Golden Road Brewmaster and I-10 Cyclist
A lot has been changing up in the LA beer universe and it's an exciting time out here in our land of sunshine & suds. We are thrilled to welcome our new brewmaster Jesse Houck to the Golden Road team. With 12 years of experience in the beer industry, Jesse brings his strong brewing background which was largely cultivated in Nor Cal, on down to So. Cal where the beer industry has been booming. So now that Jesse's had a couple weeks to scope out the brewery and get to know his fellow coworkers, it's about time you get to know a little of his background. Jesse was born and raised in Novato, CA, but grew up in North Carolina. Dad was a quality control engineer for a big telecommunication company, spending his time working on government contracts, and mom stayed at home, but neither parent was heavily into beer. His first craft beer was a Pete's Wicked Ale from one of his friend's parents, which Jesse noticed had a good amount of flavor compared to Dad's Miller Lites. His interest in homebrewing blossomed when his crafty older sister gave him the most epic 21st birthday gift of all time: a Mr. Beer Kit. Being the hands-on, handyman Jesse was, he busted out his first brew, realized it tasted "like ass," then immediately set out getting hip to the science behind making good beer.
Though he pursued engineering and chemistry degrees at UNC Chapel Hill, Jesse was always a mechanically inclined kind of person but did not want to follow the career path of those degrees. He started doing more hands-on work, at one point even doing exotic woodwork with an architectural firm. While getting knee-deep into a handful of jobs, homebrewing was a constant hobby. At one point, Jesse admits "I got carried away," and he decided it was time to get technical with his beer knowledge. Jesse enrolled in the UC Davis Master Brewers Program so he could figure out how to "build a 'proper' home brewery (what the kids today would call a nano)." After graduation, Jesse knew he wanted to stay on our coast, so he landed a job at a brewpub in San Francisco and found himself enamored with the beer community. He kept his brewing game sharp by purposely working in multiple breweries with different systems, techniques and styles. "I was working part-time at four different breweries in San Francisco, absorbing a little bit from all the other brewmasters. I would do a full shift at 21st Amendment then hop on my bike and do a night shift at Speakeasy. 21st resonated the most with me -- Shaun O'Sullivan is an amazing brewer and I really dug his hop-forward west coast IPAs and pale ales that were just gaining traction at the time."
"From there I worked my way up to Head Brewer at 21st. I enjoyed recipe development and brewing at a pub, but wanted new challenges and growth, so after I left I sought out work at quickly growing production brewery." After 5 years of time at 21st, Jesse found himself at a little place called Drake's Brewing. No big deal.
But here and there in his years of brewing, there were some interesting gaps in his work. Jesse spent a year diving in southeast Asia, lived on an island for 6 months, and also managed to find time to bike across the country, from San Diego to Florida for a couple months. Also not a big deal.
On his last day at 21A, our owner Tony descended upon Jesse, at Meg's recommendation, to taste his brews. "He told me about his project at the time to renovate an old movie theatre and turn it into a California-only craft beer bar. I thought he was a little crazy because I didn't think LA really had much desire for craft beer at the time. While I was at Drake's, I saw how much beer we sent to the LA market and during a few sales trips down here I was just blown away by how cool the scene was and how much growth was occurring."
Jesse kept in touch with Meg & Tony and shared the enthusiasm for their vision and ambitious goals in Los Angeles. "When the brewmaster position became open, I jumped at the chance to be a part of one of the coolest craft breweries in the largest & fastest growing craft market in the country." As our new brewmaster, Jesse spends his time overseeing the entire brewhouse -- from procuring hop contracts to recipe development to finishing our beers. "But I don't do it alone," says Jesse. "We have a highly talented team of brewers who carry a lot of the load and also execute their own individual styles in the brewhouse." Some of the recent brewers' beers include "It's Not Always Sunny in LA" and "Aunt Sally Pale Ale", which you can try now at The Pub at Golden Road. He'll also be getting his hands on a Point the Way revamp, re-releasing Wolf Among Weeds and ramping up our new, giant system to brew our core brands. This will free up our 15 bbl system so our brewing team will have a space create more specialty beers and pub-only goodies.
Since moving down to Los Angeles, Jesse has been pretty blown away by the beer scene here, so let's pat ourselves on the back, LA. "From other brewers to bar owners to social media, everyone is really positive and excited about what is going on here and are all super friendly," shared our new brewmaster. He's been surprised by "what a great team the brewery has. I didn't really know what to expect but was stoked once I got a chance to meet everyone." Though he hasn't had much of a chance to sink into all that LA has to offer, he's looking forward to exploring it more, maybe on bike, maybe after finding tasty vegetables at the Atwater Village Farmers Market. And maybe after a dive or two off our local islands? Jesse has a lot of exploring cut out for him.
Favorite GRB beer: Golden Road Kolsch. "I've been drinking a ton of the Kolsch that Cole and the guys made. It's got a killer nose on it and has just a little bit of west coast edge to keep it interesting."
If you see Jesse ask him about: Cycling through Texas.
You can follow Jesse on Twitter as @NorCal_Bitter