Founders Brewing Company Brewmaster – Jeremy Kosmicki

When I called Jeremy Kosmicki I could hear that he was surrounded by people who were clinking glasses and having a few pints. Jeremy stepped away from the camaraderie to answer a few questions about one of his favorite topics, beer! As the head brewmaster of Founders Brewing Company Jeremy has seen it all and been pivotal in creating one of the best session IPAs in the world.

The Brewery – Who founded Founders?

Jeremy – It was a couple of college buddies, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers. They were college friends and homebrewers that decided they wanted to open a brewery. They opened the doors back in 1997.

So what is the best part of your day at the brewery?

My job has been evolving over the years. There was time when I made every drop of beer that came out of this place. Obviously I can’t do that anymore. I’m pretty much responsible for the creative side and recipe development. That’s definitely the most rewarding part for me. You know, just experimenting, trying out new ideas and new ingredients. Then obviously critically tasting it, seeing how it came out and what I can do differently. And just sort of perfecting it.

What’s one of your favorite ingredients you have worked with?

I’m a big hop guy. So I love playing around with the hops. And there’s a lot development going on with new hop varieties. So my vendors will send me the latest things that they have developed, and I’ll try those out. Usually I’ll just make a single hop beer and really get into that hop and see what it’s made of. You know, see what kind of aromas and flavors we get out of it. If we like it we find a way to incorporate it into new beers. And if I’m not impressed with it, well then I don’t have to go there anymore.

Do you like any non-traditional ingredients?

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with peppers, hot peppers, even regular peppers—I think they work really nicely with hops and beer flavors in general. I do like a little bit of spice in these beers. It’s pretty fun; it’s interesting.

What’s your favorite Founders beer?

It’s like picking one of my kids. I don’t know. I probably drink All Day IPA the most. That’s kind of my go to, everyday beer. We make a lot of fun things. A lot of the beers, they can be a bit extreme, or high alcohol. You know, I enjoy small samples and tasting all of them. But if I’m sitting down to have some beers, I’ll go with something lighter like an All Day IPA.

You have the Dirty Bastard and the Backwoods Bastard, can we expect another bastard to make this a trilogy of beers?

(laughs) Perhaps, I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out. I’ve done some experimenting here in the taproom with some different variations. I made a “Little Bastard” once which was a sessionable version of it. We did a “Double Bastard” which was an imperial version of it. We did a “Black Bastard” once, I put a little bit of dark malt in there just to give it the black color and a bit of the roast flavor. The crew has been working on some firkins, they actually do this firkin where they use…

Firkin Bastard?

(laughs) Yeah, right? We do a lot of experimenting with firkins. We’ll just take a beer that we have and put something in there like a spice or a fruit, something to jazz it up a little bit. One of my favorite is the “French Toast Bastard” with a little bit of cinnamon, maple and vanilla. It’s awesome. It tastes just like French toast.

There are a lot of session IPAs in the market now-a-days, I think All Day IPA is the best. What inspired you to come up with it?

It was really kind of a selfish thing. I drink a lot of beer. It’s part of the job. When you’re socializing or hanging out with industry people, we tend to drink. Sometimes it happens earlier in the day. I came up with the idea for All Day IPA in an effort to give hopheads the chance to stay productive, and keep your wits about you. I’m a hophead, so IPAs in general are my go to thing. Our Centennial IPA is over 7% alcohol, so, you get a couple of those in you…

It’s an early night?

(laughs) You lose motivation sometimes. So I wanted something that I could drink starting earlier in the day and not worry about getting slowed down. You know, something that had all the hop flavor and aroma that I create and love. I spent a while working on that recipe. I love it. It’s so refreshing to me. It’s refreshing and satisfying in a way that I haven’t experienced any other beer.

I 100% agree. I drank it all summer.

I just crave it. I come home and I’m so thirsty, and it really hits the spot.

All of the Founders labels are unique, is there a reason you avoid visual uniformity?

It’s a nice opportunity to get creative with that. We have a pretty awesome marketing team now. Over the years we’ve had some different people do our labels from time to time. We’ve gone through a couple of different firms and artists. A couple of years ago we actually changed our six packs. We kept the artwork of the label the same, but we did sort of uniform up the six packs. It’s like a nice collage background of brewery workers and regulars at the bar and friends of the company. I thought that was a pretty neat idea; I got my picture on a couple of six packs. It’s always fun when you’re at the store and you see yourself on a six pack. It’s pretty neat.

Founders has been in business for over 15 years, are you surprised at the amount of breweries popping up across the country?

It blows my mind. I drink a lot of Founders, but sometimes I crave other things. I go to the beer store, and it’s really hard for me now-a-days. There’s so many breweries I’ve never heard of, and they all look good. I get a little leery about trying something new. For all the good beer that is out there, there’s a lot of beer that’s not so good. When you’re buying something that you don’t know, you have a chance of getting something that you’re not particularly happy with. This is a great time for craft brewing. There’s a lot of opportunity out there. There’s been explosions of breweries in the past…it’ll usually last a couple of years and then they kind of weed themselves out. The good ones stay, and then the ones that aren’t working go out of business. Over the next few years we’ll see the strong surviving.

An implosion almost?

Well, the consumer and stores can only handle so many different varieties and brands. You can’t carry everything.

The Founders motto is based on bringing beer and adventure together, what’s your favorite activity while drinking beer?

(laughs) That’s tough, I pretty much drink beer with everything I do. I play a lot of music. I’m in a couple of bands. For some reason I get particularly thirsty when I’m playing guitar. Having beers and playing music together is definitely one of my favorite things.

If you could sit down and have one of your beers with anyone famous living or dead, who would it be?

That’s a good question. Like I said, being a musician, I would probably love to sit down with one of my guitar heroes and have a couple beers and play some licks with them. I think Jimi Hendricks would probably be a pretty interesting guy to hang out with. Maybe Duane Allman or Jimmy Page too. Some of my favorite guys, I wonder what they would think of my beer.

The Founders mobile app is an incredible tool for people looking for Founders beers and events. Has the feedback been good for it?

Yeah! I don’t know entirely too much about the feedback. It’s not really my department. I personally thought it was a super cool thing. I’ve used it. When I’m out and about and I want to know where I can get a Founders at, that thing will tell me how close it is and what they got. It’s a pretty handy feature. I hope people use it. I assume it’s gotten some pretty good feedback because they are going forward with it. We also have a tap room beer rating system where you hang out in the tap room and try one of our new beers and it’s a real simple 3 question, did you like this beer, give it a rating, would you buy it again and why? All of that feedback comes back to me. It’s pretty helpful to see what beers are doing well, and which ones may not be worth pursuing.

And then just one final question, what’s next for Founders?

Well we are in the middle of another expansion. I kind of feel like it’s been an ongoing expansion for 7 or 8 years. I feel like we just get through one and then something else comes up. But we just bought a new 300 barrel brewhouse and a packaging line to go with it and a bunch of giant tanks to go with it, and we should have that online by this summer. We’re going to take on some new markets. Maybe head west. We’ve got the eastern side of the country filled in pretty well and we want to take it out to California, Washington and Oregon. We’ve done a lot in the international market too. We’ve taken on some new accounts in different countries. There seems to be some real passion for American craft beer throughout the world. And it’s a really good opportunity to get my foot in the door there. Being one of the first and main guys to hit these places and share what everyone is loving here in America.

Of course we here in America love our Founders beer. I want to thank Jeremy for his time and insight. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop thinking about that French Toast Beer, I hope Jeremy finds a way to bottle it. Until then, there are plenty of great Founders offerings for you to enjoy. Cheers!