History and Other Odd Stuff
(last updated 05/24/2007 6:00 PM )

I don't know why, but I get asked about how I got started in brewing, what I do for a living, etc. This isn't quite complete yet, but I've started writing down some notes on my history for the curious few. For some odd reason, there are also a few deviant folks interested in what I look like. I'm not sure if it is so they can avoid me at conferences and brewfests or to just find out what kind of weird guy I am, but here you go. :-)

If this isn't enough to satisfy your curiosity, there is a nice interview about how I brew, competitions, and other such stuff which can be found on the beertools.com site.

My interest in beer and brewing started when my next door neighbor reached over the fence and handed me a beer he had made himself! I had never heard of such a thing and it sounded really incredible and tasted even better. I told my wife about how good the beer tasted and then forgot all about it. The next Christmas (1998) my wife surprised me with a Mr. Beer kit. I made a beer from the kit around June 1999 and it turned out like a box of boiled band-aids. I knew from my neighbor's sample that it could be much better, so I embarked on a quest to make the best beer possible.

My quest took me to a horrible old brew shop that has since gone out of business, R& R Fermentation Supplies in Sacramento, CA. My god that place was horrible. Stale old ingredients, bad selection, and outrageous prices. Even as a brand new brewer, I could guess that DME shouldn't be one giant brick that requires a chisel to break apart. Well, at least they sold me Charlie Papazian's Joy of Homebrewing book. Yes, yes, I know it isn't the greatest book on homebrewing. However, it is still a great book and a great read. I don't care how much brewing experience you have, everyone should read that book. What you'll get out of it is a love for the idea of homebrewing and some pretty darn good brewing advice. Charlie is a good brewer and a really wonderful guy, so even if you don't agree with what he writes, I can tell you that his techniques can make very good beer.

Luckily, I kept looking around for shops and found another one about a 45 minute drive from my home, The Original Homebrew Outlet. The owner there, J.J. Jackson, spent quite a bit of time explaining to me the benefits of things like a full wort boil, liquid yeasts, starters, and rapid chilling. The shop had a lot of nice pre-made kits, which really helped me get started. Everything was quite fresh, and the prices were reasonable. He also had an excellent assortment of brewing books and magazines. I bought everything I could get my hands on and read all of it. To this day, JJ is still very kind and generous and I still try to make sure to pick up some of my supplies from The Original Homebrew Outlet. I hope everyone is lucky enough to have a good shop like this to help them get started.

I had my first judging experience in June 2000, I took the BJCP exam in December 2000, and I was progressing rapidly in my understanding of brewing and beer.

Of course, The Original Homebrew Outlet didn't carry every little last item and eventually I found myself looking for some obscure parts on the internet. I found a place in Concord, CA, called Beer, Beer & More Beer. They seemed to have the parts I wanted at a very good price, but their web site was so bad, I ended up driving down there instead of ordering off the internet. That day I met Regan, Chris, and Olin (in that order) and found out how interested they were in building a company that could supply the best of everything (including advice) to the homebrewers like me. "Very cool," I thought. As I was about to leave, Chris asked how I had found them and I mentioned the web site. Well, to make a long story short, I ended up reworking their web site for them and that is how I came to own my first B3 Sculpture, a 1550.

Overall, the folks at Beer, Beer & More Beer are really wonderful. They seem to only hire really nice people there. I'd name them all, but then they'd only deny being a "nice person." :-)

Chris, Regan, and Olin also had lots of good advice on brewing and even more books that I could read. I brewed more and more and my beers improved significantly. I also began entering competitions and that helped me improve my beers. It is amazing what a good judge can tell you about your beer. A few competitions really helped me understand things about balance, bitterness, alcohol, flavors, etc. I also met lots of great people at competitions.

I really got into the judging aspect of it. Being able to judge helps you understand what is wrong and what is right about your beer. Until I could do that, it was very difficult to make improvements beyond a certain point. If you can't do it yourself, you have to send the beers into competition and then there is a lag time between entry and feedback that can make it difficult to accurately tie the two together.

There were two really great judges that helped me understand judging and sensory analysis during this time. The first was David Techam, who spent a great deal of time with me, explaining flavors, techniques, styles, etc. He was incredibly patient and kind during my learning process and I will never forget the debt I owe him for taking the time to teach me. I try to work with new judges as often as possible and I try to pass along what David taught me and I try to do it in an understanding and calm manner, just like David. I owe at least that much in return.

