I'm Jamil Zainasheff, owner/brewer of Heretic Brewing Co. Ask me anything.

Discussion in 'Ask Me Anything' started by jzainasheff, Jul 18, 2020.

  1. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    I started as a homebrewer in 1999 on a Mr Beer kit my wife gave me for Christmas. I studied hard, did a lot of homebrewing and eventually became quite good at it, winning lots of awards. I started writing articles and books about brewing (Brewing Classic Styles and Yeast) and have been a host of the Jamil Show and Brew Strong since the beginning of the Brewing Network in 2005.

    In 2011 we brewed our first batch of beer at Heretic Brewing Company. Despite many dumb moves on my part, the brewery has thrived. We brew everything from classic barrel aged sours to hazy IPAs. We added a distillery in 2017 and are anticipating some nice whiskeys soon. If you are ever around Fairfield California (near the Napa valley) come see us and have a pint with me.

    About me? I love the things that I do. Once, back in the day, I was an owner in 3 paintball fields and developed one of the first semi-automatic paintball guns. I love SCUBA diving, became a Master SCUBA Diver Trainer, and developed the first computer based training for PADI. I used to be quite good at fencing in college (the sport, not the illegal selling of goods). I went to school at UC Davis, but never studied brewing there. I love traveling and meeting other brewers. My greatest love though is my wife Liz and my two daughters. All three are involved in the brewery and have supported me and my many passions. I wouldn't succeed without their support.

    The last 15 years of answering questions and sharing bits of my personal life on the Brewing Network has prepared me for just about any question, so feel free to ask me anything.
     
  2. basaywhat

    basaywhat Poo-Bah (1,863) May 20, 2013 Illinois
    Society Trader

    You have recently expanded your footprint in Illinois. Are you planning on sending the whole lineup or just some of your beers?
     
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  3. Roguer

    Roguer Poo-Bah (4,992) Mar 25, 2013 Georgia
    Moderator Society Trader

    At the risk of asking the most obvious question, what inspired the name for the brewery?
     
  4. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    We are always willing send all of the beers we make to every place that we distribute. Unfortunately, we don't package all of the beers we make in cans or bottles, so some of it is just draft. And when a batch yields just 5 bbl, it is just enough for our tap room. When a batch is big enough to ship out, we can't make distributors take every beer. Some distributors enjoy the variety of one off batches and some do not. Is there a particular beer you wanted to see in Illinois?
     
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  5. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Good question. I get asked that a lot. So much so that I wrote a blog post about it.
    http://hereticbrewing.com/blog/2010/12/17/birth-of-a-heretic/

    Here is an excerpt from it:
    I spent many a night running through various names. A couple of times I dreamt that I had found the perfect name and had failed to write it down. My best source of ideas was an online synonym dictionary. You start with a word that describes what you want your brewery to represent. (Of course, there is already a brewery with that name.) Then you look at alternative words that mean something along the same lines. When Google reveals that all of those are already taken, you start clicking and straying farther and farther from the first word. I’m not sure what word it was I clicked on that finally took me to ‘Heretic,’ but when I found out that it wasn’t already taken, I was amazed. Perhaps it is too edgy or steeped in religious reference for some folks, but for me it was perfect. I tried it out on a few close friends and the first thing most said was, “It is perfect. It fits you.”

    A heretic is a person who practices heresy, and heresy is when you hold an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted. Galileo was considered a heretic for supporting the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. In a world where over 90% of beer drinkers believe mass market light lagers constitute the universe of beer, craft beer lovers are all heretics. Some folks may think a heretic has to have some sort of traditional religious meaning, but that is not true even though great beer is a religion for many craft beer lovers.

    And that is what I really wanted. A brewery name that was both memorable and edgy. A name that showed my commitment and passion about great craft beer. A name that required Heretic Brewing Company to push the boundaries, to be different, to fly in the face of standard beliefs. Ah, at last it felt real.
     
