Drink Magazine

Driven: a Passion for Beer

By Whollykao @whollyKao

Driven: a passion for beer
There’s nothing like kicking back with a cold beer while barbecuing. Or maybe there’s nothing like sipping on a porter in front of a fireplace on a rainy day. Whatever the case, I’m really excited about this installment of Driven. It’s not every day that you get to interview a craft brewer.

Four years ago, Nick Garrison brewed his first batch of beer. One batch became two, two became a hobby, and the hobby has now evolved into a full time venture called High Jinx Beer. Nick is currently busy preparing for the brewery’s opening in Rhode Island later this fall.

High Jinx is unique for several reasons: The name and flavor of each High Jinx beer is created around a specific experience. For instance, the Downpour is a porter that pairs perfectly well with a rainy day. And the hops in the Backyahd (that’s ‘backyard’ for all you non-New Englanders!) enhances the flavor of food from the grill.

Driven: a passion for beer

You won’t find High Jinx in a bottle. Why?

Driven: a passion for beer

I’m excited for High Jinx, and wish Nick all the best. If you’d like to find out more about them, hop over out the High Jinx site and Facebook page.

Driven: a passion for beer

When did you first get the idea to start a brewery? How has that evolved from an idea to a business?
I started homebrewing a few months before I got married, which was back in June of 2008. What had started as a hobby quickly spiraled into an obsession – I was spending seemingly every waking hour of my day reading about beer and brewing, honing my homebrewing skills, tinkering with equipment, and also drinking a lot of different beers that I had never tried before to learn about all of the various styles and flavors that encompass beer. I decided that I wanted to brew all of the beer for my wedding, so I brewed numerous batches leading up to the big day and had a nice little selection of craft beers to serve our guests. On the day of the wedding, my wife Sarah and I were walking up from the beach after taking photos (we were married on Cape Cod), and everyone was there waiting to greet us. Coincidentally, almost everyone was drinking my beer. Amidst all of the congratulations and hugs, numerous people told me that the beer was amazing and that I should look into brewing full time. That was when the light bulb went off. The following week, Sarah and I were on our honeymoon in Quebec, enjoying a beer at a nice little brewpub. Sarah turned to me and asked, “How great would it be to own a place like this?” That was the exact moment in my life when I knew I was going to open a brewery. After the honeymoon, I returned home and started buying books about brewing and entrepreneurship, e-mailing friends who knew people in the brewing industry, and just started writing ideas down on paper. That initial list of ideas evolved into a formal business plan that developed over the course of two years. Just short of four years after my wedding, I closed out our financing and began construction of the brewery.

You quit your 9-5 job to start the brewery. What was that transition like?
It was very strange and foreign to me at first because I suddenly had 100% control over my own schedule. However, it didn’t take me long to settle into a new work rhythm. The starkest contrast between the brewery and my old job is the variety in the work. Rather than sitting behind a desk from 9-5, now on any given day I might be painting walls in the brewery, negotiating with a supplier over the phone, doing accounting work, talking to distributors and retailers, or driving somewhere to inspect equipment. It’s something different every single day, and I really enjoy being my own boss.

Driven: a passion for beer

How’d you pick the name High Jinx?
I went through a number of different names for the brewery and finally settled on High Jinx because: one, I loved the sound of it, and two, I felt that the name reflected not only our company, but why people ultimately drink beer – IT’S FUN! High Jinx is playful, a bit mischievous, and there’s sort of an element of surprise behind it. I thought that was a great reflection of our company and the overall experience of opening a brewery.

Have you guys run into any obstacles with getting High Jinx off the ground?
Absolutely, and I know we’ll run into more obstacles in the months ahead (every brewery does). The biggest challenge by far was obtaining financing for the business, particularly as a start-up and in this economic environment. We’ve had a few hiccups during construction as well (things costing more and taking longer to complete than expected) but certainly nothing catastrophic. I think I spent so much time planning and preparing to open High Jinx that I was able to mitigate much of the risk associated with starting a business.

