I first met Amy Heller on one of my frequent visits to Artifex Brewing Company in San Clemente. Amy had brought a completed Arrow Lodge/Artifex collaboration beer for Artifex’s Head Brewer Johnny Johur. The beer, named One Last Pull, is a Berliner Weisse with cherries and Meyer lemon. Fortunately, they offered me a sample taste. The complex and delicious flavors of tart cherries and lemon zest blew me away. So I knew I had to find out more about Amy and Arrow Lodge Brewing.
Started by Victor Linares, Carlos Roman and Andy McIntyre, Arrow Lodge Brewing opened just over a year ago. Arrow Lodge is tucked up near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Covina, CA. Unlike the exterior, the interior definitely has a mountain lodge type vibe.
Arrow Lodge’s Head Brewer Amy Heller started out as a wine maker. She attended CSU Fresno and obtained a degree in Enology. While in school, she started homebrewing as a way to practice fermentation. With wine you basically get one shot per year to ferment and evaluate the results. Brewing beer provided more frequent opportunities to experiment with fermentation and learn.
Upon graduating with her degree, Amy began working as a wine maker in northern California’s Anderson Valley area. Amy later moved to Napa Valley to work. After making wine in Napa, she returned to Southern California to support an ill family member. With no local wine industry opportunities, Amy turned to brewing. With a background in homebrewing and expertise in fermentation science, Amy found the transition easy. She landed a job with Congregation Ale House. During this time, Amy also earned a brewing diploma from the American Brewers Guild.
When the opportunity arose, Amy accepted the job as the Head Brewer for a new brewery business venture that is now known as Arrow Lodge Brewing. Furthermore, her early involvement allowed Amy to lead the design and installation of the brewing systems. A 1.5 bbl pilot brewing system is visible from the bar. And a 15 bbl production brewing system lies hidden from the bar area. In fact, Amy met Johnny Johur (Head Brewer for Artifex Brewing) when she visited Artifex to see a manufacturer’s equipment installed and working while she was designing the configuration for Arrow Lodge Brewing.
Amy Heller’s passion for fermentation and brewing radiate from every fiber of her body. Her vision – “To continue to brew small batch beers and to experiment with the use of unique ingredients, yeast and bacteria. To develop a barrel program for sour and non-sour beers.”
Sample Beer Flight
While there, Amy gave me a taste tour of the eleven different beers on tap at the time. I did not take any tasting notes while visiting. So my tasting notes below are based on my memory:
- Kirby Kolsch (5.2% ABV) – Light and sweet with some bread aspect
- Hibiscus Gose (4.2% ABV) – Floral aroma, light body, tart with a perfect salty balance; a great way to reinvigorate after working or playing in the summer heat
- Guava Berliner Weisse (4.6% ABV) – Bursting with guava aroma and a delicious tart guava taste; one of my favorites during my visit
- One Last Pull Berliner Weisse (4.6% ABV) – Brilliant cherry red color; lovely tart cherry aroma and a tart cherry taste with wonderful, complementary Meyer lemon zest tang
- All Blue Chucks Berliner Weisse (4.6% ABV) – Mild blueberry flavor
- Pale to the King Pale Ale (5.9% ABV) – Somewhat tropical with a dry, bitter finish
- Leopold Dry Hopped Belgian Pale Ale (6.5% ABV) – Somewhat malty with a spicy and floral character; a moderate dry, hop bitter finish
- Arrowmatic DIPA (8% ABV) – Features Citra and Mosaic hop varietals; bursting with tropical, citrus and floral aromas that showcase the hop varietals used; tropical and citrus taste with mildly dry finish
- Hopsessive Compulsive DIPA (8.5% ABV) – Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Galaxy hops; Cloudy, juicy, smooth with citrus and pine resin notes
- Clayton Kerhop DIPA (8% ABV) – Citra and Amarillo hops; this DIPA seemed muted in aroma and taste to me but there was a flowery, citrus aspect
- Happy Cal Milk Stout (5.6% ABV) – Creamy and smooth with coffee and sweet milk flavors; I could easily drink this beer for breakfast
Q&A with Amy Heller
During my visit, Amy Heller and I sat down for some Q&A fun.
What is your vision for Arrow Lodge beers?
Keep them diverse. Always experimenting and having some new beers coming up in the tap lineup. That’s why the pilot system is so beneficial.
In time, we are definitely starting a sour beer and barrel program. Coming from the wine industry, I’m very familiar working with wine barrels and I love it. Even as a homebrewer I loved working with “bugs”. So I’m very excited for this program to eventually happen. However, we will need more space. That will come in time.
How else did your wine background influence your vision to make sours and barrel-aged beers?
Well, you are seeing a lot of people doing sours working with grapes and wine barrels. However, there are things I’ve done on the wine making side that I have never seen done in beer that I can’t wait to do. Also, being familiar with working with oak and barrels influences my vision.
Definitely the sensory training I received in wine making school and how my palate developed has been a huge influence for my approach. And I believe they add an extra dimension to my beer making.
Any related beers that have inspired your vision for moving forward with a sour and barrel aging program?
Definitely lambics. Love them. And on the American side, the sours that other brewers are making and adding fruit. I love working with fruit. I have some kettle sours with fruit already on tap. All of these relate to my wine making background and future vision.
What is the flagship beer for Arrow Lodge Brewing?
Generally speaking, IPAs. We are in SoCal! As you saw, we have three up now.
Arrow Lodge recently celebrated its 1st Anniversary. Tell me about your 1st year experience.
[Laughs] You know, I’ve been really busy. I started out brewing on the pilot system while we were designing the production system. We decided to go ahead and open the Tasting Room with just the pilot system operational. The pilot system has 4 bbl fermenters, so I would brew triple batches for the fermenter. At the same time, I spent a lot of effort visiting and talking to people/companies to decide the configuration of our production system. It was great fun, but a lot of work.
What has been your toughest challenge since Arrow Lodge opened?
Keeping the tap list full, especially since we started with just the pilot system. With just the pilot system in place, we’d sell out quickly. There were times when we’d only have 3 beers on tap due to production limitations.
What’s your Arrow Lodge and NON-Arrow Lodge desert island beer?
Arrow Lodge – Hibiscus Gose
NON-Arrow Lodge – Helles lager! I love them and could drink them all day.
Any thoughts on wine-food pairing vs. beer-food pairing.
There are some foods I’d never have wine with but would have a beer – like Mexican fare.
I prefer to have really hoppy beers by themselves and not with food.
Kettle sours are amazing food beers. For example, eating Thai food with my Guava Berliner Weisse is fantastic.
Amy Heller radiates a contagious passion for brewing. Any visitor to Arrow Lodge Brewing will benefit from that passion by drinking her delicious beers. Amy told me that she has a Coconut Cream Pie Stout in the works. I’m definitely looking forward to returning to Arrow Lodge Brewing to try it.
A big THANK YOU to Amy Heller for the Arrow Lodge Brewing tour and spending time with me.
Also, thank you to my lovely wife, Pinup Pat, for the photographs.