The People’s Drink

Jesse Sariñana on Breaking into the Craft Beer Scene

By Jesse Rosenthal

Jesse Sariñana has worked in the beer industry for years. Although only in his thirties, his experience is expansive. He has a deep knowledge of the process of making beer, and even taught classes for his employees on the science behind the beer. So, where did we decide to have our interview? Over a cold beer at a local Alameda bar, the Lost Weekend Lounge.

We met for our interview late in the afternoon, on the bar’s back patio, just in time to blend in with a few locals gushing at the feeling of knocking off work.

Sariñana was born in Austin, Texas, grew up in Upstate New York, and moved to the Bay Area in 2003. He grew up with little in excess. His parents separated, and, living a life of juggled uncertainties, Sariñana learned to cook when he was young. This, was his segue into beer. He was cooking at the age of eight with his brother, Tony, helping out their busy parents accordingly. Sariñana and his brother were drawn to the designs of the beer labels, and Sariñana, perusing the library one day, picked up “The Joy of Brewing” by Michael Jackson. Soon after, while cooking one day, he went to his father and said, “I bet I can make beer.”

And he did.

Sariñana now manages the Alameda Island Brewing Company, but many steps led him to where he is now. After a few bar jobs to float him through college, he landed at Jupiter, in Berkeley, Calif., where he was hired as a bar manager, but Sariñana insisted that he work each of the positions before settling into the manager role.

“I had the owners put me in every position first,” he told me, “without telling anyone I was going to be the manager. What I like is when people see me doing every position.” He spoke with his hands, emphasizing the importance of a solid work community.

Sariñana effectively proved himself capable of everything that needed doing, from busing tables, to cleaning bathrooms, all the way to inventory assessments and predicting the week’s trajectory.

After Jupiter, Sariñana went on to manage Berkeley’s Triple Rock Brewery and Ale House. He was there for eight years, and after a short stint of time off, took on his current job in Alameda.

“So tell me what’s happening at Alameda Island [Brewing Company] now?” I asked.

Sariñana lifted his beer to inspect it in the light, it happened to be the “Hazy Jane” from Alameda Island Brewing Company. I could tell by his attention to detail that he was proud of his position at the brewery.

“There are no hops added to the boil,” he told me. “It’s all dry hopped, and I don’t think any other brewery has done that … to use wheat and oats and then not boil any hops and just bomb it with [hop breeds] Citra and a little bit of Mosaic.”

He went into great detail and told me about the different varietals of hops coming out of Australia and New Zealand and how the mineral content of the soil plays into the characteristics of the hop flavor. He was charged up describing what happens to a single grain on a molecular level when you hit with the initial boil, and the different stages of when brewers can add hops.

“As farmers have been able to develop new varietals,” he tells me, “it gives brewers the ability to use hops in different ways,” he said.

“What do you notice when you travel, when it comes to beer?”

“When I go to Texas, where I’m from, it’s red or blue. And I mean Bud or Bud Light, that’s it. But of course, Austin has a real beer scene. Where I grew up in Upstate New York, it was a beer desert. It’s a little town, you know, but they’ve got five breweries now!”

“You’ve been doing this for so long now,” I went on, “what have been some major changes you have seen in the craft beer world since you have been working in it?”

Leaning back and shifting his Oakland A’s cap, Sariñana replied, “The greatest thing that’s happened is that the paradigm shifted from being Nordic men exclusively, to now all-inclusive.” He paused for a moment. “I remember [when I started] I was the only Mexican that I knew! Now it’s wildly inclusive.”

“Nordic men?” I asked.

“White dudes.” Sariñana responded, “No women and no other demographic. Only white dudes.”

“I see,” and he made it very easy to see, he was adamant about the changes. It was clear to me that Sariñana had a deep insight to that very shift, “and all-inclusive?” I prodded further, “In what way?”

“I think it’s allowed for anybody to open a brewery and make a life out of it. when you go to beer events now, like festivals or brewery anniversaries, it’s not just white dudes. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the next generation of beer drinkers, but I do like that it’s opened up this way.”

We clinked our glasses to the shifts and openness in the Bay Area, and I couldn’t help thinking of all the new styles and takes and renovations of beers sprouting up all over the Bay Area. I thought about the limitless personalities coming into the world of beer, the fresh minds of those who may have been otherwise shunned from beer-making in the “Nordic male-dominated” recent past. Coincidence? Perhaps not. I was curious where he thought all this might lead to.

“So, what’s next for beer?”

“I think beer is changing an awful lot; it’s moving into a place where small breweries can open up and bring interesting new styles to people who aren’t normally accustomed to having them. We’re developing new strains of yeast, new hop varietals, [and] with all the things happening these days, there’s something for everyone. Beer is the people’s drink. It’s always been the people’s drink.”

At the top: Jesse Sariñana gearing up to strong-arm a pony keg down Park Street, Alameda. Photo courtesy of Jesse Sariñana.

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