Fulton & Wood with Goose Island Brewmaster Jared Jankoski

NEAR WEST SIDE, CHICAGO

Fulton & Wood with Goose Island Brewmaster Jared Jankoski

As it is at any brewery, there's no position more important than Brewmaster. That person is usually the be-all and end-all for brewing decisions, whether it be creating the next brew day recipe or picking out equipment for the expansion of the facility.

At a brewery as big as Goose Island, the job of Brewmaster comes with even more responsibility and a constant magnifying glass on every decision made. The man making those decisions for Goose today is Jared Jankoski, former brewer at New Glarus, now leading one of the most talented brewing teams in the industry. Over glasses of Bourbon County Coffee – fresh off the bottling line – we sat down with the fourth Goose Island Brewmaster to dig into his past, present responsibilities, why he doesn't always like Goose Island alumni breweries, and even the name of his 'famous' cat.

Jared, you were at New Glarus before Goose Island – but how did you get your start in the industry?

I probably shouldn't tell this story...the real story. My grandpa had a crazy beer can collection. He really had the original man cave. You walked in and he had an old cardboard Miller Lite cutout of a girl in a bikini with a fishing rod in one corner. And across from that was an entire wall of old school and far-out beer cans, probably well over a thousand. I just thought they were amazing. I was just a little kid out there playing in his man cave.

My mom would go out to the grocery store, Woodman's – which is the big chain up in Wisconsin – it had this big beer, wine, and liquor store attached. Even back then, they had single Belgian beer bottles, the German styles and the early crafts. I just thought it was all really interesting, and that's when I first started drinking. These things looked strange to me on the shelf. They had foreign words on them with interesting pictures. They were much more romantic and beautiful than most American beer packaging. When I was able to get my hands on beer, that's what I went for.

And the brewing interest just grew from those experiences?

When I was a senior in high school, my Mom let me start homebrewing. I wouldn't say I was a slacker in school, but I wasn't top of the class either. I got the, "you're not using your full potential" speech all the time. But when I was a junior in high school, I took AP chemistry and loved it. I aced that course. I'd taken chemistry before and really liked it. It just made sense to me.

My folks are all science professionals, divorced and remarried. I have four science professionals in the family. Pharmaceutical rep, nurse, microbiologist, and clinical lab manager. So I declared chemistry in college, kept homebrewing through college, and stuck with it. When we had barrel parties in college we'd get craft beer barrels – some Summit, Rogue, Capital, or New Glarus.

So those were your introductions into craft beer?

Oh yeah, there wasn't nearly as much selection then. Any craft brewery that's been around for 20 years, I was probably drinking it back then. The parties at the houses I lived were always micros and craft beers. I just stuck with it, kept homebrewing, and probably taught a dozen other people how to homebrew in college or the couple years after.

Sounds like you were destined to do this.

Honestly I've been wearing the same clothes I'm wearing today since I was 14. I didn't go through a lot of phases, I didn't bop around from different groups. I've always just been this way. Brewing is a career where you can wear what you wear – functional, comfortable. My dad worked at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals for 33 years. He wore a suit every day, and that kind of scared me. Seemed like a lot of work.

Where did you head after college?

I moved to Bend, Oregon and got into the American Brewer's Guild program. When I finished that up, I moved back to Wisconsin to spend time with family and friends. I was 28 by that time, and realized I needed to get a job, and I was ready to go anywhere. A buddy told me about a newspaper ad for a job available at New Glarus Brewing. I was interning at The Great Dane to finish up the back-end of my course work, but I put my resume in. They promptly said thanks, but no thanks, because I was still a couple months out from finishing my course work. I wasn't the typical hire at New Glarus. I finished up, had my internship, then got a call from Deb Carey and asked me to come down for an interview. I ended up getting the job. I started out as a brewer. I also ran the keg line and helped out on the bottling line. I did whatever needed to be done.

New Glarus is everywhere in Wisconsin nowadays. But how big was it then?

It was 25,000 barrels when I started. When I left they were at 125,000 barrels, and had built a whole new plant. It was an awesome place to cut your teeth; top notch focus on quality, technology, efficiency, automation, retrofits...

What were you brewing back then? The sour program there has really taken off.

The sour program was growing, and we made a few experimental ones back in the day. The original porters brewed back in the late 1700s were made with an acidic acid character to it. So beer got spoiled and people found it was kind of interesting and kind of liked it. It became a premium. You could order your pints at the pub as a blend of the soured beer and the un-soured beer. Then breweries started to blend, and they would blend for that sour character. So we wanted to reproduce that beer authentically. We called it Old English Porter and it freaked everyone out because they didn't know what to expect.

So what prompted the move to Goose Island?

New Glarus was just a great experience. But, then I fell in love and got married. My wife was living here – she's a horse trainer – and I was making beer at New Glarus. We started planning a family, and we needed a change. We were still in this short- to medium-distance relationship, so I started looking for a job in Chicago.

Just three years ago there wasn't a plethora of brewing jobs. There were a lot more than when I started. But at the level I was at, I wanted to be able to progress and take on more responsibility. The only place I could really look in Chicago was Goose Island. So I literally looked at one place, and their website happened to have a "Head Brewer" posting.

I was Head Brewer here for about three years. Then Brett Porter got promoted to Director of Brewing and Innovation for AB's craft division, which oversees four craft breweries, and I was promoted to Brewmaster. That was about five months ago.

I came from a place that taught how to do things right and apply quality to all steps of the process. I like to talk to brewers a lot about that. I don’t like to tell anybody anything. I don’t like to ask someone to do something without explaining why.

We see a lot of outside opinions, and frankly a lot of them negative, on Goose Island and the ownership by InBev. Did it take you coming here to realize there was so much more than the stigma?

Oh, sure. There is a big disconnect there; it's easy to have that perception. I don't fault anybody for having it, and I'm happy to discuss it with anyone. I think the best thing you can do is come here and look at the brewery. I was well aware of the stigma, and it was a decision I made for my family first and for my career second. I came down here and talked with Mark and Brett, met the team, and saw how everything went. I was willing to roll the dice on it, and it has worked out pretty well.

A little bit of a change of scenery, no?

I came from the ultimate family-owned brewery to "big bad" AB. And it's just not what a lot of the perception is. I think it's really coming down a lot. You look at Heineken just buying half of LagunitasDuvel has bought three major craft players. Founders has their partnership. I haven't sat down with any of the owners who have sold to discuss why, but I don't fault them for it. It's a very complicated decision and process. It seems to be happening to larger craft brewers, and it's the way of the world evidently because we were not a one shot deal. So, I think a lot of those other deals have taken some of the pressure off. Craft is very popular right now, there's a lot of news surrounding it, and people are really into it.

As Brewmaster, your responsibilities go beyond brewing. What does your day look like when you're not out on the floor?

I am not doing any shift work anymore, but I love to teach and mentor. I came from a place that taught how to do things right and apply quality to all steps of the process. I like to talk to brewers a lot about that. I don't like to tell anybody anything. I don't like to ask someone to do something without explaining why. No one learns that way, and I get left holding the bag. I like to teach them to "fish," and oddly not every brewer does that. I like to empower my guys.

I also have to attend a lot of meetings. We're discussing projects going forward, expanding capacity here at the plant...lots of recipe things going on with new beers – trying to get those dialed in and fine-tuning trial batches.

It's obvious you have a great team here.

We're always fine-tuning and refining. I love trying to facilitate the work that people do. It's not all about me and what I decide and want. We have a group of people that is incredibly talented and I love what they bring to the table.

Other than that, I always want to advise on quality. I'm in the lab, I like the technical stuff. I like problems too, believe it or not. I prefer not to have them, but one of the best ways to become a better brewer is to solve problems. I do a lot of stuff, really – down to equipment design. I'm not an engineer, but I play one at work. I've got some tanks I'm putting the finishing touches on that I was working on earlier today.

I’m proud of the people who pass through here, but the best beer is made when people stay. I want experts at Goose Island.

What about the Goose Island beers not brewed here at Fulton & Wood?

We don't make all of our beer here in Chicago, obviously, so I have to work with those breweries quite a bit. I'm trying to find time right now to do more of that. We have some new projects going out to those breweries that I want to make sure they are done right. I want to get out to the New York breweries more. I really don't like to travel though. I have a young son at home, but face-to-face meetings are a lot more effective than emails and phone calls.

Do you take a lot of pride in all the brewers who have worked here that have gone on to start their own place?

You know, I'm going to say this for the first time on record, I don't like that. I really don't. I'm proud of the people who pass through here, but the best beer is made when people stay. I want experts at Goose Island. Experts in our beers and our processes. We've worked really hard to keep brewers here. Brewing is shift work – it's hard, sweaty, long hours. Things break, sometimes it sucks. You depend on other people all the time, it is a team environment. We have a shared vision. Brett was a guy I worked a lot with to spearhead a comprehensive, fulfilling brewing job. We did lose a lot of people at a certain point in time for a number of different reasons, and all I have tried to do here was create a place where people want to stay. I'm very thankful to have people with open minds to listen to me on this, and I hope I have had a leading role in creating a work environment that people like being in.

