Brewmaster a geneticist with a love for beer

For three weeks straight, Joe Renden, brewmaster at Stew's Sportatorium at the Lucky Spur, has been setting up the hops and brewing beer at the new pub.

Two wide windows over the horseshoe-shaped bar give visitors a view into Joe's world. What they see: a copper-plated kettle and mash tun, four stainless-steel fermenting tanks and ropes of tubes drawing the beer into the cooling tanks.

Visitors won't smell the foul fermenting odor, which some might consider the sweetest smell - like Renden, who started his career as a home brewer in 1998. He's worked his way up substantially in the brewing world.

In the largest 30-barrel tank is a honey ale. For the first batch, he has it half full. The other 15 barrel tanks hold a blueberry blond beer, an amber and a stout. Fifteen barrels equals about 465 gallons. These batches won't be ready to sell for another week. But when it's ready, he hopes to have it all "across the bar," or sold, in two weeks. He might produce up to 3,500 barrels a year, but that depends on how much they sell. He can't make more than they sell. Renden will have one or two brewer specials that will rotate through out the year and holiday specials.

And the system is as smooth as a lager. Renden has a chiller system that'll keep the beer at an almost constant 38 degrees. He has insulated serving lines and a chilling line that runs with the serving line.

"The beer will pour as cold here or colder as it is in the holding tank," he said, while leaning up against the bar, which has six taps just for the beer he brews.

Who will have the first glass?

"Probably Mike Stewart," Renden said of one of the owners.

A brewmaster's education

Renden, 57, started to home brew at the same time when he was ready to retire. He decided that he was too young not to do anything anymore, so he turned his hobby into a profession.

For 20 years he worked as a poultry scientist at Auburn University. Before that he was at Oregon State for five years.

"I love making beer. I love everything about beer. So I decided to pursue that as a second career."

The beer that began his desire to brew was German Hefeweizen. Renden visited his son, who was on an exchange in Germany, in 1997 and first tasted the beer there. He said the wheat beer with the banana or clovey flavor was an epiphany.

"We came back to the states and I was living in Alabama at the time, so I didn't think I'd be able to buy it. I had friends who were making beer at the time, so I thought the only way I could drink the beer is to make it myself."

Renden, who has a Ph.D. in genetics, worked for free at the Olde Auburn Alehouse to learn how to use the brewery equipment. He moved to Reno to work at the Great Basin Brewery, where he first met the owners of Stew's, Michael Stewart and Scott Johnson.

Seeking more knowledge on brewing, Renden went to the University of California, Davis to take its master brewers' program. After completing the program, Renden met with Stewart and Johnson again and they offered him the position. That was in August 2003.

For almost two years he has been staying at home doing the cooking and cleaning until the operation opened. He's happy to be working again.

"It's kind of like a dream come true to find something you can do that you really love in the post-retirement years."

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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