Discovering and documenting Nevada beer, booze, and food

Sharing a Drink with: Chris Jacobs, Beer Zombies

Chris Jacobs is one of those people you meet and immediately feel at ease around. He’s truly one of the most welcoming, nice people in Las Vegas and the beer world — which is saying a lot. 

Social media is a beautiful thing (and an awful thing, but we’ll ignore that for now) as you can interact with people across the globe and have access to ideas (again certainly not always so great) and products, which would otherwise be wholly unavailable, lest you travel excessively. 

The beauty has led Jacobs to become an Instagram star of sorts as Beer Zombies, amassing 32,000 followers who are extremely engaged and all are beer lovers. A niche following to be sure, but its allowed Jacobs to become a beer ambassador of sorts for Las Vegas and a damn good one at that.

He often holds bottle shares (usually the last Saturday of the month) and invites everyone, ensuring they’re a welcoming environment full of laughter and friendship. No bottle? No worries, he’ll bring one to compensate — he has a cellar full of thousands of beers, many of which any beer lover would fawn over.

Pat sat down with Chris for a beer at 595 Craft and Kitchen to chat about his world. He was drinking a Modern Times Critical Band and Pat was drinking a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat.

Nevada Brews: Coming from a community known for its beer, I’ve noticed Vegas is very tight-knit in terms of beer fans. How do you feel about the tightness of the community?

Image-20 (1)Chris Jacobs: Vegas has a very small community and I describe the beer scene as a target. In the bullseye there are the 100 people you can count on, you know they’re going to every release, every event. We’re on a first name basis and there’s no drama.

The second ring is a couple hundred people who maybe work weekends and can’t get to things, but they’re out and about. The outer rings are looking in and saying you have a cool community and putting their feet in. They slowly get in and the rings get bigger and bigger. It’s a smaller scene than a lot of major cities, but it’s awesome. It’s a good community and we’re growing.

NB: You’ve been here since 1995 — and we’ll get to that in a minute — but how has Vegas beer changed since ’95?

CJ: I definitely think it’s improved immensely, the last five years especially.

There are really good beers and breweries in town. I think they were reluctant to change for a while. We’re both dirking unfiltered beers and it was weird, for a long time it was a push no locals wanted to make and that was the whole reason I started doing collabs. I could not buy a New England-style, hazy IPA in town so I reached out to Kings Brewing in Rancho [Cucamonga] and we set up to do a beer there that I could bring to town. As I traveled I could see everyone drinking it but no one in town would make it and I felt there was a big reluctance to do that, but now I think people catch on. Bad Beat makes good hazys, Big Dog’s Lhazy Dog is a good one, Joesph James Chit Happens was great. They’re coming around and even the last six months to a year has improved our beer scene. Our breweries are starting to make the stuff we want. I do think the breweries in town get a little complacent with handles on The Strip and they say why make this expensive beer you guys want when I can sell 100 barrels to MGM? But I think they’re realizing there’s more to beer than that.

I do think there’s a bubble coming. There’s something like six breweries opening in the next year. That’s double the size, still not a lot for 2 million people, but I think once that opens up, maybe some of the ones not up to standard or doing what they need to do might fall off a little bit. There will be a new generation of brewers. I think there is some good breweries in town, but not that one that put Vegas on the map yet. In California, you have Monkish and Bottle Logic, whatever you want. I don’t think there’s that one that has caused a frenzy here, I see that coming though. Crafthaus brought some great brewers and changing the way people drink beers. It’s been amazing since I moved here though; working on The Strip was  Bud, Bud Light, Miller Light. A few years later there was Stone, then Ballast Point and all of a sudden local beers. We’re going in the right direction.

NB: Is there a favorite Las Vegas brewery? It’s probably tough, you don’t have to answer.

CJ: Favorite local brewery? I honestly think it might be Big Dog’s. The stuff they put out, they did this Red Hydrant sour, it blew my mind. Probably one of the five best beers to ever come out of Vegas ever. Big Dog’s is starting to step above everyone else.

I’d put Able Baker Double Barrel Chris Kael up there; [Joseph James] Citra Rye is one of the best-distributed beers you can get; Morning Joe from Banger Brewing; those are a few that are in my five beers from Vegas that are amazing.

