Jamie Fulton of Community Beer Co. got started in brewing because of his love for food. After high school, he hopped the pond to study culinary arts at Le Cordon Blue in London. Side trips to the rest of the continent led to the discovery of craft beers throughout Europe.
As soon as he came home, he started home brewing, and eventually took distance courses through the U.C. Davis brewing program. After an apprenticeship at Blue Star Brewing Co. in San Antonio, he took classes at the World Brewing Academy in Chicago, followed by a trip back to Europe for the Doemens Academy in Munich (the same place Franconia's founder Dennis Wehrman attended).
With all that experience in his pocket, in 2006 Fulton opened The Covey in Fort Worth, where he started wracking up beer awards, including nods from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. Since Community opened early last year, they've already brought home more awards, including a gold medal for their Witbier at the World Beer Cup this year.
Here's a chat with Fulton about why his fridge is stocked with baby food and the best beer he ever had, which includes an all-day hike to a monastery that will make you want to go home and pack.
What's the greatest misconception about being a brewer? A great misconception is that if you can brew great beer at home, you can do it in a production brewery.
Being a brewmaster is loosely the equivalent of being a chef. Just because you can cook it up with the best in your kitchen at home, doesn't mean you're cut out to run a professional kitchen. A great analogy, but its even more true for brewing in a professional production brewery. Besides managing the logistics of the processes, much of my job at Community is troubleshooting broken or malfunctioning equipment; and you seldom encounter the same problem twice. Brewing beer is the easy part, the tougher task is dealing with the multitude of issues that arise with all of the equipment we use to make the beer.
In 2010, there were just two local craft breweries. Now there are more than a dozen. Do you think this explosive growth is sustainable? Are there enough craft beer enthusiasts for all the local beers? There were actually more breweries than that by my count, but to your point, there has absolutely been explosive growth in the last few years. I think the market can sustain most of the breweries that are opening. Craft beer lovers in North Texas are really getting behind the phenomenon, and that's obviously the key factor for the success of craft brewing here. The quality has to be there though, if a brewery's beer is not on par or better than beers coming into our market from elsewhere in the country, the brewery is not going to last long. While people love supporting local, they will ultimately choose quality over something just because it's local.
What's in your beer fridge right now? Baby food. Seriously though, I don't keep a lot of beer at home as there's not much time for beer drinking with three young boys to manage and entertain. Mainly just my favorites from our brewery: Public Ale and Witbier usually. I also really enjoy Santo from St. Arnold and Hans Pils from Real Ale, both lower ABV sessionable beers, which are generally more to my taste than super strong, hoppy, specialty beers.
Ever had a colossal brewing mistake? Like a situation where you wanted to laugh and cry all at once. Nothing "colossal," thankfully. Getting sprayed with yeast or beer is always fun, kind of like mud wrestling I imagine. It's a novel experience.
Do you have any advice for budding brewers? If you're just trying to brew beer at home, keep it clean. Clean it and clean it again. Sanitation and cleanliness are the most difficult things to achieve on a homebrewing level, that and keeping your beers at proper temperature when they are fermenting. Other than that just have fun; remember, it's just beer.
For budding brewers wanting to open a production brewery: get real experience or hire a consultant or professional brewer to show you the ropes. While this is expensive, mistakes made from inexperience can be much more costly, and unfortunately can be very dangerous. The machinery, hot liquids, chemicals and pressurized tanks and gases we use on a day-to-day basis can cause serious injury or worse.
Have you found any invaluable brewing forums that are great resources? Books, sites or publications that are your go-to sources or guides. For amateurs and pros alike, the Classic Beer Styles series by Brewer's Association is indispensible. I still look to these books often for advice when creating new recipes.
For pro brewers, Probrewer.com is a great one, though I feel the content of the forums has been diluted in the last few years. Nonetheless, it is an incredible archive of great knowledge from many world-class brewers.
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What's the hardest part of your job, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the best part? By far the hardest part of my job at this point is keeping up with demand for our beers. We have so many popular styles that it becomes a logistical issue having separate tanks and yeast ready to fill them. The best part is doing what I love to do and working with the truly world-class team of folks at Community Beer Co.
Are there any styles, ingredients, trends or brewing processes that you're really excited about right now? The possibilities for barrel aging have increased significantly recently, with many new types of barrels being made available for brewers to buy and age beer in: sherry, port, tequila, rum, etc.
What's the best beer you've ever had? There's many memorable beers I've had, though the one that sticks out the most was simply called "Krausenbier" at a small pub in the small downtown of Heidelberg, Germany. Our professor was a good friend of the brewer, so he gladly hosted our class, feeding us simply this krausenbier, freshly whipped cream and the freshest strawberries you've ever had. It was unforgettable.
What's the most ridiculous or far-fetched thing you've ever done to get beer? From our school in Munich, four of my buddies and I took a train to the base of the foothills below Andechs Monastery. We hiked all the way up to the monastery where we enjoyed not only the delicious brews the monks make there, but also the cheese, pork and bread and soaked in some rays on their awesome patio. It was an unforgettable day indeed! I would highly recommend this trek for anyone visiting Munich.