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  6. basaywhat

    basaywhat Poo-Bah (1,863) May 20, 2013 Illinois
    Society Trader

    No particular beer in mind, I just know that Heartland just picked you guys up and the selection they have had is very limited.
     
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  7. jts211

    jts211 Aspirant (227) Aug 5, 2018 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    Hi Jamil -

    Thanks for giving up your Saturday to take questions from fellow Beer Advocaters!

    My question is what advice can you give to people who want to become a brewer/brewmaster?

    Thanks
     
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  8. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (5,223) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia
    Society

    Thanks for taking part in "Ask Me Anything"

    Can you give a little history of your home brewing journey? Did you start with extract? How much did various levels and quality of equipment help? Was there a particular one thing you can say was a key part of the process that upped your game from what it was to where it was going?
     
  9. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Generally, distribution starts with a limited selection. If you send too many different things, it is hard to sell them all at once. After a brand is introduced, and they see what the response is, they often start to pick up additional brands. Hopefully, once this pandemic is a dot in our rear view mirrors, I'll get a chance to visit you all in the great state of Illinois and have some pint nights.
     
  10. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Brew! It may sound like a cliche, but you learn to brew by brewing as much as you can. Don't discount what you can learn from homebrewing. There are some homebrewers making better beer than some commercial breweries. Think about that. If you are making better beer than people are paying for, aren't you every bit as much a brewer as someone being paid to do it?

    Now the term "Brewmaster" has some special significance in the industry. It signifies special training/education. Similar to someone getting a phd can call themselves doctor. So, we tend not to use that term.

    I guess the question then becomes, I've homebrewed and learned, now what? Once you have that experience and passion, there are many breweries that will take on homebrewers. Generally, the failure is when someone wants to "intern" or work part time. Most breweries don't have the bandwidth to train someone up to see them leave in short order. If you commit to a full time job, often you can find a position. If you want to grease the skids a bit, consider the available brewer schools out there. Siebel, American Brewers Guild, UC Davis, and others. If you complete one of those, it shows that you are serious about becoming a brewer.

    Best of luck to you. It is a wonderful career.
     
  11. jeebeel

    jeebeel Initiate (189) Jun 17, 2003 Texas

    Jamil, your book Brewing Classic Styles is an invaluable resource for us homebrewers. My copy is well-worn from repeated use and reference.

    If you wrote the book today, would you change any of the recipes or the advice that goes with them?
     
  12. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Ah, so many great questions already. This is one that I've spoken about endlessly on the Brewing Network. I urge everyone interested in brewing to listen to the shows. It is all free content and there is lots of great information.

    I started out with a Mr Beer kit. Small cans of extract, lots of sugar. If I knew what I was doing, I could have made it turn out better, but I didn't and that is what got me studying. I quickly shifted to extract with specialty grains and started winning awards for those beers. In retrospect, I don't think that they were great, but they were a vast improvement.

    The next really huge change came when I realized yeast (the amount, the health, the strain) was critical.

    That led me to temperature control. The biggest improvement was making sure that everything fermented at the proper temperature. It was a huge revelation. Next I moved to all grain brewing, courtesy of my friends at Morebeer.com. They taught me how to do it and I was off to the races. I don't think all grain had that big an impact.

    I believe that properly done, extract brewing with specialty grains is very difficult to discern from all grain. Wort production is one of the least important parts of brewing. The most critical is fermentation, sanitation, and packaging. I would list quality ingredient selection, water profiles, proper boiling, chilling, and then probably the mash.

    Throughout the whole thread of homebrewing, it was entering in competitions that drove improvement. You can get blind judging and honest feedback for a few dollars. If you listen to the feedback and adjust your processes, you end up with some fantastic beer.
     
  13. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Funny you should mention that. In between putting out fires at the brewery (just one or two actual fires so far, but lots of metaphorical ones) I've been trying to get an update done. Much more detail, like I did in my BYO articles and adding many new styles.

