Ryan Buxton is the Head Brewer at Portland’s Ex Novo Brewing, which recently announced a second location coming to Beaverton and a production facility going into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Buxton claims Salt Lake City to be where he is from, but was raised in Athens, Georgia, and lived in everywhere from Fargo to California and New York City. Buxton moved to Portland to become Ex Novo’s Head Brewer in 2016 after a stint at Epic Brewing in Denver, where he was the head of blending and research and development.
Strangely enough, Buxton was a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for at-risk youth and spent some time working at a methodone clinic as well. Finding himself pretty burnt out on that line of work, he was reading all the brewing literature he could find at the time.
“One day I just decided that maybe I should try to get a job as a brewer, and I figured to do that I would need to go to brew school,” says Buxton. He got into it from homebrewing back when he lived in Salt Lake City, a buddy invited him over for a brew day where they made a blonde ale circa 2007.
“After researching different schools I thought I would reach out to Kevin Crompton who was the Brewmaster for Epic as ask his opinion of which brew school I should apply to. He told me that I should probably get my feet wet in the industry and see what brewing is really like before I committed to that much more student debt; so I asked him if he knew of anyone hiring and he told me he’d give me a job washing kegs, working in the warehouse and packaging, so I took him up on it.”
Buxton started on Epic’s packaging line, got promoted to cellarman, where he learned barrels, blending, and dirty work like cleaning tanks, transferring beer, filtration, etc. After some time as cellarman, they promoted him to brewer and became the head of blending operations.
“Epic was growing quickly and we formed a committee for producing new beers and I was tasked with helping write recipes and developing new beers,” sayx Buston. He got to help start Epic’s sour beer program in Salt Lake City and in Denver. They filled foeders and barrels with wild yeasts and bacteria and had a lot of fun. “Looking back, I got lucky a few times and worked my ass off and Epic rewarded me with some amazing opportunities and growth,” recalls Buxton. However he grew tired of the constant strain of growth at the brewery and while he loved the team there, he wanted a smaller company with more creative freedom.
“I had met Joel, the owner of Ex Novo, through my friend Jason Barbee a few times at GABF, and when Jason informed me that he was leaving his post as head brewer at Ex Novo to start his own brewery I told him I would be interested in taking over in his place,” says Buxton on how he ended up in Portland and at Ex Novo. “I have a brother in Portland and I always wanted to end up settling down in the PNW eventually, so when Joel offered me the job I was excited to take it.”
This is chapter fourteen in a monthly-ish series in which we check in with brewers on what they are drinking, eating, enjoying and what’s currently bubbling away in their fermenters.
Q: What was your early brewing influences?
Ryan Buxton: Guinness was probably my first love as far as beer is concerned; previous to that I drank Natty Lite. After Guinness I drank Blue Moon back when it was still cool, ya know, back before it was Miller-Coors. Looking back though, it was probably never cool and I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I got down on some Blue Moon for a good summer. After burning out on Blue Moon I finally fell in love with classic styles like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter as well as local craft brewers in SLC like Squatters, Wasatch, Redrock, Uinta etc.
Q: What is your favorite food and drink in Portland right now?
RB: Its nothing fancy, but god damn do I love Poke Mon on Hawthorne, I probably grab a poke bowl from them every week. For libations I have been really digging Hale Pele; its hard to beat a good tiki drink. Reel M Inn also kicks a large amount of ass as well.
Q: What’s your favorite beers right now (Ex Novo but also others) ?
RB: Upright’s Special Herbs might be my favorite beer in the world. I have also been digging Level’s Fresh hop beers, Wayfinder & Zoiglhaus’s fine lagers, Von Ebert’s delicious suds. I also really dig Baerlic, Culmination, and Ruse is killing it. I am pretty proud of our Fresh Hop Eliot with Crosby Amarillos, our Pilsner is pretty tasty and Puff Puff Passion, a dry hopped kettle sour with passionfruit.
Q: What’s new and exciting for you right now in the brewing world?
RB: Well in my world, our expansions to New Mexico and Beaverton are pretty exciting. But in the greater brewing world, I am excited to see craft lager beer taking a stronger hold in the marketplace as well as lower ABV beers.
Q: What new beers are in your fermenters or on the brew schedule for the future that we should be excited for?
RB: We will be canning Puff Puff Passion soon, which is pretty exciting. I just got back from our barrel warehouse tasting some mixed culture barrels we added massive amounts of Oregon-grown cherries to that we will be blending and bottle conditioning shortly. This morning we transferred a pretty tasty Oktoberfest that is pretty tasty, and we also threw 50# of Goschie Farm’s fresh Crystals into our Helles. Other than that, I have a 3% ABV Berliner Weiss that we spontaneously fermented on 400# of Oregon peaches which we brewed for Willamette Week’s Pro-Am with my buddy Chad Graham. Lots of exciting beers coming out of Ex Novo, it is a lot of fun to play around here with our talented team of brewers.
Check out our past Q & A’s with Whitney Burnside (10 Barrel),Brett Thomas (Sunriver), Ben and Rik of Baerlic Brewing, Austen Conn of Buoy Beer, Michael Kora of Montavilla Brew Works, Scott Sieber of Falling Sky Brewing, Coren Tradd of Pelican Brewing Cannon Beach, Sarah Resnick of Freebridge Brewing, Tyler West of GoodLife Brewing, Natalie Baldwin of Breakside Brewery, Justin Leigh of Dwinell Country Ales, Chetco Brewing’s Mike Frederick and pFriem’s Gavin Lord.