Ask a Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery’s Jimmy Valm

Brooklyn Brewery is one of the largest craft breweries, getting started in 1988. They’re best known for their Brooklyn Lager and Sorachi Ace Farmhouse Saison.

Jimmy Valm, Brooklyn Brewery’s Production Manager, responded to our questions. He’s been there for almost three years. Before that he was with Heineken UK for about three years. Jimmy was a student at the International Center for Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, getting a BS with honors in Brewing & Distilling.

In this July 1, 2013 photo, Production Manager James Valm takes a sample from a fermentation vessel at the Brooklyn Brewery, in the Williamsburg section of the Brooklyn borough of New York. In rundown urban neighborhoods across the country, craft breweries helped transform the neighborhoods around them, drawing young new residents and other small businesses.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

James Valm takes a sample from a fermentation vessel at the Brooklyn Brewery (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

What’s special about your brewery?

What makes the Brooklyn Brewery special is all the stories behind the beers. Everyone involved with making the beer has a great story about how they got here, even our Brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, who fell in love with beer while booking gigs in London back in the 80’s. Whether they landed in NYC because of the Occupy protests, are surfers from California, studied brewing in Scotland, or used to build bottling lines and found being on the other side more satisfying, all of our Brewers have a great story to tell that leads to the Brooklyn Brewery. Every batch of beer has a story, from the people that make it to the lightning bolt that inspired it, we try to bring these stories to life though our beers.

What’s your least favorite part of the brew day?

My least favorite part of the brew day has got to be getting on to a crammed subway car at the end of a long, hard day. It comes with the territory of living in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier.

What is your favorite part of the brew day?

Well that’s a dumb question! The best part of the day is obviously having a few pints at the end, enjoying the fruits of our labors!

What was the biggest mess you’ve made making a beer?

The biggest mess I’ve ever made while brewing didn’t happen at Brooklyn, but it’s a good story, and I don’t think I’ll ever top it. Prior to Brooklyn I brewed for Heineken UK in Manchester, England. We had these huge 4,400 hectoliter fermenters (a hectoliter is a little bit smaller than a beer barrel) in an outdoor tank farm, but they only had a one inch CO2 collection line that would get clogged up all the damn time. Well, once it got clogged real good, and no one noticed the pressure reading on the tank to see it build, eventually the emergency pressure relief valve opened and sprayed half-fermented beer across the parking lot like a fire hose, the problem was there wasn’t really anything we could do, the pressure had to go somewhere, so for about 20 minutes it sprayed beer and foam all over these cars, I think we got a couple of pedestrians as well. That’s about as big a mess as they get.

What’s the largest batch of beer you’ve poured down the drain?

The largest batch of beer we’ve ever had to dump down the drain was a 200 bbl batch, which is the size of our largest fermenters in Brooklyn. Thankfully it’s only happened once or twice, though.

What’s your favorite beer festival?

My favorite beer festival is Saratoga Beer Week, hands down. Saratoga is an amazing town with some of the best collection of people in one place, and a fantastic selection of beer bars, especially for such a small town. Every time I go there I make new friends and run into old ones, everyone at the beer fest is genuinely interested in the beers and don’t just say “gimme an IPA!”

Have you shared, or are you willing to share, a homebrew clone recipe for any of your beers?

We have done some homebrew clones in the past, for members of our tasting team and people who ask on social media. The problem is a lot of homebrew kits are different, so knowing exactly how much malt and hops to use is tough to achieve the same flavor. We generally just give out each ratio of malt for the mash and some details of the hop additions, hopefully the brewer knows how to achieve the gravities and IBU’s on their system. Plus, we have our own house strain of ale yeast, so in the end it’s difficult to create an exact clone.

What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve added to a beer?

The strangest ingredient we’ve ever added to a beer would probably be heirloom tomatoes and sunflower petals. We added them to a Belgian saison as it aged in an oak barrel. I was pretty skeptical at first but the beer is fantastic. It’s not out for release but every now and again we pour it at events.


What was your happiest moment as a brewer?

The happiest moment for me as a brewer would be when I tasted for the first time a beer I designed at the Brooklyn Brewery. We have a program called the Worshipful Company of Brewers where everyone in the production team gets to design a beer and brew a 25bbl batch, we get to do whatever we want and can be creative and experimental with pretty much anything. We then hold a release party and sell the beer at our tap room, it’s a lot of fun. I brewed an amber rye ale with some Chinook and Centennial hops that really complimented the rye, and when I first tasted the final product it was exactly what I had wanted. To see something I designed come to fruition like that was such a rush; I’m sure just about every brewer beams when their first beer goes on a tap and people come back for a second or third pint.

What dumb joke are people always making about your job?

The dumbest joke I’ve heard about being a brewer? I’ve never really heard anybody tell a joke about brewing exactly, but pretty much everyone asks if we just sit around all day drinking beer, which of course we don’t, but we certainly get our fill at the end of the day.

What beer should be served at your funeral?

I think my funeral beer would be a proper Red Ale, the kind that were popular in the Pacific Northwest back in the late-90’s and early-00’s, before the IPA explosion took over (not that I don’t like IPA’s, but what I don’t like is homogeneity in my beer choices, it’s boring). I grew up in Seattle and these balanced, slightly hoppy with a good malt base (just enough to give a bit of a bite) beers were done so well back then, and lately I’ve been missing them. They used to be everyone’s flagship beer, now everyone does a million different IPA’s and I think Amber and Red Ales have suffered the most as a result, there just aren’t that many around anymore. That’s what I’d what to be served, the kind of beer that got me into beer in the first place, go back to the source.

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