    Yes, I would tweak a few things here and there. Mainly hopping has changed in award winning beers from then to now. And I would add some water information for each style.
     
  14. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (5,223) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia
    Society

    Thanks for your reply. I started with 1 gallon all-grain (hard to do 1 gallon extract) and enjoyed the whole process. The explosion of good beer generally made my home production unnecessary, but situations have me debating going back to trying a beer here and there for the fun of it.

    Having joined a fellow home brewer with a much better setup (namely temp control) than I spurred my question, wondering if my thoughts as to where my setup's flaws might affect my quality. I think you hit on the things I questioned most in my approach - yeast [amount] and temperature control (which I have less of). That said, I thought my best batch was the first one I adjusted minerals based on my best information of the water makeup - though it might've been coincidence since it was my first 5-gallon brew.

    Thanks again for participating, and I'll look forward to trying more of your beer in the future. Cheers!
     
  15. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,609) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    Will your updated book follow the updated (2015) BJCP style guidelines (vs. the existing book which is based on a prior version of the BJCP style guidelines)?

    Cheers!
     
  16. GetMeAnIPA

    GetMeAnIPA Defender (646) Mar 28, 2009 California

    Can you please send beer to Southern Ca!

    What is a good specialty grain Other than crystal for brewing a WC ipa to compliment 2 row or Pilsner malt?

    Thanks for all the great home brewing info. Love the Jamil Show podcast. Keep up the good work. Cheers
     
  17. TheIPAHunter

    TheIPAHunter Poo-Bah (2,709) Aug 12, 2007 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    What weapon did you fence?
     
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  18. teromous

    teromous Poo-Bah (2,715) Mar 21, 2010 Virginia
    Society Trader

    I know you were at one point against IPAs that are milky or opaque. I vaguely remember you talking about it too but can't recall if you changed your mind or not. What are your current thoughts on the New England IPA; specifically opaque ones? Do you have a "NEIPA" recipe that you like or can share?

    Thanks for your years of of guidance to the homebrewing community and the shows on The Brewing Network.
     
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  19. skivtjerry

    skivtjerry Zealot (541) Mar 10, 2006 Vermont

    My questions are already asked. I was surprised to see cans of Evil Twin pop up in VT last year, and enjoyed a few. Thank you for putting yourself out there, and hope to visit the brewery someday.
     
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  20. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    A lot of it is just the repetition of brewing. When I think back to my first batches, it was a lot of reading in between steps. Uncertainty of this process or that. The more I brewed the more natural it became and easier. Once that happened, I could focus on the finer details.

    I think the reason to homebrew today is because of the experience. The sheer fun of it. It is really difficult to make top notch beers as cheap as you find at most craft breweries or in the grocery store. I know as a homebrewer I spent way more money on brewing than if I just went out and bought high quality beer. So, I think of it as vacation time. Fun time. That is what homebrewing was for me.
     
  21. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Yes and no. It won't have the same numbering and grouping, as the BJCP will probably change it again after the book is released. I might also have a few things that aren't in the BJCP guides, but I will always try to give a category for the beer to be entered in.
     
  22. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,905) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Society

    You've provided so much info via books, articles, websites, and podcasts, and have even answered emails. I probably would have quit homebrewing if I didn't have some of this guidance to get me past my rocky beginner phase. Thanks!
     
  23. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    We're working on So Cal. Sometimes it is a challenge to get distribution lined up. Keep asking for our beer out there and it will help push things forward.

    I try to avoid crystal/caramel malts in a WC IPA. A good WC should always have a dry, light finish. Of course, you can use some light crystal, but not too much. You might consider something like biscuit malt, honey malt, or something along those lines.

    Thank you for the kind words.
     
  24. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Mainly foil, but also epee and saber. I had very fast reaction times, which is a big part of the sport. I really enjoyed all of them, but saber was the most fun. Most like swashbuckling in the movies. It was just hard to find anyone to fence saber against, so that is why I mostly fenced foil. Just a great sport all around.
     
