What does it take to move a glacier and what does it leave in its wake? For Caleb Staton of Upland Beer, the movement of glaciers through Monroe County, Indiana not only formed the land, but left the blueprint for a great regional brewery. Building upon experience on the West Coast and in Germany, Staton came to Indiana to deliver highly quaffable beer to the ready masses. He was nice enough to answer some questions about brewing, the industrial process and of course, The Sword.What do you do at Upland Beer?
As Head Brewer at Upland, there are a lot of hats worn not only by myself but also the rest of the brewing staff. One day I could be out brewing for 12 hours straight and on another spending time with the brewing schedule, counting inventory, ordering hops and malt, and working on project design and budget considerations. One way or the other, it is all about the consistency and quality of our beers in an extremely active craft market, which is pushing our growth while we adapt with those changes that come along in increasing our brewing production in a controlled manner.
What got you into the brewing industry?
Like many of us in the industry it began at home, experimenting and homebrewing with myself and friends as the only judges of what we made. I felt like I enjoyed brewing enough, understood the basicsand wanted to transition my new found hobby into a career. After researching various educational routes into brewing, I ended up at the University of California-Davis Master Brewers Program and soaked up as much technical brewing information as my noggin could handle.
What kind of training do you have? Were you a home brewer at some point?
Out of Davis, my first real brewing gig was interning at Trumer Brauerie in Berkeley, CA. Most of the internship was in a much larger brewery setting than I am currently familiar with, and during a start-up phase. I wasn’t sure what drilling holes into concrete floors, repacking bottle cases and cleaning conveyers had to do with brewing at the time, but now I know brewing isn’t just solely science and art. The hard work/industrial aspect of what we do is a big reality check. The brewing education helps motivate better brewing practices, but if you can’t repair a pump, you aren’t brewing at all.
What’s the biggest challenge in starting a brewery?
Putting your money where your mouth is. We’ve got a another big wave of brewing operations opening all over not only Indiana, but across the United States. I wasn’t even 21 when Upland opened its doors back in 1998, but I do know there was a bunch of fools tax paid over the initial start up years which ended up stagnating the growth of the brewery. We operate much better now, and the big key to that is brewery staff that focuses on quality, with a ownership group that helps fund growth.
Basically I see the double-edged sword all the time, you can spend way too much on a piece of equipment to enable quality and then your profitability suffers, or the reverse, where a bunch of dollars are pumped into increasing volumes and letting the consistency and quality checks suffer, either scenario can cause a brewery to shut down. Making awesome beer is always imperative, but striking the balance on what a start-up wants to accomplish in the market, while maintaining quality, and having expectations on how much they want to brew is the tight rope between success and failure. I’m not criticizing any current start-up breweries in particular, the more the merrier, but we all share the responsibility of making great beer no matter the size of the operation. Consumers are falling in love with craft beer everywhere right now, and we owe them our best. Maybe a bit of pontificating there, but that is how I see the main challenge in opening a brewery.
Where does the name Upland come from?
The geological features of Southern Indiana, which were produced by glacial melting thousands of years ago. We are in part of the Norman and Crawford Upland region, which the rugged hills and Karst formations (sinks and caverns) define the type of folks that inhabited this region. Hard working limestone millers, natural craftsmen, and other salt of the earth folks are what we fondly think of when we raise our pints in toast.
Why Bloomington, Indiana? I’ve been there, and it’s a pretty great place, but what drove you to start a brewery there?
Bloomington had one of the best import and growing craft markets in Indiana a decade ago. Big Red Liquors helped provide a good deal of that foundation by stocking beers that couldn’t be found in other places, I actually remember picking up some Erdinger when I graduated from Hanover College and being tickled pink, since I didn’t think I’d ever have one again until I returned to Germany.
Russ Levitt, who I refer to as the Godfather of Bloomington Breweries, was involved in Bloomington’s first brewery, Bloomington Brewing Company, and was also part of Upland’s birth. There was some foresight in understanding the community that supports locally brewed beer, as well as other locally grown/produced commodities. Actually, all the way until last year, a majority of our sales were still right here in Monroe County, but the Indy market is starting to open up its palates as well, and took the lead.
What makes you excited to brew beer every day?
The shift pint at the end of the day.
Sometimes it can be a name for a beer that motivates its creation. Other times we want to take our own stab at a traditional or neo-style. And in some instances, I like to think a sprinkle of madness enters the fray. Most of the lineup started from inspiration from staff of years past and the current staff, whatever the recipes origin, we stay true to keeping it consistent and improving in small steps when we feel it could be better the next time around. I like to think we always start with something that tastes pretty good, but small tweaks to some recipes have made them stellar.
I notice some eclectic offerings. What beer best characterizes the Upland Beer? (I know it’s tough, so you can match up different beers with different philosophies)
We have a big variety of beers, and haven’t just stuck with one set of rules for them all. Upland Wheat is our flagship beer, being a nice sessionable Americanized Witbier, but our Dragonfly IPA, the second biggest seller, is a well-rounded bitter, more malty, higher ABV contrast. Then we can get into the seasonal big, high ABV monsters like Ard Ri Imperial Red and our Teddy Bear Kisses Imperial Stout, or jump over to our really wild stuff regarding our lambic and sour line.
We like to keep focus on creating great beers that appeal to incoming craft beer drinkers as well as the avid beer geeks. I like to think the Upland line-up reflects the diversity of the craft beer market. If you haven’t had an Upland beer you like, you just haven’t tried the one you like yet, and I don’t think the search takes too long.
Why does beer mean so much to society?
Beer is what starts and fuels the best conversations, builds friendships, and makes people happy when consumed in a responsible manner.
Favorite beer that you make/have made?
Probably the Irish Red I first made as a homebrewer, not the best beer I’ve ever made, but the excitement and pride in brewing something myself just never went away.
Favorite beer from another brewery?
That’s tough, my big go-to is Sierra Nevada Pale, which sits alongside our beers in my fridge constantly. But I am always checking out beers from other breweries, so I like to say my favorite is the one I haven’t had yet. Fell in love with Flower Power about a month ago, but I’ll find another fav before the year is out.
Food and beer pairing?
Cheese and beer has been something I experiment with at home, I claim no expertise, but various pepperjacks and IPAs are quite rad together. I’m not a diehard foodie by nature, I appreciate a well orchestrated five course meal, but I’m just as satisfied with a sirloin steak and potatoes grilled out on the porch. If a pairing works, awesome, if not, I still get to eat and have a beer, which is my usual dinner goal regardless. Home grilled sirloin and a Porter usually makes my week.
Beer and situation pairing?
Nothing better than putting on a suit and tie, drink a beer, then go to the county demolition derby.
Favorite book/movie/album right now?
Reading Lovecraft right now, almost want to think up a recipe for Brown Jenkin, but it doesn’t sound all that delicious. I’m a big Kurosawa guy movie-wise, but also appreciate the worst B movies I can find as well. A summer working at a drive-in movie theater, gave me a bad taste for the worst. Ever watch Legally Blond 2 like 10 times? Eventually some pleasure comes from all the pain. I played Pet Sounds and The Sword’s Warp Riders album back-to-back while brewing yesterday, so my musical favorites are all over the place.
Find out more information about Upland Beer and their delicious brews on their website.
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