Ron Downer

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What’s your current position at your brewery, and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?

Sitting around the house for seven years following my last brewery job was growing old, so when a good friend suggested that we propose a brewery to the owners of Blackberry Farm (a luxury resort in the Smoky Mountains) in nearby Walland, Tenn., I eagerly accepted the challenge. My friend’s professional presentation, along with several tastings of my homebrewed Belgian-style beers, went over so well that the owners decided to go into the specialty beer brewing business.

What’s new at Blackberry Farm?

The Blackberry Farm Brewery was set up as a half-barrel pilot brewing system designed mainly to test the popularity of the new beers, and the three core beers have proven to be so wildly popular based solely on sales at the Farm that we are consistently behind in production and are currently planning expansion into a 20-bbl or larger brewing system in 2013. Our three core beers are all Belgian-style beers that are bottle-conditioned for six weeks before being released for sale. Our beers are Farm Ale (a Belgian-style pale ale), Classic Saison, and Screaming Cock (a dubbel). We occasionally get the opportunity to brew a small test batch of something special like a dunkleweizen or a Scotch ale, so are excited at the opportunity that a larger brewing system will give us to expand our portfolio of specialty beers.

What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?

As a member of the craft brewing community for over 18 years, I never cease to be amazed at how tight-knit that community is and how helpful the members of it are. If we are having a problem, are short an ingredient, or are just in need of helpful advice, I know that there are other craft brewers out there that can be relied on for help. For instance, our draft sales are all from just 18 1/6 bbl kegs, which does not justify the expense for a keg cleaner, so I contacted Marty Velas at the Smoky Mountain Brewery with the problem and he agreed to clean our kegs for a nominal fee. Marty also loaned us two half-bbl kegs at no charge for an event we poured beer for in New Orleans. It is brewers like Marty that make the craft brewing community so great.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?

Even when I am away from the brewery, my focus remains on quality beer, so I spend a lot of time reading and rereading books and articles on beer and brewing. The learning process as a brewer is ongoing.

What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?

Dry stout and raw oysters on the half shell. Since we don’t presently brew a dry stout, I must rely on Guinness Extra Stout unless I happen to find myself in downtown Asheville, N.C. A glass of oyster stout along with a dozen raw oysters at the Oyster House Brewery in Asheville just might be the perfect beer/food pairing.

What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?

I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Education, studied motion picture production in New York City after a stint in the Army, and then spent 21 years as a firefighter and then a mechanical operator (truck and ambulance driver) on the Knoxville Fire Department. I also operated a business as a commercial photographer before opening The Brewhaus, a mail-order homebrew supply business. I was involved in so many different ventures that my wife, Millie, often described me as a “renaissance man.” My longest-lasting accomplishment has probably been remaining married to the same wonderful, supportive woman for 35 years.

What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce?

My favorite beer in the world is Saison Dupont, along with Rochefort 10. The complexity of Rochefort 10 with its dark chocolate notes is something I would like to capture in one of our brewery’s future Christmas ales.

What’s the most memorable travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?

The entire country of Belgium is my favorite travel destination to sample local beers. Whether it is the ultra-complex and sour lambics of Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, the rustic farmhouse ales of Wallonia, or the varied beers brewed at the country’s Trappist monasteries, the beer culture of Belgium offers pleasant surprises around every corner and often challenges the notions of what beer is or what it can be.


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