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In step with the Dillon Dam Brewery’s brewmaster

Caitlin Row
Dillon, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxDillon Dam Brewery brewmaster Cory Forster works at the mash tun mixing mash and water together in the brewery Wednesday morning.
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DILLON – Brewing beer isn’t just about mixing ingredients and tasting the result. It’s about timing, sticking to schedules and recipes, heavy lifting, cleaning, forward thinking and most importantly – the ability to improvise.

That’s why Dillon Dam Brewery’s Cory Forster loves being a brew master – “It challenges you on so many different levels,” he said, noting science, intelligence, wisdom, endurance, strength and dexterity as key elements of his work. And growing up on a farm in rural Minnesota conditioned Forster well to the nature of his job – long days and nights, with little time off.

Since it takes four to six weeks to produce one batch of beer – around 30 barrels of a specific flavor – and four brew days to fill two tanks, Forster and his staff are always working tirelessly to be ahead, keeping the tanks full 24-7. So, he’s thinking about a month in advance, troubleshooting and monitoring beer levels so he doesn’t run out.

“The beer makes the schedule,” Forster said, noting that if something takes longer or a piece of machinery breaks down, everything is thrown out of whack. “You’ve got all this stuff timed together. You follow the process and follow your instincts. And you have to know how to tweak the recipe.”

According to Forster, there are only so many brew masters, and most breweries have small staffs. So, the most important thing in becoming a head brewer is to be in the right place at the right time – “Most breweries hire from within,” he said.

In Forster’s case, he literally was in the right place when he walked into work one morning eight years ago.

“I’d volunteered to move kegs and at tastings,” Forster said, who’d worked at the brewery’s bar and restaurant for years already. “They knew I was interested in beer. I liked to mix beers too. They called me the mixologist.”

So, when a job opened up and Dillon Dam’s old brew master, Matt Luhr, saw Forster, he said: “Hey, you could be a brew master.” And that was that – his tenure as an assistant led into mastery.

“It was a nice step for me,” Forster said. “At the end of the day, there’s always a sense of fulfillment. … That the yeast is happy and it’s doing its thing. And I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor. I think this is my career, for sure.”

But for people who want to go the education route, there are fermentation sciences degrees available. And the Siebel Institute of Tech in Chicago is the first place to offer a brewing degree, Forster said.

Home brewing could also be a good way to start. Luhr was a home-brewer for 15 years, Forster said – “He had a killer feel for it.”

Even an experienced brewer is still looking to expand his or her technical knowledge. They study, learn from peers, talk to people and go to seminars.

“In the brewing community, we are our own support system,” Forster said. “You bounce ideas off each other. We may affect each other’s beers. Brew masters have a common goal of creating better beer.”

And the more experience one has, the more experimental one gets, Forster said. People are saying, “What else can I do to freak this beer out?” So, brewers import yeast from Belgium, or mix flavors like chipotle chiles and chocolate.

“It’s an evolution of your taste buds that leads you to the stronger, more flavorful beer,” Forster said, noting that people usually start drinking light or wheat beer, then they try amber when they’re “a little more adventurous.” The next step it to go to malts or hops, and it’s usually malts then hops. Forster personally prefers hoppy beer -“the EPA’s and the IPA’s.”

For more information about the Dillon Dam Brewery, visit http://www.dambrewery.com.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at crow@summitdaily.com.


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