Engineering Hops

In just a year, Valiant Brewing in Orange has become one of Orange County’s most successful craft beer breweries. It’s the result of the hard work and dedication of Brian and Kelly Schroepfer, 2003 graduates of CSULB’s College of Engineering who risked a complete career turnabout to make their passion a reality.

Brian is the brewmaster and Kelly is director of operations. Beach Magazine spoke with Brian shortly after their first  anniversary party in March that brought more than 2,000 thirsty fans.

How did you go from aerospace to brewing?

We were tired of the corporate hustle even though it was a very good salary. We always wanted our own business. I have always had a passion for cars, which actually is what led me to aerospace. As a student at Long Beach I was even involved in the College of Engineering’s Formula car project. So we were thinking‚ ‘How do we open a business related to cars?’ We had a garage with all the needed equipment, but it burned down in the October 2007 Santiago fire. Home brewing, which I’d been doing as a hobby for years, helped me to work through recovering from that and allowed us to change directions and work towards a microbrewery business. Our engineering backgrounds led to all the design in the brewery, and we are hands-on every day. I am king of our brew house.

So much more is heard about wine tasting than beer brewing. Didn’t you think wine might be a safer option?

We looked at several angles. We used our engineering background to create a business model and then created a business plan, and that plan led to our confidence. We realized you couldn’t just get your feet wet; you have to go all in. We were also confident because we knew the industry well enough to know that our brews were unique.

What’s the key to brewing different beers? What’s the difference in wheat, IPA (India Pale Ale), ales?

It all starts with fundamentals—water, barley, hops and yeast—and varying the ingredients in many ways. We use different types of water and tailor it to beer. We use different roasts. Wild bacteria can create a sour or vinegary taste. With yeast, if ale is made warmer, things change. Each strain has its own characteristics. We use different temperatures that we ferment at. Hops add bitterness, aroma. It can be added on the cold side or in the boil kettle. There are almost unlimited combinations and variations.

How do you change a beer’s alcohol level and how does that affect the taste?

A simple way to change the alcohol level is to change the concentration of the sugar present in the wort (unfermented beer). This can be obtained by adding more grain to the brew or by other avenues such as honey, molasses, etc. The flavor develops in a variety of ways and is not necessarily dependent on the alcohol level. The art of brewing is creating a beer that has layers of complex flavors.

It sounds like writing music would be a good analogy for brewing beer?

Yes, in both there are a finite number of (notes or fundamental compounds) but an infinite number of combinations to produce different results. Wine is more limited because so much depends on the grape and where and how it was grown, but beer is unlimited.

What’s your favorite kind of beer?

I enjoy English barley wine. It’s so complex. I’ve dedicated 10 years to mastering that kind of beer.

Did you ever have a brewing experiment that didn’t work?

There has been a calling for me and it’s related to this because of the idea of different combinations that fascinates me. I understand the process and ingredients. It almost always works. After 10 years, you know what works and what doesn’t.