Mark Stevens is the co-owner and Head Brewer of Tar Banks Brewing, the first Craft Brewery in Louisburg, North Carolina. His journey with Novozymes enzymes began when he was looking for a way to optimize raw materials for maximum efficiency when brewing.
Interviewer: How did you get into brewing?
Mark: I mean, I've always loved beer, but I was a light beer guy. My wife and I moved to Asheville, and from there we just planted into craft beer because they were the microbrewery capital of the east coast. We would go hiking, come back, go downtown and have a beer and pizza. I’ll never forget the day I walked into this one restaurant, and we went and sat at the bar, looked at the menu, and the bartender asked him what kind of beer we wanted. I said I would take a Bud Light and I swear, every everyone in there just got quiet. It was crazy! The bartender leaned over to me and said, “you must not be from around here. I do have a Bud Light, but I couldn't tell you how old it is. I can point you in the direction of something that you would like, if you want to try some samples.”
I was like, yeah, absolutely. He started pouring me and my wife samples and we sat down and fell in love with the Magic Hat #9. We started drinking that beer there, and as we would go hiking every day or every other day, and we always ended up downtown and got more and more into drinking craft beer.
And I thought, “wow, this is really cool.” The more I looked into craft beer, people were making it at home, and I said, “wow, this is awesome.” I had a neighbor who was big time into beer, not necessarily craft beer at the time, and I told him about everything. He said he had tried some craft beers and would like to get into it. He just so happened to run across a Mr. Beer Kit and he picked one up for us as a Christmas gift. We got together and made a batch of beer from this Mr. Beer kit. After the holiday he had a massive heart attack and passed away before we could get into making this beer.
So, I finally got around to it and I made mine, but it didn't turn out great, and I said, “I'm going to learn how to make some beer. And I'm going to name of beer after him, because he got me into this Mr. Beer Kit.” I started looking into it, and at the time I was finishing up school. When I went to Asheville, it was for an internship I was on. One of my biochemistry professors said, “I'm thinking about doing a brewing class.” I told him, “Oh man, I've been researching beer like crazy for the past several months. I think it'd be a great thing.” I helped him a little bit on that. We would just come in and talk about beer, go through the whole fermentation process and the class filled up quickly. Later, we had a brewing competition where we all got together, brewed beer and then brought it after class one day and voted on it.
I like to brew beer for people and see what they like, because if someone else has enjoyed a beer that I made, that makes me feel good. So that's one of the big, exciting things about it. I love German style beers. It took me a while to get into IPAs, but now it, it all depends on my mood. Right now it's hot, so I've been drinking a lot of New England style IPAs, and a few double IPAs, but typically in the colder months I love Russian Imperial style. There are all kinds of beer.
Interviewer: So, when you first started brewing beer, how long do you train? Did you have a mentor or intern somewhere?
Mark: No, it was basically all self-study. I guess I'm a perfectionist, and that's my downfall. I like to know what I'm doing before I go into it, and I don't like to make mistakes. Of course, you learn from your mistakes, but I like to know as much as I can first. The biggest thing I learned was that everything has to be sanitary, especially after studying microbiology. I started coaching a few people on the side, and I think that was where the biggest learning came in because I was teaching basic brewing to several people. They may have a question that I didn't know the answer to, and I would say, “that's a great question and I'm gonna find out.” So, I would go dig deeper into it.
Interviewer: I know that you said your favorite style of beer to drink is German style. Do you have a style other than German style that you like to brew?
Mark: Yes, I will say Russian Imperial is one that's very challenging. I think it's challenging in a sense on my system. With my personal system here, I can only do small batches and it takes a lot of grain to get results. These are high alcohol beers, and when you fill up the conversion rates, they’re not that great. I sparge through to get as much water as I can or get the extract out of that grain as much as possible. The only downside is, is I'm using so much water to do it. I have to boil off a lot of water and keep sparging to get all the extract. I wish I'd had Ultraflo® Max back in the day, just to help me extract more sugar to get that wort into the kettle without using too much water.
Interviewer: How has brewing kind of change your life? And what's your favorite part about the craft beer? The brewing industry?
Mark: I think the brewing industry is like a big family, so I can just pop in and start talking to a brewer and it's so open. A lot of these online forums even, everyone's open; open for any questions you have that help you, you help me, you know. I learn something new all the time and one day I hope to be a true expert in brewing. There's so many different brands of beer or styles of beer out there and new styles are being created. You get a vast majority of people where craft brewing is more of an art. I feel like craft brewing is your own art form, where people come with their ideas and they take their ideas and they put it out there, say, “you know what, I'm going to try this here.”
Interviewer: Where do you see yourself as a brewer in the next five or 10 years? And where do you see this industry continuing to go?
Mark: I think that right now it's tough. It's hard to say because of this pandemic and there are a lot of great places out there that have opened and make great beer and then had to close down. There are still all these bills to pay, so it's hard to say what it's going to look like in five to ten years in terms of the actual market. I do know that with craft brewing, you have to think outside the box a little bit. I know more and more people are getting into packaging for grocery stores, so that has really ramped up production. There have been a lot of breweries that have fallen under and there was a large number that were estimated to close.
However, I think that once the pandemic passes, we will probably go back into a boom of breweries, because people love beer. It's kind of like an art form crafting these spirits. I think there is going to be a long-lasting market there. I'm working to get a bigger system for myself and I would like to be able to distribute down the road into some grocery stores and get my beer out there.
I think that would be cool to do full time. I don't see it happening anytime in the next few years, but right now, part of me wants to go that route. But at the same time, I really liked the nice smaller brew pub kind of feeling.