In this episode, I'm in Bothell, WA at Foggy Noggin Brewery speaking with Owner & Brewer Jim Jamison. This small brewery is actually in a residential home in a suburb just outside of Seattle. Only open to the public on Saturdays, they specialize in making English style beers.
Podcast Created and Hosted by: Aaron Johnson
Recorded on location at Foggy Noggin Brewery, Bothell, WA
Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson
Theme music by: A:M (Aaron Johnson & Danny Moffat)
Cascadian Beer Podcast - Foggy Noggin Brewing - Transcipt
Jim Jamison: My name is Jim Jamison.
Aaron: What is your title here?
Jim: Well, I'm the head everything. Mainly cleaning, a janitor, but started the brewery in my mind as a vision and it's a family operation now. So all the owners are my kids and my wife, and my brother-in-law and run Foggy Noggin as a family business with our great detail to English-style beers.
A: Why did you come up with the name "Foggy Noggin?"
J: A couple things. If you ever woke up in the morning after you had a few too many, you end up with a little bit of a foggy noggin. And a long, long time ago, I used to be involved in a golf tournament and it was the single malt classic, so single malt Scottish whiskies, and we needed to have a place to hold our banquet at the end and have dinner. And we were gonna have it at my house, and you can't just call it "Jim's house," you gotta have a name. So after sampling all the whiskies before the event we were gonna have, had plenty of foggy noggins and that's how the name started.
A: Alright. So how long have you been opened then?
J: We opened March of 2010, so about six-and-a-half years.
A: This is interesting because we're actually sitting in your driveway right now and the space that's open to the public is your garage. Why is it like that? And how is that legal?
J: Well, like any brewery in the United States, you've got the same restrictions that we have. You gotta get federal TTB, Alcohol Tobacco Tax Bureau brewing license approved. You have to get your state liquor license approved. For us, it's the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and then you have to get your local AHJ involved which is Snohomish County for us, and since it's on a residential property, we also have to adhere to all the home-based business regulations too. It's as difficult plus some as anybody else has to do. We have to blend in with the community, operation of hours, all those restrictions, signage restrictions and all those kinds of things. The cool thing is, when people get here, they kinda get why we end up doing it here. It's very secluded, we've got two-and-a-half acres, you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere with just great English beers.
A: And we're only five minutes from the highway too.
J: That's right.
A: Does everybody in the neighbourhood come by when you open up? And how often are you open?
J: We're only open on Saturdays, every Saturday afternoon from 12:00 to 5:00 PM. We get a lot of neighbors that'll walk. We get a lot of new people. We're a destination for people when they come to the area, they've heard about us, the uniqueness and our focus on English beers and being in this cool residential, walk into a guy's garage and you feel like you're at a friends house. That's what we get. When houses go up for sale in the walking distance, they usually sell in the first weekend on the market. I have an open house, I'll have somebody come and ask a question "How often are you open?" I say every Saturday. They go, "Every Saturday?" I go, "Yep." "Okay, we're buying the house." Having a walking entertainment stop is a pretty cool feature when you're out in the residential area in suburban Seattle.
A: Yeah, and especially if you're having a dinner party at your house and come over here for the pre-drinks, right?
J: That's right. That's right.
A: So where is your brew house then?
J: Our house is located about halfway in our two-and-half acres of property and in the back third is a 200 square foot building we built for the brewery. It wasn't there when we started. Our intention was to brew in the garage, but the TTB wouldn't let us do that, so we had to build a separate building and you would look at it and you go, "Okay, you're brewing in a shed," and it really is a shed, but it has to meet commercial building requirements. So it's the most expensive shed I think anyone's ever built.
A: You have a lot of stuff crammed in there. How many tanks do you have?
J: Well, we have a half barrel brew system, all gravity fed, and then we have six stainless steel conical fermenters that are half barrel fermenters, and then we have one Hungarian Oak fermenter that we have a perpetual yeast going in there. So seven fermenters, ran out of space for bright tanks, so we have a cooler that we put the beer into to get that cold crashing and clean the beers out.
A: How long does it take you to turn that beer around to get it on tap?
J: Most beers is 21 days from brew day to serve day. Some take longer, some take two weeks to ferment instead of a week. Some take even longer than that. We've done our barley wine twice and it takes us about 12 weeks to completely ferment that out and it's 11.3% to English Barleywine and we've never served it yet. So we're aging the 2013 and the 2015, and if things work out, we'll do a '16 version of it as well.
A: So how long have you been brewing then? In total and then how did you start?
J: We started brewing in 1992. It was a Christmas present my wife gave me and if I would've been a smart person, I would have quit because I brewed a lot of bad beer initially. But I don't like to fail in things, so I said, "It can't be that tough." There's a lot of good home brew out there and people are doing it even back then when ingredients weren't as readily available as they are today. What I ended up doing was focusing on what I want to make. 'Cause if you're trying to brew an IPA today and a porter the next day, and a stout the next day, and then a pale ale, you're never gonna learn anything. So the beer that we have in front of us right here is our English bitters, the first beer I perfected after about 100 batches of what I wanted it to be. And that's when I really learned how to brew. How ingredients, temperatures, fermentation, carbonation, how they work and what each grain tastes like, what each hop does at different parts of the beer. So through trial and error, a lot of reading, that's how I figured out on my own what makes sense for me.
