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Jim Crooks, Master Blender

Jim Crooks is the Master Blender for Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks. He was kind enough to share some of his background and answer a few questions.

Graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Food Science degree in ’97 , Jim Crooks always had a fascination for bread yeast. He became well educated on the possibilities of what yeast could accomplish in bread, leading him to apply his knowledge to his interest in home brewing. Jim began his career at SLO Brewing Co. in 1999 and was hired by Firestone Walker Brewing Company in 2001 as Quality Control Manager. Over the course of 13 years Jim managed the quality division as annual production grew from 12,000bbls to over 100,000bbls a year. In 2007 Jim began working on a side project creating Belgian inspired wild beers and Lambics. The project, now called Barrelworks, was fully realized in 2012 when operations were moved to a new location in Buellton, CA. Barrelworks is now home to over 1000 wine barrels filled with beer in all different stages of maturation. Jim holds the title of Masterblender, and is responsible for all production and creative aspects for Barrelworks.

What’s special about your brewery?

It’s 100% wild beer. We don’t use any Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We focus on barrel aging.

What’s your least favorite part of the brew day?

Turning out the lights and going home.

What is your favorite part of the brew day?

Sampling 2 and 3 year old barrels and finding out that the time given to patience has paid off.

What was the biggest mess you’ve made making a beer?

My first time trying to get the raspberries out of our 550-gallon tote.

What’s the largest batch of beer you’ve poured down the drain?

Barrelworks hasn’t poured anything down the drain. We are in the business of salvaging out-of-code seasonal kegs from our markets and turning them into sour beer.

What’s your favorite beer festival?

Oktoberfest in Munich.

Have you shared, or are you willing to share, a homebrew clone recipe for any of your beers?

Willing to share.

What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve added to a beer?

Szechuan peppercorns.

What was your happiest moment as a brewer?

Realizing that hard work and experimentation using wild yeast finally paid off into the creation of Barrelworks.

What dumb joke are people always making about your job?

That our clothing and every piece of equipment we have is contaminated with beer-spoiling bacteria.

What beer should be served at your funeral?

Feral One.

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