A Conversation with Jerry Gnagy and Sam Cruz of Against The Grain Brewery.

  Upon entering Against The Grain‘s brewing facility in Louisville, Kentucky you will witness a jaw-dropping three-tier brewing system, something you might see in Bavaria. You walk into a room that has a ceiling 60 feet high. To the left is the bar and kitchen; to the right is seating. A giant glass wall behind the bar shows their system which features a brewhouse on the third floor, fermentation tanks on a second floor, and the serving tanks behind the bar on the first floor. It looks amazing, but this three-tier system is brutal. It can be a physically taxing brew day here for a brewer of any age. Despite its visual complexity this is a very basic DME brewhouse with your standard 15-barrel tanks. It works great. And what’s even better is that these guys make some of the best liquid in the world. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the ATG guys a few times during my stints at Maria’s and at their brewery. We were amazed by their 70K Imperial Stout, Kentucky Ryed Chiquen (packaged with chicken feathers), and Bo and Luke Imperial Stout. We would just order whatever they made regardless of tasting it in advance because we knew it was good shit. While we were in planning mode for our own brewery, Marz Community Brewing Co, we were able to con Head Brewer and Owner, Jerry Gnagy, and Head Lover, Sam Cruz, to let us brew with them. It was our first of what we hope will be many future collaborations. Edmar: Can you tell me how you first came up with the idea of opening Against the Grain. Jerry: The conception of opening a new brewery started when I was working at BBC–Bluegrass Brewing Co. The first thing that made me want to open a brewery was the salad bar. The ownership decided that in order to cultivate a younger clientele, they needed to put in a salad bar. It was not even a very good salad bar. It had its own homemade sneeze-guard made with two-by-fours, some plexiglass, and thread. It had a dowel rod holding it up and at anytime it could have slammed shut. And it probably killed one of the geriatric patrons. But even the mix of what was in the salad bar there was some two or three week-old spring mix, and then a gigantic thing of hotel pan garbanzo beans… Sam: Yeah, chickpeas. Jerry: And they had genetically engineered carrots that were probably three or four inches in diameter, and they would slice them so one slice of carrot could be your whole meal. But I digress. The thing is it was a terrible salad bar. It was a poor concept and I was embarrassed to even walk by it or be associated with it. Sam: And the pizza warmer. Jerry: Aww, fuck! I forgot about the pizza warmer, I took several pictures of the pizza warmer. The pizza is a different story. That’s for another day. But the salad bar was the first reason. The second reason: Pirate Hooker Statue. Not being a seafood restaurant or on water, the owners decided the natural choice to bring people into your bar is to put a gigantic pirate hooker statue outside. Sam: A ceramic whore as a pirate. Edmar: Now that usually works in a coastal town, like in the Redneck Riviera. The Florida panhandle or maybe parts of Georgia.  Sam: I think it was procured in the Redneck Riviera. Jerry: This is even worse–it was purchased for $600. When I looked online I discovered that I could have gotten the same pirate statue for $500 new. That’s what kind of person, what kind of ownership that we are dealing with here. So that was the last straw. I just could not be associated with a place with a salad bar and a pirate hooker statue. So obviously we were forced into doing Against the Grain.  That’s the the long and the short of it. The on-the-record kind of answer is there was a dissatisfaction with every place that you would go to had a wheat ale, and then a pale ale, and then their stout, and then their amber ale, and then their brown ale. And you would go to a place and they’d go, “oh we have those,” and then the specialties. The specialties look good. That’s pretty cool because the creativity of the brewer lies in their specialties because it’s always rotating and the other normal things are kind of stamped out. But the reality was, “Ya’ gotta make another brown ale, gotta make and another brown ale.” We would never taste the wheat beer that we made at BBC because we had made it 300 times. There was no excitement to it. So we were thinking, “what if everything was special?” That’s how the concept started. But to give it some parameter we decided to make beers along flavor characteristics. The session beer’s parameter only had to be under 5% ABV. It could emphasize anything, hop, malt, smoke, dark, and was a nice one that you could do anything within. Obviously other beers had their own characteristics so you would find a breadth of different things one would be able to drink. We knew what that beer was going to be like, but we didn’t exactly know what that beer was yet. So that is kind of how it started. Edmar: How did all you guys meet each other? Sam: I was a home brewer and I would send my pregnant wife to Jerry to get grains. Jerry: She wasn’t pregnant when she came the first time? Sam: I would go badger him for ingredients and one day I happened to come in and say, “Hey, do you need any help?” And he happened to say, “I do need help.” And he gave me the shittiest job there. Which was a good job, actually. I enjoyed it. Cleaning kegs, sweeping the floor. It was really…


July 2015
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