Each month, we conduct a long-form interview with an awesome member of the Rhinegeist team. This month, we chatted with Jon Cox, our hardworking and multitalented Brewer.
What do you do at Rhinegeist?
I’m a shift Lead Brewer and Cellarman. Brewing pretty much entails taking grain to glass. Cellaring is the fermentation process — the aging of the beer. That process differs according to style, of course. I work first shift, so I’m up at 3:30am every day and off by noon. I’ve been doing that for about three years now. I try and catch up on my sleep on the weekends *laughs*
Walk us through your Rhinegeist journey. We know you’re an OG ‘Geister!
I started my career at Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. I made some pretty good friends there, one being a brewer who took me under his wing. He taught me how to clean tanks, and taught me the Cleaning In Place (CIP) process. Most of my time over there was spent cleaning kegs and packaging beer. But, when given the chance, I would shadow the brewer around. Once we started bottling beer, I began working on the packaging line full-time.
There was a part-time engineer that worked at Moerlein who knew Bob (co-founder), and told him what I was looking to do and where I was trying to go. I contacted Bob right at the beginning. I remember I called him while he was jogging, and he answered the phone mid-stride *laughs*. It wasn’t long after that that I came in for an interview with Bob, Bryant (co-founder) and Jim (Chief Science Officer). We went over the cleaning processes, and Jim made a joke that I was actually working under the same SOPs that he wrote over at Moerlein when he worked at the Lagerhouse! We hit it off right in the beginning. It was really cool when I had the opportunity to come here. When I started, there was just a few tanks. Ox (Beer Specialist) was over there on the little single head keg machine. Any issues with the machine Luke (Barrel Master) would go over there and do the repairs that were needed to keep us alive, keep us movin’.
What did you do prior to Rhinegeist?
I grew up in the small town of Bethel, Ohio. Went to Bethel-Tate HS, ended up in vocational school for my last two years of high school. Took Auto Collision, so I got a little experience with painting cars and doing body work. Worked at a small town gas station right out of high school. It was a full service gas station, so I did some small mechanical duties — changing tires and brakes, pumping gas. It was my first job and I was really proud of it. After that, my uncle, who was working for a residential plumbing company, recommended that I apply there, so I ended up working with those guys for about four years. I picked up a lot of skill in the trade but, when the economy dropped off in 2007, I kept getting laid off, so I went to a commercial plumbing company installing water mains, fire hydrants, and a lot of underground pipe work. I worked for those guys for about two years. Yet again, I got laid off.
Soon after that I knew some friends that were working at Arnold’s Bar and Grill downtown so I went and applied there and was washing dishes full-time, six nights a week. Some of my friends in the kitchen said, “hey, Christian Moerlein is getting ready to take off…” So I met the packaging manager over there, and here we are. I still do plumbing work on the side. It’s like riding a bike — you never forget!
What are some of the challenges that get thrown your way?
I would say that the staff shortage in the beginning was pretty overwhelming. I spent a lot of long days here! I would have to say that, today, preventive maintenance, or difficulties with any equipment, presents the biggest day-to-day challenge. Ultimately we all take a lot of pride in what we do here. The beer being produced is our top priority and we ensure that we put out the best product we can brew. We make a lot of beer here. It’s pretty wild. We have processes in place now that keep things moving at a steady pace.
Do you have a spirit animal?
I would say a Cheetah because I move around pretty quick. I’m a fast-paced guy. When I’m on the clock, I like to move, and when we’re not busy, I don’t like standing still.
What’s your favorite Rhinegeist beer?
Hustle. Hustle this year was really good! Intense notes of peach, tangerine and mango dominate, it’s a very hop-forward IPA. It’s light bodied and gold colored with a crisp, dry finish. You’ll have to try it!… *laughs*
Talk about Workhorse! You were behind that beer, right?
Yeah, when I started here working next to Jim, Luke and Aaron (Lead Brewer), they saw how excited I was to be on the brew deck with them, so they took it upon themselves to show me how to brew. It was really cool. I would spend a lot of my downtime up on the brew deck. One day, I’ll never forget it, Jim came up to me and handed me a gift card and said, “come up with a beer recipe.” I was like “Holy cow, Jim just told me to do a beer!” So that’s what I did.
I wanted something American style, because we hadn’t really done that. Something very smooth, with a little bit of hop character on the tail end. So I sat down with Luke at my house, and we came up with a recipe for an American Lager. It was a Pilsner and 2-row malt base, with a little bit of Hallertau Blanc hops added on the tail end of the boil. Workhorse was a good beer.
What do you enjoy most about this place?
My job is pretty awesome. I’m pretty fortunate to be a brewer here and to have the opportunity to grow as a craft brewer. It’s pretty rewarding to take grain to glass and watch people really enjoy what you’re doing. It’s like being a part of the community, too. Being a part of a company that is so motivated to be a part of the community is pretty awesome. No matter what I do, being a part of this company is truly amazing!
