An interview with Will Gallaspy, new brewmaster at West Mountain Brewing Company

Will Gallaspy, brewmaster at West Mountain Brewing Company, recirculates wort in a batch of beer Thursday afternoon inside the small brewery on the southwest corner of the Fayetteville downtown square.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

You would expect to hear a thick accent when meeting a native Louisianan for the first time, but Will Gallaspy doesn’t have the slightest hint of one. “I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana,” he said. “So I am from the South; which surprises some people.”

Gallaspy was named brewmaster at West Mountain Brewing Company in October 2013. He spent the better part of the decade prior to his arrival in Fayetteville crisscrossing the country, building his brewing career.

I sat down with him recently to discuss his experience with beer, and to see how things are going for him in Northwest Arkansas.

The Early Years

With youthful exuberance, the 31-year-old Gallaspy described his upbringing in Lafayette. “Southern Louisiana,” he declared. “Those people love their beer – it’s a big drinking culture.”

Craft beer, however, was hard to come by in the region. “You would go to the grocery store and they would have your green bottle imports,” he said. “You would see Guiness and stuff like that.” The only local craft beer to speak of was Abita – which was famous for its Purple Haze.

But beer wasn’t something that interested Gallaspy much until he moved to New Mexico to attend film school. As a freshman he experienced a craft beer epiphany at his first keg party, where he found New Belgium’s Fat Tire on tap. He realized he was in a special part of the country.

“The Western United States at that time was a great spot for craft beer,” he said.

Experiencing beers radically different than those he had known in Lafayette left a tremendous impression on Gallaspy.

Cross-Country Brewing

Photo: Todd Gill

A few years later he landed a job as an assistant brewer at Cedar Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was there only a short time before he was forced to move, leaving behind his first job in the industry. But something happened during his stay in Iowa.

He had been bitten by the brewing bug.

“Almost immediately I was thinking about how I could get back into brewing,” he said. “Once you’ve done it, it gets in your blood a little bit.”

He next worked at a small brewery in Indiana, but it quickly went out of business. So Gallaspy packed his bags and headed west, soon landing a job as an assistant brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Long Beach, California.

“That was a great experience,” he said. “For a giant chain brewpub, they’re actually pretty impressive on the brewing side. They take great care of their brewers and they have really nice breweries. They actually extend the brewers at each location a fair amount of creative freedom.”

Gallaspy continued building experience with stops at Polson, Montana’s Glacier Brewing Company and Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewery in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Bosco’s he was promoted to its Little Rock location to assume lead brewer responsibilities.

Then after two years at Bosco’s the once unthinkable happened. A new craft brewery was finally opening back home in Southern Louisiana, and it wanted Gallspy’s help as it prepared to open its doors.

Back Home in Lafayette

Parish Brewing Company started as a nano-brewery. Gallaspy was recruited for the brewing team, and said he saw everything come in the doors, and even helped develop recipes.

The brewery’s biggest hit was (and still is) Canebrake – a wheat ale brewed with local cane syrup.

“I don’t really know numbers anymore, but when I was there it seemed like it was about 80 percent of their production,” he said.

One of Gallaspy’s most memorable moments involved a special pilot batch of Farmhouse IPA. Owner Andrew Godley had asked for something similar to other Belgian IPAs like Stone’s Cali-Belgique and Green Flash’s Le Freak.

“I made more of a Saison-type product,” said Gallaspy. “With not so much the big American hops, but more of a refined hop profile.”

“We actually had a cool moment where Greg Koch from Stone wound up with a bottle, and put up a twitter post about how much he loved it,” he said with obvious pride. “That was pretty sweet.”

His Brewing Philosophy

Gallaspy’s career path has included stops all across the country.

“Moving around that much has made me extremely flexible in my approach,” he said. “I’ve seen that there are a number of different ways to make great beer.”

“I try and respect the individuality of each batch of beer, because we don’t have super sophisticated equipment, and we don’t have really sharp instrumentation.”

He said he’s open-minded about the beer he makes for his customers.

“I always try to keep in mind – it’s not my beer, it’s their beer,” he said. “You should never profile your beer drinkers. You should just listen to them and see what they want to drink and then make it. They’re definitely going to tell you.”

The Transition to Fayetteville

Gallaspy said that even though he lived in nearby Little Rock while at Bosco’s, he never ventured north to Fayetteville.

