Meet the Brewers: Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing

click to enlarge Meet the Brewers: Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Meet the Brewers: Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing

Cigar City is unarguably one of Tampa’s most nationally visible craft brew brands. Beers like the Jai Alai IPA and annually heralded Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout have gained countrywide recognition, thanks not only to their obvious quality but also to the muscle, means and marketing Cigar City has brought to its efforts. And while Joey Redner has been the public face of the company, head brewer Wayne Wambles has been instrumental in producing the beers that have made the brewery the insular equivalent of a household name since 2008.

How did you get into brewing?
A lot of different things. I started enjoying cooking when I was younger, but also I grew up in a small town in southeast Alabama, so there weren’t a whole lot of craft beers. Once I discovered them, I started to take on a new philosophy, basically that if it doesn’t exist, then create it. So anywhere I saw a deficit, I would make an attempt to create it from scratch. That wasn’t just beer; it was food, music. Beer was something I could do myself — if it was a failure, it was because of me, it wasn’t like if someone didn’t show up for practice, we couldn’t practice. It put me in the driver’s seat of my own destiny.

I became a commercial brewer around ’96, I brewed in different breweries all around the Southeast. I was working for a brewery in Winston-Salem [N.C.] called Foothills, so I basically didn’t have any creative input. I’d always been a head brewer, had creative input, so when I was offered this opportunity I jumped at it. It was time to get back to doing my own thing, and not just working for somebody else.

Do you see the Tampa Bay scene as more cooperative, or competitive?
Cooperative, I think, for the most part. We all try to help each other out. Every once in a while there are issues, and sometimes it’s kind of tough because someone might be making a beer and it’s not the best it could be, and it’s sometimes really hard to approach someone else to try to get them to realize that what they’re doing isn’t necessarily best for the industry in this state. Because basically, it only takes one brewery and one experience for someone who’s maybe moving from larger beers to craft beers, it only takes one bad experience for them to say they won’t ever try it again. We really can’t afford to have that lack of quality.

You guys work crazy-long hours. What do you do when you can get away from work?
I usually spend time with my family. I don’t know, we used to go the beach, but we don’t really do that anymore. I don’t know, reading, hang around the house. I really haven’t been getting out much, which has got to change.

Is it gratifying to see people who have worked here go on to start their own breweries?
Sure, I wish ’em the best. We had an employee that was here in the very beginning, started off as a volunteer, and now he’s taken over as a head brewer for a startup in the Keys. He worked in pretty much every single department. Then we have people like Doug Dozark [of Cycle Brewing, see pg. 14], who pretty much ran a nanobrewery and now has stepped up to bigger systems. Justin Stange [of 7venth Sun, see pg. 15] is another guy who’s doing really well.

What’s the most satisfying part 
of creating great beer?
I have these different ideas about what each raw material and each process will do, and I enjoy creating something and then actually experiencing this ephemeral thing that actually has been brought into the physical world. That’s really rewarding. I guess that’s a complicated way of saying, “drinking the beer.”

Favorite local beer that’s not his: 
“That’s really hard to say. I think a lot of it has to do with my access to beer — since I don’t venture far from home, it would probably be Interagalactic [pale ale] from 7venth Sun.”

His signature Cigar City beer: 
“The brewery means so many different things to me, and it’s just been this huge opportunity for me to express myself in different ways. And everything continues to grow and evolve and move in different directions. It’d hard to pin down one thing. I think that the beer that has probably evolved past my expectations has been Hunahpu. In 2008 when we were piloting it, I knew the flavors would work, I just didn’t know how to implement all of them to get it to work the way I wanted it to; that took years. And this year’s, I thought, was exceptional. It’s not just based on raw materials, it’s based on the way our process has changed to infuse those raw materials."

Cigar City Brewing
3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa

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