In the second half of 2023, we explored Gen Z's relationship with craft beer, looking at how breweries could better connect with younger drinkers and those considering a career in beer.
Now, with plenty of Gen Z workers already in the industry, we're shining a light on those who are killing it, slaying, or just generally pretty lit. Just what do these rising stars of the beer world love about beer, why did they start working in the industry, and how do they think craft beer – and the wider world – could be better.
The series kicked off with Emily Usher, senior brewer at Deeds, and here heads to Happy Valley in Brisbane to find out how Jett Righetti Slays Beer.
This is Jett, and he lives up to his name.
Jett Righetti may have only been in the beer industry for a few years, but from day one he’s been looking ahead, moving forward and picking up speed. At 23, he’s finished his TAFE brewing course, is working as an assistant brewer at Happy Valley under Ian Watson, and already has his eyes set on winning beer awards and eventually opening his own brewery.
Jett started out like many do: drinking macro lagers – and thinking that’s all that beer could be – before trying a first eye-opening Pacific Ale at his local craft beer bar. It’s there he first explored a range of beer styles, helped along by the passionate staff and rotating taps. It’s there he learned what IPAs are and had his mind blown by sours, and there that he got a job bartending and soaking up all the beer knowledge he could.
And a year later, it’s there that Cheyne Meehan, owner of Happy Valley Brewing, took note of Jett’s passion for the industry and asked him: "Do you want to come work behind my bar?"
“Cheyne’s always keeping an eye on talent in the area,” Jett says. “He likes to do a bit of scouting.”
Jett loved getting the chance to tend bar at Happy Valley, and especially loved the opportunity to see behind the curtains of a working brewery and get involved where possible. But he had it in his head that you couldn’t be an actual brewer until you had a lot more knowledge and experience – and years – under your belt.
“I’d thought about it, but thought there were too many barriers to entry – so much work on the biology and chemistry.”
Everything changed when he was at the Royal Queensland Beer Awards with Cheyne, and saw then 21-year-old Josh Batten from 10 Toes win the Best New Queensland Craft Brewer of the Year award.
“He was the first young person I’d seen as a brewer… I literally in that moment said, ‘That’s going to be me in two years.’
“And Cheyne said, ‘We can make it happen.’”
The very next day, Cheyne followed up with Jett to get the ball rolling. Part of that was sending him to do the brewing course at TAFE Queensland.
Before he attended, Jett was overwhelmed by the prospect of learning about brewing; after all, the talented brewers he knew were all years ahead of him, and he’d expected the TAFE course to be full of older guys building on their knowledge. But when he showed up and saw a bunch of people his age in the course, that settled his nerves. He dove headfirst into learning as much as he could.
“If [the teachers] saw you did have a serious passion, they were willing to go above and beyond. I was asking questions outside the teaching, all day every day, and they were willing to oblige."
Meanwhile, back at Happy Valley, Cheyne gave Jett a role as assistant brewer under head brewer and industry veteran Ian. While this included dogsbody work like cleaning vessels and kegs, Ian took it upon himself to oversee Jett’s education in the brewery: from giving him "homework" like getting a mixed four-pack from the bottleshop and reporting back about the different styles, to quizzing Jett at the end of each week on what he learned at TAFE, to brewing a beer on the main brew kit while simultaneously guiding Jett to brew the same beer alongside him on the 30L pilot system.
Jett is incredibly grateful for the way Ian invests in him, and the more he gets to appreciate Ian’s expertise and experience, the more he feels honoured for the opportunity to learn under him.
“I’ve never met anyone in the industry that has the passion and the sheer knowledge of the smallest little nuances in everything. People bring up a random style and throw it out there, and he’ll give you a 500 page article on where it started, where it is now, ingredients," Jett explains. "It’s extra special to see a guy who has that knowledge and is also willing to impart that to me.
"I’ll ask him questions for hours about everything, and you never see him get tired of answering those questions.”
And of course, all of this is only possible with the support and encouragement of Cheyne, who recognised Jett’s passion for the industry right from the beginning. He’s been nurturing Jett’s career ever since, doing things like bringing him along to pick hops at Hilltop Hops Farm and encouraging him to steward at the Indies.
“He opened his brewery as a passion project,” Jett says. “He wanted to open a place to be happy. He just wants to build everyone up with him, wants to see everyone grow.
“I have two great mentors: one who’s willing to do whatever I need to grow in the industry, and another who’s willing to give me all that knowledge.”
