Interview with Antonio González Ruiz from Cervecería Feroz
We talked to Antonio from Cervecería Feroz about the impact of yeast cell monitoring with Oculyze, the Panama beer landscape and their creative process.
Oculyze: Can you please tell us a few things about yourself and your role with Cervecería Feroz?
Antonio González Ruiz: My name is Antonio and I’m the Head Brewer here at Cervecería Feroz. I started home brewing around 12 years ago, and around 2015-2016 I started working in a brew pub where we did our own beer. So I started brewing for this brewpub called The Republicano. I was originally an architect and then I was doing designing during the day and then brewing at night and I was basically having no life at all. So I started brewing beer. I was lucky enough to win an award in Copa Cervezas de America, I think in 2018 or 2017, which is in Chile, and I decided that I wanted to become a brewer and just focus on one thing. And around 2019 we opened up Cervecería Feroz, me a couple of friends we joined up, put in a lot of money, because it’s expensive, and we opened Feroz to the public in May 2019.
Oculyze: When did you start doing yeast cell counts in your brewery and what was your process before Oculyze?
Antonio González Ruiz: We used to work with a lab that was near here and we were basically doing one-off, we got the yeast, we used it, and then we ordered new yeast for the next beer. And when we were doing dry yeast, same thing, we were not reusing yeast. Then I started doing this without a microscope, just by feel, and just hoping that… just checking that the pH was right, and smelling and tasting so trying to get no autolysis; and it kind of worked, but it was very touch and go. I mean, I lost two batches of beer because it didn’t start fermenting.
But I’ve been trying to get since 2020 an Oculyze, but with the pandemic and stuff we didn’t have money for it, so we had to focus on where we could spend. And then the lab we used to work with closed in August last year. So, we’re doing a lot of beer that we couldn’t brew with dry yeast. So we needed to have our own source of liquid yeast, so we decided to do our own beer yeast catalog here in the brewery. So now we have a special lab inside the brewery, we’re doing our yeast, and we needed to do a cell count to do that. And, so, I decided I didn’t want to buy a microscope and do it by hand because the times I’ve done that it’s… it takes me around 10 times just to get it right, because one mistake can throw you off a lot.
So I started using Oculyze, I think it was in October – November, last year, and we finally got our yeast bank here ready in January and that’s when I started going all the way. So right now, with Oculyze, I’ve been able to reuse yeast. I’m up to three generations right now and safely checking that everything’s above 90 percent, cell counts, everything’s easier.
Oculyze: Are you monitoring your yeast just for quality control or is it also part of the creative process?
Antonio González Ruiz: Quality control and yeast repitching, and, I don’t know, I already have in mind what kind of yeast I want to use in our beers so if the yeast is fresh, I’ll use it and if it gives me something different, then it’ll help my criteria as well. But it always helps out to know if I’m doing the correct pitching, if I’m low, are the esters I’m getting pitching low helping me out or damaging my beer, stuff like that I’m looking into.
It also helps me with refining the process. I was using compressed air, now I’m using oxygen, so I’ve been changing everything I can to get healthier yeast, but without having the Oculyze there’s no way I could do that. Now having the system with me I can check if my yeast count is low in my yeast brink before pitching and why it is low. If I can change one variable to see how it works and then just continue counting, it helps me out in a million ways.
Oculyze: What, would you say, have been the most positive impacts of using Oculyze in your brewery?
Antonio González Ruiz: I’ve increased my productivity a lot. Being able to go up to three generations has increased my turnout so I can brew faster because each generation ferments faster. I can store yeast in my brink in my cold room and keep feeding it so I don’t need to do more new generations, and I can check if the health of the yeast is well or not and then it helps me out to know if I need to do a new pitch or I can use the one I have in my cold room.
Just changing from compressed air to pure oxygen has decreased fermentation times a lot. Without counting I couldn’t have done that because I didn’t know what was happening inside. Now I know what’s happening.
Oculyze: Did you bring anything from your experience as an architect into your brewing?
Antonio González Ruiz: The way I look at designing a beer is similar to the way I looked at designing a building. So it kind of helps me, like with the colors and the taste, the aroma that I want… It helps me build it that way. I don’t know, that’s the way I think about it.
Oculyze: Your beer cans are so much fun! What’s their story?
Antonio González Ruiz: One of my partners is a branding director in a big branding company and this is like his pet project. The idea here goes a lot with where we are. We are located in Ciudad Del Saber, which used to be a U.S military base, and now it’s a center for education, scientific research… there’s the United Nations here and a lot of international, governmental institutions. And we’re next to the Panama Canal and next to the jungle, so that’s where our name comes from – feroz means fierce, like the jungle dwellers. And the idea we’ve had always, when we got the name, was to incorporate what we can find in the jungle in Panama. We have more now from other parts of the world, all our animals you could find them in the Panama Canal area, near, in the jungle.
Our most sold beers Lagarto Juancho… it’s a surfer crocodile. We have a lot of crocodiles and around near here there used to live a huge gator, it was huge and we called him Lagarto Juancho. That was the popular name here, in Panama; and he died a couple years ago and we decided to name our beer after him. So we have similar stories for the other beers. We have Universo Alterno, which is our alt beer… When we were thinking of a name I think that the second season of Stranger Things came on and we were like… “it’s the upside down, it’s, uh, alternative world”, stuff like that, because the name… I mean, for you guys, altbeer means something different. For us, it’s like alternative, so it was like that. It could be something like that. And it was like a little squirrel, riding his bicycle…
And then, most of our beers have that sort of story. So you have the animal from the canal doing something, the name has something to do with the idea we’re going with…
Oculyze: Most people know little about Panama’s beer landscape. What should we know, though?
Antonio González Ruiz: Um, we are relatively new in the beer industry. I think our oldest craft beer started in 2007, something like that, so it’s relatively new, but, since we have the Panama Canal, we have the Colon Free Zone which used to be a free trade place. So we used to get beers from all over the world. So we had an advantage over, I think, most of Latin America in the kind of beers we had. I mean, in 2014 you could get Ballast point, you could get Stone you could get Bitburger, we have Erdinger, we have Paulaner we have, uh… a lot of beers from Germany, from the United Kingdom, from the US and from Belgium. One of our stores here sells beers that you can get basically in Belgium and Panama, so it’s weird…
And when you have that much beer here, people start drinking different stuff, trying to do different things, and it helps us out that the local custom is to drink imported because “imported is better than local”; so we had to do better beers so that people would want to drink drink our beer. So it helped us out in the end.
Oculyze: And, finally, what’s next? What do you have in store for your customers in the near future – such as new beers, collaborations, upcoming events, etc.?
Antonio González Ruiz: We’re going to do do Oktoberfest for the first time here in the brewery, I’m going to do a double bock, just to change it up, why not? And now that I have my yeast bank here, I’m experimenting with different yeast to see what they do. For example, I started fermenting our IPAs with lager yeast instead of ale yeast and I’ve been blending a couple of yeast strings to see something new… Basically trying to do lagers and farmhouse ales. So that’s my plan.
Many thanks, Antonio González Ruiz and Cervecería Feroz!
If you’re interested in finding out how you can use our technology to control fermentation and monitor your yeast, save work hours and improve the cost-efficiency of your business, drop us a line at [email protected] or check out our product page: Oculyze BB 2.0 (Better Brewing) Yeast Cell Counter App + Hardware
Also, you can now get access to a fully functional demo account to test your yeast via our Web App. Completely free of charge and with no commitment to purchase.