September 14, 2020

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Crafted Edition #002 🍻 - Mike Sumaya, Incinerati Brewing

Crafted exists to help us all see beer like a brewmaster, to appreciate more deeply both the art and science that brewing is.

This week I had the pleasure of learning from Mike Sumaya, Head Brewer & Owner at Incinerati Brewing—a nano brewery with roots in Fresno, CA. He'll soon be moving the operation up to Clovis, CA, where he'll have his own brewing location and tasting room.

If you're in a hurry, check out some of the highlights:

  • You really can go from brewing in your garage to running your own brewing company. Mike started out brewing at home, honing his skills while working various trade jobs. He then landed a sales position at a brewery to get his foot in the door. Before long, he was brewing professionally.
  • Carve out your own niche—be you. Its better that way.
  • Skip to the bottom to learn about a dip-hopped New England IPA, and a slightly Sour Ale with peach and apricot purée

Let's get to it 🚀

Boiling it down to a 5-7 minute read
What follows are merely the highlights of my conversation with Mike.
Though I couldn't fit it, among other things, we also talked about Mike's opinion on Seltzer's (he understands the business aspect but hopes his brewery will never have to make them 🙂)
Frist, a snapshot of Incinerati Brewing Co. in Mike's own words:

There's a certain kind of character of Incinerati that I'm trying to have: able to survive on making good craft-quality, experimental, pushing-the-limits kind of beers while still being approachable enough to not just stay in that little niche in the corner.

And I really do like pushing people from not really being into craft beer, into trying something that otherwise maybe they didn't like an example of. But I make it in a way that they can appreciate and also people who are more experienced can appreciate.
Incinerati Beer - Untappd
#024 Though the Heavens Fall
#022 Properties of Propaganda
Image source:
When did you brew your first batch of beer?

Actually, I have the date noted somewhere ... July 27th, 2013, that's what it was - so 7 years ago. I was getting so into drinking craft beer and IPA and stuff like that - and somebody asked me, Why don't you just brew your own?

I was like, You can do that?

I thought the best you could do was a toilet wine kind of quality. I didn't realize there was this whole thing of homebrewing. So I jumped into it...

. . .

So at a certain point I wanted to get into the industry because I was tired of just doing pest control [and different trade jobs] stuff. Why not? So I actually got hired on at Riley's Brewing (Madera, CA) doing sales, just because I was...applying at any kind of brewery I could.

Not even a year after starting sales, Mike was able to start brewing beer at Riley's after he "bugged them enough and brought them enough of my homebrew samples that I was still brewing and being like this is the kind of stuff that we need to be brewing here"

If Incinerati becomes what you want it to be, what will it be?

The dream—the goal for it is to have it be self-sufficient so I can do it full time, and so I don't have to work at another brewery and then do this stuff nights and weekends. So I can dedicate all my time to it. So we're actually making a move on that and going to Clovis from Fresno. There's a brewery called Zone 9 that's been there for four years and they're not renewing their lease. So they contacted us to so if we were interested in moving-in - and we definitely were.

Right now, Mike & Incinerati are brewing out of an incubator, shared with several other brewing companies near downtown Fresno. Mike hopes to be in the new location sometime in October. With the challenges of COVID restrictions, the short term plan is to set up a Crowler Club before eventually being able to open the tasting room.

Are you wondering what an incubator is?
Don't worry, so was I. Mike was able to explain it for me:
"The official term is an alternating proprietorship. And it basically just means we're sharing the brewing space, but we're all separately licensed and otherwise independent."

It helps save costs by sharing space and equipment. For Mike, it allows him to "keep buying all these cool experimental hops and spending the money on the best ingredients rather than trying to cut costs at any point."
What's been the biggest obstacle so far in your journey to start your own brewing company?

The business side. You know, I can I can make a killer beer, but filing [the] paperwork and knowing how to fill it out properly and all that, I'm completely out of my depth on that.

So [I'm] definitely having to reach out to some people and try to get some help because I just didn't really know how to do it all. And there's not so much that you can Google about - how to fill-out this particular paperwork.

If you want to highlight one of your beers, which one would it be and why?

It's kind of tough because my whole model has just been that everything is a one-off. And so I've numbered each batch - so I'm on batch 26 now. [With] every batch there's something different about it. I bought a few boxes of hops and had to use them up. So there are different combinations of these. But I'm doing them in different amounts, in different times and in different ways, with different grain or different yeast and different add-on ingredients ... So each and every one of the beers is new and limited-release. I'm kind of playing on that FOMO, that "fear of missing out".

Also, in craft beer people want something new all the time. That's it. I'm one of those. ...You know, I'll stand by a six pack or four pack of something. But I'm also getting a couple of four packs that are mixed of things I've never had before.

So like I said before, the best beer to look forward to is whichever one's coming out next because it's going to be something new.

Which one is coming out next?

The next one that's in the tank right now and carbonated—I'm waiting for the label to come in Tuesday–It's a New England IPA. It's called "No One Loves Me and Neither Do I". It's the title of a Them Crooked Vulture's song ... This song just kicks ass and I freakin' love it and part of my marketing, so-to-speak, or my model, is doing some interesting and off-the-wall kind of names and not doing stuff that's kind of been done before. Just really carving that niche to stand out.

Is there anything off-the-wall about this beer?

I did a hop technique that I've just recently learned about called dip hopping. Normally when you're making a [New England IPA] at the end of the boil you do the whirlpool and you throw in a whole bunch of hops. But unless you cool that wort down to 170-180° Fahrenheit, you're gonna get some bitterness from the isomerization from the boiling temperature.

So to avoid that, while still getting it hot enough to pasteurize it, hot enough to extract the oils efficiently, I put the hops into the the fermenter that was already sanitized and added 170-175° water and just let that steep for half an hour while I finished the last half an hour of the boil. And then I knocked the wort out right into the tank. So the goal of that is to limit the amount of bitterness that we get from the isomerized hops in the kettle.

. . .

It's got Sabro®, Sultana and Citra® hops in there. That's where its kind of a play on the name where Sabro [for] some people is is kind of polarizing: some people really like it, some people really don't. Definitely has a distinctive, strong character to it, but that is kind of why I like it. But I did mix in that Sultana for some of that pineapple that [it] provides and then some Citra just to kind of back it up.

So it's not way off-the-wall. It's kind of in the line of these New Englands that I'm making where every time I'm changing some stuff up. I have a general structure of the recipe. But, you know, I'll change some things for for one reason or another, mostly with the hops that I'm using and the ways and the amounts, again, to not make them taste the same. But still, each one of the batches I make, I learn something new, something better, how to do the process.

And then the other one that is off-the-wall, that's in my five barrel - it's a double batch - that's actually a sour ale that has peach and apricot puree added to it. And rather than doing a kettle sour where I sour it with bacteria in the kettle or just doing a quick sour where you just add straight lactic acid, there's this new yeast called Philly sour from Lallemand, the dry yeast company that was discovered by the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

And they found on a dogwood tree in a cemetery just outside of the school, this particular Lachancea species yeast. So it's not a Saccharomyces yeast, it is a wild yeast, but it happens to do lactic acid fermentation and then switches to ethanol fermentation. So a little sour and ferment in the same tank. It's a not a bacteria. So it's doing just regular sanitizing.

. . .

I then added some Oregon fruit, apricot and peach purée to it so it'd be nice and peachy. It's got a nice sourness. It's not a super-duper sour one, but it definitely gives you that pinch in the back of your cheeks when you're drinking it. It's nice, clean - it's just wheat and pilsner, a very simple, basic kind of grain build just to let that yeast and the fruit stand out and the sourness stand out on it.

So that one is called "2021: 2020 Part 2". And it actually has pretty funny label on there. My cousin does my labels and my graphic design stuff. He had just come up with this particular label and I came up with the name and it's perfect for everything that we're all going through - just laughing at how fucked up 2020 is and how its been.

It's a little clunky but you basically got to see the label to get it. ... I like to do things that are a bit different, that stand out on the shelf and hopefully get some social media love on it because I think its a pretty awesome label...

It's kind of been the goal for Incinerati from the start is to kind of go, in a way, on the next level of brewing where it's not just, you know, "Clovis Brown" and "San Joaquin River Pale Ale" and stuff. Take a little bit more artistic and creative, a little bit esoteric as a character to it.


If you get to make a living and express youself by doing what you are passionate about - count yourself blessed.

Thank you to Mike Sumaya for sharing his time in order to give us a glimpse into his work. There's a lot to learn from your experiences. Crafted wishes you the best of luck moving out to the new location, and taking the next step on your journey towards brewing for yourself full-time at Incinerati.

Also thank you to you who have read this far - Crafted would be meaningless without you!

As always, feel free to let me know what you think, and tell me what you're drinking.

Take care, until next time 👋

Cheers! 🍻

- Jake