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17 min read

Jake Fleming

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Jake. Fleming. Resident Tall Guy.

He was 20 years old when he started working at the brewery and just 21 when he decided a life of beer was for him – making it, although consuming it has been part of the story too. It’s been nearly a decade since Jake Fleming convinced Greg Parker to hire him at Iron Horse Brewery, so we wanted to reflect on what makes Jake so great and how he’s grown with the brewery. After all, he’s approaching his big 3-0 so we need to talk about his 20s and how rare it is that someone his age stays at a job for a DECADE. 

Then.

From College to Beer

You probably read Jake’s blog a few years back about his decision to quit college, but we’ll retell it in brevity in case you didn’t. Jake moved to Ellensburg in 2009 to pursue a degree in special education at Central Washington University. Shortly after starting college he was lured into the world of hops, malt and yeast. Well, actually he needed a job in Ellensburg and had a family connection to this guy:

Jake is from the town of LaCrosse in Whitman County, Wash. He grew up helping his family (mainly his uncle/cousin/brother Chad) farm wheat on Flying F Farms. 

Upon moving here Jake was looking for a job and reached out to his family friend Gary Parker. Way back in the day Gary also worked for the Flying F Farms, driving trucks and milking cows. At one point Greg lived in LaCrosse and worked a harvest for the farm. There are stories that Jake and the Parkers are related in a roundabout way that nobody can quite figure out without scrunching up their face to think about it. 

IHB owner Greg Parker was hesitant to hire Jake at first because of the whole being under 21 thing, but also because Greg never wanted to be accused of nepotism. Jake’s persistence eventually won out, or it might have been Gary pressuring Greg to bring him on. Either way it was a win for Jake and for the brewery.

“I was encouraged probably by my dad to take a risk but I should’ve known Jake was no risk,” Greg said. “He’s from the heartland, rural America where hard work was at the forefront of the value set, and he was no exception to that.”

Started From The Bottom

Jake’s first job for the brewery was washing kegs and filling them. It wasn’t glamorous, but for a young eager-to-learn employee it was the magic that got him hooked and kept him coming back to work every day. Before getting the job Jake claims he had “literally zero brewing knowledge and barely knew what the word ‘craft’ meant.” No need to be embarrassed, Jake. We all start our indie beer journey somewhere.

Jake wasn’t legally allowed to consume craft beer at first since he was still underage. He couldn’t even manage his own time card because they were located in the pub and he had to wait outside of the tasting room for one of the servers to grab his time card so he could clock out. That’s one way to stretch your hours.

“I wasn’t legally allowed in the tasting room when it was open,” he said. 

Jake quickly advanced with the brewery and started learning how to brew. He was working 40 hours a week and loving it, but it was starting to take its toll on his school work. Knowing he was only 21 and had plenty of time to go back to school, he decided to take the leap into brewing, and said “See ya!” to CWU.

To date, that decision hasn’t come back to haunt him. Making a product that people really enjoy has been a rewarding experience for Jake.  And for us.

“It’s a sense of pride,” he said. “Irish Death – it’s kind of nice to be like, ‘Yeah, I helped make that. I’m part of that process.’”

Iron Horse Brewery owner Greg Parker said he took some level of responsibility for Jake quitting college, even though it’s not really his to take.

“When he did that I thought, ‘Oh shoot, what is my level of responsibility here?’” Greg said. “I still continue to feel responsible because he’s been here for 10 years, and I think whether it should be or not I feel a sense of duty to ensure he’s got a good position here and that the brewery is offering what he needs and what others need. Jake as an idea ends up being a driver of responsibility for me in a larger sense. Damn you, Jake, I don’t need that.”

Work Life

Way back when a day in the life of Jake at Iron Horse Brewery looked something like this: Take over the morning shift of brewing. Drive the forklift from the Dolarway Road tasting room over to Pautzke Bait Co. (who generously let us store beers in their cooler), and put together orders. Run back to the facility to check on a brew and make sure it was going ok. Get a tank ready. Pitch yeast. Transfer beer. Run back to Pautzke to put more beer orders together. Print paperwork for the orders. Wrap all the pallets (by hand). Repeat the next day.

“There was a lot of on days and a lot of me running around,” Jake said, recalling he was very skinny at that time. 

The company grew and so did Jake. With each brewery expansion his roles and responsibilities expanded. The production side went from a team of four or five people to one of about 16 with a new facility and new equipment.

“It’s been pretty wild,” Jake said. 

Jake’s current roles include: On call advisor, personnel scheduler, inventory controller, wastewater technician, wort production master and production scheduler. What those fancy titles mean is that he is responsible for planning the amount of brews produced at Iron Horse Brewery, determining which tanks they’re going into, what’s getting packaged and the amounts packaged. He also orders materials for the brewing and packaging side, maintains inventory levels of those materials, and assists with maintenance on the brewhouse. 

The worst part of his job is when something breaks and he has no idea how to fix it. Usually it’s up to him to figure out what’s wrong, and sometimes that means tearing into a $12,000 piece of machinery and hoping he can put it back together. The times that fixing things goes right are the wins for Jake. 

“You get something new like the brewhouse and you have to read through manuals and some of it’s in German and you’re trying to figure it out,” he said, describing the difficulty in diagnosing problems.

