Kasey Turner and Justin Bonner started Jailbreak Brewing Company in Laurel, Maryland, in 2013. Kasey recently spoke with Kol HaBirah about the choice to get kosher certification, the company’s expansion to the national market, and drink recommendations for the Purim holiday just around the corner.
What led to the start of Jailbreak, and how has the experience been thus far?
Justin Bonner and I started it in 2013 — we both come from tech backgrounds and were looking to do something we were passionate about and get away from being in a cubicle 9 to 5. My wife, Erica, was our first brewer. When we then linked up with brew master Ryan Harvey, who was at Dogfish Head, it went from a hobby to a profession.
Brewing is a fun, collegial industry … microbreweries band together to take craft beer from fringes to mainstream. We went from a cutthroat environment to a community … and a creative one at that. The ability to create a brand from the ground up is very exciting.
Why did you go the kosher route?
Our kosher certification was a natural extension of our adherence to process. It forces us to avoid cutting corners and to use high-quality ingredients. We even use dairy products in some of our beers and put a “Star-D” to indicate dairy. For example, we use lactose in some of our beers to give it a sweetness and a creamier texture — like our popular “White Russian” cream ale that tastes like the mixed drink.
Rabbi Holland of the Star-K audits us regularly and is super easy to work with. He’s amazing.
What are some of the challenges you have had being kosher?
We need to schedule the production of our non-kosher beers at the end of the week and we need to clean the machinery in order to begin production of the kosher beer the following week.
In addition, sometimes our vendors decide not to renew their kosher certification. We then have to scramble to find other vendors for those ingredients.
Last week, our provider of cocoa nibs, which we use for our beer “Dusk Till Dawn,” didn’t renew their Star-K certification. We had already made the beer and had paid for labels with the Star-K on it, so we had to order new labels without the Star-K on it, as the beer was now not under the Star-K. In this case, the beer was already in the fermenter, so we didn’t have time to source new ingredients. But next year, when we make the beer again, we will use another vendor who is certified.
What are some of the benefits you have had being kosher and working with the Jewish community?
I believe that our sales have increased in areas that have a kosher population, such as Montgomery County and Baltimore. We do a lot of events for the Jewish community and have had bar or bat mitzvahs in our tasting room in Laurel. We ran a beer tour for members of Southeast Hebrew Congregation of Silver Spring, and were the beer sponsor of an event at a farm in Reisterstown run by the Yeshiva of Greater Washington. Rabbi Holland has been very helpful in making introductions with the Jewish community.
Can you talk about your expansion challenges and progress?
We face multiple challenges every day. For example, macro brewers can price their beers lower than microbreweries can. They will also buy microbreweries and are willing to sell at a loss.
In addition, Maryland beer laws are challenging. One proposed bill would limit the ability for most breweries to sell beer in tasting rooms. We made a restaurant in our brewery, which allows us to change our license to a Class 7 and avoid much of the vacillation of Maryland’s liquor laws.
Lastly, the craft beer consumer constantly wants a new experience, so we need to come out with new styles regularly. But, when only using natural ingredients, it is not so easy to make it as cheap as the traditional beers (e.g., Budweiser, Guinness, etc.). Our restaurant will give us a great opportunity to give the consumer what they want and create a unique food/beer pairing experience that is always evolving.
What Jailbreak drinks should our community look for this Purim?
Feed The Monkey is our top selling beer. It is like a Blue Moon but higher quality, easy to drink, and made with fresh orange juice.
Poor Righteous is an easy drinking IPA — it is well balanced and doesn’t overwhelm you with Hops. It pairs very well when eating a meal (on Purim), as the flavor isn’t bitter and doesn’t overwhelm the food like other IPAs.
How can our readership find Jailbreak?
We are in over 2,000 retail accounts throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. We have a really strong presence in Montgomery County.
We also do tours every other week and we will be opening on Sundays in addition to Saturdays due to the Jewish community requesting it.
What final thoughts would you like to share with the community?
The biggest honor for me is seeing someone picking up a Jailbreak beer; I need to thank them, as there are so many great options they have to choose from. We work very hard so we can put out our best product. When people spend their hard-earned money on Jailbreak, there is no bigger honor.