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Meet Patrick Combs, WeldWerks' "Super Sniffer" Secret Weapon

Meet Patrick Combs, WeldWerks "Super Sniffer" Secret Weapon

A sensitive nose is something to protect in a pandemic. Since March 2020, Patrick Combs, quality assurance and quality control manager of WeldWerks Brewing Co., has thought back to his first 90 days at the brewery.

“January 2020 was the moment I’d been waiting for, when the training and my efforts to learn more about beer paid off. At WeldWerks, I got to start sharing the passion I’ve had for craft beer from age 20. Since then, I’ve only gotten to learn more about how to share our beers, despite the challenges,” said Combs.

Yet Combs started his career in a very different field, healthcare information technology. Before he even began working in that field, he resolved to find a way into the craft beer industry. He accomplished this slowly and consistently, gradually developing his senses of smell and taste.

“(It was also important to acquire) the knowledge of what I was smelling, understanding why it was there, and potential pathways to prevent, control, and refine it. Still, my sensory training efforts were really born out of a selfish passion: to want to drink the best beer possible in my local area,” laughed Combs.

Combs’ current position fully utilizes his sensory abilities in unique ways, like to monitor a healthy yeast propagation, which should “have the odor of ‘sickly sweet green pear, green apple Jolly Ranchers (and) a tiny whiff of popcorn,’” said Combs.

Now, Combs’ ability and training makes him an instrumental part of WeldWerks’ research and development process to create new IPAs.


patrick combs stands in front of weldwerks tap handles
It was important to acquire the knowledge of what I was smelling, understanding why it was there, and potential pathways to prevent, control, and refine it. Still, my sensory training efforts were really born out of a selfish passion: to want to drink the best beer possible in my local area," Combs said.


“We do not have a pilot system for small-scale trials. New recipes need to be calculated and informed by previous experience as much as possible. The most interesting thing about the hazy IPA style is how little the fermentation tends to tell you about the finished product,” said Combs.

Combs said it can be difficult to make decisions about making a hazy IPA while the beer is in process.

“You can parse through the aromas to ensure the yeast is likely clean, healthy and free of egregious off flavors. Changes are often gradual, but distinct. Those changes begin after the packaging process,” said Combs.

Combs said a beer’s shelf-life curve is where a brewer truly finds out the value of their experimentation.

“Aggressively green, resinous flavor notes often fade to more tropical fruit-focused notes. What did it taste like at packaging? How did the flavor profile react to oxidation? Eventually, all beer will taste ‘old.’ Understanding that process is key to creating a world-class product,” said Combs.

A new hazy double IPA every week

At WeldWerks, Combs assists with turning out a solid line of hazy double and triple IPAs. These include Advanced Fluid Dynamics, which has notes of tangerine and vanilla and an ABV of 8.8 percent, along with Triple Bunk Beds, a citrusy yet comfortingly malty DIPA with an ABV of 9.3 percent.

The experience is a huge leap away from his first year at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, then “a land fraught with expired, warm-stored beer that was a ghost of what most brewers intended.”

“I moved to Oklahoma at the age of 17, from Flagstaff, Arizona. I was already enamored with the craft beer industry, yet my parents were wine people,” said Combs.

That’s when Combs began planning his entry into the industry. After graduating in 2013, Combs wanted to move to Colorado or the Pacific Northwest. Instead, he started his career in Kansas City.

“The good part was the travel. Monday through Thursday, my job took me to Miami for the first 18 months. I used all my downtime to explore different beers. I was tasting them and getting to know the differences. I even worked on a business plan to start my own brewery,” said Combs.


weldwerks extra extra juicy bits crowler with glass and tap handles
Combs on sniffing for off flavors in IPAs: “You can parse through the aromas to ensure the yeast is likely clean, healthy and free of egregious off flavors. Changes are often gradual, but distinct. Those changes begin after the packaging process."


