April 2022 Interview conducted by Jack Horne
Aaron Merrill – Owner and Brewmaster
Skeeta Hawk Brewing
2606 St. Louis Street, New Orleans
1. How did you start brewing?
I served 29 years in the Army, most of it as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) which is like a military diplomat. When I found out that my regional specialty area was going to be the Middle East, I decided that I would need to learn to brew so I could have access to craft beer! While serving as a FAO in the Middle East I enjoyed brewing with many U.S. Embassy Home Brewing Clubs. I think at one point the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was the third largest brewery in the country!
2. How did you get into commercial brewing?
When I was a few years from military retirement I started to think about what I wanted to do for my second career and decided I should take my home brewing passion to the next level! Once I decided to go professional, I studied and interned during my free time at some of the first craft breweries in the Middle East including 961 in Beirut and Carakale Ale in Jordan.
3. Which style(s) are you most interested in brewing and why?
Honestly, I find all beers interesting in their own way and like to experiment. With that being said, I’m a sucker for rich, full flavored Brown Ales and look forward to brewing those regularly. In fact, the first beer brewed on our system will be a Brown Ale. Additionally, the fact that we invested in two specialized lagering tanks (50% of our total fermentation capacity) speaks to our interest in brewing tasty lagers!
4. What is the most challenging aspect of being a commercial brewer?
The business side of the house. Brewing great beer is very challenging but ultimately straight forward. The million other things which go into starting up and running a manufacturing business from scratch is not straightforward and I think can be overwhelming for people if you’re not into it. To be successful I think you have to love all aspects of the business.
5. What advice do you have for homebrewers?
Keep good records but also just have fun and don’t get too stressed about getting everything dialed in precisely. That’s more for commercial brewers to worry about! If you are interested in really learning about the impact of specific ingredients or processes you might try splitting a batch of beer and varying one characteristic on the cold side. Brew a 10 gallon batch of beer and split it into two 5 gallon fermenters (sizes could be different). Ferment both beers exactly the same except for one thing. For instance, you could change the yeast, dry hopping quantities or type, temperature, additions or really anything. The idea is that you can see the impact of a specific variable very easily. At the brewery we will do this regularly on our pilot system so when you come in you can compare side by side.