Fresh from being named Brewer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers, Wild Card Brewery’s Jaega Wise caught up with Imbibe to talk about new responsibilities, what’s ahead and being on TV
Jaega Wise started brewing professionally six years ago with Wild Card Brewery in north-east London, leaving behind a potential career in chemical engineering. She soon became one of the most respected craft brewers in the country, while directing SIBA’s south-east region, campaigning against sexism in the beer industry and spreading the word of craft beer on TV.
We caught up with her to see how life has changed since she was named Brewer of the Year – an honour she shared with Fuller's John Keeling – and to find out what's next in the pipeline.
Were you surprised to be awarded Brewer of the Year?
Hell yes! I was incredibly surprised to be nominated in the first place. Just really shocked to be honest.
What do you think it means for the beer industry that you’ve won jointly with John Keeling from Fuller’s?
We make different style of beers and work in two very different breweries, even physically we are different. Basically we are at the opposite end of the spectrum, and [for this very reason] lots of people said how nice it was that we won jointly. It’s a good message to beer drinkers, representing a wide range of products.
How would you describe your brewing ethos at Wild Card?
Now we’re moving away from the core range to focus on specials, it’s a very different way of brewing. It’s easier because you don’t have to be as consistent. On the other hand, it’s tough because it has to be innovative and new all the time. The kind of consumers for these beers are those people that leave loads of Untappd reviews. You always feel ‘under the microscope’. It’s great, but you have to keep your own vision in mind and go for it.
Given this shift, has your approach to brewing changed?
Yes and no. I’m a really big fan of balance, drinkability, and of everything having its own space. The brewery’s old mantra used to be ‘can I drink a whole pint of it?’, but that has vanished, because now we’re making DIPAs, NEIPAs, a Russian Imperial Stout, stuff that is not designed to be drunk in pints.
I’m still taking the balance side of it forward, but brewing high-gravity beers is very different, there are rules that don’t apply in low-gravity beer. It’s all about what is pushing the boundaries now, and I want to be in the front pack.
Have you dedicated your award to anyone?
This is for the Wild Card team. We’ve worked really hard over the last six years, especially the last year, as we’ve very much changed what we’re doing. People have responded so well to it, and this award kind of validates the direction that myself and the team are going in.
As well as brewing at Wild Card, you do a lot of 'extra bits', how do you combine your work in the brewery with these?
Lots of balancing, lots of early mornings and way too many hours! I do most of it in the evenings and weekends. It’s definitely a passion, not something I would do if I didn’t care.
One of these was your appearance on Channel 5’s The Wine Show. How did you end up there?
In the past I got approached to do bits and bobs on television. Then [more recently] I was asked to do a piece for Channel 4 that involved interviewing Gareth Oliver in the US at Brooklyn Brewery, so of course I accepted. While I was in the US, I’ve got a call saying that they were looking for someone to talk about beer on The Wine Show.
What did it feel like to go on the The Wine Show?
It was an incredible experience. Presenter Joe [Fattorini] is like a walking wine encyclopedia and very good at expressing himself, so it’s been amazing to be able teach him something [about beer] and to walk side by side. It can be quite tricky to get beer on television; this was the first time that I’ve seen wine and beer being treated equally and I’ve really enjoyed that. But I’m still trying to make a beer show to work on its own, can you imagine a beer show on mainstream television?
Do you think your appearance on a wine show proves that people are starting to take beer more seriously?
Yeah, I think you'd have to have had your head under a rock not to notice craft beer or its price. I think that the misconception that beer is this fizzy, pale, light drink is pretty much dead, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to educate people and a massive amount of growth potential.
There needs to be more education and more visibility. Today, for instance, I’ve spent the whole day doing a brewing beer day, where members of the public come and learn about brewing. They would ask one million questions, some are really quite obvious questions, but some actually made me think. Spending time educating people is great for the industry.
Following the award, do you feel your responsibilities as a young brewer go beyond your everyday job?
You mean, the pressure is on? Yes, 2019 is going to the be about producing the best beer of my life, and I think the latter half of 2018 has been the beginning of that. I’m so ready for it. I became a beer sommelier and I travelled the world in 2018, I’ve learned a huge amount and I’m excited to show everyone what we are gonna be coming out with.
Do you think your award will attract more women into brewing?
Yes, for sure. Wild Card is a small company. I’ve been brewing professionally for [only] six years, so it’s possible for anyone to achieve this if they work hard. An award like Brewer of the Year is such a prestigious title, so if anyone looks up to me and if it opens doors for anyone then that’s great.