In Her Own Words: Q&A with Jamie Burnham
Updated: Mar 25
Whether or not you know the name Jamie Emmet Burnham, you know more about her than you think. If you're reading this blog, it's probably because you're in some way interested in Utah's alcohol industry, and Jamie has been highly influential in the state for much of the last two decades. In the same way that a prominent chef can train others who go on to start their own restaurants and change the culinary landscape, the right person in the right position can help encourage a whole generation of artisans.
When I moved back to Salt Lake City after college in the Pacific Northwest, Jamie was that person for me. She was the manager of my local homebrew shop, the Beer Nut, and gave me my first job in the beer world. She interviewed me, evaluating my homebrewing and beer knowledge, and then hired me on the spot. Over the next two years, she proceeded to train me, encourage me, point me at new resources and introduce me to others in the industry. My biggest opportunity came when I got hired to help open Epic Brewing while still working the Beer Nut, and rather then resent my departure, Jamie sent me off with well wishes, the same as she has done for several others before and since.
From there I went on to be successful at Epic, leave to found Proper Brewing Company, become President of the Utah Brewers Guild and other accomplishments besides. But I think it all started with that first opportunity she gave me. In thinking of my own career, I can't help thinking of this person who was foundational in my professional life, and a good friend as well. She has also struggled through challenges most of us would balk at to succeed and reach greater and greater heights with each passing year. In doing so, she has remained an inspiration to many of us. So I sat down with Jamie to get her story in her own words.
Rio Connelly: How did you get your start in the beer industry?
Jamie Burnham: I was in a job right after college where I was a probation officer, and I hated it. It was the worst, but I stuck with it for five years. I was complaining to my friends, Mark and Kileen Alston, who owned the Beer Nut and the Bayou, and Mark said, 'I might need a manager, you interested?' and I said, 'Yes! When do I start'. That led to 12 good years.
RC: What was starting that job like?
JB: I actually came into that job not really knowing a lot about how to homebrew. I dove into books and started learning. Baptism by firehose. [The customers] were like, 'who are you? And what do you know about this?' and I had to know. Believe me, I was fact checked many times.
RC: Can you say something about your accomplishments in that job, including lobbying at the Utah legislature?
JB: We helped legalize homebrewing in Utah, with the passage of H.B. 51 in 2013. It took two solid legislative sessions to get that bill heard and passed. And Utah's first homebrew competition, the Beehive Brewoff. That was an 'a-ha' moment after homebrewing became legal in Utah. What's the next step? Let's do a homebrew competition, because Utah never had one. Starting a brand new competition, we had over 300 entries. At its peak, it's had over 800 entires. I still help out and it's all volunteer work.
RC: You also started Utah's first all-female homebrew club, the Hop Bombshells of Utah?
JB: [At the Beer Nut], we were noticing a large number of women coming through the door making their own recipes, and [Assistant Manager] Dave Watson said, 'you should start a homebrew club!' The reason we started an all-women homebrew club is approachability. I love brewing beer with my husband Jared, but there's times he will take over, and I want to do everything. All I really need him for is heavy lifting, [laughs] and with a team of women, we can do that! It's still going strong and I still consider myself a lifelong member. Those ladies are killing it! Their most recent and recurring collaboration is with Saltfire Brewing, they do a beer with the Pink Boots Society hop blend. Lauren Lerch [of Uinta Brewing and Craft Beer Girls blog] and I actually helped select that blend.
RC: Speaking of the Pink Boots Society, say something about working with them?
JB: Pink Boots has been invaluable, it's such a great organization. Their motto is to assist, inspire, and encourage women in the alcohol industry. Julie Schuler [of Straptank Brewing] started our Utah Chapter in 2017. I was the chapter leader from 2018 until this January.
RC: Describe your career path since leaving the Beer Nut?
JB: I hit the ceiling at the Beer Nut. In 2016, I had reached a point where I had stopped learning and growing as a person. So, when my friends Rob Phillips, Chris Haas, and Josh Stern came in talking about a brewery, I was like 'I want in!' I put in my notice with Mark and worked through December 2016 and then January 2017, I started with RoHa Brewing Project as Direction of Operations essentially. I wore a lot of hats, as one does at a startup. I did a bit of sales, a bit of canning work, was in charge of FOH employees. And it was good.
But my mom got really sick in 2017 and so my head wasn't really in it. The stress of my mom being terminally ill was too much for me so I resigned in December 2017 and picked up a sales position gig at Kiitos Brewing. I had a ton more flexibility, I was able to take care of my mother and do sales.
I had been with Kiitos for a few years and once again, I felt like I was hitting a stopping block, where I wasn't learning anything. It was a good job, Kiitos took very good care of me and I'm super grateful to them. But then I was talking with a friend of mine who mentioned that Tim Smith at Ogden's Own Distillery was looking for an Assistant Distiller, and I was like, 'I've always wanted to be in production.' A brand new job during the pandemic. I said, 'I'd really be interested in this job, you'd have to teach me everything, because I know beer, but I don't know distilling.' He was able to teach me and now I've taken over 99% of the production at Ogden's Own. Every batch of product that goes in those tanks, as of January 15th, 2021, that's me!
RC: It must have been tough to change from brewing to distilling and from sales to production, what were you thinking and feeling about the shift?
JB: Imposter Syndrome, like 'I don't belong here.' But Tim laid groundwork and explained things well. You have a recipe in front of you and you follow it and put it in the bottle. I love putting my blood, sweat and tears into a product that people drink, I love that! I did that! I made that! This is such a cool job and I have a lot of pride in my work. It might not be my recipe, but in that bottle, you're drinking a part of me. I'm currently studying for my General Certificate in Distilling through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK. I would like to get my Master Distillation certification too.
RC: Tell us about your new homebrew competition and what inspired it?
JB: It was an idea to creatively raise money for my campaign for Utah Man or Woman of the Year 2021 through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. My good friend asked if I would be candidate and what that entails is a very large fundraising campaign that lasts ten weeks. How can I raise as much money as possible? There's something about putting something together where people are allowed to be creative, and then they're more apt to donate via their entry. It's a little more expensive of an entry fee, but 100% of the money goes to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, it benefits them 100%.
I decided to fundraise for them because I'm a breast cancer survivor. In 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a few months before that, my mom died from cancer. Cancer is something I would like to see eradicated from this earth, and 40% of the research that comes out of LLS benefits other cancers. When I let everyone know about my diagnosis, I could not have been prepared for the amount of support I received, so this is just a way to pay it forward.
RC: Finally, what do you love about what you do?
JB: Beer and booze people are the best people, it is such a community. Everybody looks after each other. We have bigger battles to fight, outside of fighting each other. I like that.
So you see? You know Jamie by her work, by the effect her spirit and determination has had on those around her, by those she has influenced who make up an outsized portion of Utah's beer scene. If you ever doubt the impact that one person can have, while at the same time triumphing over the worst life has to throw at her, all you have to do is check the results of her fundraising homebrew competition when it finishes early next month. The winner gets to have their beer brewed on a large scale by Bewilder Brewing here in Salt Lake, so if you'd like to submit to the competition, you can find more information at this link:
And if you'd like to donate to her fundraising campaign directly, go to this link: