Meet the brewer: Jaega Wise, Wild Card Brewery
Katie Mather chats to Jaega Wise
Photos: Miles Willis
Saturday 16 May 2020
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People Like Us; beer for good
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At the start of these articles, it’s customary to crack open a beer before sitting down on an upturned cask to chat to our industry-leading brewer about what’s on their mind. Unfortunately, as we’re all far too aware, drinking together isn’t possible right now without a screen and distance between us. So, when I called Jaega Wise for a chat knowing a little sadly that we couldn’t meet up for a beer, it was fun instead to hear her excited voice launch straight into talk of a new beer she’s working on as soon as she picked up the phone.
“I’m so excited about this beer we’ve brewed for International Women’s Day for Beer52! It’s going to be amazing,” she said. “It’s a double dry hopped IPA brewed in tribute to Ada Lovelace. She was a poet and a brilliant mathematician too, and she did pioneering work in computer programming. Prior to her, science had been very logical and analytical — she combined science and creativity to think outside the box. We decided to pay tribute to her as a scientific trailblazer, because history has a habit of forgetting the achievements of women.”
It’s this sharp compulsion to support and champion throughout the beer world that’s led Jaega to become one of the industry’s leading spokespersons. Now a regular member of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme team chatting all things food and drink, Jaega can also be found judging beer in national competitions and winning plenty of her own awards too — she was made Brewer Of The Year in 2018 by the British Guild of Beer Writers. On top of her brewing credentials, she’s an activist, speaking out against sexism in beer and raising awareness and pushing for inclusivity, diversity and support.
Jaega made a total career change when she set up Wild Card Brewery with friends and fellow homebrewers William Harris and Andrew Birkby, moving from the world of chemical engineering to brewing in 2012. I asked if there had always been a desire to build a brewery big enough to spread her beer and messages of welcome and inclusion further and further afield.
“No!” she laughs. “Honestly I was just excited to get some cheap beer! I fell into it — it wasn’t something as specific as that.”
And that’s the true story of how award-winning Wildcard Brewery came to be. But how has it grown from a fun collaboration of friends who just wanted to make more beer to become one of the country’s favourite breweries? What does Jaega feel has been the secrets to their success?
“I think a steady hand is really important,” she says. “And we’ve had the same core team from day one, and barely any personnel changes.” [William and Andrew remain directors and brewers at the brewery.]
“That’s great because it means people are happy here, but it’s also strengthened us.”
All that time working together must have meant growing together too. Jaega agrees.
“I’m a much better brewer in 2020 than I was in 2012. It’s important to keep reading papers, collaborating and growing. We’ve just completed our 1200th brew, and at the moment we’re making the best beer of our lives. We’re smashing it right now.”
“The core team has to trust each other and that sometimes means trusting each other to throw out beer that isn’t right. It doesn’t happen often, and the temptation can be to blend or fix it in other ways, but I’d always say don’t. Just get rid of it and start again, get it right.”
Wild Card now have a solid core range, but their special range is a real highlight. Home to their decadent Raspberry Chocolate Donut Stout and their SIBA Gold Medal-winning NEIPA, Jaega also flexes her love for sour beers here. At the time of writing this up her Lime Berliner Weisse was sounding pretty sensational. I asked if the changing tastes of the nation for tart flavours meant she’d be shaking the core range up to include a more permanent sour fixture.
“People are really into our sour beers, but will they ever enter our core range? That’s a hard no. They sell as well as any of our specials, but specials are our premium products, and they’re all about keeping things... special!”
“Our core range beers are delicious everyday beers, and we focus on them being affordable and accessible.”
Clearly, accessibility and affordability are important to Jaega and the Wild Card Brewery team.
At the moment we’re making the best beer of our lives
“I come from Nottingham; my family are not rich people. For some people, it’s just too much to spend £6/£7 on cans and I completely understand that. That’s why we make sure there are beers made with just as much care at a cheaper price point, and why we make all of our beer available as thirds in the tap room. We want people to be able to come to our tap room and be able to afford our beers. Even if you can’t afford a full pour of a special, you will always have the option of a third to get a taste of it.”
Making sure people feel welcome and included is huge for Wildcard too.
“We brew in Walthamstow, and over the years since we started it’s been so gentrified it’s unreal. It’s important to keep an eye on not excluding people.”
“We made a sorrel saison last year — sorrel is a bright pink flower used in Carribean culture, related to hibiscus, and different to the type of sorrel herb found in Europe. So many Carribean people were coming up to me and saying “oh my god, you’ve made this thing, I’m gonna come and find it.” And these are people who wouldn’t typically come to the brewery or they weren’t often in the brewery and it welcomed them in, just by choosing to use an ingredient that is popular in their culture.”
“It’s important that we have a diverse beer industry. It’s important in every sector and it’s something that’s really well recognised within the engineering and technology sectors: different experiences breed different ideas. If you want to get the best beer in the world, you are probably better looking from a group who are diverse than you are looking from people who’ve all grown up in the same place and the same area.”
I couldn’t end the conversation without a short burst of admiration for Jaega’s regular appearances on TV and on the radio. Are there plans for even more broadcasting in the future?
“Yeah! I’m one of the lead presenters for The Food Programme this year so I’ll be in quite a few episodes coming up soon, which is really exciting. It is just the most fun in the world. You get to travel around, speaking to people about food and drink, It’s just the most fun. I absolutely love it. And it kinda came about quite slowly, I did one thing, then another thing, then another thing.”
“You just have to take the opportunities as they come up, don’t you? I’m loving life!”
Drumroll please — Jaega Wise has revealed details of a beer Wild Card are working on now that sounds totally dreamy.
“We’re bringing out our Cashmere IPA soon. I think it’s honestly the best thing we’ve ever, ever made. Cashmere’s the name of the hop we’ve used, and it’s so silky, so delicious, it’s everything cashmere should be.”
“We actually did it as part of Brewdog Collabfest a few months ago and I’ve managed to get hold of a little bit more of this hop because I swear it was the best thing we ever did and the hop is really hard to find.”
“Because it was for Collabfest most of the beer went out across Europe so we didn’t get to try much of it ourselves, so I’ve managed to get hold of this hop and we’re making it again!”
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