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“Mexi and Modus aren’t going anywhere”: Ska’s new head brewer Kurt Randall

Kurt Randall talks shop at Ska Brewing Co.

“Mexi and Modus aren’t going anywhere”: Ska’s new head brewer Kurt Randall

Ska Brewing Co. is a GD Durango gem, and Kurt Randall couldn’t be happier than to help polish it. Randall has been at Ska for two years as brewhouse supervisor. In March, he stepped into the head brewer position. We talked to him about how his role has changed and what that means to our favorite beers.

How is being a head brewer different than being brewhouse supervisor? Well, I was on the brewdeck three or four days a week when I was the brewhouse supervisor, actually supervising the brewing of beer. Now, I’ll fill in when somebody takes a vacation. I’ll work a shift or two. Now, I’m creating recipes, managing inventory, and making sure we have everything we need.

When is the busiest time of year for Ska? Mexi (Mexican Logger) season. Right now. We started going 24/7 in February and that will be through the end of October. We started doing Mexican Logger in February and it goes through the summer. We can barely keep up with demand on that beer.

What excites you about this gig? Getting to write more recipes. Getting to have my ideas out there.

Where do you get your ideas from? Drinking beer [laughs].

That’s a hard life. It is [laughs].

What flavors or styles of beer do you lean toward?I’ve always been a big IPA fan. I fell in love with Modus [Hoperandi IPA] the first time I had it. I’ve also fallen in love with sour beers, just like most of America. We can’t seem to get enough of it.

What boundaries are you looking to push beer-wise?I want to press for new and creative styles. Joe [Hull] has been going to town with all the fruit beers, so I’m going to leave that up to him [at Mod Brewery]. We over-contracted on some hops, so we gotta figure out a way to get those out in the market in beer. We are looking at, what I think the term is these days, a “juicy” IPA.

What’s a challenge to your job folks might not realize?Being that we are in Durango, it takes quite a while to get stuff. I’m doing a weekly inventory just to keep track of what we got and what brews are coming up. Every Monday morning I come in and count everything.

I have to order two weeks ahead from when inventory will be here. That’s a challenge, being this far away from Denver. A lot of this stuff you can have dropped off that day or even go pick it up, in a bigger city. Being six or seven hours away from the city, you gotta plan a little bit better.

What was your favorite crap beer you drank as a kid who couldn’t afford any better? Ohhh, I drank a lot of PBR. I was a river guide when I was 21, and it was an easy-drinking light beer for a raft trip.

What was the first beer you drank that opened up your palette? I was actually drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale when I was 16. I’ve just always been a big fan of beer. That was definitely the first craft beer I had.

What’s your favorite Ska beer right now? I still absolutely love Modus, but it depends on the day, my mood. If it’s hot out I’ll be drinking Mexi. I’ve been digging on the Pils [World Craft] Lager quite a bit lately. It’s a little bit hoppier for a pilsner.

Any secret competition with a brewery in Colorado? Not off the top of my head. I really appreciate what Troy Casey is doing up in Glenwood, but we can’t really do that. He’s using up a lot of mixed fermentation and bacteria and that doesn’t really work with our facility as far as having another place to keep all the bacteria and mixed fermentation separate from day to day production. But that’s definitely something I’d like to get us into. More barrel-aged and mixed fermentation. I’m hoping to do it in the next couple of years.

Does Colorado act as an inspiration for the type of beer you want to make? We have a hell of a craft beer industry going on here as far as other breweries and we are pushing the limits with some of the beers being cranked out. It’s great having six different breweries in such a small town and getting to talk to other brewers. Not quite as many as Denver, but we’re pushing the envelope with six. It’s pretty awesome.

Is it important for you to work at an independently-owned brewery?Absolutely. It’s nice being able to see Dave [Thibodeau] on a regular basis, to chat with the owners, get their opinions, find out what they’re thinking and where they want to go. I enjoy it a lot more than, say, when I was at Breckenridge who got bought out by Anheuser-Busch and now they are part of the machine, so to speak.

Hints of things to come at Ska? We got some sours coming out soon that we’re going to put into packaging. There are a few other ideas going on. The big one coming up soon is the sours.

Any last tidbits to share? Mexi and Modus aren’t going anywhere, nor are they changing. I’ve seen a lot of comments on social media saying, “Just don’t change Modus!” I’m not gonna mess with a good thing.