Jonathan Porter’s craft beer odyssey began in Philadelphia, where he studied photography at Drexel and gradually worked his way through the city’s delis hunting for prized bottles to mount on the wall. The New Jersey native migrated west to Los Angeles and worked in commercial printing before the homebrew bug took control. He apprenticed at BJ’s in Brea and Oxnard before he ascended to brewmaster duties at Tustin Brewing Company. In the past two years, Porter has helped to revitalize Tustin Brewing Company with beers like Roggenator Rye Doppel Bock, Jackson’s Double IPA and Julia’s Heritage Belgian Blonde. He even took bronze at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in the Robust Porter category for his Blimp Hangar Porter. We met Porter more than once in 2010 and recently caught up with him by phone, where he explained his background and approach.
How did you become so interested in beer?
In college, I filled my prerequisites with Miller and Coors, and my friend lived in a house with tons of beer bottles on the wall. “Want to help me help carry on the tradition?” We’d go into little delis and buy the craziest bottles.
What was the transition from Philadelphia to Southern California?
I attended college at Drexel, studied photography, and quickly realized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, but I was kind of stuck because I already completed the prerequisites. I finished that degree and got into commercial printing. I moved to L.A. with my girlfriend, now wife, and the only work I could get was commercial printing. I started homebrewing in 2003. I was drinking a lot of craft beers in Philly, but didn’t start brewing until two years in Los Angeles. I fell in love with brewing, put a lot of energy into everything I could learn about it and finally. In 2006, I graduated from the American Brewers Guild, which is based in Vermont. It’s king of like an online thing. Watch taped lectures on DVD, take exams, and it ends with a week of on-site training, which I completed in Sacramento. I was with this printing company for four years and was not getting the raises and promotions I should have been getting, so I quit, and the next company I worked at went bankrupt after six months. I thought, “It’s a sign. This is what I was meant to do.”
What was the first beer you ever brewed?
It was an American Pale Ale, using a kit from the Culver City Home Brewing shop.
How did it turn out?
It turned out really well…At the height of it, I was brewing 30 times, 40 times per year. I was making lots of beer and lots of friends.
How did you finally end up going pro?
I started working at BJ’s in Brea. I met the head brewer of the Brea location in the fall of 2006. He said, “We need somebody to wash kegs.” Perfect. I worked there for four months before they needed an assistant brewer in the Oxnard facility. I worked there from February ’07 to May ’08. Then again, unemployed. I quit. I worked for Father’s Office in Culver City for a few months, as a doorman. Although my knowledge of beer was superior to most of the bartenders, I had no bartending experience. That same brewer who hired me to wash kegs was brewing at Tustin and was moving north, so he asked if I wanted this job, so that’s where I’ve been since. It’s been a little over two years now. November 2008, I started here.
I started remaking all the house beers in my own image. There were no recipes from the previous brewer, because I guess that wasn’t his thing. It’s just evolved from there.
Do you have a first beer memory?