, he recommended that Kaylynn apply for his job at Nexus. It was just another example of what she calls the “like a family” relationship that exists among New Mexico brewers. “We borrow materials from each other and help each other with our problems. Of course, we like to compete against each other. It’s a healthy, friendly rivalry and it makes all of us work to be better.”

Moving from La Cumbre to Nexus required an adjustment. “La Cumbre was a production brewery, we were always busy working to meet the demand — and it kept growing. Here, we are making less beer; it’s mainly for the restaurant. So we have more time to plan and to focus on developing or tweaking recipes.”

There was also a change involved in going from a brewery where the emphasis was on hop-forward beers to one where malts played a greater roll. ‘It was a challenge. I’ve spent a lot of time concentrating on the qualities that each malt gives to a specific beer. Ken [Carson, owner of Nexus] told me I wasn’t to change the Scottish ale. That was his favorite. And I didn’t want to alter the Imperial Cream Ale, which won a medal at the World Beer Cup. But I have tweaked some of the recipes. The IBUs [international bitterness units] are higher than they used to be.”

She has also had a chance to develop some unusual beers. “I had fun developing Honey Chamomile Wheat”. I used 4.5 pounds of fresh chamomile flowers.”

Kaylynn has followed in the footprints of some of New Mexico’s most respected brewers. Now she has a chance to make her own footprints — with her pink boots and her brewing skills.

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James Warren didn’t travel from Beaumont, Texas, to New Haven, Connecticut because of beer. It was to be with his girl-friend, who was attending Yale University. But not long after his arrival, beer became an important part of his life. “One day, I went on a brewery tour at New England Brewing Company, in New Haven. I was fascinated and decided that, instead of becoming a teacher, I’d like to become a brewer.”

Warren  joined New England Brewing, starting by working on the canning line, and then moving up. He also studied brewing at the American Brewers’ Guild. “I also worked at BruRm at Bar, a local brewpub, helping out where I could.  So, over a few years, I had good practical experience working at a production brewery and a brewpub.”

Although James gained valuable experience and enjoyed living in New England, the Southwest beckoned. “My grandparents had a summer cabin near Glorietta, and I used to spend time there. When I realized Connecticut was over, I applied to breweries in Arizona and New Mexico.”

He was interviewed by the Santa Fe Dining Group for the Chama River head brewer’s job left vacant by the departure of Justin Hamilton to start his own brewery, Boxing Bear. “I didn’t get the job, but the Santa Fe Dining people told me that they would be looking for a new brewer to take over from John Bullard, who was leaving Blue Corn, in Santa Fe, and they asked if I’d be interested.”

Warren was, and arrived in the City Different in the summer. And it was different, not just because the weather was hot and dry instead of hot and humid. “In New England, the beers were much more malt-forward than they are in New Mexico. I arrived here not long before the New Mexico IPA challenge and tasting the beers in the competition, I quickly gained an understanding of the New Mexico beer culture. They love their hops here!”

Since arriving at Blue Corn, James has worked at becoming familiar with the characteristics of the  brewpub’ s core beer list. “I’ve followed John Bullard’s recipes, but made a few tweaks here and there. If anything, I’m focusing less on IBUs than I am on the aromas the hops contribute. And I’m working on developing some of the darker, maltier beers.” His success with darker beers was illustrated this fall when Blue Corn Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout earned its third gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. “The recipe isn’t much different from John’s, which won a gold last year,” he remarked, going on to say he’d tweaked it a little — making it slightly less hoppy.

Asked about his overall style approach, he reiterated that he was a malt-forward brewer. “There are so many beautiful things you can do with malts!” he exclaimed. And then he confessed with a chuckle: “If you look in my fridge at home, more often than not you’ll find some cans of Oskar Blues Old Chub.”

That’s an eight percent Scottish ale — and you can’t get much maltier than that!

 

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