Wayne Waananen: Head Brewer
How did you get started brewing, and what is your brewing background?
I started homebrewing in 1983. I started volunteering at The American Homebrewers Association, and in 1986, I attended the National Homebrewers Conference to take the Beer Judge Certification Program exam. I’ve been judging at homebrew and pro competitions ever since.
I met Russell Shrerer, who had won Homebrewer of the Year, at the AHA conference. We started a homebrew club together, and ultimately Russ was approached by a group of individuals who later started Wynkoop Brewing Company. I helped design and brew their first stout, and then was hired as head brewer at Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen when Russ left for Vail to consult on that project. I also designed, installed, and commissioned a sister brewery in Dallas.
Coors Brewing Company hired me to open the SandLot Brewery at Coors Field in 1995. I was working for the Brewery R&D division, worked on the development of Blue Moon Belgian White and actually brewed the first batch sold to the public at Coors Field.
After I left Coors, I went to work for Five Star Chemicals & Supply as Director of Brewery Services. I worked with brewers across the country to help solve their cleaning problems.
I’ve worked as a consultant for a number of breweries, including Mudshark Brewery in Lake Havasu, Arizona and Backpocket Brewing Company in Coralville, Iowa. I helped open Miners Brewing Company in Hill City, South Dakota and Prairie Fire Brewing in Gillette, Wyoming.
In 2013, I was hired as a consultant for Station 26. I decided to stay on and have been here ever since.
What drew you to craft beer and homebrewing back then?
Mostly the opportunity to make beer or flavors that I liked, that suited my taste rather than someone else’s taste. It allowed me to explore and find out exactly what I liked, and to create the beers specifically for me.
What’s your favorite style of beer to brew? To drink?
It depends on mood and what’s going on physically around me. In general, I prefer IPAs, fairly aggressive West Coast IPAs. Drinking Ballantine IPA when I was teenager (back when it was legal at that age!) got my taste going. Otherwise, I tend to lean towards English and German styles overall.
Where are you from?
I am originally from New Jersey. I moved to Denver in 1977. A friend of mine had visited here, loved it, and moved. Nothing was really keeping me in the NYC area, so I decided to give it a try.
If you could brew with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
A tossup between Mitch Steele and Dan Carey. Mitch worked for A-B for a long time, and was head of brewing for Stone for many years. Dan and his wife Deb run New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin - I think they are one of the best.
What are your hobbies?
I read a lot - mostly going back and forth between fantasy, science fiction, and murder mysteries. I listen to music, you’ll always find music playing in the brewery when we’re working. I listen to a lot of jazz, old-school progressive rock, and I’ve been getting into bluegrass and jamgrass.
I design electronic components, mostly audio equipment. In the early 2000s, I left brewing and went into electronics for a few years. I owned my own business designing and building high-end audio cables and power supplies for audio.
What made you stay on at Station 26 after consulting on the opening?
I was consulting with two other places at the same time. I got tired of traveling and consulting - I preferred staying here Denver. I also believed in (Founder + President) Justin’s vision and thought that the two of us made a great team. But more than anything, it was just about me making beer. That’s what I love to do.
What is the most critical ingredient in a beer?
The person making it.
Do you have thoughts on the current craft beer industry?
Like most things in Colorado, it’s boom and bust. I’ve been through two cycles of it already. The current market is very crowded. With an increase in the number of breweries comes an increase in the amount of mediocre beer. However, the overall variety and quality of beer at the high end is better than ever. Locally, brewers like Bill Eye at Bierstadt Lagerhaus and the boys at Cannonball Creek are brewing world-class beers.
What’s your favorite beer?
The next one. I haven’t found the best beer in the world yet - I’m still searching.
What’s your favorite collaboration you’ve done?
The last two we did here for Collaboration Fest were a lot of fun. We brewed an imperial saison with gooseberries called Space Goose Super Saison with Exile Brewing Company, and an imperial pineapple Berliner Weisse with 4 Hands Brewing Co. I always enjoy working with Call to Arms Brewing Company, and it was also great working with Comrade Brewing and Cannonball Creek last year.
Collaborations are fun because you never know what you’re going to end up with.
What’s your opinion as head brewer on where Station 26 is now?
I think we’ve done a pretty good job of establishing ourselves as trying to be very high quality and consistent. We will never, ever put out a beer that might be slightly tainted or off. Everything has to be perfect if we’re going to serve it. I think Justin has been very good in supporting what I want to do. I haven’t had too many problems in doing what it takes to get it right. I’ve had those problems with other breweries I’ve worked at. Not having to hold back on ingredients is great. I can do whatever I need to do to make it the best it can be, and that’s why I got into brewing in the first place.