Brewer Profile: Steve Wright, Jackalope Brewing

Brewer Profile by Ken Carman for professorgoodales.net

We read of success stories: brewers who strike out on their own and build their own breweries. Locally, here in Nashville, Linus Hall and Bailey Spaulding come to mind, or David Wollner at Willimantic Brewing in Connecticut, Andrew Mankin at Barrington Brewery in the Berkshires.

Then, of course, we have the regular fare’: not so “regular” brewers who brew grand, “crafty,” brews for owners of pubs, micros, nanos. They brew incredible beer, for sure.

But what about those brewers who may have never brewed before, but they are awakened by tasting the brews of a professional brewer to the grand world of craft beer? Then it becomes an almost holy mission to be part of Craftbeerworld when, at that moment, they tell that brewer, “I’m going to work for you…” and wind up riding a brew coaster: having an adventure of a lifetime?

Enter Steve Wright. Steve hails from Needham, Massachusetts: one of the many burbs and villages that stretch out from Boston like a huge spider web that laces coastal mid-eastern Mass. Steve moved to Tennessee in 2000: a student at Rhodes in Memphis. He was a double major: Political Science… Greek and Roman Studies.

No word yet about him brewing a historical beer that was around in the Roman times. But having that as a major he probably knows better than I do. It’s… Greek… to me.

Sorry.

Then he moved to Kings Point, New York to coach baseball at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

What in the name of the holy of holiest Mel Brooks has any of this to do with brewing… or beer?

Be patient my gentle patawan reader, I’m getting there.

You see I have noticed of all the brewers I have met some pretty bloody good ones came at brewing from odd angles. Steve Fried at McGuires in Pensacola was in the Navy and had done a lot of work with plumbing. Derrick Morse at Cool Springs was in marketing and Karen Lassiter at Boscos in Nashville, TN was doing graphic arts. Bill Bredesen, at the upcoming newest Nashville addition, hopped into pro-brewing out of being a Computer Science major.

Sometimes coming in from an odd angle gives you a fresh perspective that a classically trained a brewer may not have.

Back to Steve…

He actually did tell me he’d love to have some Greek/Roman researchers help him brew a beer from the days of the Empire… or earlier. From what I’ve studied about the Empire, most likely it would be something the lower classes drank… perhaps even Jesus. Beer was considered more “common,” and wine reserved for the higher class. Or, perhaps, some Braggot: beer/mead mix.

Steve didn’t know either Robin or Bailey, the founders of Jackalope, when he lived in Massachusetts. But he had always loved craft beer.

Steve came to Nashville about 3 years ago when his wife moved here. She works for Teach for America and they were opening a Nashville office. Teach for America helps train teachers for some of America’s most needy schools. When Bailey was in law school she used to throw parties and provide the beer. Steve’s brother-in-law knew Bailey. When he first met he told her one day he would work for her.

He wasn’t really a homebrewer, though he had brewed a few times… mostly at Bailey’s place.

“I’ve brewed over 150 brews on a little Sabco, but the one time I brewed at home it really didn’t come out very well.”

He started brewing at Jackalope about two years ago and now he works for equity too: essentially, part ownership.

Jonathan Newman, courtesy thewebbschool.com
“Looking back I really knew nothing about brewing, Bailey taught me so much and gave me the bug for brewing.”

(Yup, sure can be viral. I’ve had it since… since… ACHOO! …excuse me: since 79.)

“I think of myself as someone who will go out and find answers when I don’t know them. I’ve been over to Yazoo, pick Linus’ brain…”

Ewe.

(Oops. Couldn’t resist.)

“…(talking to) Blackstone, homebrewer groups… early on Jonathan Newman who was part of the Murfreesboro (TN) club brewed some here about once a week and to call it an ‘internship’ wouldn’t be fair because I learned more from him than he ever would have learned from me. And he eventually left us when he got a full time job at Sweetwater. We have a good history of people coming here to help out.”

Advice for homebrewers?

“Have fun with it. You mess ups can be your biggest successes.”

He loves the fact that homebrewers can do anything, stretch the bounds of creativity brew-wise.

For those who aspire to be professional brewers, assistants, Steve said to remember it’s “not just about the beer;” it’s also about how you market it. “Making beer is just a small fraction of it when it comes to a brewery. You have to believe in it enough to ask others to open up their wallets and help you with it. There’s so much more that goes into it, like Robin and Bailey running around doing the fund raising. I can’t sing their praises high enough.”

He agreed there’s a lot of “sweat involved” in a brewery, “Literally and figuratively. There’s no air conditioning back there. We haven’t brewed on the big equipment yet and the burners: gas fired heaters, might make it 120 back there. We have a priority list of what we need and this summer the air conditioning might move up higher on the list. We’ll see how bad it is.”

The determination, and the the dedication to the craft is obvious.

With that, Steve had to head back into the brewery, despite the heat of the day.

And the adventure continues.