NB: O.K., let’s get to you. You’ve been in Las Vegas since ’95, why’d you move here?

CJ: No choice. I graduated high school and literally my parents were moving to Vegas the next weekend and it was either move to Vegas with us or be an adult and stay and pay rent and do that stuff.

I’m from Northern California, like way up north, about an hour, 45 minutes from Oregon. Way up there. So I was like, ‘All right cool, if I can still live at home for a little while,’ so I moved down and pretty much after that everyone moved away and I stayed here. So I’ve been here, since ’95.

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NB: What were you doing in those mid- to late-90s?

CJ: I was 18 in ’95, turned 21 in ’98. I had already been working in a restaurant, serving and stuff like that and I decided I wanted to get into bartending. I’ve been bartending off and on for 20 years as of February. I mean right now, I still work technically at Blue Ribbon at The Cosmopolitan. I’ve been there almost 8 years, they understand that I have other things going on, but they understand I’ve built up a clientele over 8 years, so it all works together.

It’s cool, it gives me a reason to work behind the bar, see trends, see how the other side of it views it. A lot of times when you’re in the beer industry, or any type of industry, you see only your direct vision. It’s cool to see the consumers and what they’re asking for. We have Beer Zombie beers at Cosmo. Whenever we do a release Blue Ribbon will take it. It’s cool for a strip property to have a Beer Zombie beer.

NB: Have you always been into beer?

CJ: I grew up around beer. Where I’m from so close to Oregon, is also 45 minutes to Chico, California, where Sierra Nevada is. A lot of friends worked there, so I grew up around beer.

Like my daughter, she grows up around it, it’s not, ‘Oh what is that? One of these days I’ll try that.’ She knows it, she understands, respects it. It’ll just be a while before she drinks it.

NB: How did you decide on Instagram?

CJ: I do art. I grew up doing street art and graffiti as a kid and put that on a backburner for a little bit. My wife, she was always saying, ‘You should get back into it.’

In high school, my art teacher and I had a business where we would do window paintings and signs and stuff. We were doing large stuff and I loved it. I was 16 and getting paid to hang out with my art teacher.

I started to try to figure out my own style again, you have to move ahead. I had an Instagram and a company called We Are Zombies, and it was my art page and like a general catch-all social media account, but focused on art. A lot of art shows, traveling to San Diego; nothing real serious. Then I had people wanting me to do art in breweries. The first real big one I did was at Banger Brewing. All the wraps, walls, floor to ceiling. It was a big undertaking. It was 100-feet long by 30-feet tall. It was, ‘We like your art, do whatever you want.’

So I basically had to brand a brewery. Whatever I put on the wall, they have to go by that. I started doing that, and taking pictures of the art and drinking beer at the same time. Then I was getting some backlash from the art community not knowing whether it was an art account or beer account.

So I decided I should just separate beer page and an art page. I was sketching out, I already had a zombie logo for We Are Zombies, already had a beard, so I sat there and drew a hop cone as the beard and went to bed. I woke up and looked at it and said, ‘You know what, this still looks awesome. I slept on it and I’m going to start it.’

Started Beer Zombies as a social media account and started posting pictures of beer and it went from, the very first was a Tenaya Creek beer, no followers, and within a week it was a couple hundred and within a month it was a couple thousand. It’s just been growing, up over 32,000 now. It’s cool too, because it’s active Instagram followers. It’s very niche but awesome that it’s grown organically into real beer people that follow it.

It wasn’t me sitting down thinking I wanted to start a beer company. I just really wanted to separate it out and do both and as it gained traction, so I put the other on hold. Started using Beer Zombies doing a lot of art for restaurants and beer people. Before I just did walls here and there and now I do specifically breweries and beer bars. I’m doing a big one for Ale Smith. It’s stuff like that.

I’ve said this from day one, I have an idea what I want it to become, but I’ve never had a business plan, it’s just organically grown. It literally started me drinking beer and realizing I could put a hop on it and it turned out awesome. It was perfect timing five years ago. All came together and made sense at the time.

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NB: What was the significance to zombies?

CJ: I’m very scared of horror movies, but I love zombie movies. I love post-apocalyptic anything. That stuff always really interested me.

It just translated over and not really meaning anything and now it’s just stuck and become bigger than I thought, but nothing significant other than I love beer and zombies.

NB: How does it feel to be looked at for beer influence?

CJ: It’s weird because, up until 3 years ago, if I was behind a bar, I was completely extroverted and if I wasn’t I was completely introverted. The bar was a safety apron. I liked to chill by myself, not big into crowds or talking in front of people but now I’ve adopted that role.

People text me 30 times a day for recommendations, and I’ve taken that role as something I know I need to do and have gotten comfortable with it and now it’s fun.

I don’t think I know everything. In everything I do, there’s a reason you need people in the right places. If people want to ask me stuff, I tell them, ‘This is my opinion. I drink a lot of beer, I’m around a lot, these are things I think. I never want to say, ‘This is it.’

It’s cool, all these people are my friends now. It’s built this super awesome community. All of my long-term friends I’ve met through beer. If people want to ask me stuff great, others might say, ‘Screw that guy he doesn’t know anything.’ That’s cool too. I’ve never professed to know anything. I’m ok with it. I like hosting, getting people together.

It wasn’t what I set out to do, being the ambassador of sorts, but I guess it makes sense.

BN: You’ve got relationships with all sorts of brewers all over, how’d you develop those?

CJ: January 2017 was when I went full time with Beer Zombies. Before that, I was working full time at Blue Ribbon when it closed for six months to remodel, so I said, ‘OK I have six months to figure out if I can do this full time or not.’

In those six months, I just went for it: really networking, getting releases out, traveling. At that six-month point, I told Blue Ribbon I only need very part-time. That point on has been developing these networks. It’s just being a fan of a brewery, if I find something I like, like Modern Times, I’m a big fan of theirs, so I spend a lot of time there. I spend a lot of money there. When I’m there I talk to those guys. If you’re a good human you get good humans to talk back. Through that, I have this project, can I get a special keg. It’s not just a quick buck off their name. The trust issue is where it’s at, I only put my name and post things I really like. People always say, ‘You like everything you drink.’

There are a lot of beers I pour out right away and I will never drink again, but my style is to not blast people. I post things I enjoy. I don’t choose to be negative, I want a positive outlook on everything I do, just drinking and supporting breweries I want.

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NB: Now you do beers, festivals. How did you go out to those? How hard are they to coordinate?

CJ: Very. Beers are a lot easier. I know the steps and science, but the doing it, I’m not a brewer. When I come together with a brewer for a beer project, we sit down and I say, ‘This is the beer I’ve really been wanting to make.’

We sit down, I brought 20 beers I liked and they poured 20 beers on draft and I went through them and say, ‘This is what I like, this is what I don’t like,’ and they’re taking notes. By the time we got to the end he was like here’s the recipe. I couldn’t do that. That’s where I come in. Yea it’s my flavor profile and what I wanted to do, but at the end of the day, the brewer is in place to do that, I just help, pitching grains, helping clean, but I’m not the guy physically saying in my mind I know how.

The festival is a whole nother beast. Meeting already for next year’s, that’s seven months out and it takes almost that whole time to get things situated. We meet once every two weeks for three to four months, then once a week and then twice a week. A lot of these breweries have never been in town before, so it’s a lot of coordinating for that.

Last year we had 650ish people, it felt good. Completely my vision, I want to pay for everything, and no big beer influence. A lot of work and money. This year it was a whole weekend. Started off, my whole pitch was the day after would be a big bottle share, my way of saying thank you. It’s pretty small but the attendees come from all over: Montana, Utah, Arizona, Cali. They’re real quality beer drinkers, and so it’s ‘Cool you’re coming and the next day you can open whatever you want.’ So we had 150-200 people, seven commercial trash cans full of empty bottles. It’s a thank you; when I relax and hang out.

The festival is a lot of work. Especially to make it right. If I put my name on it I want it done right. People are starting to know if it says Beer Zombies it’s going to be good. That was my whole idea, I want it to be a festival I would go to, pay for and be happy at.

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NB: Anything we need to know that’s coming up?

CJ: I have six beers coming out in the next six months. I’m working on some big collabs with big breweries that would be amazing; some cool projects in the works. Constantly doing what I can to be in the scene, it’s a hobby but now my work and as long as I can do both as a love, it’ll keep growing.

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