*This article originally appeared as part of THE BREWERY OF THE MONTH feature for January 2015.
When it comes down to talking about where Unibroue’s beers get their “signature” taste from, all discussions lead to one man: JERRY VIETZ.
When we were originally contacted by Martine Geoffrion of DDMG Communications about the prospect of actually interviewing Jerry, we brainstormed about the different topics and questions we would ask. (To read more about how we came in contact with Ms. Geoffrion and DDMG, click here.)
It came to a point that Jerry had expressed a desire to talk with us directly. His decision turned out to be a beneficial one for both parties. We were able to directly express our desires about the topics we wanted to ask him about in our interviews. This direct avenue of communication with Jerry allowed us to obtain the pictures and videos that we are offering here exclusively on Belgian Beer Journal.
We’ve read many excellent articles on the web written about Unibroue and Jerry Vietz. We wanted to take a different approach for our JANUARY 2015 BREWERY OF THE MONTH segment on him. We take a closer, more personal look at Jerry Vietz’s life- his motivations, and his passions. As a husband, a father, outdoorsman, music lover, and handyman, Jerry is quite the artisan and renaissance man.
JERRY VIETZ – MASTER BREWER
In 2007, Unibroue promoted Jerry as its brewmaster. He brings a wealth of technical and practical knowledge to the company. Jerry joined the brewery in 2003, and began to work on such projects as R&D and automation. He also holds a certificate in Brewing and Malting from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a Diploma in Brewing (Institute of Brewing & Distilling U.K.).
As Director of the Brewing Department and Brew Master, Jerry has been responsible for all aspects of Unibroue’s brewing department, including among others, process optimization, staff management, planning, maintenance, maintaining and improving quality standards, and ensuring the consistency of the liquid. He has also been in charge of new liquid development since 2007.
When we asked him about his favorite “style” of beer to brew, his response was nearly word for word as is on Unibroue’s website: “I tell people I make “flavorful beers”—that’s the category I brew. For me, the important thing is to express myself through the beer. I brew with passion and I hope that people take as much pleasure to taste my beer as I have to create them.” He continued to express that his favorite beers to drink are the dark ales that he creates. All the Unibroue beers that come directly from Jerry’s hands are direct adjective expressions of his personality- artistic, adventurous, bold, lively, and innovative.
HOW JERRY BECAME A PROFESSIONAL BREWER
The original motivation for Jerry to become a professional brewer stemmed from a long term and strong interest in science and fermentation. “I’ve always been interested in the world of sciences, but didn’t know exactly when I first started where it would take me.” His initial studies were in pure science for 2 years and then in the area of food science for 3 years. It was in his food science studies that Jerry developed a passion for fermentation. He began to experiment at home with different fermentation projects. “Pretty much everything at home that had sugar in it was used,” he told us.
It was after this 5 year period that Jerry found himself wanting to express himself in an artistic way through products that people would enjoy tasting. He briefly worked at a cidery (Cidrerie Du Minot- Hemmingford, Québec) and in the wine industry. At this point, his role in these industries was technical, but longing for his artisan side to be let loose.
This desire began bearing fruit (no pun intended) with his personal creation of a wine made with strawberries. Jerry connected with a strawberry grower in his local area that supplied him with all the fruit that he needed for his project. However, his educational debts were looming, thus making the decision to return to work an easy one.
THE OPEN DOOR FOR JERRY TO JOIN UNIBROUE
Jerry’s love of all things fermentation found him approaching companies in the cheese industry, as a result of yet another one of his personal projects: making cheese at home. He met with a plant manager of a local cheese maker and almost landed a job there.
But as fate would have it, the company had already hired someone for the position he was applying for. Jerry asked where the person who landed his position was working beforehand, and they told Jerry that this individual just left Unibroue to work for them! “That was a revelation for me, because I never though about that, and I was living about 6 miles from Unibroue. I knocked on the door the day after, and that’s how everything started,” he explains.
At his first interview, Jerry discussed his personal and professional background and passion for fermentation with the Human Resource manager and the Brew Master. They were very impressed and rapidly gave feedback to Sebastien Dion (son of the brewery founder). Dion called him back as he was leaving to building to meet him in a second interview and offered him a job right away. Jerry states: “ The brewery owners were very impressed when they tasted the strawberry wine and few other products I was fermenting at home”. That was the beginning of a long journey with Unibroue for Jerry!
