Bailey Spaulding of Jackalope Brewing Company

Going Pro by | Nov 2015 | Issue #106

Bailey Spaulding didn’t jump into commercial brewing the easy way. A Harvard biological anthropology major turned law school grad, Spaulding founded Jackalope in Nashville, Tenn., alongside friend Robyn Virball, who has since left the brewery. Together, the two assembled thousands of pounds of stainless steel equipment—including a miswired control panel labeled in Mandarin—into a brewhouse. And the brewhouse has become a cornerstone of Nashville’s burgeoning craft beer scene. “I don’t know that I’d recommend what I did to anybody else. I’d never worked for a brewery, I’d just graduated law school, but I was really passionate about brewing, about my own ideas,” says Spaulding. “We went in with the mindset that we could figure out whatever came our way. Which was bold.” Five years later, Spaulding and her business partner Steve Wright, Jackalope’s first employee, are focused on more than just beer. “We’re creating fun, she says. “It’s about sharing that passion, and letting people get to know us.”

1. Search out quality
Bailey Spaulding grew up in Vermont, where Long Trail’s Double Bag and Otter Creek made her an early convert to craft beer. A beer-of-the-day calendar she received as a birthday gift in college exposed her to a wide variety of styles, and ended up fully hooking her on craft beer. “I’d peel off and save any of the ones you could get in New England, and go searching for them,” she recalls.

2. Make it
When Spaulding left New England for Vanderbilt Law School, Nashville’s beer scene was years behind Vermont’s. She quickly found that the surest way to acquire the kinds of beers she was used to drinking at home was to make them herself. And once she did, everything clicked. “I have an evolutionary biology background,” she says. “The lightbulb went off. Beer is just a science experiment. The summer after my first year of law school, a group of us were talking about what we could do if we could do anything. I said, start a conservation organization, and then a friend said, start a brewery. And I thought, that’s so much better!”

3. Love work
Once Spaulding started homebrewing, she got hooked on the process’ mixture of science and art. “It has a lot of the science aspect that I love, and it has that beautiful social aspect of sharing something you created with people, and hopefully making their day better. I loved the creative side, writing your own recipes, putting your own thoughts into what you were brewing.”

4. Get the method
Spaulding is a self-taught brewer. She learned by reading, and by doing; the closest she came to a formal brewing education was an online Siebel class on commercial brewing technology. Her biology background didn’t directly translate to brewing, either. But it did teach Spaulding how to work scientifically. “I had a lot of experience running experiments,” she says. “That kind of searching for repeatable results was extremely helpful, when you’re trying to create consistency.”

5. Carve the wave
When Spaulding and her co-founder Robyn Virball were working on their business plan, they decided to stay in Nashville, where at the time there was only one other commercial brewery, rather than return home to Vermont’s booming beer culture. After Jackalope opened, the floodgates did, too. “It’s been fun watching the whole mentality around beer change,” says Spaulding. “When we first opened, some people didn’t understand that all the beer was being made here. Now, we’re in this brewery district, and people who are coming in are spending a day drinking different Nashville beers.”

6. Classic is the new punk
Jackalope brews are largely rooted in classic styles while avoiding stylistic silos or rabbit holes. Instead, Spaulding embraces a wide portfolio, and pushes her classics in subtle but clear directions. Later this fall, she’ll be adding locally roasted coffee and organic cocoa nibs to Snowman Stout, her mocha Stout, and crafting a blueberry Baltic Porter, Rainy Day Blues. “We put our own creative spin on it,” Spaulding says, “but it’s also about appreciating the basics, stylistically. You have to have a good base knowledge of what your styles are, and how to create them.”

7. Nod to home
Bearwalker Maple Brown Ale descended from the first homebrew recipe Spaulding ever wrote. The recipe has staying power because it’s rooted in familiar flavors, but combines them in unexpected ways. The base beer is roasty and chocolatey, but also hoppier than a traditional Brown Ale; the hops stand up to the 5 gallons of Vermont syrup Spaulding injects into the beer while racking it to the conditioning tanks. “Browns can be a bit cloying, so the brightness from the hops keeps it drinkable,” Spaulding explains. “The maple flavor is pronounced, but there isn’t a ton of residual sweetness in the beer.”

8. Drink for the smiles
Another old homebrew recipe, Thunder Ann American Pale Ale, uses a relatively assertive malt bill, as modern Pale Ales go, with honey and biscuit malt providing a springboard for tropical Cascade, Chinook and Citra hops. “It has this beautiful golden color. I drink it and it makes me smile,” Spaulding says. She was initially tempted to take the recipe in the opposite direction. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do a Pale Ale with a bunch of European hops?” She got her answer when she test batched Thunder Ann against a rival with continental hops. “As soon as I brewed it, I said, nope! There’s a reason people don’t do that!”

9. Brew like a Boss
Spruce Beersteen, a seasonal Black IPA brewed with spruce tips, illustrates both sides of Jackalope’s brewing mission: creative and social. Creatively, Spaulding explains how midnight wheat malt imparts pitch black color while sidestepping roasted flavors and the proper time to add spruce tips to the liquid. But, socially, Jackalope marks its annual appearance with a night of local musicians playing Springsteen covers. “People are rocking out, appreciating it, and that’s part of why we opened the brewery. I love getting to see that smile on people’s faces, and getting to hear what they think. That connection is why we do what we do.” 

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