“People there always told me, ‘You should go up to Fayetteville, you’d love Fayetteville. Fayetteville’s great, Fayetteville’s got all these breweries and everything.'”

But then a friend’s birthday celebration finally brought him to the hill.

“She was going around, kind of doing the (Fayetteville) Ale Trail thing, and I just kind of followed her around,” he said. “And what do you know, I wound up meeting half of Fayetteville’s brewers in one day, plus the home brew club, plus tasting a bunch of beers.”

I actually met Gallaspy on his visit to Fayetteville, at a sour beer release party at Fossil Cove. He appeared, at the time, to be soaking it all in.

“Yeah, what can I say? It left a pretty favorable impression on me.”

West Mountain brewer Andy Coates happened to be leaving his job to open Ozark Beer Company in Rogers. Having helped Parrish reach full capacity – and perhaps after one too many swampy summers – Gallaspy decided to shake things up and move north to the Ozarks.

Brewing at West Mountain

Photo: Todd Gill

So how was it following in Coates’ footsteps? He was known for excellent beer and had built a passionate fan base in his relatively short tenure at West Mountain. If nothing else, he was beloved for breathing life into the long-dormant brew house.

“One of the reasons I wanted to come here was Andy,” remembered Gallaspy. “I tasted Andy’s beer. I saw that he was making quality product at West Mountain. In my opinion, he was making some of the best beer in town.”

“Andy left behind really solid recipes,” said Gallaspy. “He left behind a whole bunch of people who are really psyched about beer. Why wouldn’t I want to go into that situation?”

Gallaspy said the brew house at West Mountain is comprised of a 4-barrel kettle and two 8-barrel fermenters. “It’s funny,” he said. “This system is so simplistic that it very much looks like home brewing.”

“My mash tun doesn’t look much different from a brew pot somebody might buy – it’s just kind of a bigger version.”

Grain is purchased pre-milled and in sacks, which must be schlepped into the brew house one-by-one. There’s no such thing as automation in this operation.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I have ever worked so hard for such little beer,” Gallaspy said while laughing. “But that’s okay. That’s what I expected.”

The most popular beer at West Mountain is by far the IPA. “Pretty much every other batch I make is IPA,” said Gallaspy. “We throw all kinds of hops in it, and we dry hop it like crazy.”

West Mountain’s plan is to have the IPA, brown, blonde, and either a stout or a porter available year-round. “We have a London-style porter on right now. Next will be a dry stout, which we’ll hopefully have out for St. Patrick’s Day.”

And the popular double IPA might be back again soon – much to the delight of West Mountain’s regular customers.

Impressions of Fayetteville

Gallaspy has been on the ground for about six months, and is starting to form an impression of Fayetteville.

“I think the size of the town is pretty cool,” he said. “I like that I can walk around and see people I know from time to time. The bike trail is great, and to have this highway for bikes that you can use, it’s kind of unheard of for a town this size.”

Gallaspy has enjoyed some of the opportunities for entertainment as well.

“You guys are definitely blessed with a wonderful little music scene,” he said. “I live here in the neighborhood, and it seems like at least a couple times a week there’s some band I’ve heard of that I can go and see, which is really great. I’ve seen a lot of good bands at JR’s.”

“There are a lot of good things to eat and drink here,” added Gallaspy. “Which is also – to a person from Louisiana – highly important.”

He mentioned Greenhouse Grille, Arsaga’s, and Maxine’s as a few of his favorite places so far, but admitted there is a lot of Fayetteville and the surrounding area that he has yet to see.

“I’m still discovering things, for sure.”

Local Beer Culture

Will Gallaspy seems at ease in his new home town. He blends effortlessly into the laidback atmosphere at West Mountain Brewing Company.

“It’s a good vibe down here,” he told me. “You can tell that it’s definitely an institution. A lot of these guys have a relationship with the place. It’s been good to meet some of them and get to know them a little better. They definitely like their beer!”

Gallaspy also sees the growing momentum behind the local beer culture.

“It seems like no matter where I go in town I can find something decent to drink, usually something local,” he said. “I’ll be some place that’s not even a beer spot – a restaurant or whatever – and I’ll overhear people two tables over talking about beer.”

“At first I think it’s just me, because of course I’m thinking about beer all the time. But they really are having a conversation about IPA over there.”

“People here in Fayetteville are very interested in beer,” he said. “They’re very thirsty for it, and it’s awesome.”

Brian Sorensen
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.