by Nathan Hak Beer Journalist at Beerwulf.com
Get to know America’s largest IPA brewerInterview with Jeremy Marshall, master brewer at Lagunitas Brewery
IPA is synonymous with Lagunitas (lah-goo-knee-tuss). It’s the largest IPA brewer in America and a source of inspiration for many. Master brewer (or monster brewer) Jeremy Marshall recently visited the Amsterdam Beer Garden on the Prinsengracht. Beerwulf had a long conversation with him while enjoying a glass of Lagunitas Sucks. Jeremy is exactly what you’d expect from a California master brewer with his long hair, flannel shirt, shorts and sandals. He’s relaxed, friendly and full of amazing stories.
Everything started 15 years ago at Lagunitas: “I’d just graduated from brewery school in Davis, California. Founder Tony Magee still read all his email back then, and I just sent him a message asking if he still had a spot available on his team. The team was all punk rockers and metalheads. I tried to guide them without telling them exactly what to do, because that wasn’t going to work. I just gave them a few suggestions about cooking times and stuff like that.”
Focus on beer
The most important thing about being a Brewmonster at Lagunitas is the focus on beer. Jeremy fears that everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve will one day become ordinary and commonplace. “We want to sell our beer all over the world, but in a way that stays true to what we want it to be. That’s why I’ll always stay focussed on beer. So you can taste California and we can stand by every decision we’ve made. That’s what drives me.”
One of the things Jeremy most enjoys is the collaboration with the farmers who supply Lagunitas with the best barley and hops. “That’s quite possibly my favourite thing of all - living with the farmers and their families. Eating together, drinking beer and talking about how it’s all going on the farm. Farmers are too often under-appreciated. They always seem to draw the shortest straw even though they’re so important.” That’s why Lagunitas makes unusually long term agreements - to give farmers a guaranteed income for a number of years.
It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.
Brewer in wine country
California truly is a wine country. Jeremy jokes about his winemaking neighbours: “They’re lazy because they only work for one month a year during the harvest. We see a lot of them that month, because after all those hours of hard work in the heat they need cold beer. There’s a well-known saying: it takes a ton of beer to make good wine.”
Jeremy feels he has something to learn from these winemakers. He’s incredibly proud of one of his most recent creations, in which he applied the lessons of winemaking to his beer: “This is a technically complex beer, with two fermentations during which everything can go wrong. It’s got sirah grapes and loads of experimental hops in it. I eventually ended up with a purple beer, with purple head and crazy aromas. It’s 8%, but tastes like 3%, almost like a kids’ drink. So much fun to create!”
“If you stop learning, you stop living.” Jeremy is adamant on this. “Sometimes I make a beer and I know it’s going to be a good one. Until it ends up being a load of junk, which is infuriating. Maybe I should have used another malt or another variety of hops. Or maybe a different yeast? You start scrutinising every little detail. But that’s what makes it so satisfying - it’s no fun creating a beer that’s perfect on the first try.”
He enjoys learning something new every day and constantly improving. “I think I’m going to learn a lot from our collaboration with Heineken. They’ve brewed all over the world, at a consistent level of quality. That’s important if you’re working at a scale like ours, because people know what to expect.”
“Brewers don’t make beer. We’re yeast chefs, that’s what we are.”
That’s why a computer-driven brewing installation has proven necessary. Until 2008, everything was done manually by Lagunitas. Jeremy learned a huge amount during that time: “I bet I could walk into any brewery and make wort without any help whatsoever. Brewers don’t make beer, we make wort. Yeast makes beer. We’re yeast chefs, that’s all - remember that!”