Interview with Brandon Jones of Embrace the Funk

For those of you who are active in the Nashville craft beer scene, you proabably know Brandon Jones. If you don't, you really need to get out more often. He is an avid beer hunter/trader and is constantly acquiring and tasting beers from around the world. He is the man behind the blog Embrace the Funk, and has obtained interviews with the world's top brewers. Did I mention that he can brew? If not, now you know. The guy earned Tennessee homebrewer of the year in 2012. He had a text from Hill Farmstead's Shaun Hill comparing one of his sours to THE Russian River. Have I hyped him up enough? If so, good. To put it simply, his beers are great. In fact, I am drinking his Berliner Weiss from a 24 ounce bottle as I type (because I am too lazy to get a glass).

For those who have not tried any of his creations, the opportunity is coming soon. You heard right. He is now running the barrel program at Yazoo! Since I am Nashville's laziest blogger, I am going to stop here and past the interview, and let you all read for yourselves. Cheers! - Smitty

Smitty: Congrats on getting TN Homebrewer of the Year .
Brandon Jones: Thanks! That was quite an honor to finish out entering home brewing competitions on such a high note. It’s neat to know so many different judges in different cities thought enough of the beers I was trying to create. I’m still going to brew at home, but no more comps…which frees me up to judge the Sour Ale category now.

Smitty: What exactly is your role at Yazoo and how did that come about?
Brandon Jones: First I have to say I truly am ecstatic to have the chance to create sour and wild beers at Yazoo. All the people there just kick ass and are very good at what they do, so for me to get the chance to learn from each them is awesome. I’m not sure what or if I have an official title, although a few of us have jokingly said “Funk Wrangler”. But basically I oversee the Sour and Wild beer program. Which is pretty much anything from acquiring barrels, to sourcing different bacteria strains, to working with Linus on recipe formulation, to brewing, to sensory analysis for the beers. I’m lucky enough to have great support from all the Yazoo crew to help me with the program since this part operates on a bit of a weird schedule and is housed in a separate part of the brewery.I guess the Embrace the Funk part of the program officially came about this past summer. Yazoo already had success earlier in the year with Fortuitous (wow that release party was crazy fun!) so the market was definitely primed for locally produced sour beers. Linus and I have known each other for a few years and he’s tasted some of my beers from time to time. He’s read the tech articles and pro brewer interviews I’ve written on Embrace The Funk. So he and I had talked last spring at the City House Secret Beer Dinner (where I served my straight Lambic and Citra dry hopped Lambic) about sour beers, then the next day at the East Nashville Beer Festival we talked for a few minutes about possibly brewing something funky. So fast forward to summer when I had this funky barrel that was just emptied and needed to be filled. He and I came up with a plan for the beer and filled the barrel. About a month later and some initial tastings he asked me if I would like to team up with Yazoo for a sour/wild beer program….and of course that was a big fat Yes! A few weeks later I would ordering barrels and having cultures stepped up for Yazoo Embrace The Funk Series. It’s been a lot of fun gathering up equipment and building a sour beer program for Yazoo. I’m really excited to help bring these styles to Nashville.

Smitty: Can you elaborate on different barrels you currently have set up?
Brandon Jones: Right now we have a Lambic style (hit the barrels in September), Flanders Red (hit the barrels in November), and a 100% Brettanomyces Brown Ale (hit the barrels in December). The 100% Brett is the most recent one I did. It’s currently aging in some amazing Port wine barrels from Arrington Vineyards.

Smitty: So what beers do you have planned with Yazoo in 2013 what are the target dates for release?
Brandon Jones: I’m still finalizing the plan, most of it will depend on what barrels I’m able to get. There are a couple specific types I’m aiming for, so hopefully they will become available. I think the 100% Brett beer will be ready in March.

Smitty: Will these be bottled?
Brandon Jones: Some will be bottled, but right now a lot of them will be draft only. I’ve got a few that will be very small batches only available at the taproom.
Smitty: Distribution or brewpub only?
Brandon Jones:I think the plan is to release as many at the taproom as we can.

Smitty: Back in 2009, you brewed a special release at Yazoo titled "Brandon's Hop Blaster." Any chance that will make a comeback?
Brandon Jones: That was such an honor to brew a beer for Mark who was the brewer killed in a brewhouse accident at a Knoxville brewery. But I’m not sure what the chances of it coming back are, we’ve actually never talked about a re-brew…it had some great ratings on Ratebeer and sold out pretty quickly… since it was all late hops it might make a good Brett IPA Hop Project release…. LOL.

Smitty: While Nashville has seen tremendous growth in craft beer, where do you think we are in regards to appreciation for brett beers and various sour styles?
Brandon Jones: I think in our area the appreciation and the want to appreciate is there. The beer drinker’s taste in Nashville is different now from where it was even 2 years ago. The main problems are education about these beer styles and easy access to the beers. Most people like the characteristics of sour/wild beers when they know what they are tasting and when they have good examples. One of my conversations with Lauren Salazar (who is the rock star blender at New Belgium) we were talking about initial sour beer tasting. She made a great point that stuck with me: A lot of people have in their head what “beer” tastes like and they are ready for one thing, but when they taste a sour beer for the first time they get something very different. Many times it’s really off putting and they never got the chance to decide if they like the style. So what I mean by the “want to appreciate” is there are a lot of craft beer fans and foodies in our area that want these exotic and sometimes delicate flavors in their beers, they have that desire to taste a locally made sour beer to see if they like it. So now that we have this program going our next step is to help educate, which has always been the number 1 goal of my website. The cool thing is I now get to continue helping to educate about sour/wild beer, but I now have at the same time a bigger stage and a more personal was of being able to do that thanks to Yazoo.

Smitty:I know it's a rather generic question, but what's brewers had the biggest influence on you?
Brandon Jones: As far as sour and wild brewing it would be Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River. He is one of the absolute kindest and most open brewers out there about his process/recipes. When I first got into sour brewing I emailed him a number of times and every time I got back an easy to understand answer that truly opened up new doors for me. He even gave me my first sour barrel. I’ve learned a lot directly from him and what he’s done at Russian River. I will forever be thankful for all the awesome advice I was able to get from a pioneer of American Wild beer.

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