Better Know a Brewer

07/06/2013 8:15 PM | Deleted user
By Seamus King

Next month, we're bringing back "Ask the Brewer." So, send all of your questions for our next featured brewer (TBD), to me at In lieu of your questions, this month, I've interviewed and featured a brewer.

Sunny Parsons is the owner and brewer (along with Rodney Stryker) at Heathen Brewing in Clark County, Washington. Tucked away, north of Vancouver in his large shop, he has a 10 barrel system, which utilizes an old buttermilk tank as a mashtun. They are aggressively brewing and consistently turning out beers that are balanced, flavorful and impressive. Those who enjoy more malty beers will find happiness in the bottom of a pint of RIP Porter, brewed American style, but fermented using a British yeast. Hop heads will revel in Son of Malice, an Imperial IPA with a crush of fresh hop aroma and flavor that hits your palate. There are a range of beers in between, as they are trying to constantly keep a line up of 12 house made beers available.

What follows is the cliff notes version of my interview with him, which does no justice to the great conversation I had with him. I have the audio file from the interview uploaded below. I highly recommend you give a listen to it.

How did you come up with the name Heathen?

When we were growing up, whenever we were being mischievous or getting in trouble, my parents always called us "heathens." When I started to brew, we had friends who really were "heathens." I'm using it in a loose sense, meaning "barbaric," "uncivilized" or "lacking of manners," maybe. I know that some people might look at that the wrong way, but I think the beer industry lets you get away with that in a way that other industries might not. I've embraced it.

How long have you been brewing?

It's coming up on 8 years, now that it's July. I had a buddy who had one of those Mr. Beer things, and I thought, there's gotta be something better than that. So I did my first extract brew using Bader's recipe. I quickly learned that even though it takes a lot more time, going all grain gives you a lot more control and it's less expensive. Within six months, I went from doing 5 gallon extract batches to doing 25 gallon all grain batches using Blichmann 55 gallon kettles.

Tell me about your brewing philosophy. What do you like that you saw wasn't there on the craft beer scene that you wanted to address at Heathen?

In the beginning, it was the fact that I didn't feel like I could get the kind of IPAs I like that had just that huge backbone of hop flavor. Workhorse IPA was one of my favorites. But, you could only get it at a few places, and you couldn't get it in a bottle. I thought, "What's wrong with Vancouver that we couldn't do this here?" I think I have a pretty main stream palate. When Drifter came out, I thought, "This is great." And it made me wonder if what I wanted was something that was salable. Rodney Stryker, my head brewer, brings a whole different level to Heathen because he has a palate that is much broader than mine.

What do you do different on a 10 barrel system vs. what you would do on your 25 gallon system?

It's actually gotten easier. It's hard to explain because I have learned so much. As a homebrewer, I really thought I knew what I was doing, and I did have a good grasp of the fundamentals. But, learning that measuring your original gravity after you oxygenate your wort, is not really a good way to do it. As a homebrewer, that was never a problem, but we oxygenate inline when transferring to the fermenter from the kettle.

Really, it's not that much different, other than the size of equipment, but I can make a 10 barrel batch a lot faster than I could make a 25 gallon batch. With the glycol system, if I want to make it ferment at 66 degrees for 3 days and want to bump it up to 68 for 3 more days, that's easy.

However, I've also learned that I'm at a hop disadvantage. As a homebrewer, you go down to the homebrew shop and just buy whatever hops you want to make your beer. As a pro brewer, you have to buy your hops one to three years in advance. So, when I got into the business professionally, I had these recipes I'd been refining for years and years built around these hops that I can't get. I had to do a lot of SMASH beers to reintroduce myself to hops that I'd just been using as an accent role, not necessarily as the main hop. Learning those hops and how they express themselves and balance the taste of the beer was a challenge.

If you'd like to meet Rodney and Sunny, you can find their location and hours at their webpage: I'd highly recommend you check them out. They generously offer tasters of all of their current brews for free, and growler fills are generally $10.

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