More about Jake
Origin: LaCrosse, WA
Height: 6’5 (He talks about the perks of being tall here)
Family: Mom, Dad, 2 Sisters, 1 Brother, his uncle/brother/cousin Chad
Current Age: 29
Celebrity Doppelganger: Jim from The Office
Favorite current IHB beer: Cand Hannon
Favorite IHB beer of all time: Malt Bomb
Favorite beer to brew: Light Rail because it’s fast to make.
A Q&A from years ago

Lending a helping hand

Cousins fondly tell stories of all the times Jake has bailed them out or stepped in to make their lives easier at work.

“My favorite memory of Jake is last year when he volunteered to help relabel 120 cases of High Five Hefe bottles with the incorrect UPC,” said Jared Vallejo, director of marketing and mentorship at IHB. “He is the kind of person selfish people like me take advantage of –  he never says no when you ask him for help. I love that guy.”

“I don’t think there is one memory of Jake that doesn’t involve me asking him for help on something,” pub manager Brooke Kvinsland wrote with a smile emoji. “He has never once said no or (that he) can’t help. Even if he has no idea how to fix it he still tries! Jake is the definition of what a true IHB cousin is. IHB would be lost without him and I’m damn proud to say I get to work with him!” 

Jake is so damn helpful even other breweries love him. He helped mop up standing water at the Spokane Inland Northwest CollabFest earlier this year after the event space flooded because the beer must go on. #flashfloodbrewfest

“Couldn’t have had a better guy there for having a can-do attitude and masterful squeegee skills and I bet he secretly loved it,” Greg said. 

He’s probably also helped a lot of short people reach things over the years. A visual representation of why Jake is better at life than us.

Ross Chalstrom, VP of sales at IHB, said Jake has been one of the best people to be a part of the brewery.  

“As a brewer he has the rare quality of being highly personable while still being extremely knowledgeable of his craft,” Ross said. “As a person he is a wonderful man who I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing grow up.  He’s kind, thoughtful, and an extremely hard worker. He almost never complains and continues to work toward improvement in a bunch of different ways. In conclusion he is someone who I trust and whose opinions and insight I value highly.”

Fuck Ups

There was the centrifuge incident that Jake wrote about a few years ago where a piece was not put back after disassembling and reassembling the centrifuge. Chaos ensued. Jake’s life was really hard for a long time.

“Honestly the worst part of that was how much he was probably beating himself up,” Greg said. “Accountability has never been a challenge for Jake. When something like that goes down it’s eating him up inside. He’s going to right the wrong.”

There’s been others that weren’t his fault that he has had to clean up. Some of the worst ones involved spent grain overfilling trucks when the valve got stuck open. It would all pile in one part of the truck so it would have to be redistributed.

“You have to get in and shovel it out and move it, and standing in hot 156- to 170-degree grain is not pleasant,” Jake said. 

Then there was the time Ross and Jake were playing golf at the Leavenworth golf course and Jake shanked a tee shot so horribly that it went sideways and missed hitting our market manager Ashley Stevens in the head by a few inches. 

“At the speed it was traveling it would have at least knocked her out,” Ross said. “Although it was an honest mistake Jake felt so bad he kept apologizing and never really played well after that.”

Teamwork

Coworkers admire Jake’s work ethic, accountability and reliability.

Outside of golf Jake’s been on the Iron Horse Brewery softball team, the soccer team and a 3-on-3 team that went to Hoopfest. He also plays cribbage once or twice a week down at [ the pub ] with Iron Horse Brewery packaging manager Morgan Moran. The two have worked together for five years, and became friends outside of work. 

Moran said Jake’s work ethic is “above and beyond.”

“That dude works probably 60 hours a week every week, gets paid for 40, and doesn’t complain about it once,” Moran said. “He’s not afraid to take on more and more. He started here as a grunt, a 20-year-old kid doing who knows what and 10 years later he’s running the place too. Taking on a million dollar brewhouse and learning that in German is a huge responsibility. Blowing up the centrifuge – we always joke and flip him shit for that but taking that on and not freaking out and dropping shit and leaving, but figuring it out from there… If you call, he’ll show up.”

Jake said it’s the tight-knit group feeling that has kept him around the brewery for the last 10 years. 

“Greg really seems like he cares and will listen to you no matter what and hear your opinions, and I think that’s valuable,” Jake said. “The work itself can be a grind at times and physically demanding, but at the end of the day we all get to go down to [ the pub ] and drink a beer and congratulate everybody for getting a hard job done.”

The added flexibility and feeling of trust is a bonus. 

“People here trust people to do their job and you don’t have anybody breathing down your neck every single day,” he said. “It gives you a lot of freedom to get the job done your way.”

We imagine that you probably also had questions about why Jake is so tall, so we asked. When Jake was in the sixth grade he was helping his family brand cattle and part of the process involved growth hormones. At 85 pounds he faced a 140-pound calf, which he had flipped over and was holding when they branded it and the calf moved, moving Jake’s arm right into the oncoming needle. His arm was numb for a while and he couldn’t move his elbow. The pain only lasted for a few days, but the results have lasted a lifetime. And that is the legend of why Jake is so tall. #yourewelcome.