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Editor's note: This is the first in a series of interviews with local brewers.
Josh Letourneau is the head brewer at Grey Sail, which opened last year on Canal Street in Westerly and is now expanding to meet increasing demand for their fine beers. A graduate of the American Brewer's Guild, he previously worked for Mayflower Brewing in Massachusetts.
Letourneau and the team at Grey Sail produce two year-round beers, Flagship and Flying Jenny, and several seasonals. Specialty brews - including the bold and brilliant 1st Anniversary Imperial Pilsner - are released in 22-ounce bottles.
Josh is typical of many craft brewers - he is passionate about his work and loves to talk about it. He took time out from his busy schedule of brewing, canning and cleaning to answer our questions, and he's been known to chat it up during the brewery's tours and tastings on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m.
Q. How did you get into brewing?
A. I got into brewing beer by drinking beer. Around 2002 I was working with a guy who really enjoyed "flavorful" beer. He bought me a Guinness Export Stout and I just remember thinking, "Wow, this is what beer can taste like?" I was used to the fizzy yellow stuff when drinking with my buddies. It was certainly enlightening. He proceeded to turn me on to craft beers as well. The one that always stood out in that time was Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout. From there I started doing some research, bought a brewing kit, making 5 gallons at a time, and everything just escalated from there.
Q. What's the best/worst part of being a brewer?
A. The best part of being a brewer is that at the end of the day you get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Before brewing I used to work at a company that built sheds, gazebos, things like that. I couldn't stand in a shed at 5 o'clock and really enjoy looking at it. A bad part of being a brewer is that I drink fresh beer from the brewery all the time. The beer I drink is usually no more than a week or two old. When you go to a liquor store to buy beer, if it doesn't have a packaged on date, you have no clue how old that beer is. Unfortunately there is a lot of old beer out there. We need to realize that beer is a perishable food item, and should be treated as such. That's another great reason to drink and support local breweries.
Q. Grey Sail, like more and more craft breweries, are canning their beer, but there's still a stigma attached to it. What do you say to someone who turns up their nose to a can of beer?
A. There's a very large and quickly growing population of people that don't turn their noses up to beer in cans, so I guess I will say that I take the high road on this one. To each their own. I am not one to go on a rant about why they're a better or worse package than bottles. I did just hear a good story recently about one of the pioneering craft breweries in the country that started canning a couple years back where during a blind taste test of his flagship beer he chose the canned ale over the bottled ale every time. People will come around.
Q. Craft breweries tend have a big social conscience. Do you get any satisfaction brewing Bring Back the Beach Blonde Ale, which is helping raise money for storm-damaged Misquamicut?
A. I certainly get satisfaction from Bring Back The Beach Blonde Ale. Having a brewery in a town where there was major damage from Hurricane Sandy I saw a great opportunity to help an existing fund make some more money. I thought of this beer one day when I was having a conversation about Kickstarter.com and then it hit me, let's make a beer for the beach. Everything just fell into place from there. We had a lot of support from the town and even had most of our materials for the beer donated.
Q. What's the best beer you've ever brewed?
A. I'm a big fan of our summer seasonal, Hazy Day Belgian Wit. It's a 4 percent white ale brewed with coriander and orange peel and a traditional Belgian yeast. It has a nice citrus flavor on it and finishes fairly dry for a wit but is very refreshing. There will be new favorites down the road though, so be ready.
Q. What's your favorite pairing of a style of beer with food?
A. This will change for me from season to season but since the weather has been getting warmer I have been eating a lot of seafood. Last Friday I picked up some Matunuck oysters and paired them with a mignonette sauce and a bottle of 2011 Cantillon Gueuze. It was fantastic. An old standby of mine as well is our Hazy Day Belgian Wit with some mussels steamed in wit.