Portrait of a Brewer: Jensen Atwood, Pure Project Brewing

Get to know a Pure Project fixture on the week of the brewery's sixth anniversary

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There are hundreds of hard-working brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the storied reputation San Diego’s brewing scene has earned over the past several decades. Some have risen to great fame among industry pros and craft-beer enthusiasts. Some ply their trade in obscurity (and are more than happy to do so). Some are Instagram famous, trendsetters with cult followings that would rival social-media influencers. And while they share plenty of similarities, each is their own unique person with their own likes, dislikes, methods, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer NewsPortrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce you to local brewers, but to have some fun delving into the aforementioned areas so you can get to know them a little better and appreciate them and their contributions to the county’s standout brewing culture. All that plus stellar portraits from brewery lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Matt Furman.

Today’s featured brewer is…

Jensen Atwood

of Pure Project Brewing

What is your current title?

Director of Brewing Operations at Pure Project Brewing

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Cardiff by the Sea and now live in Encinitas

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?

My first alcoholic beverage was probably a Coors Light, Bud Light or something of that nature. I do remember it being a 12-ounce can of readily available Big Beer.

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer?

The moment that really turned me to craft beer was when I was in my first year of college and my roommate was a big fan of Firestone Walker. We would always have a six-pack of Firestone DBA in the fridge. This made me branch out and explore the craft-beer world and all the different offerings it has.

What led you to consider a career in brewing?

I started homebrewing when I was around 20 years old and in college. It was a way for me to spend my weekends and make beer to drink for a lower price than if I were to buy it at a store. (It actually made me spend more money on equipment and more for the hobby). Once I graduated college and moved back home, all I knew was that I didn’t want to spend 40 hours a week sitting behind a desk and computer. I decided to pursue the brewing science degree that was offered from UCSD Extension to learn as much as I could about brewing and get my foot in the door.

Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewery position?

My first job in the brewing industry was at a now-defunct brewery, 32 North Brewing. It was a beertender position that I was hoping would lead into production work. Through this position I ended up meeting Jesse Pine, who at the time was opening Pure Project Brewing at the Brewery Igniter location in Miramar. About nine months into my beertender position at 32 North, I got a text from the Pure Project team asking if I would like to join them doing a little bit of everything: beertending, delivery driving and getting trained in production. 

Who are the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?

There are two individuals that have played a huge role in my brewing career. The first person is my boss and mentor at Pure Project, Winslow Sawyer. Without his help and guidance I wouldn’t be where I am today. He has given me the opportunities to grow and learn in this industry, and has trusted in me to run Pure Project. The other big influence was my grandfather, William Heiden. He was the superintendent of the Schlitz Brewing Company facility in the San Fernando Valley for more than 25 years, and helped open four other facilities throughout the US. My mother and uncles were raised in the brewing industry with most of them working at Schlitz at one point in their lives. Even though he is not with us anymore, he was an enormous influence on my journey in the brewing industry.

What singular piece of advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer?

The biggest piece of advice I could give would be to give it your all and pay close attention to everything you do in the brewery. There are so many little things that can slip through the cracks. Attention to every detail is crucial.

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?

My ultimate career goal is to run a successful brewery, not just in regards to sales of the beer but also coworkers’ quality of life. I want everyone working there to have a sense of worth and enjoy their position in the company. 

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?

This is a hard one because there have been so many favorites that have been brewed over the years, but the beer that stands out most to me is our core pilsner, Rain. 

What is your least-favorite beer you’ve ever brewed on any level?

There are so many from my homebrew days–infected kettle sours, over-the-top fusel imperial stouts, oxidized IPAs–the list goes on and on.

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?

My favorite hop will and has always been Mosaic, I love to use it in lighter pale ales and IPAs. My favorite beers that showcase Mosaic are Mai Tai IPA from Alvarado Street Brewery and Carlsbad Crush from Burgeon Beer Co. My least favorite hop would be Galaxy. The recent Galaxy that has been produced gives off strong notes of peanut butter and astringency that I just can’t get over. I remember it coming across like a tropical fruit bowl over five years ago, but to me it’s now a shell of its former self.

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?

I would probably be working at a technology startup in Silicon Valley.

In your opinion, what non-brewing position is of great importance at a craft-beer company but often gets overlooked or less credit than those making the beer?

I think not enough credit goes to warehouse and delivery driver staff. They work their asses off to make sure the beer we produce gets cold-stored at all times and gets it to all locations it needs to go to be sold. 

What is your favorite beer style?

I would have to say West Coast IPA, with a close second being pilsner.

If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?


What single brewing company’s beers and/or ethos/style has been most influential on your style?

Sierra Nevada Brewing because of their attention to detail, whole-cone hop usage, bottle-conditioning and environmentally conscious brewing practices from water waste to solar energy for their brewery. 

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company?

If I’m not able to pick the brewery I work for, I would have to say Burgeon Beer Co.

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego?

Outside of San Diego, my favorite would be Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver. Their attention to germany processes, ingredients and importing their entire brewhouse is amazing.

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?

In San Diego I have yet to make it out to Mcilhenney Brewing. The other two breweries on my bucket list outside of San Diego would be Hill Farmstead in Vermont and Allagash Brewing in Maine.

What are your favorite local beer events?

My favorite event would have to be the Brewers Guild’s opening festival for San Diego Beer Week.

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?

I honestly don’t see myself leaving San Diego, but I would love to go somewhere in Colorado or out in the New England area. 

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?

If I get to be on the brew deck with no one in the brewery you’ll find me blasting black metal, Spectral Wound, Afsky, Panopticon or death metal, Tomb Mold, Beyond Creation, Bolt Thrower. If there is anyone else on the floor, I keep it a little more tame with Sleep, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden. 

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse?

Brew with style, not to-style.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?

I spend a lot of time with my fiancée, our dog and two cats, going out to other breweries around San Diego, and I like to play video games in my down time.

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?

My most frequently visited spot is Burgeon Beer Co.

What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing of all time?

I might be in the minority with this, but I’m not a huge fan of drinking beer with food. I typically finish my meal before having a beer. I would say the best pairing would be some sort of chocolate dessert with a barrel-aged or non-BA pastry stout. 

If you could somehow plan your last beer dinner before dying, what would you drink and eat, and who would you invite to join you?

For my last meal I would like a California burrito (with guacamole, no sour cream) that I can wash down with a pitcher of Miller Lite while enjoying the company of my fianée, Kelly.

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?

I’m just a goofy dude that strives to make the best beer possible.

If you’re a brewer at a San Diego brewing company and would like to be featured in our Portrait of a Brewer series, drop us a line at [email protected].

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