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Interview with Tom Harris, new head brewer at JDub's in Sarasota

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Construction proceeds inside JDub's Brewing Co. in Sarasota on Nov. 8, 2013. (Staff photo / Alan Shaw)

Construction proceeds inside JDub's Brewing Co. in Sarasota on Nov. 8, 2013. (Staff photo / Alan Shaw)

Tom Harris was recently named as the new head brewer at JDub’s Brewing Co., the in-progress production brewery at 1215 Mango Ave. in Sarasota. I talked with Harris at the brewery today, while crews worked to prepare the building for the arrival of brewing equipment.

“Let’s just make quality liquid,” he said of his goal for JDub’s, where he’s currently finalizing the recipes for their flagship beers, the first of which will be call Up Top! IPA, followed by Yodeler Pils. He wants the brewery to come on strong, and gives the same message as brewery founder Jeremy Joerger: They won’t put out sub-par beer. If a batch doesn’t turn out right, they’re not going to give it a new name and release it as a one-off, they say.

Tom Harris, head brewer at JDub's Brewing Co. (Staff photo / Alan Shaw)

Tom Harris, head brewer at JDub's Brewing Co. (Staff photo / Alan Shaw)

Harris, who’s from New Jersey, started homebrewing with his father at 16, he said. That first beer, a brown ale, “came out -- OK,” he said with a laugh.

He has long been into food and said he likes to pick a food product at the store (like mayonnaise) and then try and make it at home. He sees beer as a food and likes that brewing is both an art and a science, since he likes both disciplines.

He went to college with the goal of being a brewer. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which didn’t have a brewing degree, so he majored in food science. He said he homebrewed through college.

After graduation, “I basically applied to every brewery in New England,” he said, “and got callbacks from two.”

He took a brewing job with Long Trail in Vermont, a regional brewery that produced 90,000 barrels a year. He spent more than five years there, mastering the brewing operations and eventually working on projects and training new brewers.

“I’m proud to say I worked at Long Trail,” he said.

But he said he didn’t have a creative outlet there. So he’d come home, invite coworkers (particularly those who didn’t do the brewing) over, and homebrew.

He started to look for other jobs, with Long Trail’s help, and found what he said was a very vague posting from Joerger, JDub’s founder. The more they talked, the better things got, Harris said.

“This is probably the best opportunity for me,” he said.

As for his plans for JDub’s? He excited to be working in a “scene that’s begging for more beer,” and he wants people to think of JDub’s as Sarasota’s beer.

“I just really want to be part of the community,” he said. He would like to incorporate local citrus and other ingredients in JDub’s beers. Eventually he’d like to age some brews in barrels as a long-term project that may only be served in their tasting room.

“I’d love to play with sours,” he also said, referring to beers that employ bacteria to deliberately impart a tart flavor. Sours are “a patience game,” he said, and can take years of aging.

Look for JDub’s to make “odd” beers, Harris said, that push the limits of what beer can be, while still tasting like beer instead of being unrecognizable like some of the out-there brews today.

One part of his life he had to turn away from was his love of snow, he said.

“I used to be a snowboard instructor,” he said. “I thought I could be a snowboard instructor forever.” But he realized he had to give it up to fully devote himself to brewing.

“It was time,” he said.

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Alan Shaw

Alan Shaw has been a fan of craft beer for nearly two decades. He is partial to hops and has been an editor at the Herald-Tribune since 1997. He can be reached at (941) 361-4914, by email or mail at 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. Follow him at @alancshaw on Twitter and on Facebook.
Last modified: November 8, 2013
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