Monday, October 4, 2010

Up and Comer Noah Regnery Reaches the Top and Beyond in Break-Out Year for Pizza Port

San Clemente, CA. Six years ago Noah Regnery was washing dishes at the Pizza Port in Solana Beach. Today, he’s brewing Gold Medal winning IPAs at the Pizza Port in San Clemente

Noah’s also the 2010 GABF Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year. But you wouldn’t know that sitting at the bar. No placards. No framed trophy shots. Not even a grease pencil shout-out on the dry-erase board. In fact, when I brought up the golden moment, the startled customers at the bar erupted in jubilation. They knew they were in the presence of greatness, but they didn’t know just how great.

“Really!?!” shouted Sherries, a dedicated local with a winning tan and smile to match, reaching out to an aw-shucksy Noah for a high five. “That’s awesome!”

Noah beamed. Two Golds in two of the toughest categories. He said he still gets shaky thinking about the awards show, showing me his trembling fingers. “A total shot in the dark,” the 27 year old brew hipster and prodigy said. “I had zero expectation. I mean, Man, I was going up against these legendsgiants… like Matt Brynildson. His Union Jack just rocks. And Vinnie, with his Blind Pig. And Ballast Point… I’m like this kid who just stumbled in, dazed and confused, just happy to be there.”

“I mean, I liked my beer. Jeff [Bagby, his boss] liked it,” recalled Noah, talking about his “Pseudo” IPA, which was his invention, and his Doheny Double IPA, which he inherited at the San Clemente pub when he took the head brewer job there four years ago. “But sometimes I wondered whether I knew what I was doing. Winning the gold medals told me I must be doing something right.”

Noah credits Jeff Bagby for his rapid rise to success (in 2009 Noah won the Gold for his Oatmeal Stout). “Jeff’s an awesome mentor. He gives me the freedom to experiment and he’s always there to answer questions and offer support,” said Noah, who’s been the head brewer at the San Clemente pub the last three years. “I’m stoked to work here. Not to take anything away from the bigger brewers, but I like the intimacy in a small pub, where I get direct feedback from my customers” – a quote that met with thunderous applause from his adoring self-styled “peanut gallery.”

What’s next for the 27 year old Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year? “Right now I’m just focused on my customers,” forlornly noting that due to size limitations (a 15 bbl system) he hasn’t been able to quench the thirst of his faithful flock who’ve been patiently waiting for his Pseudo and Doheny Double IPAs the last few weeks.

Pizza Port San Clemente doesn’t bottle and doesn’t intend to in the foreseeable future, which doesn’t seem to bother Noah a bit. Noah uses about 5 pounds of hop pellets per barrel in his IPAs. In the past three years he’s seen his volume increase from 400 barrels in 2007 to 700 barrels in 2009. This year he anticipates 800 barrels and is about maxed out.

What’s Noah looking for in hops? Like most, he never thought much about how or whether the design of a pellet influences the flavor and aroma. Like most, when ordering, he never specified the size of a pellet, nor the grind. Like most, he assumed that pellets were pellets and his suppliers must know what they’re doing. I brought a few pellets from our 2009 Oregon Goldings supply and Noah trotted out the same variety from his supplier and we did the “plop plop fizz fizz test,” dropping an equal amount in cups of hot water and room temperature.

On contact, our hops floated and expanded before settling, while the others dropped to the bottom much faster, where the tiny hop particles quickly formed a silt bank. After watching the pellets behave in their respective cups, I asked our champion for his candid, unvarnished opinions.

“If you were charged with designing a pellet, for either the boil or dry hopping, how would you do it?”

“I’d do it like that,” Noah said without hesitation, pointing to the cup of Indie Hops’ blooming green tea. There was nothing “dazed or confused” about that answer.

“Next question. Take a whiff from each. What pellets would you prefer?”

“I want that,” Noah intoned, as in a trance, again pointing to the IH concoction.

Since the peanut gallery was engrossed in the testing, we passed around the hop teas for their sensory review. “Wow” was the consensus. “Yours have a pleasant, hoppy aroma. The other’s flat.”

Can a gold medal winning brew get better? We think so.

Congratulations to Noah and Pizza Port, which, when you factor in the Carlsbad pub brewery, racked up a jaw dropping 9 medals at the 2010 GABF. Noah’s real-deal “Pseudo” IPA will be tapped, if all goes well, in about two weeks (artistic creation doesn’t obey deadlines). Mark your calendar and get there early and stay late – I’ve got a feeling Noah’s fan club is about to break out.

Roger Worthington

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