Friday, March 20, 2015

An Oshkosh Homebrewer Goes Pro

This story also appears at the Oshkosh Independent.

Some people seem destined to make beer. Cullen Dunn is one of them. This week, Dunn arrived at the next level of the craft that’s chosen him. He’s joined the staff of brewers at Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh and Appleton.

Cullen Dunn
None of this was planned. Dunn shakes his head, amazed by how quickly things have progressed. Did he suspect he’d be a professional brewer six months ago? “Not even remotely,” he says. “It's ridiculous. It's blindsided me.”

Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. When you look at where Dunn came from, the progression seems entirely natural.

Dunn, 26, grew up in Oshkosh; the son of a homebrewing father. “I remember him having carboys filled with fermenting beer in our basement when I was 10 years old,” he says. But it would be another decade before Dunn would take up the hobby himself.

After graduating from college, he moved to Minneapolis. There he landed a job at Northern Brewer, the nation’s largest supplier of homebrewing equipment and ingredients. Surrounded by a homebrew vortex, Dunn decided to try his hand at beer making. “That's what really got me into it,” he says.

After almost two years at Northern Brewer, Dunn moved back to Wisconsin with his fiancĂ©e. When he returned to his hometown he was surprised by the changes he found. “I'm an Oshkosh guy born and raised,” Dunn says. “But from when I left for Minneapolis to when I got back, it was like night and day here. The beer culture here  has just blown up.”

Brewing a Barleywine
Meanwhile, his homebrewing father had told the owner of the The Cellar homebrew shop in Fond du Lac, that his son was making his way back to Wisconsin. “I was a customer down there at The Cellar,” says Brian Dunn. “I told him what Cullen was doing up in the Cities. When I told him Cullen was moving back down here, he told me to have Cullen contact him right away.”

With little more than a year’s worth of homebrewing experience under his belt, Dunn went to work at The Cellar. He soon became the store manager. Dunn says the daily flow of customer questions about beer and homebrewing required him to develop his knowledge of the craft. “It was such a steep learning curve,” he says. Part of that education has been directed at becoming a better judge of beer flavor.

Dunn is currently enrolled in the Beer Judge Certification Program, an international, standards-based course that certifies and ranks beer judges through examination and monitored tastings. The course is known for its rigor. Dunn says the experience has been eye opening. “It brings you into a whole other realm,” he says “When you start tasting things with people who have been judging beer for a long time you begin to realize how little you've picked up and how much you've been missing. It's kind of a rude awakening”

The skills he’s acquiring should serve him well in this new phase of his career. “I hate leaving the Cellar, but I can't pass this up,” Dunn says. “I'm excited for the opportunity to take the next step forward.” This ought to be a good time for a young brewer to join Fox River Brewing. The brewery is in an expansion mode with a new distribution agreement and a new bottling line that will be installed at the Appleton location.

Though he’s stepping up to the next level, Dunn wants to maintain his homebrewing roots. “I can’t just quit now,” he says with an ironic laugh while brewing a Barleywine on the  three-vessel system he recently built. “I just finished this thing. I’ve got to use it!”

And to keep himself supplied with the beer he likes best, he’ll have to continue making it himself. Dunn enjoys traditional, English styles of beer, especially Ordinary Bitter, a balanced, flavorful ale that’s rarely produced commercially in America.

“It's such an easy drinking beer, but you can't find it around here,” he says. “It's phenomenal fresh, but you can't get it fresh anywhere. That's one recipe that I've been tweaking and getting dialed in.”

There’s yet a more important reason for Cullen Dunn to hang onto his hobby after he goes pro. “It's just something I love to do,” he says.

No comments:

Post a Comment