  25. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Yes, I have completely changed my mind. I did a 180. At the beginning there was a lot of really bad NEIPA. I'm on the west coast and the selection was either something local or a few hand carried beers from the east coast. I couldn't get a Trillium or Tree House to save my life and the examples I came across were mostly giant slugs of yeast in half fermented beer. I'm against any poorly made beer, and unfortunately, that is what I was seeing. But when a NEIPA is done right, it is spectacular. Really one of my favorites now.

    So, eventually the NEIPA examples out there got better and I got more interested. Then we started brewing them. Now I think there are lots of great examples around. In my area, to name just a few of my favorites: Moonraker, New Glory, Moksa and many more. At Heretic we usually have 3 or 4 hazies on tap any time and we make at least 6 or 7 different NEIPAs.

    I drink a lot of NEIPA now and I would have said it was my favorite a few months ago, but now we just brewed our CA IPA and it is so fantastic I've been drinking nothing but that for the past two months. I will get back to drinking lots of NEIPA, but for now I'm back on the west coast beers.

    I will be sure to put several NEIPA recipes in the book.
     
  26. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Make sure to let me know if you do visit the brewery. I always like to meet people passionate about brewing and great beer when I can. Thanks for the support in VT.
     
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  27. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    You are very kind. Thank you for the kind thoughts and glad to hear you are continuing to rock the boil kettle!
     
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  28. TeeCee

    TeeCee Aspirant (272) Oct 14, 2007 Louisiana

    When is Heretic coming to TX?
     
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  29. Dicers

    Dicers Poo-Bah (1,719) Sep 2, 2012 Colorado
    Fest Crew Society Trader

    A question that maybe isn't Heretic related, but one I believe you'll enjoy answering. Where are your top 2 places to SCUBA?
     
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  30. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    That is tough, like asking which beer is your favorite? I think #1 has to be the Channel Islands of California. Amazing life, dramatic features, lots of variation. Dives range from the beginner to some very advanced diving. And just so beautiful topside too. Hanging out for a few days on a boat, just enjoying life.

    Second? Probably somewhere tropical. I think most of my favorites in life come from the people I shared them with. That is why Channel Islands must be #1, I spent 10+ years diving Peace boat out of Ventura, usually one or two three day trips with lots of great friends and memories. That being the case, I would have to say #2 would be a live aboard off the Kona coast. Again, lots of great memories because of some amazing friends.

    But, I'd dive in a puddle in a farmers field if that was the only diving available. Its kind of like beer or sex. The worst thing is not having any at all.
     
  31. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    We would love to distribute to Texas. Especially Houston and Austin, since that would give me an excuse to visit some dear friends.

    Setting up new distribution can be tricky. First, and most important, you have to find a partner that thinks highly of your beer and will do the right things to make sure it is fresh in the market. It has to be someone you get along with and have similar visions about craft beer. It is like a marriage, as most distribution contracts are for life.

    Then, you need to make sure you are following all of the rules. Each state has its own alcohol rules and beer seems to be the beverage they like to control the most. You can't distribute in a state if you aren't willing to follow their rules.

    And third, you need to be prepared to invest in that area. You can't just sign someone up to distribute and hope they do a good job. These are partnerships, so you need to be ready to invest in your partner. It means time taken and money spent for market visits. Money spent on marketing materials and samples. It isn't trivial.

    But we'd love to be in Texas. Maybe you should start a distribution company as your second career?
     
  32. TeeCee

    TeeCee Aspirant (272) Oct 14, 2007 Louisiana

    Best. Idea. Ever.
     
