Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local brewers.
Craft beer is an ever-growing industry in America, with well over 6,000 breweries now operating in the United States and craft sales up 5 percent from last year. That creates plenty of opportunity for guys like Cameron Finnis, head brewer at Falls City Brewing Co.
Interestingly, part of his fascination in brewing was stoked while studying economics in Australia during his college years. There, he bought a pub guide that he used to explore the bar scene, wherein beer was consumed with gusto.
He recalls one pub where you walk up to the bar and ordered, after which a coin flip would take place. If you won, your order was half-price. If the bartender won, your order was full-price. Betting was commonplace in the pubs, right down to cockroach races.
“They have more relaxed drinking laws,” Finnis says with a chuckle.
This, after having grown up with a British father who liked English ales — “He had a passion for the tastes and not the end result of drinking,” he says — helped solidify his interest in beer and brewing, along with the fact he’s interested in the many facets brewing involves.
“I never really had a favorite subject [in school], and that’s kind of what I liked about the profession,” he says. “It’s a spectrum of the sciences, it’s social studies. The science part is getting it to do the same thing every time.”
When he landed at the Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews after being a part-time swimming coach in college — he was a competitive swimmer at Eastern High School — the light went on. He learned the craft of brewing there starting in 2003 under Jerry Gnagy, now with Against the Grain Brewery, as an assistant brewer.
It wasn’t long before he was no longer interested in studying economics — “I studied enough to know not to spend anymore money on school,” he says — and decided to focus full-time on brewing.
By 2008, he felt confident enough to seek a head brewing post, landing him at Cumberland Brews as head brewer. Make that the only brewer. He worked primarily in the small brewpub’s former production brewery on Poplar Level Road.
Switching to Falls City Brewing Co. last fall has offered a stark contrast, as he’s not working more than eight hours a day all alone.
At his new post — the new brewery and taproom, Falls City, which opened at the end of March, — he works among teammates daily. He says he finds the collaboration invigorating.
“It was exciting, what they were doing,” he says of the Falls City team. “Once I came on board, [I enjoyed] seeing even more what is in the works and kind of being part of a team, having a good group of guys to bounce ideas off of. After eight years of being separated, it will be nice to just walk across the way and interact and get feedback.”
Not that there weren’t advantages to working alone: “No one complains about what music you listen to. But I would talk my wife’s ear off when I got home because I hadn’t talked to anyone all day,” he says.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have a 2-year-old daughter, Kaelin, and another child on the way. When he’s not being a brewer or a husband/dad, he sometimes “repurposes” old bourbon barrels into frames and other items. He built an entire bar out of bourbon barrels, which he proudly displays in his basement.
He also no doubt is looking forward to his second child’s birth, which not only brings more opportunity for happy parenting times, but also even more interaction with beer.
“When my wife had our first, she asked what sort of beer would help with nursing,” he says with a smile. “That was the shopping trip I enjoyed the most.”
Meanwhile, he’s busy focusing on expanding Falls City’s lineup. In addition to the “core four” of English Pale Ale, Kentucky Common, Hipster Repellant IPA and Street Lamp Porter, the brewery recently added Louisville City Golden Ale in cans and on draft.
The taproom is home to an array of high-gravity beers, and the brewery is about to release an American Pilsner. It will be the first canned Falls City pilsner since the original brewery closed in 1978.
“We hit the mark of something we all wanted to drink at the end of the workday,” he says. “It was important to us to try and do it right.”
In fact, it was the first beer he worked on when he was hired last fall, and it indeed underwent several iterations. It won’t be exactly like the much-maligned pilsners of those days, as it will have a focus on quality ingredients and good flavor.
By 2019, the brewery hopes to expand upon the current seven-barrel brewing system. With that and a planned barreling program, Finnis’ brewing future looks rosy.
And if he wasn’t a brewer, what would he be? At this notion, he laughs.
“Probably in trouble,” he says.