Meet the Brewer | Travis Camacho
I am happy to announce this is the first entry into the WBW Meet the Brewer Series!
It is truly a pleasure to meet and get to know the special men and women who create the magical beers I get to enjoy and share with friends.
But first, a quick story. I needed to find a graphic artist to help me with creating the WBW logo and other marketing materials. I didn't know anyone with those skills so I did the next best thing and went to Craigslist. I found an amazing woman named Allie and I love everything she does. Class act. Now the cool part is, in our initial conversation of me telling her about my new business, she proceeds to tell me her husband Travis works at Drake's Brewing Co. You know when you get a sign that you're on the right path? This was one of those moments for me.
But Travis doesn't just work at Drake's. He is the Barrel Program Manager!
So, it is my pleasure to introduce you to...(drum roll)...
Barrel Program Manager
Drake's Brewing Co., San Leandro, CA
The Set Up
The Barrel House is Drake’s on-site brewery taproom located in San Leandro. You can choose from at least 24 different beers on tap in the warehouse-style tasting room. This includes their regular styles as well as whatever happens to be on nitro and cask and a few of the barrel-aged (BA) beers.
The Specialty Beer Program was founded in 2007. Barrels are acquired from a variety of sources mostly local including whiskey distilleries and wineries. The beers are aged anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in the barrels which infuses the beer with the wine or spirit that was once in it. This process brings rich new flavors and aromas to the beers.
I asked Travis some questions about his experience in the beer industry. He was kind to answer and give us the opportunity to get to know him and learn more about his process.
What are your responsibilities as the Barrel Program Manager at Drake's Brewing Co.?
Making all of our delicious spirits barrel aged and wine barrel aged beers. We make a pretty wide range of beers, from Bourbon Imperial Stout to many different sour and fruited barrel aged beers. Compared to the brewery, the barrel aging program is small so we work on everything that has to do with producing and packaging barrel aged beers. On any given day we could be working on bottling, acquiring barrels from wineries, tasting beer, or upgrading equipment in the sour cellar.
How did you become interested in craft beer and what led you to where you are today?
I started as a homebrewer in San Diego where I grew to love beer and decided I wanted to get into the business. When I started at Drake's I was working on the bottling line, but got to help out in the barrel program on my off time since that was what I really wanted to do. I cut my teeth for a while until they trusted me enough to take over the program.
In your opinion, does “craft” have the same meaning it had a decade ago?
In some ways yes and no. I think craft brewing has come a long long way in the last decade, the beers styles are very different and the boundaries of the industry are continually being pushed. 10 years ago sour beers were nearly unheard of and would not be accepted by the normal beer consumer, but these days it’s a much different story. I think the spirit and concept of craft brewing has always stayed the same in that we are trying to make beers that are unique and tasty at the same time, and keep pushing the boundaries of how people perceive beer.
What is your beer philosophy and why should people come to your brewery?
At Drake’s we really try to be creative and let our brewers brew what they want to drink, which I think is one of the reasons we produce such great beer.
What is your favorite part of the brewing process?
Watching them ferment and how the beers change throughout fermentation, especially if it is a secondary fermentation with fruit.
What do you consider your brewing specialty?
I’m not sure if I have a specialty, but sour beers are what I like to make most. Sour beers offer a very large range of creativity and experimentation. It's very rewarding to see something that aged for over a year become something totally different and delicious.
What is your creative process when creating a new beer recipe?
It’s a collective creative process, most of us at the brewery love food and drink, so we often talk about cooking, cocktails, beers and other flavors we encounter and love, so it's easy to come up with new and creative beers.
From the beers you’ve produced, which one are you really proud of and why is it special?
We have a couple new barrel aged bottles coming out soon that I am very excited about. We are selling an 14.7% abv American Strong Ale called Headzo II in August, which is a beer that was aged for one year in bourbon barrels and then transferred to port barrels and aged another year. The beer was a lot of fun to make and see progress in complexity to the point where it is at now.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Besides drink other people's beer? My wife and I love to garden and cook, I also enjoy working on my car and motorcycle.
What was the first beer you ever drank, how old were you and what were you doing?
It definitely was not my first beer, but out of highschool a friend and I went to Europe and spent almost two weeks in the Czech Republic drinking beer. That’s when I first really learned to enjoy beer.
What is your favorite smell? Pick any smell.
Its either a freshly emptied wine barrel or tacos, but I can’t choose which I love more.
What’s your favorite beer style to drink?
I love too many beers to name just one, but some of my favorite styles are: session IPA, hoppy pilsners (I really just want Pivo Pils from Firestone all day), and all sour beers.
What or who inspires you?
People that are excited about beer, it doesn't even have to be our beer!
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the brewery business?
I always tell people it’s not easy, you have to work hard and it’s mostly manual labor. If you are passionate enough about beer though, it is very rewarding work.
How would you describe the craft beer industry in the Bay Area?
Although the Bay is not one of the biggest craft regions, I am excited to see a lot more small breweries opening up which are producing some interesting and tasty beers.
Do you feel a responsibility to consumers to educate them on different beer styles or do you simply make beers you like to drink?
We figure if we can make beer that we love to drink then other people will too. It just so happens that we love many many different styles of beer.
Is there anything you would like to say to your beer fans?
I have beer fans?
Thank you Travis! I personally look forward to enjoying your future barrel aged creations.
To discover what Travis and his team are brewing visit Drake's blog or Facebook. I highly suggest it if you love a great BA beer. In addition, their beers are not just limited to barrels for a wine or spirit infusion. They also infuse their beers with any number of additional ingredients, including wine grapes, tart cherries, peaches, cocoa nibs, coffee, chilies, honey, blood orange, and many more.
Availability is limited, but here a few recipes that you’ll see pop up on the beer wall at the Drake’s Barrel House.
Headzo – American Strong Ale aged in Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrels
Headzo II – American Strong Ale aged in Bourbon and Port Barrels.
Bourbon Drakonic – Barrel Aged Drakonic Imperial Stout aged in High West Bourbon Barrels
Rye Robustito – Session Porter aged in High West Rye Whiskey Barrels
Oaklanderweisse – Berlinerweisse Style Kettle Sour Wheat
Pungent Pumpkin – Sour Pumpkin Ale aged in Cabernet Barrels
Wild Hundo – 100% Brett Fermented 1500 Pale Ale
Brette Davis Eyes – American Style Sour Blonde aged in Hall Winery Cabernet Barrels
Mission Kriek – Brette Davis Eyes with Tartarian Heirloom black cherries
Lusu’s Lovechild – Flanders Red Style Sour Red with Zinfandel Grape Pomace and Aged in Lusu Cellars Chardonnay Barrels
Unholy Alliance – American Style Sour Blonde aged with Viognier Grape Skins
Papa Roy’s Peche – Brett Belgian Ale with Peaches