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  33. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,609) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Society

    Jamil, I am responding to you here but my motivation is more so for Craig (@cjgiant). I homebrew a lot (15+ batches a year) and there can indeed be some financial reasons to do so. For example, many Belgian style beers can be very, very expensive and instead of paying 100+ dollars per case (24 bottles) for these sorts of beer I homebrew my own. And for my palate these beers are even better than what these Belgian breweries (including Trappist breweries) produce. Beers such as Dubbels, Tripels, Quads, Saisons, Belgian Pale Ales (some with Brett), etc.

    Also, as a homebrew I can make beers that are not readily available for purchase. Beers like Classic American Pilsner, an 1896 Michelob, Sticke Altbier, and so on.

    And even though there are lots of hoppy beers available commercially I choose to brew IPAs that are not readily available for sale to me. Some examples: Sabro IPA, Ekuanot IPA, etc.

    There are indeed plenty of differing commercially produced beers but there are plenty of other beers not readily available or even when available too expensive (well too expensive for me) to buy.

    Cheers!
     
  34. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    I agree completely. My point being, you should love brewing for the sake of brewing. If it is just a financial thing for you, it doesn't seem as much fun, right? The motivation needs to be more than money.
     
  35. Spiderwrangler

    Spiderwrangler Initiate (0) Jul 19, 2020

    Hey Jamil,
    What style beer would you like to see become The Next Big Thing?

    Is this different based on whether you're answering as a consumer, brewer, business owner, or for the 'good of the industry'?
     
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  36. jzainasheff

    jzainasheff Initiate (50) Apr 8, 2017 California
    Brewery

    Hey brother, that is a great question as always. People have asked what I thought would be the next big thing, but this is what I would like to see become the next big thing.

    Yes, the answer is different based on which way you look at it. For example, I'd personally love to see traditional British cask ale have a big surge, to save it from the dust bin of brewing history. This is because I love those beers so very much and we're in danger of losing them. (I have a future rant in me that explains why British cask ale is the hardest style in the world to brew, but we will save that for another time.)

    For the good of the industry, I hope moderate alcohol beers have a surge. The reality is that few people choose the lower ABV option or they want to pay less for it than the high ABV beer. If I make a 4% beer with all the latest hops, I can't sell it for as much as a 9% blonde ale with just a bittering addition. Yet that 4% beer cost me twice as much to make as the 9% beer. This is driving breweries to make higher ABV beers. Many people feel that twice the alcohol means twice the value. I guess what I hope is that people stop equating alcohol content with value. There is so much that goes into making a great, low ABV beer and alcohol is one of the cheapest components of a beer (at least in the USA).

    For the good of the consumer, I'd like to see a focus on quality and ingredients and less focus on marketing. Or perhaps more honesty in marketing. I'd like to see more consumption of beer from smaller, less known breweries.

    Of course, I don't see any of this actually coming to pass (except the last one), but you've got me thinking about this now. If we get more people thinking about the good of beer, we might just see the wonderful craft expansion continue.
     
  37. skivtjerry

    skivtjerry Zealot (541) Mar 10, 2006 Vermont

    It has been a long time since I was there, but the Belize barrier reef was pretty spectacular. Fish were not disturbed by my visitation, nibbling on me to consume whatever I was shedding, scary dropoffs into the real ocean that I was afraid to visit, castles of coral.

    Also enjoyed a glass bottomed boat tour off Catalina Island, but did not get an opportunity to go underwater.
     
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  38. gobrewsome

    gobrewsome Devotee (404) Feb 9, 2013 Alabama
    Society Trader

    Do I remember you as an awesome yeast researcher even having a calculator for starter yeast?
     
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  39. GetMeAnIPA

    GetMeAnIPA Defender (646) Mar 28, 2009 California

    mr. malty! Sorry, I should probably let Jamil answer.
     
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  40. GetMeAnIPA

    GetMeAnIPA Defender (646) Mar 28, 2009 California

    I am double dipping with a second question/s.

    what is your favorite style to brew? And what’s your favorite style to drink? Based on your comments above I assume NE or WC IPA.
     
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