Saturday, October 8, 2011
Brewmaster Jenny Talley moving on to bigger things
Jenny Talley is about to experience a radical change in perspective.
As the award-winning brewmaster for Salt Lake City’s Squatters Pub Brewery, where she has worked 20 years, Talley produces about 1,250 barrels of beer a year.
Talley is leaving Squatters to become brewing operations manager at the Redhook Ale Brewery in Woodinville, Wash., near Seattle — where they produce about 170,000 barrels of beer annually.
“Apparently, I’m a much more ambitious person than I ever really realized,” Talley said Thursday.
“I never really thought I wanted to work for a big production brewery,” Talley said. But, at 42, married and with two small children — 5-year-old Dylan and 2-year-old Vienna (named for one of her favorite lagers) — she decided “if I ever want to do more with my brewing career, now is the time.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that has quite the degree of passion for what she does,” said Jeff Polychronis, founding partner of Salt Lake Brewing Co., the parent company of the three Squatters restaurants in Utah.
Talley’s interest in making beer started with her love of The Grateful Dead.
“Deadheads like the finer things in life,” Talley said. “They might not look like it, but they like good beer.”
It was while with her fellow Grateful Dead fans that Talley, a Chicago native who transplanted to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah, tasted her first home-brewed beer. That prompted her to learn to make her own.
“She was barely 21 when she started hanging around the brewery,” Polychronis said.
Talley said she spent four months persuading Squatters to hire her as a brewer’s apprentice. They did, and Talley learned from Squatters’ original brewmaster, Dan Burrick — whom Talley describes now as her mentor and one of her best friends.
When Squatters opened a microbrewery in 1994, Talley became head brewer while Burrick moved over to Salt Lake Brewing’s sister company, Utah Brewers Cooperative, which makes Wasatch Beers.
Making beer in Utah, where anything with more alcohol than 3.2 percent can’t be sold in supermarkets, “really hones your skills,” Talley said. “It’s like going to the beach in a Speedo — there’s nothing to hide behind.” Without the kick of added alcohol, getting the right taste requires a fine hand.
“She has a natural talent for it,” Polychronis said. “She has the ability to taste, and fine-tune, flavors.”
Talley got her first award — a gold medal at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival for a Vienna lager — in 1997. Since then, she has won numerous awards at the Denver festival, including another gold last weekend for Squatters’ Fifth Element ale. Squatters will search nationally and locally for a new head brewer. The company posted an ad for the job Thursday on the industry website, ProBrewer.com.
“I suspect we’re going to have a lot of interest,” Polychronis said. He added that the company expects to hire a replacement by the end of the year — but that finding a good brewer, like making a good beer, should not be rushed.
“We’ll take our time, and see what comes,” Polychronis said. “For 22 years, we’ve had two people in that position. We don’t take it lightly.”
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