Full Pour with Jeremy ‘JDub’ Joerger: ‘This is the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done’
Authenticity pumps through Jeremy “JDub” Joerger’s veins. He’s the founder and CEO of JDub’s Brewing Company in Sarasota, Florida. You’d never guess the man who now dons a cow costume at events (which is a great conversation starter about JDub’s Bell Cow Milk Chocolate Porter) is a former federal agent and Army special agent. Despite the cushy pay and even cushier long-term retirement opportunities, JDub says he felt like a stranger in his own skin — and decided it was time to live the life he wanted, even if it was the less chosen path.
The first time I met JDub (wearing the cow costume, of course) I walked away knowing he cared about quality: but what does that mean? And what is life really like for the founder of a small and independent brewery? JDub held nothing back when I asked:
Q: What did you do in a previous life, before JDub’s? How did that help shape the vision for what you wanted your own brewery to be?
JDub: I was a federal agent investigating public corruption and contract fraud. Unlike most guys in that field, I had never dreamed of doing this kind of work. I “fell into” it so to speak.
After being injured in a competition and on my way out of the Army, a superior suggested I apply to become a Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Special Agent, which did not have the rigorous physical demands required of most Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) in the Army. CID was, and is, extremely difficult to get accepted into. There are only a few hundred CID agents in the Army, but like most things I’ve done, I just worked hard and did my best to get through the selection and schooling and eventually was sworn in as a uniformed federal agent.
I started out investigating general crimes at Fort Lewis Washington, where I bought a house in Olympia and was given the nickname “JDub,” bestowed upon me by my rugby club. This is also where I began homebrewing and fell in love with craft beer and everything about it and the industry. I was buying my homebrewing ingredients in the back of some dude’s house in Olympia and thought that was fu**ing awesome.
After Fort Lewis, I was selected to go to Europe and investigate public corruption/contract fraud — one of the only active-duty soldiers in the Army doing so. After spending my time in Heidelberg, Germany, working basically civilian hours, drinking up as much European culture and beers as possible, I left the Army and began working as a civilian federal agent investigating the same offenses I had in the Army. This eventually got me recruited by the Postal Service OIG in Washington, D.C. where I got on the fast-track and became an Assistant Special Agent in Charge at a very young age.
Pretty cool story right? And why would I want to ditch all this with a salary of over 140k per year, annual vacations to Cabo and a federal retirement plan that would see me retired at the age of 50 with 30 years of federal service? Well, because I was miserable. I never really enjoyed the work I did. I would wear a suit to work — or at a minimum, slacks, a button up shirt and blazer — all to look pretty for my computer. In reality, most bureaucrats spend their days going to countless meetings and traveling all across the country for conferences or to conduct interviews or attend meetings that rarely merit the amount of money those trips cost the tax payer. These folks were fine with — in fact, smitten — with living a life that boiled down to looking good on paper, covering your own a**, and making as much dough as possible to set-up that fat, government retirement.
I wasn’t okay with any of this sh*t. The problem was, I was up against a system, a bureaucracy, that didn’t want to change. I was a rugby playing, jovial, cow suit wearing craft brewer at heart and as I rose through the ranks, so to speak, I only became more unhappy each day. At work I wore a mask that had a name: “Special Agent” Joerger. In reality, I was “JDub,” the guy who wanted to live the life I love, which to me, meant something in the craft beer industry.
Q: “Quality, Innovation and Culture” is JDub’s motto. Why do you think those three attributes are important to a small and independent brewery?
JDub: First and foremost, if you don’t put quality on the top of what you’re doing, you’re full of sh*t. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors. So for me and my company, quality is a must: quality people; quality beer. If we make something that isn’t up to our standards, the public never drinks it.
“I think the ones that get that being yourself, authentic in all you do and striving to find and nurture your own brewery’s soul, values and culture are the companies who stand the test of time.” -JDub
Innovation to me means putting your own mark on something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most exotic beer every time (but it can be if that’s your model). Innovation can be making a common style your own. There was a reason behind each one of our core brands, and it sure as hell had nothing to do with anything else others were or are doing.
