O-Town Interview: Brendan Byrne goes into the wild brew yonder


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As WMFE’s dedicated space reporter, Byrne spends a lot of time at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. (Photo courtesy of Robin Seemangal)

It wasn’t Brendan Byrne’s intention to end up on the aerospace beat at WMFE. Not much of a science-fiction fan growing up and a political science major at UCF, he surprised even himself by pitching a lot of space stories when he got to the station. His editor at the time suggested starting a podcast as an outlet.

A few years later, Are We There Yet? is going strong, and it’s about to join the on-air lineup on WMFE starting Nov. 12. When he’s not looking to the stars, he’s enjoying beer from local breweries or his homebrew setup and spending time with his wife in their Curry Ford West digs.

 

How long have you been at WMFE?

It will be six years in November. I started in 2013 as an intern, so six years total — maybe five years full-time.

 

And broadcast journalism, much less the space beat, wasn’t your intention.

I went to school for education and changed my major to political science. I actually put school on hold for quite a bit and pursued a career in retail management. I was going down that path and then went back to school and got an internship with WMFE just because I listened to it. I was like, “I wonder how this works.”

Then I fell in love with it, and I’ve been there ever since.

 

Covering the space industry was new to you when you started at the station. Looking back, what was the most surprising thing about the aerospace beat?

How many people were interested in it.

By not having a space reporter, we were really doing a disservice to our listeners. There were so many people connected to that industry, whether it be contractors or people who worked at NASA or the passionate fans.

It’s a beat that has so many different facets in Central Floridians’ lives. There’s the economic aspect of things. But, also, it’s cool, right? People love watching rocket launches. They love these really cool science experiments and missions launched from their backyard, and there’s this interest in ownership and in the Space Coast that I wasn’t quite aware of until I started talking to people about it.

 

As a Central Florida resident, do you also feel that way?

Yeah, absolutely. And I make the case for it when we talk to NPR about regional stories of national significance. I’m always pitching Space Coast stories. I’m kind of a Space Coast evangelist when it comes to getting those stories out nationally as well.

 

Speaking of evangelism, you’re also a beer evangelist and a homebrewer. Which came first: brewing or the breweries? 

The breweries, for sure. And then spending time in breweries and watching and talking to the people, you think, “I drink enough beer; I could probably make this right?”

 

I saw on social media that you were thinking of naming your latest creation after Lizzo. Where do the names come from?

Yes, my brew partner and I made that one, and we actually called it “100% That Batch.”

When I started out, I tried to do space theme with all of my beers. I did a citrus wheat because my wife loves wheat beers, and I was on a citrus kick. I called it “Citronaut Tang,” and it was fantastic.

The new one, “100% That Batch,” was supposed to be “The Hopportunity Rover.” It was supposed to be a red, hoppy American pale ale, and it was none of those things.

So then we decided to go a different route and call it something Lizzo-related because I accidentally dry hopped it for 10 days, and it got very, very juicy.

 

I would think you make a mistake when you homebrew, you don’t end up with something you can drink. 

You always get beer. Yeast and wheat and sugar and water — when you put them all together, they really want to become beer. You would have to try very, very hard to stop that from happening. It might not come out how you want it or might not taste very good.

Talking to brewers, they tell me that some of their best beers are accidents. You forget to add a hop at a certain time. Or you put the wrong yeast in. Or you miscalculated something on your recipe.

Some of the best beers that I liked it Ocean Sun, I found out they were mistakes. That’s how a lot of breweries work. And, so, once you embrace that and relax, you get beer at the end of it.

 

From a homebrew process, is it important to do documentation of the process?

Every step that you take, it’s scientific. I’ve got brewing software, and that calculates every single addition to my recipe. I can tweak the recipes, and, if it will estimate what original gravity and final gravity is going to be, what my ABV is going to be at a hop level, and you play with those things.

Temperature makes such a big difference. If you mash at 148, it’s going to be a dryer beer. If you mash at 143 degrees, it’s going to be a sweeter beer. There’s just all these different little variables you have to keep track, and I love it. Because it’s me being a fake scientist, right?

 

Brendan and Madeline Byrne bought their house about a year ago in the Curry Ford West area. They were looking for a few things, including proximity to favorites like Ocean Sun Brewing and a larger yard for their dog Cassi. (Photo courtesy of Brendan Byrne)

Speaking of little tweaks, Curry Ford West, your neighborhood, has gone through a lot of changes over the last five years. What has your experience been living here?

My wife and I absolutely love it. When we went to buy our first house, we had no idea where we wanted to live. We just said, “It’s our first house. Here’s what we can afford; show us where we can find a spot, and we ended up at Curry Ford and 436.”

We lived there for five years, and we went to upgrade because it was too small for the dog. We bought a brand-new house because of our $10 rescue dog since the backyard was too small for her.

We dropped a pin near Ocean Sun and Roque Pub, in that area, and said we want to be a mile away from this. That’s the farthest we want to go, and that’s where we found our house.

Not a day goes by that we’re not at F&D Kitchen or grabbing a beer in Hourglass or stopping at Foxtail on Sunday before grocery shopping.

Madeline’s parents live in Asheville, North Carolina, which is the coolest city in the east, and they’re jealous of this. We’re making Asheville jealous, so we’re doing something right.

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