|A batch sent by fantastic St. Louis homebrewer Ted O'Neill|
During all my travels particularly in the U.S., I have developed a love and respect for homebrewing because it takes a certain amount of passion, dedication, patience, grasp of chemistry and overall fondness to brew ales and lagers. Thanks to my job as a beer writer, I have come across some of the most interesting, friendly and even eccentric men and women who stay true to the hobby of making their interpretations of
what great beer is. Either through brewing clubs, beer social circles, introductions from friends or judging competitions, I’ve been blessed with numerous opportunities to experience beer brewed with some of the most imaginative ingredients and concoctions you could think of. From cantaloupe to bacon, the range of creativity is seemingly limitless and I truly believe that homebrewers should be rewarded with a section on the website that profiles them. After all, this is how our cherished microbreweries around the world begin. This is for you, homies.
With that being said…err… written, this is Ale Sharpton’s Homies: A Column Dedicated to Homebrewers.
First up is Ty Armstrong Sr., the founder and head brewer of TNA CandyBeers out of what Oprah and National Geographic have awarded the “Happiest Place in the U.S.”, San Luis Obispo, California.
Ty Armstrong Sr., Founder and Head Brewer of TNA CandyBeers
I received an email about a month ago from a gentleman named Ty Armstrong Sr. who heard about me via Facebook and through the beer “hopvine.” He informed me that he was a homebrewer out of San Luis Obispo, California who splits his days working with troubled teens and brewing a line of ales he has branded TNA CandyBeers (the “TNA” stands for his initials). I was already intrigued by his social commitments, but when I heard “CandyBeers,” I had to reply and find out what the hell they were. I didn’t think of it on the level of the infamous Four Loco line or other adult beverage ventures that have tried to compromise brewing integrity with artificially flavored liquid blasphemy, but I was still a little skeptical on what Ty’s angle was. Plus, his website and series of videos demonstrated a respect for brewing, and gave the impression that he knew what he was doing.
Anyway, when I called Ty, he happily talked about how he constantly hunts for the best brewing ingredients and supplies, and discussed his brewing routine using 5-gallon kits in his apartment’s kitchen. Plus, he emphasized how his CandyBeers line was no crappy, sweetened excuses for ales and lagers. Ultimately, due to eight years of experience, he discovered a way to actually brew with candy and other exotic, natural flavors to the point where he has created a serious buzz and demand to pour his concoctions during various prestigious wine tastings, beer festivals and private parties throughout the West Coast.
With 40 beers under his belt thanks in part to a few partners he works with including his girlfriend Judy Shapazian and fellow homebrewer Cuddy Nunez. Ty has made a number of unconventional combinations including his Caramel Espresso Crème Ale, Belgium Red Raspberry Straw Abbey Ale, Blood Red Tangerine Dream IPA, Red Hawaiian Pineapple Candy Ale and the Central Coast Imperial RootBeer Stout to name a few. “What the…?” I exclaimed. I have never heard of anything like this. Ty proudly shared how the consistent crowds he serves and growing fan base for his unique brews has influenced him to eventually open a TNA CandyBeer Brewery that would nobly lead to help finance his own shelter that would house, educate and counsel homeless teens. With all of that, my palate and heart was sold. I had to try this “CandyBeer.”
Gratefully, Ty arranged for me to get two samples: one was the Root Beer Stout (a tad lower in alcohol than the “Imperial” version he has), and the other was his Pom/Blubury CandyBeer. After saving both 750 ml samples for the perfect opportunity to have a few experts taste them blindly with me, the reviews were consistent. The body and carbonation with both brews were very similar to Champagne, but once the bubbly heads settled, everyone had tried to put a flavor to the nose because they have simply not smelled or tasted anything like it. Eventually, the roundtable gave a consensus that they had in their hands a well-crafted, tasty, lightly sweet stout and a Belgian-style fruit beer respectively, using descriptive words like “incredible” and “extraordinary.” Once I told them their titles, everyone agreed that they accurately reflected the tastes Ty had tried to emulate. In the end, the tastings were both wins for Ty and TNA. It was a medium-bodied stout balanced with the sweetness, licorice and vanilla notes of root beer, while the Pom/Blubury rivaled some of the best Framboise (fruit beer) varieties they have ever had, with just enough tasting properties of sweet and tart.
