Covering Louisiana

Dec 30, 2013 6:55 AM by Michael Doughty

World-traveling brewer settles in Shreveport

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - "Finally these last two brews are getting to the volume which means I can do my math," said Harvey Kenney, brewmaster for Great Raft Brewing, as he monitored the large metal receptacle used to strain grain from beer mash.

The last several batches had fallen short, making Kenney's calculations useless, but this batch of lager moved through the process without a hitch.

Possessing raw skill, dedication, years of experience and an education focused on the science of biological and chemical interactions, Kenney brings to Great Raft Brewing, a wealth of practical knowledge and decades of brewing experience.

It all started in Kenney's California home when he was a teenager.

"At age 14 or 15 I made the life decision to drink a lot of beer," said Kenney. "When I was 15 and a half I bought the main book on home brewing, "The complete joy of home brewing" by Charlie Papazian."

Though it is now illegal to sell home brewing supplies to underage individuals, Kenney took advantage of the absence of the law and cultivated his passion of craft brewing though his high school career.

Kenney, who has always been a fan of drawing, entered college majoring in art, but quickly changed majors to biochemistry, with the intent of perhaps someday working in, or opening a brewery.

But it wasn't until the economic downturn, and the loss of a biochemistry job, that sent Kenney back to brewing as a career.

"When the economy went south and I was on the street along with other biological technology professionals, my Russian uncle asked me what I really wanted to do, and all I could say was I just want to make beer," Kenney said. "I began working in some breweries for free and was in the queue to get into UC Davis to get my Master Brewer's certificate."

Between flipping schnitzel working in a brewery and attending class Kenney managed to get his certificate.

It was a hard time financially for the future brewmaster, who began attending craft beer conventions in the hope of landing a dream job.

But it wasn't a dream job Kenney found, but a risky an unknown position as the brewer for an Istabul, Turkey based brewpub.

"I started off in a little brewpub in Turkey then took over a production facility which went quite nicely," said Kenney, who for several years, worked in the European side of Istanbul , a city divided by the Bosphorus strait. During that time, Kenney learned to speak Turkish and at one point lived on the Asian side of the city, when he would take a ferry to work every day.

But when the business attempted to expand their production beyond the brewpub, the company ran low on finances. That's when things got scary Kenney said.

"That project began to lose money, and there were some business issues, so rather than getting enslaved like my Kenyan assistant, I managed to avoid that, barely, and left the day my visa was to expire," He said.

According to Kenney, his assistant was unable to return to his home country of Kenya when the brewing business began to sink.

"They didn't renew his visa and they stopped paying him, if he tried to get on the plane they would have thrown him in jail in Turkey or in Kenya, he was effectively enslaved," Kenney said.

It was on the last day of his Visa that Kenney made the choice to flee Turkey and return to the United States.

Unfortunately for Kenney, the job opportunities were few and far between in the States, and in Europe, but through his connections in the industry he was able to land a job with a brewery in Mexico

"I ended up in Mexicali, in the frontier and that was a rather primitive facility, and I was there for nine months to clean up beer from a microbiological standpoint," he said. Kenney was never able to complete the task due to a fall-through in funding to renovate the lab.

Ultimately, after 9 months Kenney considered the project a failure and began soliciting employment elsewhere.

"A small day of murder in a town of 800,000 was two, a biggest day of murder in terms of publicized murder was 57," said Kenney. "Had I known that 57 percent of the entire Mexican GDP was the commerce and manufacture of narcotics, I may or may not have second guessed my decision to go there."

Through his connections in the industry with mentor Will Kemper, a prominent brewer out of Bellingham, Washington, Kenney met with an Australian who wanted to build a brewery in Melbourne, Australia.

"Will being busy with his Chuckanuck brewing company in Bellingham, couldn't do it, so he recommended me," Kenney said.

In Melbourne Kenney saw incredible success streamlining the Australian Brewery.

"That project started a little bit slow, and it's now the largest craft brewery in Melbourne by volume," Kenney said.

For 3 years Kenney made the brewery into a streamlined factory process. The brewery ran so smoothly, Kenney found that he was needed less and less.

"I could sense that project had run out of it's need for me," he said. "I had given my technical advice on how to build a brewery and laboratory, and I had taught the brewers how to brew, and the technicians how to test the beer. It became a pretty well-oiled machine and suddenly I wasn't as useful anymore."

That's when Kenney and the owners of Great Raft Brewing finally found each other via brewing forums and online communities.

"I like light drinking lagers and that's kind of how we met Harvey, he's a lager brewer," said Andrew Nations. "He liked the idea about creating something unique in the south, and wanted to be a part of something brand new, we also agreed on almost everything in terms of style which is very important for an owner and a brewer."

Today marks the culmination of a weeklong marketing campaign for the launch of Great Raft Brewing and their flagship beers, each of which was crafted by Kenney.

"I found quite a few projects and this was the most well-funded in the biggest wasteland for beer in America that I could tolerate," he said. "Shreveport is very unique, we are not Texas, nor are we Louisiana, neither are we Arkansas, we are Texarkana, there isn't another brewery other than Red River within 300 miles. This needs to be the regional brewery for Texarkana."

With the growing popularity of craft beers in the United States, Great Raft Brewing is poised to take advantage of America's expanding beer horizons, and with the aid of the world-class brewmaster, are sure to produce some exciting and unique beers right in the heart of Shreveport's Highland neighborhood.

"People are really responding well to our beer, and they seem eager to get behind a local product," said Andrew Nations. "They just want a beer they can call their own."

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