A Change at Gordon Biersch
By Jeff Maisey
Longtime brewmaster Allen Young is hanging up his brewery boots at Gordon Biersch, passing the tap handle to Eddie Leal, a notable brewer from Irving, California’s Steel Head Brewing Company.
Young’s brewing career began in Virginia Beach back in 1985. He worked then at the upstart, long defunct Chesapeake Bay Brewery, which brewed German-style beer.
While Young has been professionally brewing beer for 28 years, he actually started as a homebrewer when he was in elementary school.
“I’m an old dinosaur in the craft brewing business,” he said. “I took some college courses at Cal-Davis. That’s where I met the owners of Sierra Nevada and Buffalo Bill’s, that first generation of craft brewers.”
Young, who was hired seven years ago to open the Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach Town Center location, also oversaw the Mid-Atlantic group of Gordon Biersch brewers in Annapolis, Rockville, Washington, DC, and Baltimore.
Gordon Biersch strictly adheres to the brewing rules of The Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 that states beers can only be brewed with water, barley and hops. It remains the law in Germany today. Among Gordon Biersch’s flagship German, Austrian and Czech style beers are the Marzen, Czech Pilsner, Golden Export and Hefeweizen.
According to Young, there are two primary philosophies in brewing: The British Isles style and Continental European style.
“Our equipment is set up to brew the Continental European style cooking of the mash,” he said. “We mash into our brew kettle. We do various different temperature rises and rests to influence the dryness or sweetness of the beer. We have a lot of control over our raw materials.”
There are now 35 Gordon Biersch locations throughout the United States. Biersch is a micro-brewery, brew pub and restaurant all in one. All of the beer sold on premise is brewed onsite and the Beach location does all it can to keep pace with demand.
A recent report on The Daily Beast website listed Norfolk, Virginia as the Number 2 Drunkest City in America, based on per capita beer consumption. So it is no surprise the Virginia Beach Gordon Biersch location serves more beer than any of its other brewpubs. This success opened the brewing options for Young to experiment with American and British style ales to compliment the traditional GB brands. This, of course, makes the hiring of Eddie Leal an excellent choice.
Leal spent the past 17 years brewing a variety of beers at Steel Head Brewing Company, but not the German and Czech style lagers and pilsners Gordon Biersch specializes in.
“I’m going to like the change,” said Leal. “I’ll get to make some different beers.”
Steel Head is a brewpub much like the Gordon Biersch chain in that the location produced just enough draft beer for its in-house location. They specialized in ales, especially West Coast style, extra hoppy IPAs. Steel Head produced an average of 700 barrels per year. Gordon Biersch in Virginia Beach cranked out 900 barrels in 2012.
“It’ll be a little but busier for me,” Leal said, “that way I don’t get bored.”
Under the Gordon Biersch Brewer’s Select name Leal will continue to brew American craft beer varieties.
“Eddie’s background with ales is going to be great,” said Young. “I see him coming in from the West Coast doing a West Coast pale ale that’s really going to be authentic. It’s going to be a good thing for the future of this location.”
Gordon Biersch will have a grand re-opening on March 11. Without closing, the brewpub and restaurant will get an interior makeover that will include new TV screens as well. Leal will unveil a new brew for the special occasion.
“I’ll be making some beers that are a lot more hoppy than you’re probably used to,” said Leal. “It’ll be a nice change of pace.”
A farewell Tapping Party celebrating Allen Young’s tenure will happen January 30 at 6 PM. Though Young retiring as a commercial brewer, his next gig as a saleman of brewing materials will keep him in the industry mix in the Mid-Atlantic region. Young will continue to reside in Virginia Beach and plans to advise any of the local and regional breweries upon request.
Young has been excited to see the new local beer culture grow over the last three years. The addition of Smartmouth Brewing Company, O’Connor Brewing Company, St. George Brewing, Williamsburg AleWerks and Beach Brewing Company is good for everyone – consumers and breweries alike.
“It’s really interesting that Virginia Beach went from a beer nowhere land to where now we’re on the beer map,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”
Smartmouth Brewing Company has produced its first English-style porter. An online poll was conducted to name the beer. The winner: Porter, Hardy – ironically named for the brewery’s president Porter Hardy IV.
According to head brewer Greg Papp, Smartmouth will be making a milk stout in mid-February that’ll be exclusive to its tasting room, open Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 7 PM, and Saturdays noon to 5. The popularity of the tasting room experience has the brewery considering extending its public hours.
O’Connor Brewing Company debuted its Winter Pecan Porter at Veer’s Christmas Beer Challenge, and it was so popular with event attendees it is no surprise the nutty, buttery dark brew, with its toasted oats and pecans, has earned an official spot on the O’Connor seasonal roster. Available only on draft in select locations. Delicious!