Meet Jim Millea: Head Brewer at Ocean Beach Brewery
Brewing is more tricky than you would first believe. From what hops to use, to the temperature, to finding the right flavor profile between all the ingredients, there’s a lot more science going on than just combining some grains, yeast, and water and hoping for the best. Luckily, Ocean Beach Brewery has Jim Millea to guide them.
We walked in to meet Jim at the bar and introduced ourselves. After formalities, we quickly changed the topic to beer and asked more about the beers he currently had on tap. With that quick inquiry, you could tell beer is something he’s passionate about. His eyes just lit up when he talks about it and the excitement and joy radiating from him was contagious. Whether we talked about a beer he is currently brewing, to things he wanted to work on, or even a simple anecdote; it was refreshing (almost as much as his beers) to meet someone so humble and so fervent about fermentation.
We learned a lot about Jim, his experience, and who he would like to collaborate with. Of course there is a lot more as well. Be sure to check out the interview below:
How did you become a part of the craft beer industry? How long have you been a professional brewer?
I started, as many do, as a home brewer; I made my first beer in 1998 after stumbling upon a home brew kit in a hobby shop in Massachusetts. It was a nut brown ale and it came out pretty good; but the part that I really enjoyed was making my own beer. In 2000, I moved to San Diego and was re-introduced to home brewing by a friend. During this time, I spent years refining my home brewing skills, learning about brewing science, and how to make different styles. I also read books and took a class to become a beer judge.
I found myself taking vacation time from my corporate engineering job to go on brewery-related “work” trips. In 2010, I quit my corporate job and wondered if I could shift gears and take steps toward getting into brewing as a career. I volunteered at Ballast Point’s Home Brew Mart and learned how to operate a real-deal brewhouse.
In 2013, I was lucky enough to get into the inaugural class of UCSD Extension’s Professional Brewer’s Certificate Program. This provided me the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the industry rockstars. During that time, I interned at Ballast Point’s R&D facility in Little Italy and at Benchmark Brewing Co.. On September 18, 2014, I finally started my first paying job as a professional brewer at O’Sullivan Brother’s Brewing Co. in Scripps Ranch. So, while I’ve been working towards it for several years now, as a paid professional brewer I’ve been in the game for about 2-and-a-half years.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The brew days. I love: getting a beer done, the smell of the mash as you mix the malted grains with the hot steamy water, the pop in the aroma around the brewery when you add hops to the boil, and the sweet taste of the wort when taking samples. A couple hours later I get to add the wort comfortably into the fermenter and add the yeast. It gives me satisfaction knowing that in a couple or so weeks, this beer will be in kegs and pouring.
If you could make any style of beer with any flavors you wanted, what would it be and why?
Dunkelweiss. I went to Germany on an exchange program my senior year in high school. I was 17 and not very experienced in the realm of beer drinking other than a few cans of Budweiser snuck from my Dad’s beer fridge. But, I took full advantage of the drinking age there and discovered a dark, but light-bodied, refreshing, delicious beer. When I got into brewing years later, I always wanted to make one.
What’s your favorite memory of working with OB Brewery? Favorite beer you’ve worked on?
Favorite memory? Opening day; it was great to have my own recipes pouring at the kickoff. I worked for OB Brewery for about 11 months leading up to the opening, helping with various build-out and construction issues. But even before then, I spent years staring at the building and thinking how cool it would be if that place actually became a brewery, and even cooler if I could brew their beer. I used to bring home brew samples into the pizza shop across the street and asked them when the brewery was going to open and if they had a brewer yet. To actually become the head brewer and to have that happen was a dream come true. The day we opened up, I helped host a bunch of people that were drinking beers that I developed and brewed myself. It was an awesome and very proud day for me. As for my favorite beer I’ve worked on, it would have to be the Dunkelweiss I finally had the chance to make! Another one I’m really looking forward to is a smoked beer; I haven’t gotten it quite dialed in yet, but hopefully it’ll be out soon!
What does the future look like for OB Brewery? Anything exciting you can share?
We are just getting started with distributing our beer to a few accounts around town; it’ll be great to get our beers out in OB as well as a few other areas around San Diego. We just really want to share our beers and get our name out there.
If you could collaborate with any other brewer or brewery, who would it be and why?
Colby Chandler. I’ve learned more from him than anyone else in this industry and I hold him in the highest respect. He has amazing insights into making beer, developing recipes, pairing beer with food, and anything else related to beer and brewing; he’s also a great friend. In addition to Colby, to collaborate with Ballast Point would also be an honor and a pleasure. Home Brew Mart really rooted my interests in brewing professionally; they’re great people and I’ve bought ingredients for almost every batch of home brew I’ve ever made there. It’s amazing how far they’ve come and all they’ve accomplished; the amount they’ve done for the San Diego brewing industry and well beyond is such an inspiring achievement.
What advice would you give to those who are looking to become a Brewer?
Educate yourself. If you are good at home brewing, that doesn’t automatically qualify you to run a brewery or be a professional brewer. It definitely helps though! Books are good, but the official schooling you can get at places like the certificate program at UC San Diego Extension (where I went) is great and probably will continue to become more of a required credential as time goes on. Not only is the information you learn so valuable, but it’s also a great way to start building a network with both instructors and other students. If that route interests you, I’d say look into the various school programs available and apply for one. The waiting lists can take a couple of years sometimes, so in the meantime, try and get a job at a brewery and start getting some experience. Be willing to learn every job, be willing to volunteer your time. Make sure you have a passion for it!
What is your favorite part about the ocean beach community OB Brewery is named after?
OB is such a beautiful part of San Diego. It has so much character all across the board, with all kinds of people. It definitely has a bit of a chip on its shoulder, but in general it’s very friendly and accepting. I love walking down to dog beach with a cup of coffee in the morning, looking at the waves and watching dogs run around. You’ve got the view of the ocean and the jetty, and then you can turn around and face east to see Mission Trails and the mountains beyond. I love surfing sunset cliffs and enjoy seeing many familiar faces out there. Chatting it up with them at the top of the cliffs before or after a session while scoping it out is always a pleasure. I also love all the bars and restaurants within walking distance, also with many familiar faces and friends.
OB is a great community and I love living here; we’ve also got the most amazing sunsets. OB is the very first place I ever visited in San Diego. In 1998, one of my cousins lived on Cape May Avenue, a couple blocks from the beach. When she picked me up from the airport and pulled up in front of her house, I got out of the car and could see the ocean and the sand. My first thought: “Wow, I could do this,” and a couple years later, I packed everything into my truck and moved here. I did bounce around PB for a while before settling in here, but I now actually live on the same block and one street over from the place I first visited!
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