Jared Rouben leans on his trained chef’s experience when sourcing, handling and utilizing ingredients to produce food-friendly, ingredient-driven craft beer. A graduate of CIA Hyde Park, Rouben cut his culinary chops in Michelin-starred restaurants Per Se and Napa Valley’s now-closed Martini House. Following his brewing passion, he moved to Chicago to attend the Siebel Institute. Afterward, as a brewing assistant, and later brewmaster, for Goose Island’s brewpubs, he launched a series of chef collaboration beers that developed his fan base among chefs and consumers.
When Rouben opened Moody Tongue Brewing Co. in 2013, his craft beers began appearing on tap in high-end restaurants. They began bottling for retail in 2015, and the brewery’s tasting room opened in October of 2016.
We caught up with Rouben to get his advice on where and how culinary students can find opportunities to learn more about brewing craft beer, and how to get started.
Ten years ago, you were responsible for revitalizing the Brew Club at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Now they have a working brewery, and craft beer has exploded in culinary education programs nationwide. Has that surprised you?
Yes, and I couldn’t be happier. It surprises me because there weren’t a lot of educators pushing craft beer when I was at the CIA. The beverage class was 30 days long, and beer was only a half day in the curriculum. I knew it had potential because so many chefs, including educators, enjoy craft beer in their personal time. I never had a shortage of help available from teachers, as either mentors or sponsors, for the CIA Brew Club.
It’s what the craft beer industry needs most right now. There is so much excitement about brewing and not enough information, which can be quite scary. Only a couple schools have a history of brewing instruction—U.C. Davis and Siebel Institute being the top two—but now there are more offering brewing education.
For someone dedicated to a culinary degree and brewing, what additional coursework is going to help them the most?
I would say baking, more than anything. Brewing and baking are incredibly similar. You’re manipulating raw ingredients with time and temperature, and accuracy is very, very important.
If you want to get into brewing, and you’re not ready to make the leap, spend some time baking. If you enjoy the process of baking, you’ll enjoy the process of brewing. I think bakers make fantastic brewers.
But, I highly encourage prospective students of beer to do your research before selecting a program. It’s how I found the CIA, and how I found Siebel. While I believe brewing education is important, I believe where you find brewing education is more important.
You have to ask yourself:
1. Where did all these teachers come from?
2. What are they teaching?
Where else should students look for educational opportunities?
Attend beer events and lectures—but do your homework and come prepared with thoughtful questions. I recently stayed 45 minutes speaking with someone after an event at 10:30 in the evening because she wanted to open a brewery in Jamaica, asked excellent questions and was very excited. I wanted to help her.
If a career in brewing is important to you, then I think the quickest way to make that happen is to step into a brewery. Ask: “Can I stage?” Expect to get nothing but education and hard work in return.
Just like the first time you stage in a kitchen: You either love the brewing environment or you learn you’d rather be in the dining room having a cold beer and a delicious meal. It’s very telling. Once you’re in a brewery, you’re going to learn quickly if this is the profession for you.
And there’s no shortage of breweries these days! It’s just about finding one where you like their product—which is more than half the battle. It’s easier to work for someone whose work you respect.
How would you suggest a new brewer start making beer?
You have to understand the foundations of brewing, just like you have to understand the foundations of cooking, before you experiment with ingredients.
Within cooking, we make consommés, stocks, the mother sauces—those are challenging alone—but once you start to create variations or add ingredients, then you’re providing an additional challenge. I don’t encourage doing that until you master the original styles, like pale ale, stout, pilsner and porter.
I’m not trying to limit anyone’s creativity; you just want to get there the right way. You don’t want to skip any steps. It would be a big step to skip if you didn’t understand the basics of brewing