Beer Town: Checking in with Arches head brewer Justin Ramirez

Justin Ramirez became the head brewer at Arches Brewing in Hapeville a little over three years ago. Since then, he’s both faithfully executed and often tweaked the lager beers Arches is best known for, including the likes of Bohemian Riot Pilsner and Lloyd’s Light Lager.

But Arches has released several of Ramirez’s own creations, too, including Low Viz IPA, as well as his takes on some lesser-known lager styles — which is what piqued my interest.

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Recently, I sat down with Ramirez at the tasting room at Arches, where we talked about his background in brewing, and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

“I came here from Wrecking Bar,” he said. “I kind of filled the head brewer role there when Gavin (McKenna) left for Atlanta Brewing. Before that, I came up from the bottom. I started showing up at Wrecking Bar on the weekends and volunteering, and doing the tour on Saturdays.”

Ramirez is originally from the Bronx, and was a homebrewer, and a solider, before landing in Atlanta. “I was in the Air Force for eight years. I used to shoot guns out of helicopters,” he said. ”I was in Afghanistan twice, and Iraq once.”

Asked about digging into the Arches portfolio, Ramirez said it took him some time to begin “messing with the recipes,” while working with Arches co-founder and brewmaster Jamey Adams, who is a biochemist.

“When I came on here, there were obviously a lot of beers that we were doing, and a lot of brands that had their place, and there were certain brands that they just wanted to keep going,” he said. “I started by doing some of the things I wanted to do, like an IPA. Now I don’t think there’s a single beer that I haven’t tweaked, except for maybe Mexican Empire, which is a beer I didn’t really have to touch.”

Southside Grind, a caffeinated version of Southside Lager that is infused with organic whole bean coffee from Rev Coffee Roasters in Smyrna, is one of the first projects Ramirez took on.

“It’s dry-hopped with Mosaic, and it has this berry character,” he said. “I usually pick coffee beans that have kind of a blueberry or strawberry character. It’s really bright, and people trip out when they see it and smell it. Obviously, there’s a lot of caffeine in it, too.”

One of Ramirez’s most recent beers is a limited release Japanese-style rice lager called Yūrei, which is brewed with a big portion of flaked rice, and Grungeist hops, making it soft and slightly sweet, with stone fruit notes, and a crisp, dry finish.

I really loved Sprezzatura, which Ramirez described as an “unfiltered, unapologetic Italian-style Pilsner that packs a super crisp, dry finish and a beautiful golden yellow color.” It’s made with an exotic blend of Eraclea Pilsner malt from barley grown in the Adriatic coastal region of Italy, near Venice, and the recipe includes additions of Magnum, Tettnang and Saphir hops.

“I love talking to people about that beer, especially brewers,” Ramirez said. “Some people say it’s such a cool style, and other people say it’s made up. That it’s just a German Pilsner with Italian grains, and they dry-hopped it.”

Right now, though, Ramirez is excited by the quality of Michigan hops, which he’s been using in his IPAs.

“There’s something going on there that’s great,” he said. “The Chinook we’re getting from there is distinctly more tropical fruit with a little bit of pineapple. Even the Cascade has a grapefruit character with more juice and less rind.

“I’m more interested in beers with interesting hops, and using hops in different ways. I guess that’s why I get a reputation here as the IPA guy. But I’m more intrigued by the hop side of things than I am the style.”

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