Talking Malts, Medals, and Metal with Ghost Town Brewing
Hello fermentation enthusiasts, please welcome Ghost Town Brewing to the chat. Named for an Oakland neighborhood that was once home to at least two coffin manufacturers, Ghost Town has been cranking out hoppy beers for Bay Area drinkers since 2012.
Coming off back-to-back gold-medal performances at GABF in 2021 and 2022, plus Brewer of the Year honors to boot, GTB Owner Ryan Nosek and Head Brewer Justin Burdt were kind enough to accept our collect call and confirm a couple facts:
- Ghost Town brews multiple award-winning beers with Rahr North Star Pils™ – TRUE
- The brewery originally started as a metal band – ALSO TRUE
Read on for the rest of our conversation with Ryan and Justin, edited here and there for clarity and length.
BSG: Alright gentlemen, please start at the beginning. Who is Ghost Town Brewing? What’s your story?
Ryan Nosek: It was like 2008 or 2009 and my buddies and me — we had a metal band we played in together. We were also homebrewers, brewing in my garage, and we were trying to figure out how we would pay for the rehearsal space we needed for the band. So, we decided [laughing] to open a brewery.
In 2012 we launched, got our space, got our licensing, and the first thing we did was build our rehearsal studio. Then we got some pots and pans, basically a glorified one-barrel homebrew system, and we started the journey from there. We actually weren’t very good at either music or beer, so we stopped playing and brought on Justin [Head Brewer] as soon as we could.
Today, we love hop-forward beers. We love to brew them, and we mix in everything from barrel-aged sours and big stouts to lighter fare, particularly lagers and pilsners. Those have become a bit of a passion project these past few years, especially our West Coast Pils. We really like the low-ABV crispness of those beers. You still get the hop fix, and we can drink about a dozen of ‘em before we get into trouble.
BSG: Fast-forward to 2021 and 2022, please. Several medals at GABF, Brewery of the Year, what in the name of malt is going on?
Justin Burdt: Our Imperial IPA Nose Goblin took Gold in 2021. [Editor’s Note: Nose Goblin is a dangerously smooth 9.2% ABV IPA with a rotating blend of the choicest hops Ghost Town can find, such as Nelson, Strata, Mosaic and others.] Winning gold puts you on the radar with other people in the industry. It helps get people who haven’t heard of you to come out and try the beer. It opened up collaborations with breweries we respect and look up to. It’s been fun and educational, but we just keep doing what we like to do: Brewing beer and sticking our heads in bags of hops.
[Dog starts barking, interrupting our collect call]
Justin: Sorry, we got a couple brew dogs at the spot. One just came in. He wasn’t supposed to.
BSG: Please send us dog pics.
Justin: We actually have a Light Lager that’s named after our brew dog, Dino. His picture’s on the can. That one’s made with some Weyermann® Barke® Pils.
Ahem, time to get back on track. So GABF 2022 rolls around…
Ryan: We’ve been entering [GABF] for a long time, and we feel like we have a good shot every year. But we didn’t anticipate what happened. We got the first one in the India Pale Lager category, a Silver for Cave Dweller. And then unexpectedly Mordant, our IPA, took Gold for the American Strong Pale. And then when we were down there waiting to get on stage, Nose Goblin got that back-to-back Gold. We were just pumped.
Then they held us up at the stage — I didn’t know what was going on. They said they were going to announce their brewery of the year, and my stomach just cranked over. I felt like I was going to vomit. We didn’t expect anything like that.
That back-to-back gold for the Double IPA is really special for us. It’s a coveted category. We love those doubles; we grew up drinking some of the best in the world here in California. It’s always gonna have a special place in our hearts. So I feel awesome for Justin and his team. It’s an awesome accomplishment.
BSG: Getting up on that stage must’ve been satisfying, huh Justin?
Justin: Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Denver to walk the stage with these guys. We had spent the week prior doing our [hop] selections, so I was at home with my 2-year-old daughter, screaming and yelling, watching the awards and taking pictures of the computer. We’re still in awe about everything. After ten years of getting your butt kicked and doing ten-hour days, it’s nice to get some recognition and know your hard work is appreciated.
BSG: Tell us more about the beers that brought home medals.
Justin: Of course! Both Cave Dweller and Nose Goblin are 100% Rahr North Star, with the exception of a little dextrose or acidulated. We’ve fallen in love with this malt and we’re turning other breweries in the Bay Area onto it. It’s super neutral – that’s what we’ve found with it. It plays well with hops. It doesn’t have that graininess you might get from some malts, and it reminds me some of a Gambrinus Pilsner Malt; it can lend a little sweetness and body to a lower ABV beer, and you can still get great attenuation with it in our doubles. It doesn’t get in the way.
Mordant, on the other hand, is brewed with 100% Rahr 2-Row. We keep our malts very simple when it comes to our hoppy beers. We don’t want anything interfering with the hops.
BSG: Any other ingredients we should know about?
Justin: We also used BSG’s CTZ Hop Extract in Nose Goblin. A good amount of it, actually, for bittering and at whirlpool.
BSG: Changing gears. Y’all brought on a new brewhouse recently, is that correct?
Justin: Yes, the new system is awesome. We’re about 40 batches in. Our old system was 15bbl, two vessels. The new one doubles that with 30bbl and four vessels. We had a bunch of little tools and gadgets added on so we can make better, hoppy beer. We have the tube and shell from the kettle to the whirlpool, so you can just knock down the whirlpool temperature to whatever you want. We’ve been running experiments to see what type of utilization and isomerization we’re getting at whirlpool at different temperatures. Trying to dial that in to get as much oil saturation as possible, flavor saturation without vegetable, and using temperature to dictate IBU.
In early November we brought in a 120 fermenter and a 120 bright. We have two 60bbl lagering tanks coming in soon, too. Right now, we’re tied to one fermentation vessel for our lagers, and it’s an 8-week lager from brew date to package date. This will help us brew more of another beer we love, the West Coast Pils. We use Rahr North Star for that one too.
BSG: One last question, this one’s for Ryan. What was the name of your metal band?
Ryan: The last iteration was called Hag.
BSG would like to congratulate Ryan, Justin, and everyone at Ghost Town Brewing for showing all those Bay Area drinkers what Rahr North Star Pils™ can do. Thanks again for taking the time to chat! 🤘 🤘