Definitely not what we expected you to say, but that makes a lot of sense.

These guys, I think, have a great job. They get to participate in travel and education opportunities. They get to create beers that make it into production. We just had two beers go into production for our Brewmaster's Reserve sampler pack that were Fulton & Wood beers last year. Those are the brewer's beers, and I don't have anything to do with those. We're not the only brewery doing it, but I'm glad we are doing it. There's just a lot of opportunity, and a lot of fulfillment in their job. I am proud of that, and I want to build on that so people stay here. I'm glad there is good legacy here, and I hope I am doing it justice through my work.

Let's get into the beer, specifically this year's Bourbon County. Rare is back...never thought we'd see that again.

Oh yeah, I just think it's difficult to find a barrel that's worth the "Rare" name. This was Heaven Hill barrels that held 31- to 35-year-old whiskey. They were these old decrepit looking things. Evidently it was a high-end brand that was only for export to Japan. So we got our hands on them and filled them up. The hardest part was the waiting.

The fun part was when we started tasting them. We've been doing that for a number of months now to see how they're coming along. Rare was in the barrels for two years, the standard BCBS is eight to twelve months. We started going through different samples of those barrels at different ages. We would taste once, wait a few months, taste again... Some had elements of leather and tobacco – others were very chocolatey. All of them were very smooth and seemed further along than your normal eight- to twelve-BCBS.

The beer is pretty damn good.

And what about this year's coffee variant? It's always one of our favorites. Can you tell us a little more about the 2015 version?

So this is Los Delirios from Intelligentsia, and it's an interesting story. Brett Porter is a very passionate brewer, and he was my predecessor. This was sort of the transitional time, when we were taking on coffee selection for this year's Coffee BCBS. It was a little awkward because it was almost like there were two Brewmasters.

It's always fun and interesting to work with Intelligentsia. Coffee doesn't always translate well with beer. It is pretty amazing how much difference you can get in Bourbon County Stout with coffee. We'll try 10 different coffees and only three will be good enough to try in the beer. We take notes and share them with each other, then the fun starts.

I was a little bit the odd man out with this one. I was thinking about it the other day, I just kind of sat there until everyone decided to go with the one I wanted to go with. The unfortunate thing was I felt somewhat strongly against the coffee some other people picked, including Brett. I felt like kind of like a jerk, but it's going to have my name on it.

You have coffee and you have Bourbon County Stout. Neither one of those really matter. It’s the blend of the two in the end.

What are you looking for in the coffee that will go into Bourbon County?

You look at a lot of different qualities. First the overall quality - how much do you enjoy drinking it? That could be a component of a lot of different things - acidity, brightness, fruitiness, elements of tobacco or leather. It may be harsh, it could be sweeter.

Then the next thing is, how do they go in the beer? We also consider how the BCBS Coffee's were the previous couple years because we don't want to make the same beer again. This year with Los Delirios, I just thought it was a very unique element. It was a really robust, middle of the road blend of some of those other elements. It didn't have the sweeter toffee elements, but it wasn't so bright and acidic as some of the other previous years. I just really like the coffee and the way it went in Bourbon County Stout was very seamless.

I always say, you have coffee and you have Bourbon County Stout. Neither one of those really matter. It's the blend of the two in the end.

So what's in your fridge at home? One can't drink BCS all the time.

What do I have in there right now? A friend of mine dropped off some Pipeworks Lizard King. That was a really nice one. I've got some New Glarus. Moon Man is my cat, the beer was named after him.

Wait, hold on...your cat is 'Moon Man'?

Yeah, that's his paw print on the bottle! So I always have some of that around. I have a number of our White Label beers – which are our test batches – in my fridge too.

Anywhere around town you like drinking?

I live in Riverside, so I have Buckledown two miles from my house. I drive over there every once in awhile. I also went up to Exit Strategy for lunch with a couple friends the other day. It's a nice place!

 

-THR-

 

Photography by Matt Tanaka of Lakeshore Beverage.

A huge thank-you to Jared for sitting down with us at at Fulton & Wood, snagging an uber fresh Bourbon County off the line, and letting us dig into his past. Look for Jared next time you're in the taproom, likely doing his best to split time between each of his brewers.