Meet The Brewers: Kevin Walzer & Tim Melle of Inner Groove Brewing

Welcome to our “Meet The Brewer” series! Where we interview brewers in Pennsylvania, from breweries small to large. Let us know if you know anyone who should be featured, email us at info@breweriesinpa.com.

Inner Groove Brewing first opened its doors in June of 2019 at 751 E. Railroad Ave in Verona, PA. What was once an interior design shop, Inner Groove operates a 7 barrel brewery with 16 taps and incorporates music lyrics into the name of their beers. Inner Groove also just announced plans to open another taproom in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Kevin Walzer and Tim Melle are the brewers at Inner Groove brewing. Read more to find out their introduction to craft beer, where they see the craft beer industry heading, and more!

What was your introduction to craft beer?

Kevin: I always enjoyed beers with a bit more distinct or unique flavor. As far back as the 1990s and early 2000s, I was selecting a Yuengling or Sam Adam’s lager over Budweiser, Miller, or Coors. I was also drinking beers like a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or a Penn Pilsner when available. I really started geeking out on beer 9 or 10 years ago when I first got my hands on beers like Heady Topper and Zombie Dust with more pronounced juicy hop-forward notes.

Tim: I bought a case of Sam Adams based on the advertising which stated it was the “best beer in America“. After that, I was hooked. I appreciate that Sam Adams brewed a wide variety of styles which allowed me to learn about craft beer. My older brother lived right next to the original Mad Mex in Oakland where I would drink a lot of old-school beers like Pete’s Wicked Ale, Sierra Nevada, and Anchor Steam in addition to Sam Adams.

How did you get started as a brewer?

Kevin: I dove into brewing around the same time as I started my obsession with craft IPAs and sours. I had a group of close friends who would hunt down craft beers for a weekly beer share. One of those friends was Tim Melle who ultimately ended up being my business partner and fellow brewer at Inner Groove. Tim shared a few homebrews he had made which gave me the bug to get started myself. We started collaborating on the process and recipe ideas and we have not looked back since.

Tim: I bought a homebrew kit in the late 90s but gave up on brewing after having children. I started back up about 10 years ago after my wife bought me some more brewing equipment for Christmas. I traveled quite a bit for work and got to try a lot of great beers around the country. I started brewing Hazy IPA’s and sours (for my wife)because you couldn’t find those styles locally at the time.

What style allows you to be the most creative, and why?

Kevin: At Inner Groove, we have been creative with all styles that we brew. I feel like that is our signature. We have put a twist on everything from making a brown ale that tastes like a waffle cone to using mulling spices in a golden ale for the winter holiday season.

Tim: I think you can be creative with most styles as you can change the malts and hops you use to get very different flavor combinations. But I really enjoy finding new recipes for our sours. The ability to mix and match spices, vanilla, lactose, etc. with different fruits gives you tremendous options.

(L) Tim Melle and (R) Kevin Walzer of Inner Groove Brewing. Photo courtesy of Inner Groove Brewing.

What was the first beer you ever brewed, and what did you learn from it?

Kevin: I brewed an Amber Ale at a local brew-your-own shop a few years before I really got myself into home brewing. It turned out awful. I learned that there are no shortcuts and that malt extract brewing was not for me. I later returned to home brewing and realized that that I could make a quality enjoyable beer if I used a process that leveraged ingredients from scratch and allowed me to understand and control everything that was happening along the way.

Tim: I brewed an amber ale from a kit. What I learned is bottling beer is a painstaking process and I never did it again. From that point on, I converted my kegerator to work with corny kegs so I could hook it up to CO2. The other thing I learned as a brewer is how important water treatment and yeast management are to making a quality beer.

Where do you see the craft beer industry heading in the next few years?

Kevin: Craft breweries are popping up everywhere these days. I think we are starting to raise the bar for people’s expectations of the product choices available and experiences available when they “go out for a drink”. I think this applies to not just beer, but for wine, spirits, and food as well. I think we will need to continue to innovate with the beers we manufacture, but also innovate around how we fit with those other pieces which comprise the whole experience for the customer.

Tim: I think you will see neighborhood breweries continue to grow. If your hometown doesn’t have a brewery yet, it probably won’t be too long before it does. I also think you will see breweries continue to expand into other states.

As far as styles go, I think everyone will continue to push the boundaries for something new and exciting. We are already seeing a lot of new yeast strains that produce specific esters (fruit flavor) but not phenols (spice flavor), new hop varieties, and new grain options. The continuous development of beer ingredients makes for some interesting possibilities.

Describe what it’s like to be a brewer in Pennsylvania.

Kevin: Brewing in Pennsylvania is like being part of a large friendly family. Any time we have needed advice or needed a hand from our fellow brewers there has been no hesitation to help out. Though we are competing for the same business, we are also pulling for one another to succeed. There is a sense that the common long-term good of the industry outweighs the individual. I think this sense of community and looking out for the larger whole is what keeps the customers flocking to our taprooms and the industry strong.

Tim: I am thrilled to be part of the Pennsylvania brewing community. Customers I talk to can’t believe how well all the breweries get along and help each other. I think we’re fortunate to have a lot of great breweries and great people in the brewing industry in Pittsburgh and across the state. I have formed great relationships with breweries locally as well as four to five hours away.

What is the inspiration behind your beer names?

Kevin: Inner Groove is built on a music vibe. So, it is a natural fit that our beer names are inspired by musicians and songs. A typical Inner Groove beer name is a blend of a beer style, a tasting note, and a musical inspiration.

Tim: Our brewery is heavily music-themed, so all of our beer names come from musical references. The names may be song titles, lyrics, or anything tied to music. We typically find some ingredient in the beer that ties into a song. For example, we have a key lime sour beer called Gilded Cage, which is from Limelight by Rush, or a beer named Lilting Grace from Kashmir by Led Zeppelin because it has Cashmere hops. It makes coming up with names a lot easier as we have so many options available to us.

It also helps us come up with can art. I love our can labels. They also tie into the artists’ albums. Our graphic designer, Steve Meyer, does a phenomenal job of interpreting our ideas and putting them on a can.

What is your favorite beer to drink right now?

Kevin: I am a person with very little free time at the moment. You will find it hard to spot me drinking a beer that is not Inner Groove. However, I have been a huge fan of beers from Pipeworks Brewing for a number of years and you can now get their stuff locally around Pittsburgh. So, I will say my favorite of the moment is a Lizard King. On a side note – check out their awesome can artwork if you get a chance.

Tim: That’s a tough question as I enjoy so many different styles. I usually default to a hazy IPA but recently I’ve been drinking ESB’s when I can find them. It’s a very underrated style in my opinion. Fat Head’s Head Hunter is always a go-to when I’m out and about.

What is the most important lesson you learned in the beer industry so far?

Kevin: It’s the little things that make the world of difference. That applies to your customer experience, your brewing process, and your community relationships. Nail the details.

Tim: I would say to never be complacent. I’m always trying to learn more, improve processes and continue to evolve as a brewer, with the end goal of producing a better product. I always feel like there is room for improvement in anything you do. When you get complacent that’s when things start to decline.

Thank you to Kevin and Tim for talking with us! Make sure you visit Inner Groove Brewing’s website to see all the latest beers, and what they have going on! Also, follow Inner Groove Brewing on Facebook and Instagram.

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