Lady Brewmaster First to Win Big Award

Tonya Cornett, top brewer at Bend Brewing Co., recently won the Brewmaster Award at the World Beer Cup. She does 1,000 barrels a year, seven at a time, and the beer is only available in Bend, Oregon.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

At the World Beer Cup, gold medals go for quote, "A world class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma, and appearance." That quote does not say anything about, make sure you go up to everyone in the bar and tell them I love you, man, but we can imagine that it doesn't hurt.

Brews - beers brewed, or brews beered, by Tonya Cornett of Oregon's Bend Brewing Company won two gold medals at the Cup, and Tanya herself won the prestigious Brew Master Award in the Small Brew Pub category. She's the first woman ever to receive the honor and she joins us on the line now from Oregon, where it's very early. Hello, Tonya.

Ms. TONYA CORNETT (Brew master, Bend Brewing Company): Good morning.

PESCA: So what's a good morning beer?

Ms. CORNETT: A good morning beer would be a pilsner, I think.

PESCA: And do you indulge before noon?

Ms. CORNETT: Not usually, no.

PESCA: But if you had to for work, I mean, come on.

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah.

PESCA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, congratulations, I know it's pretty early, as you just admitted, especially there in Oregon, to be thinking about beer. But what were the winning brews? What won you the medals?

Ms. CORNETT: I got a gold for Black Diamond Lager and a gold for Outback Extra Strong Ale.

PESCA: Extra Strong Ale? Is that what you said?

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah.

PESCA: And so, lager. Is Budweiser a lager or a pilsner?

Ms. CORNETT: Well, a pilsner is a lager.

PESCA: A pilsner is a lager, OK, so most of the most common beer that aren't light beers are versions of light beers are lagers then, right?

Ms. CORNETT: Correct.

PESCA: But you do something a little extra special. So what makes for a perfect lager? Or at least a gold medal-winning lager?

Ms. CORNETT: Well, lagers are just a little more difficult to brew. They're very finicky, and technically, it takes more time. So instead of having a beer ready in two weeks, it takes about three months.

PESCA: And is it because something that's a little bolder with tons of hops, or an India pale ale, there's more chance to sort of make your statement in a big way, and a lager is a more subtle beer?

Ms. CORNETT: Exactly.

PESCA: Interesting. So how do you make your gold lager? What's your method? What's your secret?

Ms. CORNETT: I can't tell you that!

MARTIN: Come on.

Ms. CORNETT: Really, it's just paying attention to details, on that beer.

PESCA: And are the ingredients always the same, no matter who makes the lager? It's just the proportion or the time?

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah.

PESCA: Pretty much?

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah.

PESCA: And what's your favorite kind of beer?

Ms. CORNETT: My favorite kind of beer is usually whatever beer I'm working on next.

PESCA: Really? So what are you working on now?

Ms. CORNETT: Well, right now, I just put out a Maibock, so I'm really drinking a lot of Maibock.

PESCA: Maibock, is that one of those really thick ones?

Ms. CORNETT: Yes, it is a lager, it's very sweet, high in alcohol, about 7.6 percent.

PESCA: I think it's my understanding, what, a bock is made from, I mean, what, does it come from Germany where they scrape the bottoms of the barrels? Am I getting that right?

Ms. CORNETT: Not necessarily scraping the bottoms of the barrels, yes, it's a German beer.

PESCA: It's a German beer, a bock. And why is it called a Maibock?

Ms. CORNETT: Maibock because they brewed it in May.

PESCA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, is beer brewing - is it an art or a science? Or, maybe the better way to ask the question is, once you get the science down, does it then become artistry?

Ms. CORNETT: I believe it to be so, yes, just as you would think of a chef as being an artist. It takes so much knowledge to make a good beer and I think the more I learn about beer brewing, the more I realize I don't know. There's always more to learn.

PESCA: These judges at the panel, is there an advantage to going later? Because I know the comedians want to go up later, after people have had about three or four beers. So if you're a judge later in the competition, are they a little buzzed and then they just say, gold medal, what the hell!

Ms. CORNETT: Actually, they don't know what they're judging. They don't know who they're judging. It's blind judging and it's done the week before they announce the competition.

PESCA: But with some wine tasting, I think some people sip and then spit out, with beer, do you actually swallow?

Ms. CORNETT: Yes, you have to because the bitterness receptors in your mouth are in the back of the throat.

PESCA: And so then do you know, if you're a judge, how many beers you're taking in, in one sitting?

Ms. CORNETT: I don't know that, I don't know that, but I know that they definitely have, they have short flight, so it may be six or ten.

PESCA: Yeah, I'm just thinking that I would hate to taint your award with the fact that they guys who gave it to you were drunk at the time.

Ms. CORNETT: Exactly.

PESCA: That would be really disconcerting.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: Yeah. Now, here's the big question I always have, because I'm a big beer guy and sometimes people say, oh, I love wine, and I always say, I can understand the hurdle in liking good wine, just insofar that a regular table wine might cost 12 bucks, but a really good bottle of wine could cost 1200. But the price difference is so small between a horrible beer and a great beer, why do you think more people just don't drink great beer?

Ms. CORNETT: Well, you know, it is an affordable luxury, and I think as people start to understand the varieties of beer and what makes a good beer, I think that people will be more attracted to beer.

PESCA: Tell me about the Bend Brewing Company. It's a pretty small operation you have out there?

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah, it's a pub. It's pretty small. We're right on the Deschutes River. It's a very pretty place in Bend. We have a lot of tourists that come through.

PESCA: And what do you do there as the brew master? How many beers a day or a week are you responsible to create?

Ms. CORNETT: You know, it depends. Over a year - last year, I did just over a thousand barrels, and I brew seven barrels at a time, so that gives you an idea of how much I'm brewing. And I have six beers that are on all the time, and then I have four more that I just rotate, and I can do whatever I want.

PESCA: And how did you get into being a brew - do you prefer brew master or brew mistress?

Ms. CORNETT: Brew master, please.

PESCA: How did you get into being a brew master?

Ms. CORNETT: It's one of those positions where sometimes you have to work for free to get in the door and that's basically what I did.

PESCA: Or work for beer, at least.

Ms. CORNETT: Yeah.

PESCA: You have to taste your concoctions.

Ms. CORNETT: Exactly.

PESCA: A lot of people work for beer, they just don't know it. OK, so you worked for free, but why? What made you want to do it in the first place? Did you always love beer?

MARTIN: Was beer in your family a lot?

PESCA: Yeah.

Ms. CORNETT: Not really. I was in Fort Collins in Colorado in the mid-'90s and it was - the local beer scene was really gaining a lot of momentum and lots of people were talking about beer and there was lots of community excitement about beer. And I started home brewing and just realized that this was something that I could do, and it just appealed to me.

PESCA: And then, I guess you took apprenticeship.

Ms. CORNETT: Yes, I worked in a brewery, and then I also volunteered at a pub.

PESCA: All right. Tonya Cornett is a brewer extraordinaire at Bend Brewing Company in Bend, Oregon. Thanks a lot, Tanya.

Ms. CORNETT: Thank you.

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