Jim Patton, Wynwood Brewing Genius, Talks Craft Beer, Abita and Anthropology

There is a mantra that goes something like this: do one thing and do it well. For Wynwood Brewing Company's brewmaster, Jim Patton, that one thing is making good beer.

Patton joined Luis Brignoni's brewing operation last month. He, Brignoni and Luis Brignoni Sr. are currently preparing to open the first brewery in Miami city limits since the Wagner Brewing Company in 1934.

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Patton is no stranger to making beer. After all, he founded one of the largest and most recognized craft breweries in the United States, Abita Brewing Company. Jim sold the company in 1998 and has moved on, living in Key West for 10 years before residing in California while studying how to make wine.

Other than his brewing know-how, Patton also holds a doctorate in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. He even once had a promising career in academia, teaching at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and Xavier University in New Orleans.

Brewing is Patton's forté. With scientific precision and business savvy, he built Abita from a local production brewery to a company that distributes its product to nearly every state in the union. Even though he has nothing to do with the company anymore, his legacy remains. Two of the most popular brands, Purple Haze and Turbo Dog, were originally his recipes.

If beer was illegal, then Patton would be the Walter White of prohibition. His time spent in academia is only surpassed by his knowledge and experience in running a successful small brewing operation.

Since arriving in Miami last month, Patton has been holed up in Miami's newest brewing facility, tweaking recipes to perfection and renovating the new brewery space in Wynwood. Short Order met up with the brewmaster for a little Q&A.

New Times: How did you get into home-brewing?
Jim Patton: I got into home-brewing because of a friend who was Irish and in Ireland beer is really expensive and people make their own beer. I became totally fascinated how brewing is a blend of science and art.

Why did you decide to turn your hobby into a profession?
I have a doctorate in Anthropology and I didn't enjoy the politics in the teaching, so I started going to a home brewers conference in Boulder, Co. and I was home-brewing at the time so I thought hey let's do it, why not? On the joke side of things, my beer bills became too expensive; I was spending too much money on beer.

After the initial success of Abita, how did the company shape your vision of how small breweries could compete against large beer companies?
The thing with New Orleans is that the city is so local-centered, a local product is going to be a success. The first night we rolled out with a beer, we had one bar in New Orleans and one bar in Mandeville that carried it. We got some of the local television media in there and they had some pictures of people dancing on the bar and you just can't buy that.

Why did you end up leaving Abita?
We had a group of investors that offered to buy us out. It was a nice sum of money so we decided to do that. I opened a brewery because I wanted to brew. Eight years later I was sitting in an office talking to distributors and bankers and that's not what I wanted to do--I wanted to be in the brewery and brew.

What have you done since leaving?
I was a plant manager at the Key West Brewery immediately after Abita. At the same time my wife and I opened a brewpub in New Orleans called Zea. It was a partnership between us and a group of restauranteurs called The Taste Buds. After that, I got into wine-making. I took the UC-Davis online courses.

How does learning about wine help you in the beer business?
A lot of what you do in wine-making is wooden barrel management. In the current craft beer scene, selecting the right barrel is important.

What attracted you to Wynwood Brewing Company and the thought of being in Miami?
I just had a real desire to get back into brewing. I looked into a lot of places. I really enjoy start-ups because they get my mind going and engaged. Miami is just open territory for craft beer. Not a lot of local stuff is going on here, compared to Seattle, where there are 30 craft breweries in the city. Miami is a place where we could go in and get some recognition.

What expertise can you bring to WBC? How much influence have you had so far?
Luis being a homebrewer, he has some great recipes. As we go from five gallons to 15 barrels, there are some modifications we have to add and I will use my expertise in large production to make them work.

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