Ultimately, Mr. Armstrong & Co. have something here, and I can’t wait to explore the rest of his line. But don’t try to get him to disclose his secret on how he fuses candy, exotic fruits and other far-out flavors to make his brews; he won’t give up the goods. He will, however, give a fine interview.
Ladies and gents, in the first installment of Ale Shartpton’s Homies, welcome the founder of TNA CandyBeer, Ty Armstrong aka The Candy Man.
Ale Sharpton: My man, Ty, talk about how you got started with TNA and your overall fondness for beer.
Ty Armstrong Sr.: Actually, I started brewing beer for two reasons: I love to drink it, and I didn't even know there was such a hobby like this around until a friend of mine told me that you could homebrew legally in Cali, so I purchased my first homebrew kit about 8 years ago and have never looked back.
The first beer I made was a basic summer ale with my homebrew kit. It came out well, even though I was just learning water temps and how hop boils are so important, but sanitation is always first in brewing beer, period!
With that being said, passion, creativity and fun are the words that describe brewing beer to me. I don't brew beer the traditional way; I try new and exciting things with temperatures, fermenting, ingredients and other techniques. I think brewing basic beers like IPAs, stouts and porters don't excite me at all. Everyone is doing them and competing… that's not my personality at all. I am proud to be the first African-American in the U.S today to brew these types of beers as we know it!
When did you decide to use candy? Talk about the experimentation process, what finally worked and your brand name.
I decided to start experimenting with candy in beers about four years ago. A lady friend of mine told me that I should try making a beer for the female crowd because she and her friends were not feeling the ‘bitter’ taste of beer, so I had a dream one night of infusing hard candies in beer recipes.
This took years of kitchen mistakes, yeast experiments, hop flavorings and many bottle bombers
to make this unique beer happen. Well, what finally worked was that I could balance the candy
flavors, fruits, teas with the malts, hop boil time, and yeast fermentation to achieve the true candy and beer balance that I wanted, and, eureka! I found it! Now it's like riding a bike, you never forget how.
As for the brand name, "TNA" are actually my name initials for Tyrone Neal Armstrong. I told my girl Judy Shapazian about coming up with the name for the beer, and she instinctively said, ‘How about TNA?’ and then laughed right after because the first thought that came to her mind was ‘Tits n’ Ass.’ But in the end, it kind of just fit the brand to name it after me, but this is the first thing most people think of when they see ‘TNA.’ Oh well!
Well it doesn’t hurt because it will be remembered! How has your beer been received by the public and the experts of the brewing world?
Honestly, Ale, the beer always had a positive following by the public. We have done a few beer shows and had an overwhelming positive feedback from 98 percent of our tasters, who were quoted as saying, ‘I have never tasting anything like this!’ Their facial expressions
are what Judy and I love the most. The reason I think they like it so much is due to the uniqueness of the flavors, the high carbonation Champagne taste, and the overall result of my brewing process, which keeps it in the beer family. In fact, the most unique features about this beer, I think, is the longer it ages, the more it takes on a Champagne appearance and taste.
As for the big companies and circle of distributors in the brewing industry, I feel it is a tightly knit community that, for the majority, is not receptive to the ‘little guys,’ meaning kitchen homebrewers like myself trying to come up in the industry. They won't let you in unless you’re a friend, relative, know someone major, etc. This is the thing that I feel gives the beer industry a black eye in my opinion.
I, on the other hand, will never forget the ‘little guy" when I become a successful brewing company. I will teach brewing, co-op with other homebrewers to help start their own businesses and find other ways to work together. I'm not into competition. Like so many other things in the world, greed, fear or whatever it is that brings negative energy will eventually kill you.
Dig it! Describe some of the CandyBeer varieties, how they taste, the alcohol by volume (abv) ranges, aromas, mouthfeel and other properties.
