For a two and a half-year-old brewery, Giant Jones has already made quite a name for themselves. Co-owners Jessica and Erika Jones are passionate about what they do, and it shows—from their decision to become the first 100% certified organic brewery in Wisconsin, to the ways they work to create and support the community around them. “We have a good balance,” Erika said. “I do marketing, sales and communications, and Jessica does production, bottling, and is really our visionary.”
Their brewery in Madison is close to many food businesses they’ve collaborated with, such as AGC member ORIGIN Breads, who bakes loaves using their spent grain. Other collaborations have arisen out of their flair for entertaining and Jessica’s prowess as an Advanced Cicerone®—as Jessica puts it, “the beer equivalent of a sommelier.”
In 2019, they enjoyed planning and hosting pairing events with fellow food entrepreneurs featuring chocolate, jam, sausage, cheese, tea...you name it. And despite the pandemic, Erika and Jessica have found creative ways to keep the party rolling with tastings and events hosted through virtual platforms. “Some people have told us they like our video playlist pairings events even more than our in-person events, because I can give so much dense info and they can pause and replay,” Jessica told us. They're also having fun curating themed boxes with pairings of beer and food—including their most recent election-themed box full of comfort foods made by local businesses, which patrons will be picking up on Tuesday afternoon. Ultimately they’re appreciating the time to reflect on what’s working, focus on community engagement, and really enjoy connecting with people remotely to offer experiences like what they had with the tasting room.
Jessica is a serious brewer with knowledge of historical beer styles and a sense of flavor combinations—helpful, given that certified organic ingredients are not easy to come by nationally, and local organics are particularly challenging to find. While conventional malt has a seemingly limitless range of specialty varieties, Giant Jones has had to seek out a wide and diverse supply chain to find the organic malt they need, and much of it is currently imported. Being connected with other AGC members has helped line up a plan for some locally-grown and malted 6-row barley, and they’re eager to see demand for local organic malt result in more organically grown acres and more local malthouses. And organic malt isn’t only harder to source, it’s also 10-15% more expensive than conventional. To justify the higher price tag required for organic brews, Giant Jones makes big, high-alcohol beers that drinkers are willing to pay more for. “Being organic forces you to be a better brewer,” said Erika, “because you have to think through all of the systems and processes so thoroughly.”
Beyond their commitment to organic, they’re also dedicated to fair labor. “Stubbornly idealistic,” is how Jessica puts it. “We’ll work more and sleep less rather than try to hire someone at a poor wage.”
Before COVID-19, 80% of Giant Jones’ revenue came from their tasting room. So they laid off their two employees early on, allowing them to file for unemployment before the flood of applications made it difficult. They shifted to more bottling, selling cases for three hours on Saturdays. Eight months in, their retail is still down, but wholesale is up. Over the summer they produced a “Black is Beautiful” beer line, with proceeds going to Freedom, Inc. “It lasted 10 days,” said Jessica. “It sold out faster than anything has, ever.”
Their dedication to community inspired them to create their Credible Pale Ale in 2018, with 100% of brewery sales going to the Dane County Rape Crisis Center—amounting to over $8,500. They’re active in the Culinary Ladies Collective along with other women business owners, working together to elevate women’s roles in the service industry.
Follow their social media and website with the buttons below to keep up with seasonal brews, video pairings and themed boxes. For more about their journey, read their own telling of their story here.
Photo credit: Giant Jones