Often, when Combs returned home on Friday, he’d visit Bier Station in Kansas City, a beer garden that has made national “best beer bar” lists. Later, Combs established a client in Michigan.

“I used free time during client visits to explore the beer scene there as well,” said Combs.

By 2015, Combs had built a 1-bbl pilot brewery in his basement in Kansas City.

“My wife and I had planned to open a brewery ourselves,” said Combs. At this point, his palate began to mature.

“The repeated tastings had become training. It got to the point where I was buying two cases of mixed six-packs every month. These were mostly for tasting. Afterwards, my wife drank the rest of the one beer she’d been eyeing. We dumped the rest,” Combs said.

Consulting became the key

In 2014, Combs started his own company, Brytos Sensory Education. He operated the company for approximately three years. Through Brytos, Combs showed local breweries and service industry professionals how to recognize off flavors in beer. He also worked with bars and bottle shops on beer promotions and beer and food pairing classes. In addition, Combs developed a catalog of beer history experiences.

“Ultimately, I took the jump and left IT. In 2016, Avery Brewing Co. took a chance on me. They hired me as a sensory scientist. I worked there for two years. In 2018, I became a production manager at Cerebral Brewing. There I started to better understand different techniques like barrel-aging stouts under owner Sean Buchan,” said Combs.

At the start of 2020, Combs moved to WeldWerks Brewing Co., which was growing meteorically. The change allowed him to utilize the skills he had learned over the years.

Yet back in 2014, Combs had also made another important decision. That’s when he started studying to become a Master Cicerone. The Cicerone Certification Program is an assessment and certification program for professionals in the brewing industry. Combs achieved the level of Advanced Cicerone in 2017.

“That’s the third step of the program. I’m aiming to take the Master Cicerone exam for a second time in November 2021,” said Combs.

Combs said preparing for this last exam has taught him a great deal.


patrick combs as avery's sensory scientist
Combs left his IT career behind when Avery Brewing Co. took a chance on him as a sensory scientist (above, truly relishing the role).


“During (the blind section of the tasting portion for the Master Cicerone exam) you are blindly presented with a beer and asked to call the style and producer. The best commercial examples of styles often have aromatic ‘fingerprints’ that can be quite distinct. This is complicated by the effects of oxidation that change the flavor of a beer day-to-day and week-to-week.” said Combs.

Combs said one of the beers he was asked to taste on his first attempt at the exam in 2019 was Bell’s Amber Ale.

“When fresh, this beer has lovely aromas of thyme, piney-citrus rind, and gentle toasty cracker notes. When six to eight weeks old, this beer has a ‘tell’ of what I think smells like lime Jell-O. I’ll never forget picking up the sample cup, taking in a single sniff, and thinking to myself, ‘Lime Jell-O, this has to be Bell’s Amber,’” said Combs.  

Combs is grateful that his day-to-day work at WeldWerks is helping him to prepare for the exam again. He said his regular responsibilities have reaffirmed his belief that careful understanding and control of aroma is one of the biggest pieces of the brewing process.

“One of many purposes of boiling wort (unfermented beer) is to drive out unwanted aromatics derived from the malt. Aroma can inform other aspects, like fermentation. Hop varieties change recipe to recipe, but there are always ‘tells’ as to how happy or unhappy yeast is behaving,” said Combs.

Combs added the opportunity to work with the skilled team at WeldWerks has been “my little bit of sunshine” through the pandemic.

“The hard work of the brewery can be appreciated by simply taking a moment, pouring the beer into a proper glass, and giving a few seconds to a thoughtful smell and taste. You can appreciate the craftsmanship of a beer no matter what you are drinking,” said Combs.

Combs’ final words for newcomers to the industry are simple: There are multiple paths to achieve a goal.

“I learned from this industry that I have to push myself to move up. I’m not always going to meet someone with tips for how to move forward. I quit waiting, and now I’ve come so far,” said Combs.


weldwerks outdoor seating area

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