Jett’s ambitious in his brewing career – with plenty of great role models to inspire him, he’s determined to excel as a brewer – and uses his excited energy and momentum to grow his skills. But he also manages to keep a level head, balancing his eagerness with the perspective of long-term thinking. He has it in mind that he’d like to study further to get more brewing qualifications, but knows doesn’t need to rush it – especially since he’s currently in such a good position to keep growing as a brewer.
“I’m young enough that [in the future] I can gun for getting a degree and learning as much as I can. I’ve still got years ahead of me; I’m young enough to make those mistakes if I have to," he says.
“My options are open, really! I’ve only just turned 23. I can pour my heart and soul in while I’m young, put in the hard grunt work, and get ahead of the curve.”
Don’t lose sight of the fact that Jett brings the freshness of Gen Z to his love of beer. He may have patience and wisdom beyond his years, but he still has that youthful excitement for new and novelty flavours.
“I love brewing more traditional styles, where you’ve got years of discipline, and it’s been the same recipe for a while – especially under Ian, who loves the Belgian styles, the saisons, those things. Brewing those is better for my knowledge and learning.
“But if I go out and I see a wacky sour flavour, or a double cream whipped chocolate imperial stout, I’m like, ‘Getting me a pint of that!’”
This is Jett, and he Slays Beer.
What’s your role in beer?
I’m a bartender and assistant brewer at Happy Valley Brewing Company in Stafford, Queensland. I’ve been working here for two years and have just completed the TAFE brewing course, so I’m still pretty new to the industry, but I’ve started making small pilot batches which will be available on tap at the brewery!
What first got you into craft beer?
While I was working at a restaurant as an 18-year-old, a boutique gin/craft beer bar opened just across the street. One day I decided I would go down there after a particularly long and stressful shift, and that’s when the bartender (and now good friend) Jimmy gave me my first pint of Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.
Up until that point, I’d stayed pretty conservative with my beer choices, but I remember being immediately hooked! It was like nothing I’d ever had at that point, and I quickly became fascinated by the various styles and flavours craft beer had to offer.
What do you most enjoy about the beer world?
The camaraderie between breweries, regardless of competition, is something that I have to mention anytime someone asks me this. It really does feel like every person in the industry wants to raise everyone up, and it always feels like everyone has each other’s backs. Whether you need advice, or to borrow ingredients or a piece of equipment, you just know that there’ll be a brewery not far away happy to lend a helping hand.
Much has been said about craft beer’s core audience getting older – are your mates drinking craft beer?
All of my mates absolutely love craft beer, but outside my circle I’m definitely seeing a swing towards hard lemonades and seltzers. With more and more venues dedicated to craft beer popping up around the city, I hope to see a few more people my age around!
What do they think of your career in beer?
They all think I’ve got the best job in the world haha. I feel like people always hope that they can do what they love for a living, and when they hear me talk about how much I love my job, they always remind me of how lucky I am. They’re all pretty proud of me.
What’s your favourite way to discover what’s happening in beer?
I always try my best to visit new breweries or craft beer bars that pop up. I feel like I’ve learnt so much about the industry by sitting at the bar and chatting to the staff over a cold one.
I also make sure to tune into Steve "Hendo" Henderson and Dan Norris’s podcast, The Boss and The Brewer. They’ve always got some great insight and knowledge about the beer world and all the latest industry news.
How do you think the beer industry could appeal to a broader, or younger, audience?
Speaking from my experience, anytime we have a fruity or unique sounding sour, or a wild and wacky flavoured beer on tap, the younger beer drinkers come from far and wide to try it.
Nowadays, I feel that most young people want a brew that’s super crushable, or something with such a crazy flavour that they just have to give it a go. Already in my time I’ve seen most breweries adopt these styles into their usual rotation of beers, and the demand just keeps increasing.
In recent times, there has also been a trend in younger drinkers towards the low/non-alcoholic beers. And more and more we see breweries coming up with their own take on the style.
Who is doing it well?
Every year I get pumped for Aether Brewing’s Summer of Sours range – they’re always coming up with unique flavour profiles, and they’ve always been very impressive.
At Happy Valley, we have a fan favourite Cherry Cola Sour in our usual rotation of brews. It always sells out faster than we can brew it, and it’s always the younger punters getting around it.
What do you think the craft beer industry could do better or differently?
I would love to see more of a push towards adopting environmentally conscious practices throughout the brewing process at every brewery. It’s inspiring to see breweries like Young Henrys implement initiatives like their Algae Project, and it shows that there are so many different ways we can all be more environmentally conscious.
Unfortunately, a lot of these existing practices aren’t cost effective, and most small breweries are stretched thin already, and simply don’t have the means to implement them.
If you're a Gen Z member of the beer industry or would like to nominate someone to feature in our Slays Beer series, get in touch!