Home10 Questions for Knotty Brewing Company’s Brew Master10 Questions for Knotty Brewing Company’s Brew Master

10 Questions for Knotty Brewing Company’s Brew Master

Photo of Donovan Lane, head Brewer for Knotty Brewing, standing in front of the beer taps at the brewery tasting room.

The former Head Brewer for Funky Bow Brewing & Beer Company of Lyman, Maine— who moved across the country to brew in San Diego—discusses the new brewery in East Village.

Photo of the front of Knotty Brewing and its big red door.

Knotty Brewing Company

After finishing a degree in Chemistry at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where he regularly home-brewed his own recipes in an apartment near campus, Donovan Lane and college friend Abraham, along with Abraham’s father, built a small country brewery on an organic farm in the woods just outside Lyman, Maine.

The brewery they built and the beers they brewed soon became popular with local craft beer lovers. Hailed by The Portland Press Herald as “some of Maine’s best beer on a local farm,” Funky Bow Brewing & Beer Company quickly became known for its delicious beers and weekend Growler Nights.

Demand for Lane’s beers shot up like a hop vine. Within a year of opening Funky Bow had to triple the size of its brewing system. They started distributing state-wide, expanded the tasting room, and Lane’s recipes, like his “Midnight Special Coffee Porter,” which became one of the staple beers at the brewery.

Then Lane heard the famous phrase in his head by Horace Greely, “Go West, young man,” and he moved to San Diego to brew. Last spring he became Master Brewer for Knotty Brewing Company, the new downtown craft brewery that just opened in East Village.

Photo of the sign and logo for Knotty Brewing above the entrance to the brewery.

Lane spoke with me about his career as a brewer, beer styles he likes to brew, and how he came to brew in San Diego. He is a mellow and friendly guy, quite passionate about craft beer, yet humble, and very happy with his move to San Diego. Chatting over beers at Quad AleHouse downtown, I got to know him a little better and discovered the story behind the brewer and his beers.

Explain about your background and how and when you started brewing beer.

Around the time I was finishing my Chemistry degree at the University of Southern Maine I became an avid home brewer in my apartment at school. The first thing I ever made was mead. Next I made a Braggot, then a honey Pale Ale. After that I started brewing all the time, experimenting with different ingredients to brew beers I liked drinking.

A college friend of mine with a similar interest in brewing, along with his father, wanted to open a small brewery on the family’s 25 acre organic farm, so I joined them and helped build it in a big garage on the farm. We started Funky Bow Brewery on a 3.5barrel system and it quickly grew to be a 10-barrel operation. I spent three years brewing there, and between Abraham, an assistant brewer, and myself, we did it all.

I read on the website Knotty Brewing will make beers you and the team like to drink. So, what are your favorite beer styles?

I personally like malt-centric beers. Rauchbier, for example, is extremely underrated. I also like to drink Saisons and Stouts. Our plan is to make more traditional styles like European and Belgians. Those are the beer styles we like to drink. Oh, and I also like Pilsners.

Photo of a flight of beers at Knotty Brewing San Diego.

How is brewing in San Diego different than brewing in Maine?

Winter is a challenge in Maine. Here, not so. The system I was brewing on before coming to San Diego was a 10-barrel system. The Knotty Brewing system is a 5-barrel system. We used well water to brew at Funky Bow, while at Knotty Brewing we use city water through a charcoal filter, which is great for a lot of styles. One thing that is the same is people in both places are passionate about the beer.

When it comes down to it, brewing is all about location. In San Diego it is warm and sunny so you want bright flavors all the time. The North East is more malt forward because you want something to warm you up. Like a hot coffee, weather encourages it.

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Why did you choose San Diego, and now that you are here, how do you feel about the local beer culture?

I was asked to come to San Diego to brew at Knotty Brewing, and I was ready for the challenge. I packed my car, made the 3,000-mile journey, and I arrived in March. Brewing equipment showed up shortly thereafter. It took some time to sort out, and we started brewing.

Now that I’m here, I really like San Diego. It has everything you want in a big city, with a small town feel. The local beer culture is great. Other breweries are very supportive. Our first collaboration beer was done with Ironfire Brewing. It was a Gose made with huckleberries and blueberries.

Photo of two stainless steel brewing vessels at the Knotty Brewery.

What is your favorite thing about going into the brewery each day?

I get to make something people enjoy. Liquid happiness.

What is an average brewing day like for you?

The brewing system at Knotty Brewing is totally manual. All our beers are made by hand. We brew four times a week, four to five barrel batches at a time. Long days, but I sleep well.

Photo of Donovan Lane tasting a beer in the brewery.

Where do you get your ideas for a new beer?

Creative impulse is an art form in itself. For me it starts with a craving for a certain flavor, like a Christmas beer, and I’ll create the recipe based on it. But sometimes you have to go with what’s in your pantry, and come up with a recipe based on what you have to work with.

Other passions besides brewing?

I enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors. In my spare time I like to hike the coast. I also enjoy trying out restaurants and beer bars. As soon as I can take some time off I plan to go on a camping trip.

Where do you hope to be as a brewery this time next year?

By this time next year my goal is to have once a month beer-food pairing dinners with Knotty Barrel’s Chef Peres in place. These will be intimate dining experiences. Maybe a small table in the brewery. I envision smokey foods with something malty to stand up to the dish, like a barley wine or stout. We also want to start barrel aging some beers.

In addition, we want to be brewing all the time, sell beers out of the tasting room, focus on the tasting room, and distribute locally. We want to be known as a comfortable place to come to and hang out in East Village.

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What is your favorite memory of being a craft beer brewer?

My fondest memory as a brewer was when I was at Funky Bow. It was a cold spring morning and I was arriving early to chop wood, getting ready for one of our Growler Nights. For a moment I stood transfixed, watching the sun rise behind the trees. Birds were chirping, leaves were popping out on the trees, and it was peaceful. I’ll always remember that moment.

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