Q&A with Jose
(crazy rhyme skills) We recently sat down for an informal interview with Jose Villafana Jr. – co-founder of Wolf Branch Brewing Company and it’s Head Brewmaster. And when we say “sat down” we mean we “emailed him these questions” in advance and when we say “informal”…we were actually wearing tuxedos. Check it out:
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about the man behind the beer.
I was born in Puerto Rico and my father was a banker working oversees, so I spent a majority of my younger years living in the expat communities of Venezuela, Brazil & Chile with an in-between pit stop in Miami. I am a graduate of the University of Florida and a proud Florida Gator! (Disclaimer: Wolf Branch Brewing Company welcomes fans of ALL schools to drink our product and rub it in Jose’s face in the event UF loses a football game.)
While in college, I enlisted in the Army Reserve and was called to my first deployment in Iraq. When I graduated, I commissioned as an Army officer and was stationed in the beautiful state of Hawaii. After another deployment to Iraq, I moved to Missouri, where I further developed my love for craft beer after attending way too many beer festivals (if there even is such a thing) and tasting the delicious IPAs at Schlafly. I was then stationed in Germany (as you can tell, I moved around a lot), where I got seriously spoiled by the country’s delicious wheat beers and crisp, refreshing lagers. The next stop on “Tour de Jose” aligned with my third deployment – this time to Afghanistan. While some may look at all of this travel as a headache, I took advantage and explored a good portion of Europe, adventured throughout Africa and made it my mission to see all 7 continents. I’m proud to say I hit that goal and finally made it to beautiful Australia and the amazing Antarctica! I still serve as a Captain in the US Army Reserve.
What made you want to get into craft brewing?
I’ve always been passionate about the world of beer, wine and spirits. My father actually started collecting rare and aged rums about 20 years ago and his passion drove me to learn more myself. Growing up, that world was an integral part of my life – fine spirits were meant to be analyzed, appreciated or accompany a favorite meal.
I started working at a Fortune 500 company after I left the military. I was used to living a life of adventure, either provided by the military or my travels. That job was not my idea of an adventure. By that time in my life, I was actively throwing myself into the craft beer world. I met my soon to be brother-in-law after I was on the verge of leaving my job. We had a serious conversation after 1 or 10 delicious craft brews and decided to start a craft brewery together. My father the banker, who was himself really getting into craft beer (especially IPAs), blessed it and we brought Chris and the rest of the family along for the ride.
What kind of training did you go through?
As the idea of the brewery was set, I enrolled in the World Brewing Academy’s Master Brewer Program. The World Brewing Academy is a joint venture between Siebel Institute of Technology, the oldest brewing school in America, in Chicago and Doemens Academy, a prestigious brewing school located in Munich – one of the beer meccas of the world. Unfortunately, there was a year-long wait to enroll, so besides studying on my own and developing recipes with our pilot system, I dove into the world of beer. I volunteered at a local brewery for approximately 4 months, where I learned the day to day operations of a brewery. I took a short course in intensive brewing science for practical brewing, taught by industry legends Charlie Bamforth and Michael Lewis at the University of California at Davis. I enrolled in a craft brewery start up course presented by Oregon State University at Bend, OR, sipping on delicious brews all along the way. I also visited around 50 breweries during this time, and attended numerous beer festivals. That part was rough hahaha
What is unique about your brewing style?
I was trained in the very systematic, efficient German style of brewing, but my passion is the farmhouse style of brewing. Sometimes, I just want to let yeast do its thing and not bother it until its ready!
What kind of beers will Wolf Branch focus on?
While we love all types of beers, our focus is on drinkability. Most of our beers are not very high in ABV and we have no crazy IBU beers either. We do have a couple of trappist-inspired beers, but they are not the biggest focus for Wolf Branch.
What’s the weirdest or most exotic ingredient you ever put in a beer?
I would say that none of our beers have anything too weird or exotic in them. There are many breweries doing that and they do a very good job at it, but I like subtlety, where you can detect a note of something special. That said; we definitely do not adhere to the reinheitsgebot, the german purity law that only allows for hops, malt, water and yeast.
If you could sit down with anyone over a beer (living or dead) who would it be?
I think it would be one of the great explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton (famous explorer of Antarctica) or Sir Edmund Hillary (famous Mountaineer). Modern day – it would be Jim Koch of Sam Adams. A true pioneer of the craft beer movement.
How can we get you to smile in pictures? (Jose is notorious for not smiling in any picture. Seriously…)
Get me drunk or catch me off guard hahaha
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to try to summit a mountain. I heard of a place you can swim with tiger sharks in the Bahamas. I wouldn’t mind circumnavigating Antarctica, eating and relaxing in the Amalfi coast in Italy or lounging around in the Caribbean.
Who is your favorite brother-in-law? (Ignore the answer – I’m clearly the favorite)
Anything else you would like to add?
This is the biggest adventure I’ve ever been on. The biggest I’ve ever set my sights on and experienced. I have learned a lot about patience and I am very excited about what is on the horizon for Wolf Branch Brewing Company.