A: Why did you choose to focus on English-style ales?
J: Well, as I started to learn about beer when I was in college, there was a great beer bar that had about 1200 beers in bottles. It was every beer that the state of Oregon allowed you to bring into the state. I like to think I tasted them all, I'm not sure if I did or not. There was a menu they had and I would fold it up and carry it with me wherever I went and I would mark off the beers as I tried them. At the end of the day, the ones that I kept coming back to were the British-style; the Scottish, the Irish, the English beers. Couple reasons, it was the balance, it was the approachability, it was the session-ability, where you can taste every ingredient in them and they were really enjoyable. Typically, they're lower alcohol beers, lower carbonated beers, they didn't fill you up as much. Great pleasure in tasting them. To this day, it's my favorite style, although, I really enjoy all kinds of styles of beers. But as a brewer, I think that you become better at your craft if you really narrow your focus and really research out and every day, practice what you want to do.
A: So with the kit that you have and your focus on style, how many taps do you have?
J: We usually have 10 beers flowing in our tasting room every Saturday. Two will be nitro pours and eight will be CO2. The nitro pours, I think is... Since we're only open one day a week, I really would love to have real cask ale on tap. The problem is, you'd need to really drink that cask in three days. We're only open five hours a week. Eventually, we'll open a second location, we'll have more hours. We'll keep this place, always. And there, we'll have real beer engines and we'll be able to do some of our cask versions of our beers. I've had them before, I've made them, I've had them in events and they're fantastic. Our beers lend to that really well. But putting them on nitro is the next best thing to having them on cask. It's the smoothness, it's the accentuation of the flavors of the beer, and it's just another fun way to sample our beers.
A: And your daughter is actually back there today, it's her first brew. She's been off for a few weeks. When did she start brewing with you?
J: Well, the first three years we were open, I brewed every batch myself. I have three kids. So my oldest son, Matthew, was the first that was interested in brewing. It took quite a while, him brewing with me, me mentoring him, watching him. I'm very particular on our product, and so the output had to be the same whether he was brewing it or me. And so I can't remember exactly how many batches we went through before I turned the reins on him. Then soon after that, my daughter, Stephanie, was interested as well. So got her trained up and I can't tell the difference if it's a beer I made or a beer they made. They come out tasting exactly the same.
A: What brew number are you at today?
J: I think today was 1353, so that's a lot of brews.
A: You sound like a great stats guy to keep track of all that. So you had mentioned a second location. Is that thoroughly in the works or is it that a few years off still?
J: We've been working for about three years with the city of Bothell, we like to stay local. And we've been very serious. We thought we had a location that fell through the property owner to the point where I worked a year-and-a-half with the planning commission that got an area of Bothell rezoned, so that you could put a brewery there. We're still working on another location in that area. We're pursuing a couple other options too. Nothing firm, but when the right thing will happen, you'll know it'll be the right thing.
A: You just don't sell here, too. I see some bottles in the fridge there. Do you ship it out anywhere?
J: Yeah, about 90% of our beer goes through our tasting room and then I have about 20 tap accounts from Bellingham to Tacoma. And when I can get beer to them, they're happy. Once in a while, bottle shops will get them, a case or so. But we mainly keep the bottles here. What I like to know is they're being refrigerated, they're being taken care of and when people take them home, they're gonna taste like they're supposed to. You ever walk into a big grocery store and you see those stacks and stacks of bottles of beer? And I go, "That's just not good. How long has it been sitting like this? Is the beer still gonna be good?" So freshness, how it's served, the CO2 level that it's poured on, all those things are so important. And once it leaves my hands, I don't know how it's gonna be taken care of. So the reason I only have about 20 tap accounts is I have tap accounts I can trust and I know that they talk care of it correctly. Staff understands what they're serving. Kegs stay cold. Individual pressure on their CO2 so they can lower it for our beers 'cause I don't wanna over carbonate them. All those kinds of things.
A: Through this whole process of you being open here, there's been quite a boom in the Pacific Northwest in recent years. What's been your observation of that? Do you think this is a flash in the pan or is this good for development and for beer in general in the Pacific Northwest?
J: I think when any industry is in a growth mode, you're gonna attract a lot of people that bring both good and both not so good elements to the industry. I think you're bringing lot of creativity, new ideas, pushing the envelope, maybe waking up some people who got complacent who were there before and they get a brewery across the street, "Hey, I got to step my game up." I think those are good things. But you also get people in the market who don't have the experience, they really don't know, they can't duplicate the beers. The market will correct itself, but I think it's a great time to be a beer enthusiast, there's a lot of options, a lot of really good beer out there. Unfortunately, with a lot of good beer comes a lot of bad beer. And so as consumers, we get to vote with our wallet on those who stay in business and those who don't.