There’s a lot that goes into a beer label and packaging. Can you talk about the inspiration for your package design and branding?
I have an incredibly talented brand artist and friend, Liz Weinberg, who does all of our packaging design, brand artwork, merchandise, website, etc. Liz is a RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) graduate and has an impeccable eye for color and simplicity in design. She’s done amazing work for High Jinx, and I’m lucky to have her helping me out. The jester motif is a perfect fit for High Jinx, and Liz and I developed the idea of using simple symbols to represent each beer experience. Hence the bar stool image for our flagship beer; the rain cloud for our porter, Downpour; and the grill for Backyahd, our IPA. We’ve really strived for simplicity in our packaging designs. I think all too often, breweries try to put too much info on their labels, which can be a bit overwhelming to the beer drinker.

What’s your process for developing new beer flavors?
When we develop our beers, my brewmaster Damase and I start with looking at specific experiences: situations where it would be ideal to drink a beer. Then we start asking questions that help drive the characteristics of the beer itself. Is the experience indoors or outdoors? Do we want the beer to be malty or hoppy? Sweet or dry? Wholesome or refreshing? Where should the raw ingredients come from? What’s the appropriate alcohol content? From there, we settle on a general style, and the recipe starts to take shape.

Is this process different when you’re crafting your seasonal brews?
The only difference is that we’re looking at an overall season as opposed to a single experience. With our seasonals, we’re trying to craft a perfect high-end beer that we think beer lovers would enjoy in that particular season. Also, with their higher alcohol content, our seasonals can be aged. It will be fun to hold onto a bottle of a 2013 seasonal and then compare it to the next year’s version. This is called a vertical tasting.

Driven: a passion for beer

What’s the partnership with the New Urban Farmers like? Any other initiatives planned for down the road?
So when you’re done brewing a batch of beer, there’s a lot of leftover grain, hops, and protein – this is called trub. Trub is basically a Thanksgiving dinner for cattle, so we’ve been looking at forming partnerships with local farms who can come pick up the byproducts of the brewing process to feed their cattle or use as compost. It’s really a win-win for everyone…particularly the cows. Beyond that, we’ll be pursuing initiatives that involve other small local businesses and efforts that promote sustainability and “green” business. 

Once the brewery opens, what’s up next for High Jinx?
President Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is everything.” I have a lot of plans for the brewery that I’m sure will go right out the window when we open, but the process of preparing a business plan and thinking through challenges and how we’re going to grow our business has been indispensable. In the first few months, our priority is going to be getting our brand out into the marketplace, while ensuring that our production capacity keeps pace with demand. As a new brewery, you have to be careful not to spread yourself too thin and try to be in every single market. We’ll be doing a lot of promotional events in the first few months of business and also hosting tours at our facility. It’s going to be a ridiculous amount of work but also a ton of fun.

Driven: a passion for beer

Describe your first ever experience with beer.
I think my FIRST experience with beer involved a lot of puking and shame. I’d say I first started to gain an appreciation for good beer in college. My roommate would spend his summers in Michigan and was always talking about the amazing beers out there. It was from him that I started to gain an appreciation for quality beer, even though at the time I didn’t really know anything about how beer was actually made. It wasn’t until I picked up homebrewing as a hobby that I really got “hooked” and became absolutely fascinated with anything and everything related to beer.

What’s your favorite kind of beer? And what foods do you like to pair it with?
Impossible question! Depends on my mood, the weather, the time of year, and what I’m doing. However, I’ll admit that I hold a special place in my heart for IPAs. Some of my favorite food/beer pairings are – steamed lobster with a nice refreshing IPA; shepherd’s pie with an English ESB; a juicy cheeseburger with an American pale ale; and of course, oatmeal stout with chocolate cake…delicious.

And finally, do you have any tips to people who want to start homebrewing?
Yes. Go buy a book called “How to Brew” by John Palmer, or visit his site. There are tons of instructional videos on YouTube as well. You can buy a starter homebrewing system for anywhere between $100-200, either at a local homebrew store or on the web. People who are unfamiliar with homebrewing will be surprised by how easy the process is to master, and more importantly, how rewarding and fun it is to immerse yourself in the world of beer. It’s incredible how much you can learn from homebrewing.

Driven: a passion for beer

Thanks for being a part of my series,Driven, Nick! Can’t wait to try High Jinx for myself!
Interested? Visit the High Jinx site to find out more.

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