After taking it easy for a couple of days, Toltec Brewing head brewer Kaylynn McKnight was back hard at work on Tuesday. Hey, she earned the break after winning her third Great American Beer Festival medal as a brewer, and first for her current brewery, over the weekend.
“I’m super stoked, (as) last year when GABF happened we had been open for five months,” Kaylynn said. “We submitted the beers after three months of being open, so we had a lot of … I don’t want to say kinks, because our results came back pretty awesome. Now we’ve been open a little over a year. I’m very stoked to be with such a young company, even though I’m aware I’ve been around a little while, but it’s cool to bring home hardware for a newer business and hopefully it will inspire people to come try our stout.”
Toltec won the last announced medal of the day for New Mexico breweries, as Shaman Stout earned bronze in the Oatmeal Stout category, which is number 103 out of 107.
“You know how it is, waiting during the ceremony, you’re a little hungover from the day before,” Kaylynn said. “Your heart’s pounding every time your category comes up. There’s a big buildup and it didn’t happen in our first four categories. Then there’s all that buildup and then a sigh of relief.”
There was still an extra second of confusion for Toltec general manager Keri Fleming, who was sitting next to Kaylynn at the time.
“They got the name wrong, they said Shay-man Stout, and I was kind of confused, and then they said Toltec Brewing,” Keri said. “I smacked her (on the arm) and yelled holy shit!”
“I was floating down the (stairs),” Kaylynn added.
Kaylynn previously won medals for Nexus Brewery, a silver for Honey Chamomile Wheat in 2015 and a gold for Imperial Cream in 2017, plus a gold in the World Beer Cup for Honey Chamomile Wheat in 2016. It was Keri who got to be the wide-eyed newcomer on stage.
“It was really cool, it was my first time at GABF,” Keri said. “Being able to go for the first time and to be able to walk up on stage to get an award with Kaylynn was huge.
“I did get to fist bump Charlie (Papazian), and that was super cool. I wish I had been a little more presentable, but whatever, I’m a beer drinker.”
The best part about Shaman Stout winning was that it is not a specialty/seasonal beer, but instead a year-round house offering.
“I’m super stoked to have it be a house beer,” Kaylynn said. “I entered four house beers and one seasonal. I didn’t do anything special with any of them. I didn’t brew the GABF batch or anything. I don’t need to do anything special, I’m already proud of all of these beers. I think they’re always worthy of going to judging.”
The previous year’s judging helped the stout win this time around.
“What I think is awesome was the past year at GABF, we got a little note from them about the stout,” Keri said. “They said it was great, (but) it just needs a different yeast. She changed the yeast and boom, there it is.”
Kaylynn thanked her brewing friends for a little help there.
“(The judges) said it’s really good, it’s just a little bit off,” she said. “I was using the kolsch yeast, so that’s what was off. A couple of local breweries, I don’t use 1056 yeast, but there are other people that do, so they were kind enough to let me borrow their stout yeast for brewing every once in a while. Thank you, La Cumbre and Boxing Bear.
“I took their advice off of the judging score sheets from last year and it paid off. That’s really cool. Those judges know what they’re doing and they give good feedback.”
Kaylynn said she is looking forward to getting the notes back on her other four entries this year — Cactus Warrior, Mystic Rye, Red Devil’s Helles, Sacred ALTar.
“I’m super stoked to get the feedback on the other beers,” she said. “I saved a few of the (submission batch) bottles to taste. We’ll try them out, read the notes together.”
Keri said that winning for a stout this time of year is also perfect.
“I think it’s super cool that we won this right turning into the fall season,” Keri said, before realizing who she was talking to. “Well, it’s always stout season for some people.”
That is quite true, but for those who do wait for cooler weather to enjoy darker beers, the time has come to indulge in the Shaman Stout at Toltec.
Thank you to Kaylynn and Keri for the interview, and, yes, another pour of the stout.