By Bobby Bush
From all outside appearances, Christian Boos has it made. Most brewers would be
envious. His job seems simple, just one beer to brew, well really two. Reality, however,
is much more involved than perception.
The brewing week for Red Oak Brewpub, North Carolina’s third oldest active
microbrewery, begins Sunday nights at midnight and doesn’t pause until Friday at noon.
That’s how Boos and his three assistants brewed 5,000 barrels last year with a ten barrel
brewhouse. If the early 2001 brewing pace holds throughout the year, the Greensboro
brewpub’s annual output will come pretty close to the brewery’s 7,000 barrel capacity.
That’s why Red Oak offers only two beers, there’s no time or room to brew others
Things don’t get any easier once the brewing’s done. There are no serving tanks.
All beer must be kegged. Which is just as well, because Red Oak Brewpub, until recently
also known as Spring Garden Brewing Company, services 350 draft accounts, mostly by
self-distribution, throughout the state.
Patterned after Viennese-style amber, Red Oak the beer, is an unfiltered,
unpasteurized Bavarian-style lager. It is brewed with utmost love and care in strict
accordance with Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. Vibrant orange-gold
in color, Red Oak opens with malty toffee flavor, introducing each mouthful with smooth
texture and a citrusy yeast undercurrent. Christian uses only aroma hops - Select,
Tettnanger and Saaz - which leaves an inkling of tangy bitterness as each swallow ends.
An abrupt dry finish prepares tastebuds for the next sip. Red Oak is cold fermented and
naturally carbonated. That’s what the tall, demonstrative brewer calls “genuine
Battlefield Black, which comprises only 5% of production, is a dark lager, actually
a schwartzbier by style. “Unfiltered and uncompromising,” as with Red Oak, all
ingredients are imported from Southern Germany. Somewhat reminiscent of Beck’s Dark,
deep brown, orange tinged Battlefield sports a healthy, frothy brown head. Dark caramel
dominates the malty flavor. Its silky, swirling medium mouthfeel suggestively caresses the
tongue, leaving the mouth refreshed, yet continually thirsty. Maybe that why Germans
drink so much beer.
Christian did not come across this easy job by luck or happenstance. With a
background in microbiology from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, his best
opportunities for work in his chosen field were food service, baking and brewing. After
sizing up the prospects of working for Labatt, which would become a lifetime journey on
corporate street, he went to work for Ottawa Valley Brewing Company as assistant
brewmaster. The start-up micro produced extract ales and lagers in a twenty barrel
brewhouse equipped with a titling mash tun. This, as Christian describes it, was the “Wild
West of Brewing,” though he did manage to convert the recipes over to all-grain.
Meanwhile, restaurateur Bill Sherrill already had a successful establishment,
founded in 1979 on Hunt Club Road in suburban Greensboro. But he wasn’t happy when
his neighborhood restaurant evolved into a fine dining bistro with piano lounge, sunken
bar and expensive wine list. In his search for satisfaction, Sherrill visited over 80
breweries and brewpubs worldwide. He found what he was looking for in Germany. In
fact, he ordered a complete state-of-the-art Beraplan brewery before he even had a
A brewery owner in need of a brewer, Sherrill learned of an aggressive young
Canadian brewer. Christian arrived in Greensboro on January 15, 1991 and never left.
But he has left an indelible mark on all aspects of Red Oak’s operations. His convictions
are the reason for the company’s success. He found early on that “hoppiness is not
welcome” to the majority of the Tarheel State drinking audience, so he adjusted Red
Oak’s original recipes to a “taste and quality that people would come back to time and
time again.” Red Oak Amber and Battlefield do just that, as did the now-obsolete
Hummingbird, a light lager, and seasonal Christmas Bock.
Opinionated and downright proud of his beer, Christian likens gargantuan
megabreweries, such as budmillercoors, to fast food. “Big breweries make beer the way
McDonald’s and Wendy’s make burgers.” He truly believes in the craft of craft brewing.
He also recognizes that only “two-thirds of what happens with his beer occurs in the
brewery.” The remaining third is the responsibility of the bar where it is served. He insists
that a bar’s beer lines be cleaned regularly. In fact, Red Oak employees perform that
chore every time they deliver new kegs to a bar or restaurant.
Bill Sherrill isn’t content. Even with a popular brewpub and all those state-wide
keg accounts, he hears opportunity calling. The cheerful owner, who raises beef for the
restaurant, recently purchased 12.5 acres of land just north of town. Plans are in motion
for a Red Oak distributing microbrewery, though no timetable has been set.
Fresh beer is food, a nutritious product, “part of a balanced lifestyle, part of a
balanced diet.” In fact, in Germany beer is legally described as a “psychologically relaxing
socializer.” Beer is a birthright in Germany, and should, if Christian Boos has his way, be
the same in his adopted country.
[editor's note: Christian left the brewing biz in 2002 and returned to Canada. Henryk Orlik, former brewer from Abita in Covington, LA took over the head brewer position. The microbrewery is still on the horizon. written July 2003]
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush