Chris Jacques, the head brewer at Quattro Goomba’s Brewery in Aldie, counts 28 million pints of beer he’s made in his career.
With 17 years of production under his belt, he might be Loudoun’s most experienced brewer. He comes at the job of running Quattro Goomba’s beer operation from a different direction than most Loudoun brewers. He has never been a home brewer. Instead, he started with larger-scale productions straight out of college, ranging from brew pubs like John Harvard’s Brew House in New England up to 24-hour operations brewing hundreds of barrels of beer at a time.
So going to work at farm brewery Quattro Goomba’s is an adjustment.
“I had a hard time, because everything on this level is like, your actual senses,” Jacques joked. Here, he said, he has learned to tell by hearing when a pump isn’t running right, or smell that somethings off in the brewery, or tell by looking that a batch of yeast is dead. He was used to working at companies with multi-million-dollar computer equipment taking readings accurate to the nth degree.
But he has Elliot Kiemel, a home brewer, there to help. And he said he likes the challenge.
“That’s the fun of this level of brewing for me, is the challenge, the consistency,” Jacques said. “The consistent quality in an environment where you don’t have multi-million-dollar equipment. You literally have a microscope if you’re lucky.”
But if joining the craft brewing scene has its challenges, it also has its rewards. At a large operation, he said, there’s little room to experiment—if you’re brewing huge vats of beer, you want to know it’s going to come out well. At Quattro Goomba’s, he has three two-barrel tanks that he uses just to experiment.
“We’ve had a couple brewers come out to try it out because, unless you’ve homebrewed, a lot of people in the professional beer world don’t get to play around,” Jacques said.
So far, he’s experimented with a saison and an English pale ale. In both cases, he brewed the same beer up to the point that it was time to add the yeast and ferment. Then he split the batches in three and brewed them with three different yeasts—yielding three completely different beers. Once they’re tapped, customers can try them out and taste the differences.
Quattro Goomba’s has long been known for its winery and food, bringing Mediterranean-style wine and pizza to Aldie. But when the four owners decided to launch a brewery a couple of years ago, they went all in.
“We decided we had the opportunity to open the farm brewery up right next to the winery and really take advantage of the space, and the property, and the buildings,” said co-owner Jay DeCianno. And besides investing in the brewing equipment, including the smaller fermenters for experimenting, being at a winery opens more possibilities for Jacques. He has already begun experimenting with fresh white and red wine barrels.
“A lot of people are just looking for something that they like, this style on regular basis, and then there’s another group that’s looking for different kinds of things all the time,” DeCianno said. “We’re trying to feel that whole industry out. We’re pretty into craft beer.”
Bringing on Chris Jacques meant getting an experienced brewer, who had watched the craft beer scene grow up over the course of his career, and who had experience in the kind of homey, relaxed atmosphere at Quattro Goomba’s.
“For the most part, we want people to come there and enjoy the place and have a great experience, and that’s what Chris is into,” DeCianno said.
Landing at Quattro Goomba’s was almost an accident for Jacques. He met the owners while brewing at Lost Rhino Brewing Company.
“They put an ad out in the paper, and it was just some random off-chance, because I wasn’t really looking for a job,” Jacques said. They asked if he knew anyone, but the people he sent them weren’t quite what they were looking for at Quattro Goomba’s. But then Jacques himself got curious about the job, and the rest is history. He’s been brewing on Quattro Goomba’s new equipment since November.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so we’ve brewed 16 batches here now, and we’re constantly, constantly rebuilding the brewhouse and tweaking things,” Jacques said. Today, he has more beer than he has room for on the brewhouse taps. And once you have a good recipe, he said, at a small—by his standards—operation like Quattro Goomba’s, the trick is to make it the same way every time. That hearkens back to his years of experience—and to the experimenting he can do now.
“For me that’s always been the fun part of working in this small environment, is being a nerd and everything,” Jacques said. “I like the challenge. That’s what I enjoy about brewing.”