LA’s Golden Road brewery opened its doors in October 2011. Since then they’ve doubled the size of their brew house, released some 20 brews in snazzy cans and on draft, hit the taps in over 500 LA-area watering holes, and graced the pages of national magazines from GQ to Glamour. Now they’ve got a newly-minted brewmaster, Jesse Houck, who took time away from packing up to give Weekly Pint an exclusive first interview for our series of Q&As with the craft brewing industry’s best and brightest.
Houck has been the prime mover behind such acclaimed brews as 21st Amendment’s Bitter American and Monk’s Blood as well as Drake’s 1500 American Pale Ale, which has the sharp, dry, hoppy, and low-alcohol profile that Golden Road co-founder and president Meg Gill says the company has been increasingly eager to brew. “We’re thrilled,” she said. “Since day one, I’ve sent him beers to review, and he’s sometimes been very critical, which is important to us. He’s open and honest; he’s not a salesman... I think he’ll be a no-frills, no bullsh*t guy. I don’t think he wants to be on the cover of magazines. He wants to be brewing beer, building the brewhouse, and coming up with new recipes.”
Sounds like our kind of brewer. Do you like strong, rich, craft brews, or light and hoppy, session-able pale ales and lagers? Tell us here.
And read on for our interview with Jesse Houck, the new brewmaster of Golden Road in Los Angeles, CA.
WP: Congrats Jesse. How do you feel about leaving Drake’s in San Leandro?
HOUCK: I’m super stoked [for the new position]. But it’s really hard leaving Drake’s, actually. There was nothing bad going on. Leaving Drake’s means leaving a great team. With the owners’ help I was able to put together one of the most stellar brewing teams around. I’m leaving a great brand that’s continuing to get better.
WP: And how’s it feel to land the new gig?
HOUCK: I’m extremely excited. The brand is young; they built a beautiful brewery, and really, the sky’s the limit. I’ve got an opportunity to creatively explore new styles and also work on their core brands.
WP: In a nutshell, where and how have you been honing your craft?
HOUCK: So far, mostly in the Bay Area. I got out of the UC Davis Master Brewers program in 2001. During that time I got really involved in the S.F. beer community, working in three or four locations at a time. I would be helping out, learning little bits and how everybody does things a little differently. I was learning the dogma behind what they’re doing, whether it’s a traditional German style, or the looser American craft style, picking up the artisan pieces, and putting that together with what I learned at UC Davis.
WP: You once biked across the States, which is impressive. But if brewing was basketball, every good brewer would have his or her shot. What's your move, your specialty?
HOUCK: I'm not there to take every shot. I'd say I am the center. I can see over everyone and get the ball to the guy who needs to make the shot.
It’s a dualistic position. I do want to control the quality of the core brands, but not lose sight of new ideas, and I think having a great team of brewers leads to that. I don’t want it to be just me. I want to be part of a team that’s innovating. I remember as a young brewer wanting to showcase my potential, and I can see that happening [with colleagues] at Golden Road.
WP: What brewers do you look up to and why?
HOUCK: Matt Brynildson at Firestone-Walker is definitely world class. I’ve been fortunate to get a few good conversations in with him. He’s by far making some of the best beer out there. He’s got a great palate and style. He knows what’s good. But I've learned a lot from everyone I've worked with along the way.
WP: You're marooned on a desert island. You can have just one beer... What is it? We realize this is an impossible question. But try.
HOUCK: Moonlight’s Death and Taxes. It’s got tons of rich roast flavor coming through from a smooth black lager. [Ed. note: Only available in the Bay Area, alas.)
WP: What's your favorite style to brew and why?
HOUCK: I like to steer towards clean, dry beers with a West Coast edge... When I was first in San Francisco I saw that there were a lot of hoppy IPAs at six, seven percent [alcohol by volume]. I wanted that West Coast aesthetic, but a little lighter in alcohol. I took some of that from Dave McLean at Magnolia. He does a lot of English bitters [light, hoppy ales]. I wanted to take that concept and spin it onto West coast styles, and give the beers that dry, aromatic finish.
WP: What's in your fridge right now?
HOUCK: Not much of anything since I am packing up to move. Usually Drake's 1500. I've got some cans of 3-year old Monk's Blood that I keep around for cooking with.
WP: What do you do when you're not brewing? What inspires you?
HOUCK: I love music, biking, and scuba diving—I'm even an instructor—and I’m looking forward to some slightly warmer water down that way.
WP: What will you miss most about SF? How are you mentally preparing for life in La La Land?
HOUCK: I'll miss all my friends/family/community, but I’m looking forward to LA's growing beer scene, and the warm weather and water are a plus as well.
WP: What’s the most gratifying part of being a brewmaster?
HOUCK: You know, I think it’s that at the end of the week you can have a beer and everybody’s happy. You have a team and you’re able to relax and enjoy a beer together. That’s one of the best things about this industry: to have worked really hard, and to be able to have the fruits of your labor.
[Interview material has been condensed and edited for clarity.]