Interview: brewmaster Jon Carpenter (Golden Road Brewing)

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Even though Jon Carpenter grew up in San Diego, it was hardly a given that he’d end up brewing for a living. It wasn’t until he enrolled at UC Davis and met passionate practitioners like professor Charlie Bamforth and brewer Scott Vaccaro that he caught the craft beer bug. He worked at Anheuser-Busch’s Research Pilot Brewery in St. Louis for five years and spent a year at Dogfish Head before becoming brewmaster for Golden Road Brewing, which Tony Yanow and Meg Gill founded in L.A. earlier this year. We met at Golden Road’s blue building on October 18, and Carpenter better explained his connection to craft beer and the vision for the brewery.

What’s your very first beer memory?

[laughs] I’m probably not going to talk about that on the record. My first brewing memory is definitely just getting woken up super early in college, and Scott driving me out to his garage, opening up all these crazy vessels. I didn’t know what they were. We got this giant carboy full of yeast out of the closet, just getting knee-deep in a homebrew was pretty awesome on a Sunday morning.

What was the beer, and how did it turn out?

I don’t remember. We ended up brewing so many times over and over again on those systems, but they always ended up turning out pretty well. He’s a talented brewer.

What was the moment where you knew you’d work with beer for a living?

It’s kind of weird. I’ve been really lucky. Experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met have led me to brewing full time. I didn’t know I would be a full time brewer until after I graduated college. I worked in the Fire Service for four years throughout college, and I was pretty excited about that, and then even in college, I had no idea a brewing degree even existed. I just met some really passionate, enthusiastic people that kind of opened my eyes and said, it’s more realistic than you think, and you should take a closer look at the art and science that it takes to balance this. I just got very lucky that I happened to be at UC Davis, and they happened to have these amazing programs. I happened to get pushed into it by a good friend of mine, and I also had the amazing opportunity to work for Anheuser Busch in their Research Pilot Brewery right out of college. To be honest, if that opportunity had not come about, I may not have ended up in this line of work.

Where was that?

In St. Louis. It’s an 18-barrel brewhouse, and it just does strictly raw materials testing and research and development brews. I got an amazing opportunity to go out there and work with a lot of young, excited team to learn what it means to help run a consistent, small brewery and we experimented with all kinds of stuff. I can’t believe they paid me sometimes. We just got to brew whatever was interesting and challenging all the time, and we really pushed our limits a lot. A month or two into working there, I was pretty damn sure this is what I would do for the rest of my life.

Who was your good friend who pushed you into brewing?

His name’s Scott Vaccaro. He owns Captain Lawrence Brewing in New York now, just a random friendship I came across in college. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me what brewing was all about.

Would you say you’ve had any other mentors along the way?

I’ve had so many good mentors along the way. To be able to work with and learn from Charlie Bamforth at UC Davis. Certainly Scott Vaccaro. Most recently, working with Floris Delée and Sam [Calagione] over at Dogfish, was really great. I would say I’ve been really fortunate to have the path I’ve taken to get here.

What’s a typical day like for you, if there is one?

I don’t know what a typical day is, but a typical brew day – which is what we’re doing today – we usually only run the brewhouse two days a week. And when we run it, we like to run it nonstop. If we can do 24 hour shifts, we’ll do 24 hour shifts. It’s 24 hours a day, for a day and a half. The last two weeks, we’ve had a lot of other stuff going on. We couldn’t commit ourselves to being here through the night, so we just did one long brew day, and then one more really long brew day. This morning, I got here a little bit late. Usually I get here between 3:30 and 4 in the morning to start things up, get the boiler running, get all the lines clean, get all the grain ground in, and then just hit the ground running. It’s actually a lot of fun, the first two hours of my morning, just spent sweating and running back and forth, and cleaning everything up, and getting the first brews through. My head brewer, Cole [Hackbarth], will usually come in later in the afternoon, or late morning, to kind of take over and pick up where I left off. We’ll start to transition between what the two of us are doing at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Then I can come in here [the office] and work on some other long lead time things, with the brewery buildout, getting our contracting set up, make sure our raw materials and logistics are in order and then take off and enjoy myself for an hour or two, and if he’s still brewing here later, I’ll usually try to come back in and take over for him so he can still have some semblance of a real life before his girlfriend leaves him.

Beer Los Angeles
Have you hired other full time employees for the brewhouse yet?

Yeah, absolutely. We actually have four people total on our brewing team, if you count me, for production. There’s myself, Cole, Matt, who’s been with us for awhile, helping out since we started this thing in all sorts of various ways with Tony’s Darts Away and Mohawk Bend and starting this project. He’s really transitioned and come on to start learning the art and science of brewing, and becoming one of our brewers. Then there’s another guy who gave up his other career for the passion of brewing. His name’s Tim. He’s just a really, really intelligent, thoughtful guy, who was working as an engineer making microchips, and realized he was so much more interested in becoming a brewer, so he was actually just volunteering at a brewery in San Diego, actually took a job at a kitchen in one place just so he could work in the brewery, so he would be under their insurance policy for free.

What were you looking for when you were hiring people in the brewhouse?

There’s a couple things. When I went out to find a guy like Cole, I wanted someone who had a really technical mind, a background in brewing science and attention to detail in everything he had done in his past, and also some experience on different sized systems. Of the probably 40 or 50 different professional brewer resumes I saw, his just stood out as the right fit for our team, personality wise, experience wise and passion wise, we’ve just got a solid brewer here who can help us grow. His position is a little bit different from other brewer positions we’re filling right now. There are so many people in this community, and in the brewing community at large, right now that are just looking to get their foot in the door and figure out how to become part of a successful brewing team. It’s kind of an easy thing for us just to open the door and say, hey, there are hundreds of people out there that want to be part of this. It really gave us the ability to find some awesome, enthusiastic, passionate people. When we ran across Tim, he was really excited about coming up here, and he actually drove up from San Diego just to come out and see the space and meet us. Hearing his back story, giving up his previous career that he was doing very well at, to take a very low paying job as a brewer. It fit. We’re excited to have the right people here and we want to treat everybody as family, and not just burn through people and get to the next guy, who can fulfill a role, but somebody who grows as part of our team as a whole, our family. A lot of breweries hire apprentice brewers or assistant brewers. Where we’re at right now, and how we kind of look at our production team, we hire somebody to be a brewer, and that’s it. I don’t really believe in calling them an assistant brewer or a trainee. I believe in building the team as a whole, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Getting people working here with the aptitude and passion all these guys have makes it pretty easy.

What will it take to consider Golden Road a success?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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