Chat with GABF Silver Medal Winner Meg Evans

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The Great American Beer Festival is the Olympics of the beer industry. Breweries throughout the United States submit their favorite beers hoping to earn recognition. For many brewers, winning a medal is a career highlight and justification of their craft. 

Meg Evans, head brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Pittsburgh, took home the Silver Medal in the Honey Beer category at this year's awards, using the knowledge she gained at the National Honey Board's Honey Beer Summit to craft a cream ale using honey. We had the chance to talk with Meg shortly after her win, to learn more about the beer and why she brews with honey.


Congratulations on taking the Silver Medal in the honey category at the Great American Beer Festival! How did you hear the big news and what was the first thought that popped into your mind when you found out you won?
Thank you! This is a huge honor. It's a little embarrassing, but I was trying to order food when my phone just started buzzing away. I didn't even think to watch the awards, perhaps a little pessimism. But it was certainly a pleasant surprise! I think a sense of relief was the first thing that popped into my head. 

Tell us about the beer you won for, Honey Comb Cream Ale. What was the inspiration for the recipe and why did you use honey?
During the hot summer months, I typically do a lighter honey beer. In the past it's been a blonde ale. This year I actually waited until after the Honey Beer Summit to fully tackle this year's batch. I knew I wanted something a little more crisp (less sweet) for the base beer, which is why I chose the cream ale over the blonde. I also knew that I wanted the honey to be delicate and be kind of a painting on the wall of this beer. I added 60 lbs. at whirlpool and once fermentation was complete, I delicately added 10 lbs. a day until I felt like I hit that perfect flavor profile. 

How would you describe this beer in five words or less?
Delicate yet flavorful. 

What was the first beer you ever brewed with honey?
My first was a blueberry chai braggot with Apis Mead & Winery. The owner, Dave Cerminera has a mead in that genre and I wanted to bring it to life in a beer. 

Why do you like using honey in brewing?
Honestly, it's the bees. I like working with an ingredient that I know came from one of the most important creatures on this planet. And the fact that it's delicious and so unique in flavor doesn't hurt either. It adds a layer of flavor unparalleled to anything.

What first attracted you to brewing, and how did you end up at Rock Bottom?
I had a good friend who introduced me to homebrewing. I was really enthralled in the community that surrounded it. The Japanese philosophy of Kaizen is pretty important to me, and beer/brewing was the epitome of that and really just sucked me in. 

I'm from Western New York, so Southern Tier Brewing Company was in my backyard. I had a few aimless years of trying to work for them and failing before being offered a job on the ground level. I glued boxes (a lot of boxes) and labeled bottles. Then I moved onto their bottling line. I had a short stint in Oregon at OSU for Fermentation Science before being offered a job in the cellar at Southern Tier. From there I looked to move onto a brew house, which lead my husband and I to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I got a job at a local brewery called Rivertowne Brewing Company. I was the lead brewer at their brewpub location, with a few shifts at their production facility. About two years later, I was offered a position at Rock Bottom. I've been here for 4 1/2 years and head brewer for three of those. 

Any plans for future honey beers at Rock Bottom?
Of course! My husband and I's anniversary is in September. It was serendipitous that for our 3rd anniversary we brewed a honey saison. We decided that any anniversary beer we do should be a honey beer after learning September is National Honey Month! I just pulled that batch out of white wine barrels too, and it has aged incredibly. 

Final question, what's your favorite honey varietal and why?
I don't fancy myself a connoisseur of honey, yet. But from the varieties I've been able to try it's a toss-up between Goldenrod and Tupelo. They're drastically different. Goldenrod is one of the most unique honeys I've worked with. It's bold and a little funky. Then there's Tupelo. It's delicate and pleasant. 


Although you'll have to wait until Spring 2019 to try a fresh batch of Honey Comb Cream Ale, you can stop by Rock Bottom in Pittsburgh to taste Meg's anniversary honey beer, Saison Du Jubilé.