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On tap: Biology student maintains local brewery

Eric Luman, a UNF biology senior, has a job title that is tough to beat: Brewmaster. And while brewing beer is his passion, it isn’t deterring him from getting his degree.

Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery is where the 29-year-old Jacksonville native spends most of his time, rubber gloves and boots dripping wet, racing throughout his beer-silo-filled workplace. Seven Bridges, next to Tinseltown on the corner of Gate Parkway and Deer Lake Drive, has been pumping out booze for Jacksonville for 12 years. It’s part of a much larger company called Gordon Beers Brewery Restaurant Group, a network of about 30 brewpubs across the country.

Seven Bridges, named after the seven bridges that cross the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, keeps five to eight handcrafted beers on tap at all times – rotating seasonal brews throughout the year. Luman has been brewing beer professionally for over eight years, four of which have been at Seven Bridges.

Luman’s involvement in the beer-brewing world began serendipitously.

“I kind of just fell into it,” he said.

Luman said he started as a bartender at Southend, a brewpub downtown, and worked his way up to assistant brewer. He was attending Jacksonville University then, studying biology. After a year of working as an assistant, the pub’s head brewer left, and Luman took over. He put his degree on hold and worked as head brewmaster for the pub for four years, perfecting his craft, until he was offered the head brewer position at Seven Bridges. He’s been working there ever since and enrolled at UNF in 2008 to finish his biology degree — not because he needs to, but because he wants to.

Luman said biology does apply to the brewing industry, but mainly he wanted to finish for personal reasons.

He said he loves brewing and drinking beer. But more importantly – being Bridges’ only brew master – he said he appreciates the responses he receives from the people that drink his beer.

“I like the interaction with the customer,” he said. “[I] get to make a product, put it on tap and instantly get feedback from the customers. It’s nice to get that reward.”

Blake Mason, one of Bridges’ managers, expressed how fortunate the establishment is to have Luman.

“Our beer here is fantastic,” Mason said. “I’d put Eric up against anybody.”

Jeremy Sharack, one of the bartenders, shares the sentiment.

“Eric’s probably been one of the best things that has happened to this restaurant,” Sharack added. “He has brought our beer quality up to a new level.”

Despite Lumans success, he said he has seen reports lately indicating a downfall in the beer market, but he’s confident his trade will only improve.

“The culture of beer-drinking seems to be shifting from macro-made, generic, yellow, fizzy lagers, to more craft-sided, unique flavorful beers,” Luman said.

Regardless of the competition — larger beer distribution companies — he believes craft beers will take a bigger presence in more mainstream establishments.

“I think with the revolution of craft beer going on right now, you are probably going to see a lot more breweries opening up in town,” Luman said. “I think every neighborhood can support its own little brewery.”

Luman said he likes to keep it fresh at Bridges and is always brewing up something new.

Luman said he already has three batches of beer brewing for Oktoberfest Sept. 14, along with music by a German band and a roasted pig.

As far as his studies are concerned, Luman is doing an independent study with UNF biology professor Dr. Michael Lentz – who has his own expertise in beer-brewing.

Their research started shortly after discovering their mutual interest in home brewing while chatting at Seven Bridges.

“The idea is to do a statistical analysis on the routine mechanism for figuring out how much yeast to put in [beer] when you’re brewing on a small scale,” Lentz said.

He said the method Luman is using involves weighing out the yeast on a scale and determining how much to put in from there. He said harvesting yeast is the most delicate aspect of making beer.

So far, the research is signifying that this method is appropriate.

Yeast is the heart of the beer, Luman said. It does all the fermentation. It is a living organism. It is temperamental. It changes after you use it. It has to be treated very sterile. It’s very gentle, he said.

Luman said he cannot pick only one beer to be his personal favorite.

“There’s just too many beers to choose from,” he said. “The hoppier, the better.”

Five signature beers stay on tap at all times at Seven Bridges:
(A sample platter of all five is $5)

Southern Flyer Light Lager: The lightest beer in color and body in the lineup. It contains 3.61 percent alcohol by volume.

Southside Pilsner: A European-style pilsner fermented with German lager yeast. It’s light in color but medium-bodied. It contains 5.02 percent alcohol by volume.

Toll Tender I.P.A.: A copper-colored ale that gets its flavor and aroma from domestic Galena and Cascade hops. This is Luman’s favorite beer on the list. It contains 5.97 percent alcohol by volume.

The Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale: A medium-bodied, brown ale. A hint of chocolate and crystal malts render a sweet, malty flavor. It contains 5.18 percent alcohol by volume.

Iron Horse Stout Bridge: A four-time medalist in the World Beer Cup competition – years ‘98, ‘00, ‘02, ‘04. This opaque black stout stems a rich roasted flavor from UK malt. It contains 5.65 percent alcohol by volume.

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