Lola Gets a Trip to Zeta Brewery

The first order of business was to find out how it’s pronounced. Zeta like Xena, Warrior Princess? Zeta like Beta house?
Turned out it was Zeta like beta. I’d been saying it wrong.

That was okay, though. I had a very patient, helpful tour guide for my visit to Zeta Brewing at Jacksonville Beach, FL. In addition to giving me a linguistic lesson, the brewmaster, Chris Prevatt, walked me through his entire beer-making process, including listing the ingredients he uses.

He mills his own premium, whole kernel grains, using a variety of specialty grains; darker roast for darker beer, etc. He uses two-row for the malts, and the rice and wheat are flaked. Of course my ignorant self was thinking of flaky wheat as in breakfast cereal, but I’m sure that’s not what he meant.

My big question was about the hops, because a difference in hops can make me love or hate an IPA. He uses Cascade, Columbus, Summit, Williamette, and Fuggle (English style.) Specifically, in his IPAs, he uses citrus-flavored American hops such as Cascade, Williamette and Summit. In his lager he uses Fuggle, and in his porter, Fuggle and Williamette. According to this site, Williamette is known for its “aroma variety with a low alpha acid content,” and is used more for flavor than bittering. I am a fan of aroma and flavor, so I’m on board.

The tanks were seemingly taller than my apartment…grand, silver structures that could have been mistaken for Tin Man family homes. Each held so much glory and promise. He showed us which tank held which beer. He had tapped the lager and was about to mash another one, his 16th batch since the brewery opened in June.

The finishing touches on each batch go into the serving tanks – the chocolate coffee porter gets its fresh brewed coffee during that stage. He uses fresh local raspberries for the puree that’s added to the raspberry wheat. He uses local ingredients such as Ocala honey for the Florida lager and IPA. He utilizes Florida lemons, basil and thyme, and the produce he uses is organic. All around, he is very conscious of what goes into his product.

This gourmet mindset may have been leftover from his days as a chef. He experimented while home brewing for ten years, eventually going to the Siebel Institute of Chicago. He started off in Greensburg, PA at All Saints Brewing Company.

Zeta’s owners (Aaron Webb and Mark Vandeloo) stepped in at that point. They first opened the restaurant a year and half ago, but they approached Chris about moving down to Jacksonville and taking a chance on a new enterprise. He was thrilled at the chance, and the planning began last year.

Right now they are licensed as a brew pub, but they plan to expand into kegs, and then maybe growlers. They are building bigger tanks and putting in a 15-barrel fermenter, a 15-barrel bright tank, along with 2 more 7-barrel bright tanks. This is slated for November or December.

Currently, Zeta Brewing offers 6 staple beers with 2 rotations. The IPA is the best seller. The double IPA, which is called a Grassy Hopper, is brewed with a single Summit hop, and comes in at 8.6 ABV. It was one of my favorites of the 5 I tried that night. Chris said one of his favorite styles is IPA, but saying a beer drinker likes IPA is like saying a foodie likes food.

I recommend the American Garage IPA. The porter was lovely but not the heartiest porter I’ve had. The Private Rye was nice, but rye isn’t my favorite style. The lager was good, and there was a 5th beer that I can’t place right now. None of the beers got lower than a 4 in my opinion. It would be worth the gas and the miles on your car to make a special trip for this beer.

Outside of his own beer, he loves Cigar City, particularly Jai Alai. White Oak Jai Alai got a mention, too. I’ve heard good things about that brew. He also mentioned that he’s fond of Colorado brews.

The public will get to taste a whole lot more of his recipes when Zeta (the restaurant) holds a tap takeover starring Zeta (the beer) on October 2nd, 6 PM to 10 PM. They’re billing it as a grand re-opening, and Chris said that this would be his time to shine…his time to show everyone what he’s been doing behind the glass partition.
Instead of having 8 beers on tap, he is going to have 12, including a saison, a Belgian pale and other small batch brews. There will be prizes and music…and beer. Lots of good beer.