Introducing Master Brewer Jim Brady – Conch Republic Brewing
After serving seven of my nine years of military service in Germany, my fascination with beer grew to greater heights. After the Carter administration legalized home brewing, I began making my own and teaching myself every aspect of brewing while living here in Key West. It was a virtual necessity since the flavors I loved were not available at land’s end. The challenge was totally mine. I became a craft beer advocate preaching the good word in the wilderness and have been manning my post here for decades. After only two batches of extract brew, I immediately invested in books and equipment to begin all-grain brewing. There were no brew clubs and no guidance available from other more experienced brewers. There was just me, the Internet, and 150 miles to the closest beer civilization.
I immediately joined the American Homebrewers Association and registered Key West’s first and only brew club, The Conch Republic B.U.B.B.A.s (Brewers United Brewing Better Ales), with the hopes of attracting others of like mind. For years the only members were the ones coming around to drink the fruits of my labor, never brewing anything themselves. Today, however, we have nearly 40 members with over a dozen active brewers. In 1998, I invented a kit called the Wort Wizard which harnesses the wasted hydropower from the runoff of a counterflow chiller to pump hot beer wort from the brew kettle, through the chiller and into the fermenter. In addition, the kit automatically aerates the cooled wort and removed headspace foam that develops in the fermenter as it fills. I created Island Brewing Products to market the kit and have sold it all over the globe. A Google search of Wort Wizard will confirm its popularity and longevity over the years through many homebrew forums. Hundreds of homebrewers swear by it and I use it myself each time I homebrew.
I have only slowed down once over the past 20 years. In 2005 my home was inundated by hurricane Wilma. I lost most of my brewing equipment to the salt water. For nearly 18 months we lived in a small FEMA travel trailer parked on our front lawn while we rebuilt our house. Nevertheless, the new house plans called for a new brewing area! Before long I was “back in business.” It’s odd how our blessings come to us! Today I’ve even transformed an enclosed cargo trailer into a mobile brewery/tap house equipped with electrical service, outlets, lighting, plumbed-in sink, beer faucets (on the side), even satellite TV! It’s always a hit at public brew events where I preside as the officially appointed Conch Republic (Beer) Ambassador to Ninkasi, possessing full diplomatic credentials as bestowed upon me by the late Secretary General of the Conch Republic, Sir Peter Anderson. I even have a diplomatic passport and ID!
In addition to that title, I became a Certified Cicerone (beer sommelier) in June of 2011 after passing my exam in San Diego. In June of 2012, I passed my national BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) to become a ranked beer judge and as far as I know of, the only one in the Florida Keys. I wrote a weekly column entitled The Keg and I for a local magazine called Solares Hill (the highest point in Key West, 18 ft. above sea level!). Unfortunately, the magazine had to face cut-backs and content was reduced. My non-paid, no-profit career as a beer writer is now on hold pending future markets! Notwithstanding, it was my duty as Beer Ambassador of the Conch Republic to do so!
As a homebrewer, I have received numerous awards and certificates for outstanding beers. Among those awards, my Licorice Spiced Porter won two 1st place Blue Ribbons and a Best of Show ribbon on back-to-back years at the Best Florida Beer Championships at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. I have established a local reputation as Key West’s hometown brewer, a reputation I am relying on to support our success. I am largely responsible (with the help of Conch Republic Liquors, a local liquor store) for the distribution of craft beer in the Florida Keys. Over several years of continuously “lobbying” the owner of Fresh Beer Inc. (now Brown Distributing, the only craft beer distributor in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties), I was able to convince them that they were missing out on a huge untapped market. We finally got their attention by sponsoring a tasting at Conch Republic Liquors. The sales rep came with product for a weekend trip. Not only was the liquor store jam packed, the rep left the Keys that weekend with so many commercial accounts that a FL Keys truck route was dispatched the very next week.
The strategy I had always proposed to the distributor was not, “If you build, they will come,” but “If you come, they will BUILD it!” Consequently, bars featuring only craft beer and other serving locations started popping up all over Key West. In March of 2012, I was awarded the John G. Doble III Memorial Scholarship by the Florida Brewers Guild to attend the Concise Course in Brewing technology at the oldest brewing academy in the nation, the Siebel Institute in Chicago. The scholarship was awarded for my craft beer advocacy in the Florida Keys, advancing its distribution in a remote part of Florida and to better prepare me for a successful new career with the opening of the brewery. This history was obviously intended to be more entertaining than serious, but having a lighthearted approach has always been part of my philosophy.
To me, striking a balance in life is crucial and my passion for brewing has helped provide that.