The second person that really helped me in judging (and still does to this day) is Dave Sapsis. Dave has incredible abilities in detection and memory when tasting beers. For example, I know for a fact he can taste two beers of the same style from the same brewer more than a year apart and tell you which one was drier by a matter of a couple points of gravity. What Dave taught me (is still teaching me) is more of the "artistic" side of beer appreciation. Heck, I'd even say he is teaching me a greater appreciation of the "spiritual" side of beer appreciation. He is my Sensei. Yes, I know that sounds a little goofy, especially coming from an engineering geeky guy like me. But there is a side to beer and brewing that goes beyond the scientific. You can do everything scientifically and mechanically right, but still not make a truly outstanding beer. It was about this time I started hanging a talisman on my mash tun (the little goat that comes on a bottle of Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock is my talisman). Dave did not tell me to do this nor does he do anything like it (and it isn't supposed to be some mystical junk), but it is a tiny little reminder to me that beer brewing and judging is about more than just the science of it.

Recently I've been getting more involved in the BJCP and the AHA. I've also been participating in some online forums and the excellent Brewing Network radio show. I'm working on several BJCP projects and I've been elected to the AHA Governing Committee. I've started writing some brewing related articles as well. It is a lot of work, but I don't mind. I feel such a debt to all the people that have gone before me. They laid such an incredible groundwork and selflessly taught me what they knew, that I'm duty bound to try and do the same for others if I can.

People ask for photos, so here are some in no particular order or significance (other than they were on my hard drive). These photos are all copyright of the photographers who took them (Mike Kidulich, Chris Graham, & Jason Petros) and used with their permission.

Yes, this is me. Just an average beer geek. This was at the NHC in Las Vegas (2004). If you've never been to the NHC or if you're not a member of the AHA, you really should be. 1) They're fighting to protect your rights to brew and to have access to craft brew. 2) They have a great magazine, Zymurgy, which comes with the membership. 3) They have a ton of other benefits that pay for the membership.

This was in Baltimore (2005). I'm up on stage there with some of my brothers and sisters from my homebrew club, QUAFF. The members of QUAFF are some of the kindest, most generous people you will find. My words do not do them justice. What a great group. I love these people.

This is from NHC Las Vegas (2004) again. I had won the Ninkasi and one of the prizes was a bottle of 2003 Utopias signed by Jim Koch. It must have had a value exceeding the $150 you see it selling for on the internet, but I cracked it open and poured it for all who wanted a taste. Someone asked me, "Why in the world are you sharing this with everyone? Don't you know how valuable that is?" I replied, "I want to share this with special people at a special time in my life. That moment is right now with homebrewers." What a wonderful evening that was for me.

More pouring of the Utopias. That is my dear friend and another incredibly great judge, Gordon Strong, in the back ground behind me and slightly to the right.

My dear friend, Harold Gulbransen, receives another well deserved medal at the NHC. Harold is an incredible brewer. His brewing and judging talent is only surpassed by his generosity and kindness. (I'm Attila the Hun compared to Harold.) That is Charlie Papazian shaking Harold's hand. Charlie is a really nice guy too.

A shot from the judging at NHC Las Vegas (2004). That is my dear friend and another Master judge, John Tull, sitting at the table helping register judges. John and the rest of the Reno guys in WZZ have also been very kind and helpful. They are so great, I'm a member of their club just to show support for their good deeds if nothing else.

Jon (from morebeer and the brewing network) and me in Baltimore during the awards. Jon is also a really nice guy. He has rapidly improved his brewing technique by learning from others. I like to think I helped him in some tiny way and therefore have paid back the brewing karma bank at least a little. :-)

Jon is also a member of DOZE, which is another club of really great homebrewers. I'm also a member, in support of all the great things they do to promote homebrewing.

My prediction is that Jon will whip my butt in the next NHC (2006). Jon knows that if there is anything I can do to help make that prediction come true, I'll do it.

This is a shot of the judging sessions at NHC in Las Vegas. I didn't realize it at first, but now I know that this is the smoked beers category being judged. At this table was Ray Daniels, Geoff Larson (they literally wrote the book on smoked beers), Tony Simmons, Harold Gulbransen, Jeff Gladish, and Joeseph Spangler.

The really cool thing is that I won a silver for my Smoked Porter. Geoff Larson of Alaskan Brewing (Alaskan Smoked Porter is one of the ultimate examples of the style) tasted my smoked porter and thought it was worthy of a silver medal! That was very cool.

To sum it all up, I'm just a software and beer geek. I owe everything I know and all my success to a bunch of really smart people, who were so very kind as to help me every step of the way. I wish the same luck for you in your endeavors.

Jamil Zainasheff
(a.k.a. Mr. Malty)

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