Beer Alien, being fascinated with all things beer, has begun interviewing professional brewers in order to better understand the humans that make the beer we love so much. Through these interactions we hope to better understand and appreciate the beer you humans create on this planet.
We had the distinct pleasure of talking with Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi Brewing:
Beer Alien: How long have you been a professional brewer?
I have been a professional brewer for over 10 years starting in the Summer of 2005.
Beer Alien: What is your favorite part of the job? least favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is teaching others about brewing. Though I have reduced my travel, my least favorite part of the job is when I have long travel work weeks. Dealing with airports, taxis, hotels and eating out a lot are the hard parts of my job.
Beer Alien: How has your opinion of brewing beer changed from when you were a home brewer to now being a professional brewer?
I started home brewing when I was 17 in college. There was no internet or clone recipes and few books available. Back when I home brewed before getting a professional brewing job nobody could have convinced me that I could have been a professional brewer. Entry into to profession was not easy as all. Craft Brewing was still a new industry and not many home brewers would have thought to start breweries. Now it is a much larger and more mature industry and people from all backgrounds are entering the scene. When I was younger I could only see it as a hobby. Now it is my business.
Beer Alien: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional brewer and how long after realizing did it take you to become a professional brewer?
When I graduated from college I got a job at Steelhead Brewery, a brewpub in Eugene as a kitchen manager. I was paying off college debt and getting my bearings before deciding what I would do next. I knew I wanted to own my own business and also be a teacher of some kind. About a year into being there the head brewer who had tasted my home brew and liked my work ethic asked if I was interested in working in the brewery. As I said before it never occurred to me to be a brewer so it came as a shock but I was looking to do something other than just cook and this opportunity came. I was in the right place at the right time. I was not allowed to leave the kitchen to work in the brewery so I had two full time jobs for a year and a half until I became the head brewer. I worked as the Head Brewer who ran the Eugene operations as well as taught brewers for the company which was a chain staying at Steelhead until 2005 when I left to start working on what would become Ninkasi.
Beer Alien: Share your most interesting brewing disaster.
All of the grain we use goes to cattle farmers after we make beer with them. We use spent grain silos to hold the grain until the farmers bring their trucks. Our first one showed signs of wear and we had begun looking for a new one that was much heartier than the one we had. Unrelated but interestingly we were adding fresh picked of the bine Crystal hops from Sodbuster Farms up the valley at about 11 pm at night for our Fresh Hop Total Crystalation. It is always awesome to be around for these beers so there were a lot of us there even at that hour when a person walking in the neighborhood walked into to the brewery a told us that the silo in question had collapsed outside. We ran outside and the bottom of the cone had come out and the grain had fallen into our loading dock area below where the silo was housed. Nobody was there to get hurt and we didn’t have any trucks docked there that night but there was a lot to deal with. Ironically the sump pump we would need to help us move the water out of the grains was buried under the grains so we had to dig it out first. Luckily we had already ordered a new one so we at least we didn’t have to wait too long.
Beer Alien: For other home brewers that want to make the change, what advice would you give to them?
My advice which is not the most popular is to consider brewing beer professionally for a while before starting your own or be a brewer but not an owner. There is a big difference between brewing beer as a profession and being a brewer and an entrepreneur at the same time. I learned as much as I could for over ten years before deciding to own my own business and it was the smartest career move I made. There is more to know about brewing than any one person could master in a lifetime. That should be daunting to hear. I have spent 25 years brewing and learning about beer and what you learn over time especially now with communications technology that there is endless more opportunity to learn about brewing, its science and its business. Don’t be afraid to learn from someone else and know that you can’t possibly know everything so you better get started.
Beer Alien: On your days away from the brewery, what activities do you indulge in?
I like to cook, read, garden, swim, snow board, ride bikes, listen and dance to live music, and visit new places and eating new foods and trying all the world’s tasty beverages including others peoples beers of course.
Beer Alien: How long did you home brew before you became a professional brewer?
I home brewed for 5 years before my first brewing job.
Beer Alien: Do you still home-brew?
I am still committed to home brew judging and the home brew community. We like to sponsor prizes for home brew competitions and I try to judge as many as I can make. One prize I like to do for Best of Show is go to the home of the winner and brew on their system. It can be hard to schedule but I have two currently I am trying to get on the calendar. We have a one barrel Synergy system that is a home brew system built in Eugene that is fitted professionally that we use at the brewery every week for recipe development and to make unhoped wort for yeast propagation. I have started hanging out with the other brewers more recently working on it so I get to keep an eye on smaller batch perspective. I wrote the foreword and contributed home brew recipes to a home brewing book written by a former Ninkasi employee called Brew it Yourself that is a fun guide to home brewing that is easy to understand and get folks home brewing quickly and well equipped .
Beer Alien: If you could give one piece of advice to new home brewers, what would it be?
Brew beer for the fun of it. You don’t have to feel like you have to enter competitions or brew beers that taste like your favorite commercial beers. Brewing Beer is fun and can be social as well. I think everyone should home brew at least once with s friend that brews. It gives you a much deeper appreciation for other beers you drink. Humans have been brewing since the beginning of civilization and like making bread or learning how to grill foods, brewing is an art and science we have engaged in for many thousands of years.