A: Have you received any awards for any beer that you've made?
J: We really aren't a participant in the beer competitions. We've gotten awards out of some of the magazines like Northwest Brewing News, where the readers will submit what their favorites are. We're honored to always win those things, 'cause that's really the customer base is so passionate about their beers that they wanna go vote for you. Those are the fun awards to get. We've won best brewery in Bothell, the North Shore area, which they call Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville. We've won that award. We've won some best of show at some beer festivals. We did enter our first GABF entries for this year, which will be early October announced. I'm not really too worried about winning or losing, I think it was just good to get the feedback and see. We entered in our English IPA with rye in it, in the English IPA category, and we entered an alt style, since we do English beers, but we do, alt is the one non-English beer we do, and this is a double alt, and so it was named after my second grandchild, Mary. And so it's an 8.1% big imperial alt really, but we call it "double alt" and we'll see. It's one of my favorite beers.
A: But what is your favorite beer to brew?
J: They're all fun. All the beers are fun because we modify the water to match the UK region that we want to duplicate for that beer, which is fun, that whole process of changing the water chemistry. Measuring all the ingredients and getting to smell them and using all the British hops that we use, and it's just an... They're all equally as enjoyable to brew. The question I always get is people who have never been here, "Oh, what's your favorite beers on tap?" and I said it's the one I'm drinking at the time, because I wouldn't serve it if I didn't really like it. If it doesn't pass that test, if I wouldn't be a drinker of that beer, I wouldn't put it on tap.
A: And who's inspiring you in the local community with their beer, like some different breweries? Who do you really like?
J: There's a lot of really good beer out there, and there's a couple of breweries I could say I like just everything they do, and one of the ones in particular, I send a lot of people there and they come... They're not from the Seattle area, is Maritime Pacific, down in Ballard, they've been around since '88, they've been doing it a long time, and I don't think I've ever had a beer they've made that I didn't like.
A: Right. And if anybody wanted to go down this route, what advice would you give them to open their own brewery?
J: If they wanna go do a small scale like us, don't do it. It's a lot of work. It's tough to make it financially make sense, you have to be passionate about it and just love it, and it's more about the experience and the culture you're building and that bonding with your community. We've become such an important part of the local community on participating in fundraisers and auctions and seeing people come here 'cause they wanna bring their community group here and meet. Those are just the fun connections. Our next chapter of expansion, I think, financially, will reward us. We do okay here, but just look at our scale. You just can't do that well, at this size, but there's a lot of rewards we get every day. But if you don't want to brew like a maniac, this a bad model to do. We brewed 240 batches last year in 2015. You just think about that, that's a lot of brewing. It takes us about five hours a batch, and we all have regular jobs. So my saying has always been, "There's plenty of time to sleep when you're dead." And that's what you've gotta have 'cause you don't sleep much when you're doing this.
A: Yeah, so you're brewing pretty much every evening, right? When you come home?
J: To save a little time, we'll do multiple batches. Saturdays and Sundays are typically two or three-batch days. I've done four batches in one day and you get a little of efficiency, you can carve off maybe an hour-and-a-half on each brew when you do multiples, but thus, you're exhausted.
A: What is your favorite beer that you make to pair with your favorite food?
J: It's the one I'm drinking at the time. I'll drink a different beer for different reasons. The beer we've got in front of us, the English bitter is 3.4%. There's times where you're gonna be at a barbecue and you're gonna wanna have five or six pints, this is a great beer for that 'cause you're gonna be able to get back home, and you're gonna wake up the next morning refreshed, go back to work. There's beers that are a little heavier or a little more aggressive on the flavors, you're gonna want one or two. You pick those for different reasons, or for food pairing. If you're gonna be having something spicy or something really rich and succulent, if you're... Those are different reasons, just like you'd pair wine with it, or with cheese. I think cheese is way overlooked on how it pairs so well with beer, and I think people are starting to wake up to that 'cause there's so many great combinations of making those cheese flavors match that beer flavoring.
A: If somebody came here and they never been here before, what would be the thing you would like them to leave with at the end of the day, apart from a bottle or a growler?
J: I think most people on their first time here, they get a little education. I think they're unfamiliar on what English ales are all about.
A: 'Cause we couldn't be further from England, really, where we are.
J: We're about exactly half way across the world from England. Typically, a brand new customer that I've never seen before, and you ask them what they'd like to have and their first thing is just, "Do you have an IPA?" And it's kind of my running joke 'cause you start talking to people. There's many times we don't have an IPA on tap. I ask them questions about what they like in a beer. "I don't have one." "But what are you looking for a beer in?" At the end, it's usually they're just not that aware of beer, they don't know, but when they go out with their friends, they all order IPAs, so that's the only thing they know how to order. And when they leave here, they go, "You know what? I'm so glad that you gave me something other than IPA. I really like it!"
A: Yeah. Well, thank you so much.
J: You're welcome.