Jolly Pumpkin founder Ron Jeffries embraces the joy of discovery from unanticipated results. These six beers (plus a seventh of personal importance) embody that dichotomy of precision versus freedom and consistency versus whimsy.
Jamie Bogner 6 months ago
“For the record, I don’t want to be stuck on a deserted island,” says Ron Jeffries. It’s not that he’s afraid of boats—he’s spent plenty of time on them—but that experience is exactly why he doesn’t want to risk it now. “Boats break.”
Thankfully, his 6-pack doesn’t depend on being stranded on an actual island, as the exercise is purely theoretical. And that’s a good thing because Ron—a pioneering figure in the world of American wild beer and mixed fermentation—derives as much enjoyment from the relationships he’s developed with peer brewers as he does from the beer he brews himself. In that context, narrowing down a list to only six beers is hard work.
“I spent the past two days thinking about this list, and the first thing I did was copy all the beers that Jeffrey Stuffings, of Jester King Brewery and Vinnie Cilurzo, of Russian River Brewing put down. But then I scratched them all out because that would clearly just be copying their beers,” he says.
His final list is part homage, part ode to the people who inspire him, and part nod to a new generation of young, creative brewers.
Brasserie de la Senne (Brussels, Belgium)
“Yvan de Baets is a fantastic brewer and a really nice guy, and the beer is just so light, dry, refreshing, and hoppy. The way they use hops is different than anyone in the United States, and if I could figure out how they do that, I’d do that in at least one beer because it’s absolutely delicious. That’s my one ‘copycat’ beer on the list.”
Monkish Brewing, Torrance, California
“Henry Nguyen started by brewing a bunch of mixed-culture beers, and he still does that (and does it really, really well), but what he’s done phenomenally well is brewing a style of IPA he calls ‘Monkish IPA.’ Those beers are so absolutely delicious that I don’t think I could live without them anymore. We did one together called ‘Diverted Dreams,’ and the one he released recently called ‘Heart Turns Cold.’ He has a lot of creative names, and these beers are absolutely delicious. I have a name for the next one that we brewed together—I’m not going to say it because I want it to be a surprise for him.”
Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California
“Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo are so nice, and I love Blind Pig. It’s a phenomenal beer. When I go to a place that’s supposed to have Pliny, and they have Blind Pig instead, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry; all we have is Blind Pig,’ I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I like Blind Pig—not to be blasphemous, but I like it more than Pliny.’”
Stone Brewing, Escondido, California
“Stone IPA is an iconic beer, like Sierra Nevada is an iconic beer. I’ve been drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, shoot, since the eighties when it came to Michigan? Ken Grossman and his technical approach make sure the beer is consistent and great. But we’re not talking about Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; we’re talking about Stone IPA. Equally iconic, equally great. It happens to be my wife’s favorite IPA, and so it makes the list because I like it and she loves it. I’m hoping, if I’m not on this so-called deserted island, she’s going to be with me.”
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado
“I put La Folie on the list because when I was going over this list earlier today with Lauren Salazar, of New Belgium Brewing, she said, ‘This is basically just a list of your friends.’ Yeah, all these brewers are my friends. So I sort of hemmed and hawed, and she said, ‘You don’t have to put one of my beers on your list,’ so I said, ‘Well, you just said this was about my friends, and we’ve been friends for a while.’ I have some great memories of La Folie and Le Terroir when she was developing them, and they were coming out in champagne bottles. The fun and the joy we had drinking them means it has to be on the list. She didn’t argue.
“The first time I tasted La Folie was when we were starting Jolly Pumpkin, and it was so great to see somebody else who found such joy in flavors and blending. I knew Lauren before I knew Vinnie, before I met Tomme Arthur, or Andy Parkerfrom Avery. Lauren was the first other sour-beer maker that I got to know. It was really exciting to find another person who was as excited as we were about that kind of thing—mixed-culture stuff.”
Jester King Brewery, Austin, Texas
“Another person who’s just as excited about mixed-culture beers is Jeffrey Stuffings. Spon is the best Jester King beer I’ve ever had. I’ve had a lot of different versions of it—fruits that they’ve done—and Jeffrey and his team have really nailed the art of spontaneous fermentation. Spon is their coolship beer, and every single bottle I’ve had has been so incredibly awesome. All the flavors are balanced and just perfect. I’m a pessimistic optimist, and I really think that every bottle probably isn’t perfect, but every bottle of Spon I’ve had has just been phenomenal. I like the straight-up Spon just a bit more than the fruit variations. When I was down there in April, Jeffrey was really generous and pulled out a whole lot of versions that I hadn’t tried before, and I was blown away by every single one. We took a short video, but I don’t know if it was posted online. We were tasting all the Spon, and there was a shot of all the bottles, and I said, ‘Jeffrey, thank you so much for inviting me down here. It’s been a phenomenal time brewing with you, but I just have to ask—what do you do in your spare time?’ And Jeffrey said, ‘In my spare time, I just like to listen to gangsta rap.’ So we have that in common, too.”
Jolly Pumpkin Brewing, Dexter, Michigan
“This last one is a surprise, and it’s a beer I brew called “Libida.” Libida Improvisationalle is a beer I brew for my wife. It’s a testament to our willingness to live an improv life and deal with life’s challenges together as they come up. It’s something that’s really special to me—our relationship and that beer that I brewed to celebrate that relationship. It’s a hops-forward saison that’s moderate in ABV. I’ve done two different versions of it so far, and because it’s about improvisation, every batch is different. The one we just released is super Amarillo-heavy.
It’s been really fun for me, now that the rest of the world is finding out about whirlpool and late-addition hops, to be able to do something like that and bring out those huge tropical fruit notes from the Amarillo hops—the apricot and peach. It’s an ever-changing saison and a testament to our relationship and our life together.”
“Those are my six (or seven) beers that I would not drink on a deserted island because I do not want to be stuck on an island. I would definitely be happy to simply have all six of those in my refrigerator.”
Podcast Episode 17: Jolly Pumpkin Founder Ron Jeffries Joins John Holl
Ron Jeffries the founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales sits down with Senior Editor John Holl for a wide ranging discussion on the nature of sour and wild, recipe development, and what brewers and drinkers should be doing to take care of their health.