Interview with Brewmaster Jacob Simmons of Backpocket Brewing; Coralville, IA
Recently did some correspondence with Jacob Simmons, who is the brewmaster at Coralville’s soon-to-be-opened Backpocket Brewery. The brewery will be opening its doors in July. They will have five beers available immediately; they are:
Here is the Q + A with Jacob Simmons. Can’t wait for this place to open.
Q: Would you classify your beers as traditional or more of a unique style?
To date we have focused on German inspired beers. These include more traditional styles such as Dunkel, Helles and Wiezen, as well as a Peated Lager and German Pale ale. As we open the new brewery we will have much more room for experimentation and will be doing all sorts of styles, not limited to any particular tradition.
Q: How many beers will be available at the brewery? Any plans for seasonals or special releases?
We will get our 5 major brands out in bottles first. However the taproom will have a dozen taps, so lots of room for special releases. These will then turn into bottled products in time, including seasonals. The beers on the tap room will rotate but the most popular will become 22 oz releases. We also we be doing a big beer series in relatively short order, starting out with 22’s and eventually 4 packs. We will also make a few sodas. These will be tap only. Mixing soda and beer in a filler is not necessarily a good idea.
Q: What is the beer that you are most excited about?
Of the beers we currently make I am most excited about our Wooden Nickel. It is a Peated lager that is a hybrid of a scottish ale and Bock. I just love the way the flavor and aroma of the smoked peat malts blend with the strong malt backbone of the bock. It was a fun one to make.
The first of the new beers made at the new brewery will be a dopplebock. Been waiting to brew one of these for a long time, should be fun.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
The way beer connects with everything. The interaction with the community as a whole has been fantastic. We are able to tie into so many things. Whether it is a couple who wants to get married at the brewery, or a regional beer fest, we get to interact with great people. In particular, the most rewarding thing to date was Brrrfest, a winter beer fest we put on at the local Marriott convention center. We had no idea how many people would show. We had no money, no real advertising, yet had to cut off ticket sales at 2000. It was gratifying to know that so many people in the area share a love of craft beer.
Q: Was opening a brewery in Coralville/Iowa City area pretty easy? Was their any resistance?
Coralville was a great partner to work with. They were excited about the brewery and what it could bring to their Iowa River Landing development. This is a premium mixed use development off of I-80 filled with hospitals, hotels, convention centers and department stores (and more to come). It offered our tap room unparalleled exposure from which to teach people about beer. To the city the taproom, beer garden and tours will give this development a draw that only breweries can offer. So it was a win for everyone. Was it easy, NO, it has been 3 years of work for me, but the City of Coralville was a great help, not an obstacle as can sometimes happen with new breweries.
Q: How did you get into brewing?
My background is in microbiology. I was getting a PhD in St. Louis, but after 3 years I decided I did not love it and left. Did a bit of biotech work, which was more money less stress, but still did not have the love. So I figured I need to make a change to something I loved. I had homebrewed for a few years but never considered making a career out of it. I mean who does that? This was 6 years ago, the answer to the question today is now very different. So took the leap and got an internship at Schlafly and learned whatever I could while take some online course. Lots of bottling line time and keg washing. The masters I had in Microbiology helped, but the majority of the brewing knowledge I just picked up along the way.
Q: Will there be food at the brewery?
Yes. We will have a brick fired pizza oven. This bad boy will make authentic naples style pizza. With a internal temp of 800-900 degrees, it can cook a pizza to perfection in 60 seconds. Will be amazing. That being said the tap rooms focus will be the beer. The pizza is there to give people something to eat while drinking beer. We will also offer cheese trays that are paired with our beer sampler trays to educate people about beer food pairings.
Q: Can you discuss short term/long term goals for the brewery?
Short term goal is to make world-class beer right here in Iowa. The states’ beer is coming into its own and want to be part of it. From there we can then begin to send beer to the surrounding states, so they can learn how far Iowa has come. We also want to take time to grow the states beer culture. The tap-room tours, beer seminars and festivals are all an important part of who we are. To this end we put on Brrrfest which was a resounding success. That was just the first of an ongoing effort to expand the reach of craft beer within the state.
Thanks for your time!
Great interview and info from Jacob. Make sure you get to Backpocket this summer and check it out!