So the brewers control the music in the brewery. Who are your go-to artists?
I like classic rock, man. I like Metallica, Journey, Lynrd Skynrd, Zeppelin, all that stuff.
Who plays the best music?
Oh, Peter [Mooney, Brewer] for sure! His stuff is all over the place *laughs*.
What’s your favorite event we’ve put on?
I’d have to say Rare Beer Fest, which is coming up real soon! Hats off to Katie (Marketing Manager) for pulling off some really rad events. Also to Katie (Community Engagement Manager) for hosting Charitable Suds and community events.
Any bucket-list breweries you recommend visiting?
I went to a Chicago Brewery, Forbidden Root, that’s a pretty solid brewery up there. The owner of that place, Randy Mosher, is actually the guy that wrote Tasting Beer. I met him when I went to Chicago for a beer class, he was a pretty solid dude and their beer was excellent.
We’re halfway through the interview. Give a shout out to someone reading!
Let’s give a shout-out to my wife Leslie — she’s pretty amazing! We just got married two weeks ago. We had a destination wedding, went down to St. Pete Beach in Florida. It was on the gulf side so it was white sand and clear blue waters, perfect wedding setting. It was the first time being in the ocean in like twenty years. I was a small child, I can barely remember, and here we are getting married on the gulf. *laughs*
How’d you and your wife meet?
Through a friend back home. It was like a mutual friend kinda thing. We hit it off from there and have been together ever since. We have a four year old daughter at home, that’s been amazing. She keeps us busy and has taught us so much about life. Leslie and I make a great team.
Is there a piece of Rhinegeist apparel you wear the most?
Oh my hoodies, definitely. And my sweatless t-shirts in the summertime. I’m always reppin’ my Geist gear!
Brewers often have pretty refined palates. Are you a connoisseur of anything else?
I’m a big coffee drinker. Lately it’s been the frappuccino cold coffee in the morning and then at 7am every day I go to Dunlap Cafe and get me a cup of coffee. It’s kinda considered my lunch time/break time. *laughs*
Our brewing equipment can, from time to time, act up. Do you have any crazy brewing stories?
It wasn’t on me, but I was here to witness a big hop explosion. It was quite surprising and kind of awesome *laughs*. I know we have pictures of it. The cleanup wasn’t very fun and I’m glad everybody was okay, but it was pretty cool to witness.
Where’s your favorite spot in the brewery?
*laughs* The break room. We have a fully-stocked room of healthy snacks. Bananas, apples, yogurt, protein bars, all sorts of stuff. Even an espresso machine! Also, the rooftop: it’s a nice place to eat on your lunch break during the summertime or just have your shift beer up there when you’re off.
You a big concert guy?
I went to see Journey once, this is a funny story, I drank two of our Saber Tooth Tiger bombers before I went and I was, well, I was on my way *laughs*. We got rained out, first thing, and when I got there, I don’t — my wife had to drag me out of there we’ll say that.
What’s the best part of your personality?
If I asked my wife, she’d say I’m a quiet type guy. Hardworking, grateful, humble.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
The Eagle Chicken Sandwich.
What do you do when you’re not ‘Geisting?
Family, I love spending time with my kids and wife. Me and the boy are now working on getting our four wheeler back together. The chain broke a link and ruptured a hole in the gear case. We got it back together with a new gear case so, fingers crossed, will be riding soon. Other then that I enjoy camping at my father-in-law’s campsite down on the river. Most of our weekends are spent down there when we’re not busy.
Do you cook?
I do, I can brew up a good pot of chili. I usually use two chili packs and diced tomatoes and the hamburger with spaghetti. I use chili beans with some green peppers and some onions and usually I’ll use the habaneros too. Make it a little spicy.
What’s your favorite bagel topping?
Cream cheese, just plain cream cheese. For a good bagel, go to Clifton, we get ‘em every Tuesday morning at Bruegger’s Bagels. Try the Sriracha bagel on an everything, it’s pretty solid! Peppers and a spicy bagel will warm ya up.
If friends used three words to describe you, what would they be?
Loyal, hardworking, and quiet.
What are you looking forward to about the future?
I’m totally content with where I’m at. I like brewing beer and I like brewing beer for Rhinegeist. Like I said before, I feel like we’re a huge part of the community. I get a lot of joy out of brewing beer and watching people enjoy our hard work. Beer’s like a work of art and it’s just something you take a lot of pride in. There’s a lot of other brewers we have on the brewing team now that come in with a lot of different experiences, they bring a lot to the table. When the new guys start here it’s funny to see their reaction to the awesome culture. Rhinegeist treats their employees very well. Makes it real comfortable to wake up everyday and come in to work my shift.
As far as my home life, I’m looking to buy a house soon. We just got married, like I said, and have a four year old at home, so that’s the next move. I’m excited for the future.