When offered the position of brewmaster in 2007, Jerry’s first concern was to brew a beer that would be a direct expression for his love of brewing. “My concern was to create a product with my “unique signature” on it, while keeping the character of the existing Unibroue beers intact. I did not want people to say, oh here’s this new brewer, he’s going to change the beers we’re so used to.”
Needless to say, Jerry succeeded beyond his wildest dreams with the creation of his 17 Grande Réserve Ale in celebration of the 17th anniversary of Unibroue. The beer went on to receive numerous awards including Best Beer in the World / Best Dark Ale medal at the WORLD BEER AWARDS in London, England in August 2010.
Since Jerry joined Unibroue, the brewery has earned more than 240 medals to date. It is one of the highest awarded breweries in North America, thanks to Jerry’s “signature” touch on all the Unibroue products. Jerry’s newest signature beer is LA RÉSOLUTION– a spicy and very delicious dark ale with its origins from his original Christmas ale. To read more about La Résolution, read our first BrewView for the BREWERY OF THE MONTH for January 2015.
JERRY VIETZ- HUSBAND, FATHER, OUTDOORSMAN, MUSIC LOVER, HANDYMAN, AND MORE
When Jerry Vietz is not working at Unibroue making his award winning beers, his passions above brewing are the immense joy and happiness he gets when he spends quality time away from the brewery with his family.”I have three adorable sons and my wife… and I do lots of activities with them,” he explains.
One of Jerry’s great passions is travel. After he and his wife had their 3rd son, they decided to purchase a motorhome to travel all across Canada and the United States visiting some of the most serene and picturesque locations:
Jerry states- “This enabled us to continue travelling, even with three kids. For our first trip, we drove 10,000 km through North America in 21 days. Since then, I believe that we have spent more time in our “chalet on wheels” than in our own house!”
When he mentions specific outdoor activities, Jerry told us that he and his wife used to do a lot of hiking, “but that became a bit more tricky when our sons were born,” he adds.
Jerry is also an avid fan of classic rock and blues. Some of his favorites are Frank Zappa, Trevor Finlay, The Paul DesLauriers Band, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Deep Purple and many others. He plays guitar during his downtime as a way to relax. Jerry says, “It’s a kind of therapy and deliverance for me.” He knows several people in the music business and enjoys talking with the musicians that he meets on his travels. Jerry’s love of music has also spread to his sons, as they regularly join in jam sessions with their dad! Could this be a band in the making…?
There are many more skills Jerry possesses, and hobbies that he enjoys immersing his time in. When it comes to talking about his life, he tells us that is not one of idleness. He is passionate about working with his hands. But when he goes back to the subject about working at Unibroue, Jerry happily tells us, “I don’t believe I even have a job, you know? To me it’s like… more a hobby than a job.” We should all be so fortunate.
VIDEO: A CONVERSATION WITH UNIBROUE’S MASTER BREWER
Below is the EXCLUSIVE video interview that Jerry Vietz very kindly gave Belgian Beer Journal. (NOTE: The video was originally posted as part of our December 22, 2014 BrewView on ÉPHÉMÈRE CRANBERRY.) The video goes into much more into detail about Jerry’s passion for brewing, how he became a brewer, his love of being a husband and dad, and his personal hobbies and interests when not working at Unibroue. You’ll also see some rare footage of Jerry playing guitar… Click on the video link to see what we mean!
Our sincerest and heartfelt thanks go out to Jerry Vietz for making this article (and all of the January 2015 BREWERY OF THE MONTH BrewViews and interviews) possible! We cannot speak highly enough of him- his generosity, his graciousness, his gentle spirit, make him an all-around universally great guy! Thank you Jerry!!
Additionally, huge thanks go out to the following individuals for making this article possible: Martine Geoffrion of DDMG Communications in Québec, Canada for initially contacting us, and Andrew Murphy of Unibroue in Portland, Oregon. Your time and efforts are well appreciated! Thank you both!