By Haylie Navarre
It all started as a pipe-dream, more accurately as a dream next to a half-pipe in a crowded garage in 2011.
Zac and Cari Caramonta, co-founders of Gnarly Barely Brewing Co., brought this dream to fruition last year when they opened the doors of their brewery in Hammond, La. In that short time they’ve landed their beer on taps throughout southeast Louisiana, and are beginning to branch into Mississippi.
The brewery celebrates its one-year anniversary on May 9, the weekend before American Craft Beer Week kicks off. During the week, Zac and Cari will be participating in an event each night, trying to spread time equally between the regions where their brews are available.
Saturday afternoon on May 16, they’ll make their way to Baton Rouge. You can find them at the Delta Brewers Ball at the Pelican House in the afternoon. During the evening they plan to tap a couple of special-edition casks at Corporate Brew and Draught.
Gnarly Barley debuted publicly in October of 2011 at the New Orleans on Tap beer festival. Zac brewed six times in one weekend to prepare, noting that one brew takes him roughly six hours. Zac and Cari showed up at the festival in full-force, toting T-shirts, koozies and signage.
“We acted like we knew what we were doing,” said Cari.
The response was auspicious. Cari said people where asking where they could buy the beer before it was even being produced commercially.
The name “Gnarly Barley,” originates from Zac’s involvement in skate boarding. Everything about the brand reflects this hobby: the names of their brews, Zac and Cari’s laid-back demeanor, even the signage, an actual skateboard deck.
“We’re not taking ourselves too seriously,” said Cari.
Zac has always had an affinity toward craft brews. In college when everyone was drinking Milwaukee’s Best, Zac and his roommate would splurge and spend their money on quality craft beers. His taste was partly influenced by his parents, though Zac said he doubts that was their intention.
He received several beer-related gifts growing up, perhaps because his parents were at a loss of what to give him. He even received his first home-brewing kit from them in high school, but admitted he never got around to using it. It was years later when he would finally give it a shot, and become instantly hooked with the first batch.
“I jokingly talked about opening a brewery after the first time I made beer,” said Zac.
It was natural. He excelled quickly, progressing from extract to all-grain brewing. He event built his own brewing system out of old kegs he purchased off Craigslist. Zac emphasized these were kegs that other people didn’t return, an issue he takes rather seriously.
“Keg theft is really a bummer,” Zac said referring to when customers rent kegs and don’t end up returning them. “If we lose one out of 10 we go out of business.”
Going out of business doesn’t seem like a struggle that they’ll be facing anytime soon. Zac and Cari are the only two full-time employees of the company, and whether they’re riding half pipes or pouring tall pints, they’re staying pretty busy these days.
The brewery’s current location, a 10,500 square foot warehouse in Hammond, was obtained in May of 2013. The couple spent a full year preparing. Zac built all of the equipment himself. He had never worked in commercial brewing before and wanted to design a system where he would know all of the ins and outs.
“Initially we were going to be smaller,” said Cari.
But as the couple learned more about the process, they decided they needed a large space to be able to produce more beer in one day. The way that the brew system is set up now, Zac can brew a full batch completely by himself.
A great deal of thought is put into the flavor profile of each beer. Even the water has its own recipe.
“We have the same water filtration system that NASA uses,” said Zac.
Their flagship beer is the Catahoula Common, which is also their best-seller. It’s a California Common brew, named by the steaming process engineered by Anchor Brewing Company based in San Francisco, Calif. Zac designed this beer especially for the hot Louisiana summer; something light and refreshing, but still full of flavor.
“It’s a good gateway beer for people to try, and fall in love with craft beer,” said Cari.
She said their second brew, the “Radical Rye,” is for someone who wants a lot of flavor and a little edge to their beer. As the name implies, this Indian Pale Ale is made with rye, giving it some spice. It has a malty taste in the middle, met with hops on the back end.
“It’s not just a hop-bomb like some IPAs,” said Zac.
The most recent release is the Korova Milk Porter. The name was inspired by the Korova Milk Bar, the bar frequented by the main characters of Stanley Kubrick’s cult-classic, A Clockwork Orange. This is Cari’s favorite beer. It has notes of chocolate and coffee, without actually containing either of those ingredients. The flavor comes from the way the grain is roasted.
“There’s a reason why we make the beers that we make—they literally are my favorite beers,” said Zac.
Gnarly Barley is currently only available on draught. Though Cari said they hope to one day produce more styles and make it available for purchase in cans or bottles.
In the battle of cans versus bottles, Cari ultimately thinks cans are better. They keep out light and are easier for portability. Though she said there seems to be a stigma of cans being perceived as a lesser product, or cheaper. When it comes time to make the final call, Cari said there will be many factors at place, an important one being what is available locally. Hammond has become their home. It’s where they met in 2005, and this year it’ll be where they start their family.