Well we have made over 40 CandyBeers to date. Some of my favorites are my Dark Jamaican, the RootBeer Stout, and my latest to date, the Pom/BluBury Ale. These consist of many different types of hard candies—
which I can't reveal—fresh tropical fruits, special malts, and our unique way of brewing, fermenting and serving our beers. The Dark Jamaican has a reddish tint with a filtered clarity; a very unique, fruity punch taste of different hard candy flavors that we make in-house. It kind of has that island tropical punch mouthfeel to it: very sweet and smooth with a creamy head appearance, complete with a highly carbonated Champagne body at about 6.0 percent abv. It is great with any spicy pairings like Mexican, BBQ tri-tip, or our TNA CandyBeer Cupcakes.
My RootBeer Stout came as an idea of making a legitimate…well, root beer, so I developed a one-of-a-kind RootBeer Stout. It has the taste and smell of licorice, but gives you that root beer flavor and an ending with a chocolate-type palate and a nice hop balance. It is a dark ale with a smooth, creamy head retention there, at about a nice healthy 6.5 percent abv. It’s a great pairing for any type of red meat, BBQ, or spicy foods.
And last but not least, my Pom/Blubury CandyBeer. This beer was a combo effort made by me and my girlfriend, Judy. We just thought how good it would taste to combine special candy, fresh blueberries and pomegranates together in a very low hop beer; this is what we came up with. It’s a unique, sweet, creamy smooth body, with heavy hints of blueberries and poms; the candy foundation is really indescribable with words. It also has highly carbonated Champagne or soda feel, but don't let the smooth taste fool ya! This beer carries a weight of 6.5 percent abv and it will knock a lightweight drinker out, because it is deceptively easy to drink. I like it with any food pairing, but catfish, in my opinion, is the best.
All of these CandyBeers and a secret "Mystery Beer" will be present for tasting at the Cambria Lions Club Holiday Wine And Beer Festival on Saturday, July 2, 2011. All proceeds will fund my Cambria Teen Center Program. You can go to my www.tnacandybeer.com website as well for more details.
Keeping it real, aren’t you, Ty? I understand you have a team behind you. Talk about working with your partners Judy and Cuddy, and what they bring to the table.
Well first and foremost, I want to talk about the real brains and inspiration behind TNA CandyBeers, Judy Shapazian. It's not me or Cuddy, it's my girlfriend Judy who has the brains behind TNA. Judy will be debuting her first tasting video next weekend, so stay tuned to for that as well. Judy has kept this whole thing going financially, inspirationally…she is the overall motivation behind this endeavor. As the ol’ saying goes, ‘Behind every successful man, there's a good woman.’ It stands true with her because I wanted to quit the whole thing because of the frustration associated with this business of politics, no funding, backslaps by others many times. She keeps me praying, brewing, and most of all, staying grounded.
Word! And Cuddy?
Cuddy is a new and dynamic type of cat we added to the TNA family. He has the enthusiasm, hunger and swag to make it in this business. I have known him since he was 15 years-old and he will definitely appeal to the Hispanic community with beers like the Sangria, Horchata, the Mexican Mystery CuddyBrew and others on his CuddyBrew label. He's my brewing apprentice and I have big hopes for him. He is a rising star!
What are your plans for TNA?
That’s easy: Money, money, money! Our plans are to get funding sources from anybody we can in the hopes of starting our own microbrewery here on the beautiful Central Coast in the San Luis Obispo, CA area. We would like to start to distribute to counties, then the state, throughout the U.S and then worldwide one day. I hope that everyone has the chance to taste our unique CandyBeers and learn how non-traditional brewing can create new and exciting opportunities in the craft beer industry. Trust me, I will never forget the little guy!
I also want to thank you, Ale, and your readers for learning about TNA CandyBeers, ‘The First Beers in the U.S Today for Candy Addicts’!
And finally, is Ale your homey?
And you know that!
Please visit www.tnacandybeer.com and join TNA on Facebook. For more information, email Ty at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 461-8622.