From what I can tell in just under three years of operations and being an avid student of this industry for more than a decade, the successful breweries are the ones following their own muse. What others brewers do has very little to nothing to do with their identity. I think the ones that get that being yourself, authentic in all you do and striving to find and nurture your own brewery’s soul, values and culture are the companies who stand the test of time.
Culture, to JDub’s, is good people and good beer. We make the beers we’re willing to stand behind and do everything we can to be awesome individuals. Community service is huge for us. We have a “Street Team” that hits the streets of the community doing a good deed (like beach clean ups, dog adoptions, painting houses, habitat for humanity events, breast cancer awareness walks, the list goes on and on) once a month. After we’re finished, we head to the brewery and I bring in pizza and put a keg of Up Top! IPA on draft that’s free to the volunteers.
Q. I know you’re personally passionate about making your beers, and JDub’s overall, stand out in a competitive market. How do you make that happen? Recipes? Service? Marketing? What does it take to truly be different?
JDub: Great question! I think I eluded to it in the last answer a bit. It’s honestly about all of the above. Good beer is priority number one. I knew that if I was going to honor the insane decision to jump off the path of financial security and eight hours of sleep a night, into the unknown and risk everything I had done in over 30 years of life, I had to have a fantastic head brewer overseeing brewing operations. Our head brewer, Matt Tucker, is a former NASA engineer who has won gold medals at some of the most prestigious competitions in America. He’s extremely level-headed and the crew, including myself, all look up to him. Most importantly, Matt makes fantastic beer. And as I said before, I believe that if making quality beer isn’t a brewer’s number one priority, they’re in it for the wrong reasons.
I believe in JDub’s beers and feel confident “selling them” to folks. Also, everything that JDub’s does oozes with soul, authenticity our own personal feel and style. I think that’s how we’ve gotten where we have in this amount of time, and all who are part of it get what we’re about. All of the JDub’s crew are good people who genuinely give a sh*t about one another, being good people and doing right by our community. That is our soul — our “it.”
I preach this to anyone who will listen and is thinking of starting a brewery: “You be you!” You can never be called out for being yourself. I think that if making good beer is your first priority with an insistence on being authentic, you have a model for success (at least that’s what I’m betting on).
Q. Is running a small and independent brewery what you thought it would be?
JDub: I woke up at 2 a.m., thinking about a bunch of stuff on my plate (all JDub’s). It’s 5:13 a.m. now and I know I’ll be lucky to be home by 7 p.m. tonight. I’ll be with one of my distributors all day and know I’ll be trying desperately not to look as exhausted as I am.
I knew it would be hard — extremely hard at times. But in all honesty, words can’t express how hard this has been. We didn’t have the luxury of deep pockets when we opened. This brewery was started with the money I had pulled out of my (government version of a) 401k and the money from one investor. JDub’s has survived with only the money earned to see us through each day week and month. No goose egg. No “working capital” to start with. This has had me wearing almost every hat in the brewery, minus that of head brewer since we opened. And now at almost 10k barrels in year three, I’ve got more folks working at the brewery, helping us continue to be extremely successful, but I’m still wearing many hats — probably more than is sensible.
I guess this is the way most of us brewers start, but I do envy the people I see come in with a lot of money and have a solid management team from day one. I was committed from the start to get through anything to see this through. But truthfully, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. So to answer the question, yes and no. Make sense?
Q. What are the next big things coming out of JDub’s in the next year?
I’d like to continue growing in Florida and expand methodically into Georgia. In about a month, I’m hosting the first-ever Florida Beer Summit. We’re going to be doing a collab with Green Man sometime soon. Dennis Thies is the owner and he and I just clicked from the moment we first met. So I’m looking forward to that. We’ve also been talking with De Struise about a collab for quite a few months so hopefully we can make that happen in the next year.