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Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing
Wayne Wambles was a cook before he was a brewer, and he applies the lessons he learned in the kitchen to the brew kettle. “To me, it’s always about layers of complexity, depth and uniqueness,” says Wambles, head brewer at Cigar City, a young Tampa brewery that’s taking Florida by storm. “It’s what defines who we are. We care enough to make something with layers and complexity. We brew beers that challenge our palates, and hopefully also challenges the palates of others.”
1. Don’t let distribution stop you
Wayne Wambles grew up deep in Alabama, in an area starved of good beer. When he wanted a drink, it was Bass, Heineken or that yellow stuff in a can. That all changed for him when a hurricane blew through the area and knocked out the power, and he holed up with a friend and drank and played cards for three straight days. Luckily, his friend was in a beer of the month club. “I realized beer is really good,” he says. He got hooked, and decided to overcome the limitations of his local package stores by making his own.
2. Creativity demands study
Wambles devoured brewing books by Charlie Papazian and Ray Daniels. “I’d sit up until 2 or 3 in the morning writing recipes, just to get the experience of writing recipes, hammering down gravity and IBU and imagining what the different components would create,” he recalls. “I loved the scientific aspect of it, the vast possibilities and also the artistic side. It’s like gourmet cooking with chemistry.”
3. Good materials allow freedom
Early on, Wambles’ recipes took an adventurous bent. He brewed a Hefeweizen with ginger, an India Brown Lager, a wheat with strawberry and coriander, and a Pale Ale with vanilla. “They mostly worked well,” he says. “The issues I had were with process, not with the raw materials.” Wambles found brewing analogous to culinary arts. “I learned pretty quickly that it’s about quality raw materials and a quality product.”
4. Being surprised is pleasant
Wambles bounced around jobs in the Southeast before landing at Cigar City. He ran a brewhouse, he won medals and he worked at businesses that went under. He admits he wasn’t sure what he was walking into when he took a job running a new brewery in Tampa. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m really surprised by the amount of people who are enthusiastic about beer. It’s definitely evolving down here.”
5. Work for it
Before he could start brewing for Cigar City, he had to build out a brewery. He and Cigar City founder Joey Redner cut sloped drains into a warehouse floor, laid out plumbing and wiring, and assembled a brewhouse. In between construction, the two hit their local homebrew shop, sampled grains and hops, and brewed small pilot batches. The vision was a forward-looking, highly adventurous brewery with just a handful of core recipes, and a massive stable of seasonal releases and experimental one-offs.
6. Styles are relative
“If I could only have one beer for the rest of my life, it would be an IPA,” Wambles says. “I drink more of it than anything but water. I also really like classic styles.” He approaches German lagers differently than American ales. “I tend to push the limit on American ales. German lagers can be more delicate, so I don’t want that to be overbearing, I don’t want to push to the limit.” He likes working with American ales, he says, because they’re open to a wider range of interpretation. “We created these styles,” he argues. “We took existing styles, used hops from this country and created completely different styles. We’re still reaching out and experimenting, and adding crazier and crazier things to our products. It’s wide open.”
7. Stand out and get noticed
Cigar City’s flagship IPA, Jai Alai IPA, has attracted rave reviews. Wambles knew he wanted to launch Cigar City with an IPA, and he also knew that the US is swimming in IPAs, so his had to stand out. “I was shooting for something in between a West Coast style and an East Coast style,” he says. He’s not a fan of IPAs that finish with hop astringency, so Jai Alai is hopped with six different varieties, with each hop addition having a different blend. The result is floral and bitter, but it also lets a slight caramel edge cut through. Wambles believes an English yeast strain—an oddity in American IPAs—also helps the malt stand up.
8. Put a spin on the classic
Wambles does a lot of experimentation with his flagship recipes. He’s fond of blending his staple IPA with fruits like pineapple, papaya, mango and coconut. The adjuncts are unusual pairings for the style, but they build on the IPA’s natural citrus notes. At last year’s Great American Beer Festival, Cigar City took a gold medal for its cedar-aged IPA. Most brewers don’t age IPAs on wood because hop flavors and aromas fade with age. But by aging on Spanish cedar, Wambles was able to impart bold, complex flavors quickly and cleanly. The material is also a nod to Tampa’s cigar-making past.
9. Layer the flavors
Cigar City beers are designed to unleash several distinct, complex layers of flavor. Improvisación Oatmeal Rye India Brown Ale, for instance, marries oatmeal with three different types of rye, as well as Northern Brewer, Willamette, Simcoe and Centennial hops. Wambles brewed it, he says, because he’s already had the standard American Brown Ale. Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout is an 11.5 percent monster that traces its origins to a beer Wambles brewed a decade ago, while working in Tallahassee. “It’s about layers of depth and complexity. People are moving away from single-dimensional products. I’ve been waiting for this to come around for 10 years. People weren’t ready, and now they are ready.” ■