The beer community may not realize just how diminished they are. Jay was a thread running back to the very beginning of craft brewing in this area, and typically, it was a lager thread. After learning homebrewing as a high school science project in 1978, Misson came home from college and answered an ad for a brewer at Vernon Valley, the pioneering brewery within Action Park waterpark in northern New Jersey. Here's what I wrote about that in an Ale Street News profile of Jay:
Misson started working for German brewmaster Stefan Muhs, who had managed to install a classically traditional German lager brewhouse in the Action Park waterpark in Vernon Valley, a strange marriage of teenage thrills and thoroughly sophisticated beer. "We were putting out half-liter swingtops of unfiltered, organic-ingredient lagers, brewed to strict Reinheitsgebot standards," Misson recalled. It was a 30 hectoliter brewhouse, with open wooden fermenters, wooden casks, and an open, tower-style wort chiller.I tasted those beers twice: once at an early Brickskeller tasting of American craft beers with Michael Jackson, who lavished praise on them, and once at Action Park in the late 1980s. Both times I was impressed, though the Action Park beers were served ice-cold, something Jay was never happy about.
"Everything was done the hard way, the Reinheitsgebot way," Misson said with a wry grin. "It was a great place to learn, because you HAD to be clean, especially with that open chiller. We grew up all our yeast from slants, we even made our own culture medium, and we cultured lactic acid to acidify the malt."
Jay remained a lager chauvinist, and wound up at Gordon-Biersch, training brewers. That's where he met Patrick Jones, who he would bring along back to New Jersey to brew for Triumph, first in New Hope and now in Philly.
Jay was always quick to pour a beer, quick to rhapsodize about a German style, and quick to quash any talk of lager being in any way inferior to or less complex than ale. He also loved having a good time, a big man, outsized in humor, knowledge, and passion. As I said to his wife Kelly today (they married in October of 2005; Misson got a call at the wedding to let him know Triumph had won four GABF medals), Jay was just such a big guy, it was like he didn't fit into this life.
Kelly said he'd had a great day yesterday, caught an enormous bluefish. If he had some good lager beer with it, and been with her, I can't think of any way Jay would have enjoyed his last day on earth any better. Oh, damn, but I am going to miss the man. Lift many beers to him, because that's how he would have wanted it. But please...lagers:
I told Jay about something (Hyde Park Brewing's) John Eccles told me once. "Ales!" John said. "I could teach a chimp to make ales. You have to know what you’re doing to make lagers." I asked Misson if John had heard him say that (when Jay was training him at Mountain Valley brewpub).Attitude, and lagers. One more quote:
"No, he didn’t get that quote from me," Misson laughed, a big laugh. Then he smiled. "But the attitude – yeah, that he got from me."
I was relaxing after the meal with head brewer Jay Misson and part-owner Brian Fitting; Fitting was telling me how they kept getting inquiries about bottling their beer. “They just don’t get it,” said Misson, waving a dismissive hand. “It’s a brewpub. We make beer here, people drink it here. That’s what we do. That’s all we do.”Passionate to the last. Fare well, Jay, auf wiederseh'n.