He stands on a giant oak stave, part of one the giant Foudres he’s assembling in his barrel room. A bug zapper hangs off a stainless tank to his right in silence. In his hand he holds a plastic pitcher part full of Angelino Weisse. He wears a worn t-shirt tucked into his black jeans, glasses pushed up over his curly gray hair. He’s debating the validity of Berliner Weiss and the importance of alcohol content. Each word is thought about before being uttered, silence is uncomfortable at first but becomes respected and understood.
Mark Jilg, founded Craftsman Brewing Co. in 1995 and has been producing serious craft beer since he opened. His brewing over the years seems to be more of philosophical journey and it’s something that few people will ever be able to understand completely. He is so devoted and in love with the art of making beer that he chooses to spend a majority of his time in the brewery rather than making public appearances. He’s not a fan of interviews and so when I approached him about helping me fill in the blank for my Craftsman Brewing Co entry in the book I’m doing for Global Pequot Press, he wasn’t interested, and it’s understandable. The brewery doesn’t have a tasting room, it’s not open to the public, and tours are never given. They produce keged beer, maybe even bottles eventually, for retail bars and their end-consumer patrons.
Perhaps I should take a step back and preface this with saying that I’m writing a travel book on Southern California breweries called Beer Lover’s So Cal. I don’t consider myself a great writer, but it’s the first time I’ve ever been paid for pen & ink. The book I’m writing for Global Pequot Press highlights breweries from Buellton, CA south through San Diego and will give readers a high level touring hit list for places they want to visit. Each brewery has a short description, and each brewery has a single beer called out for recommendation, titled “the beer lover’s pick.” In other words, this book couldn’t be further from Mark Jilg’s philosophy and general interest, which is why it was so amazing that he agreed to talk about it.
We met him on a sunny Sunday afternoon after the LA Beer Bloggers Summit at Haven Gastropub, a brewpub located off of Colorado in Pasadena. I was accompanied by friends and fellow beer writers John and Julie Verive, of Beer of Tomorrow. Mark met us at his door, which bears no sign, and we were welcomed in. He disappeared into a large walk-in cooler and emerged with mixed champagne flutes each full of Curiosity, a deep amber-orange, crystal clear saison, with a slight tartness and hints of persimmon. We took our seats on mixed office furniture and he sat on steps of the brewhouse, which resembled a stainless throne. No pictures please. From this point forward, everything will be committed to memory and it’s amazing how much more vivid my memories are with this caveat.
“Beer has an enormous possibility”
It’s incredibly rare that I talk to anyone that postulates and ponders as deeply as Mark. I consider myself passionate and relatively smart, but I definitely act on emotion and find myself speaking without thinking often. Mark thinks and he thinks hard about every word he uses and then thinks past each word to the actual philosophy and meaning behind the sentences they create.
“There was a time when beer was being made because beer was amazing”
We talked about fermentation driven brewing, “Let the beer decide the schedule.” Markdoesn’t release beer green, which is uncommon today in a market where beer is being consumed at an alarming rate and brewers are struggling to keep up. 1903 Lager takes over 5 weeks to mature and his latest batch of berliner weisse style ale, Angelino Weisse, is over a 6 months old. And Cabernale, with its chewy red grape notes, artfully blurs the line between red wine and beer, doesn’t hit taps until it’s ready. It’s likely some beer will never be released.
“Beers I find personally intriguing are sometimes not the most satisfying to sell.”
Mark releases over 24 beers a year with 20 of them being specialty beers. In 2013 he’s projecting 3000 BBLs. 1903 Lager is currently their top selling beer and accounts for over 50% of their total sales. It’s also the base for the famous House “Pizza Beer” at elevated Maximiliano Italian restaurant headed by Chef Andre, who shares Mark’s attention to detail and quality. Other beers like Triple White Sage, a yearly herb infused beer inspired by Markstime in the foothills are also widely known and may even find themselves in 375ml bottles one day.
“Simple Beer is a wonderful thing, but complicated beer is a lot more…fun…complicated”
Mark has built Craftsman Brewing Co. from the ground up. He has pieced together the fermentation tanks, assemble his oak foudres, and he hand crafts his beer like a painter paints a vista. Beer is aged, beer is analyzed, beer is enjoyed, and beer is respected. The equipment he makes stands the test of time and many current breweries, like Ohana Brewing Co, still use some of his original pieces.
“This is my life. This is my passion”
Mark’s heart and soul are in the beer he makes and although it may be hard to get an audience with him, you can meet and understand him through his beer each time you Sip, Savor, and Think.