Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Week #23 - Dan Conway

Walk into any beer bar or bottle shop within the coastal parameters of New York and the Southernmost inches of Virginia and one name rings out. It's the easy name drop in the book. Whether its a conversation with an owner, a bartender, a rep from a competing wholesaler makes no difference...all the people know one man:

Left Hand Dan

The name blows my mind because everyone here knew him before his days repping the great beers of Left Hand Brewing Company. The first time I mentioned his name in conversation in Virginia the guy at the bar said, "Who?" so I described the handlebar mustache and possibility of an orange hunting hat and the guy said, 'His name's not Conway, it's Left Hand Dan.' Mind blown.

I don't think I've seen a brewery rep so loved yet in my three quick years in this biz. People will line up to tell you a story about hanging out at an event with Dan Conway. And seriously people....the dude sells a lot of beer.

In his own words, Mr. Dan Conway

So bring us up to speed on the life and times of Dan Conway in the Craft Beer business. You've been keeping Philly drinking for a good many years. How did it all begin and how did that road lead to Left Hand?

Well Joel… I happened into this business on purpose. I was a Computer Science Major at Temple University in North Philadelphia and the rest is history… Actually scratch that I was a Computer Science student who realized I wasn’t really cut out for coding despite the fact I knew my way around a Commodore 64 (youngins Google: Commodore 64 if you can find a system that still works play their version of Family Feud, it’s still my favorite game).

Soon after that I realized that film was more up my alley. Editing film and relocating to center city Philadelphia I began my life as an honor student working in the service industry. After a series of concierge positions at area hotels I realized that people liked talking to me. I then grew weary of dealing with people interested in the same thing “What time is check out?”.

I soon left and started working at a bodega down the street from where I lived and found my niche. This bodega was named the Foodery, located at 10th and Pine Street. It was there that with a lack of direction that I gained a fondness for craft and imported beer. Soon after starting there I became the manager and had the establishment function as my “Center City Office” for my freelance editing business. I attracted clients and friends that shared an appreciation for the finer things in life. Working there I established a report with the local beer community (brewers, bartenders, bar owners, dishwashers, ect.).

Growing tired of the day to day I decided to branch out and try working for a beer distributor. I worked as a bar consultant even though my initial title was: Sales Representative. Continuing on I decided try my hand at managing a Brew Pub as well as sales. After some time I went back to bartending and bar-backing for awhile to clear my head. I never want to think of myself as a salesperson. I’d prefer to be known and an individual that promotes options that work. For the record some of my best friends work on the opposite side of the bar. Actually to jump ahead to your next question my favorite quality of a bar is the staff as a whole. It’s kind of like that movie 300 only everyone is normally cool. Anyway there was a mutual interest between Left Hand Brewing and I and so it was agreed that I could function as their Mid-Atlantic Sales Manager. For 2 years and some change they have remained good friends and above average co-workers. In words: Solid People.

What does an ideal bar look like to you? What combination of things, personalities, edibles, drinkables, and other factors all swirl together to create an ideal bar setting?

Bars are funny places for different reasons. If you asked me what is my favorite bar was I’d automatically reply: “What you trying to get into?”. Personally I’m more about who I’m hanging with and what makes everybody feel comfortable enough to enjoy themselves. That’s kind of what it’s all about right? To be concise I’ll go into each of your suggested categories and try to answer them in one word:

- Personalities – Timeless
- Edibles – Appropriate
- Drinkables – Artisan
- Other Factors – Relative

Not trying to cop out on this question but there is something for every season in my eyes and I enjoy them all on different levels.

What do you love about the beer that you sell and what do you love about working for Left Hand?

As for the beers I can honestly say I haven’t had a bad one and I can’t say that about many breweries. Also I like that their beers are approachable rather than off-putting. I love turning people on to their first craft beer because I speak their language. Nobody needs to feel dumb, it’s just beer. I guess you could say I love that Left Hand lets me enjoy what I do and let me do it in my own way. I’ve made so many friends with this job it just seems to be infinitely doomed for good times. And I got to work on the label designs this time around.

I asked Ranger for tales from the trip, so I should probably get your take on it as well. How would you describe the mania that was the Oxymoron tour?

Fun. There is something about driving around in a pick-up around Virginia for a week that really just makes you think “damn this job is solid.” Again my main love for the job is all the people that I’ve met. Ranger is one of these particular fellows and I really enjoyed the experience of exploring the terrain with new eyes and with someone to converse with on the reg. Usually I’m on the road listening to tunes or stand-up but I really enjoyed having one of my buds along for the ride. As for the trip it was grueling after the first few stops but I was having a blast (Thanks for driving Ranger, I got next). No brewery reps. really do a tour together where I’m from but we’re friends on the ground level so everybody saw us as people. We weren’t just those guys trying to sell you something we wanted to be there and that came through every night. I liked that. Events across the board were well received and we had a different story for every event. For the unabridged version check out the cave drawings somewhere between Blue Mountain Brewery and Devil’s Backbone. The main story was everybody had a good time with a good beer in their hand. When tiggers and turtles get along you know all is right with the world.

And while we're at it, I know you've got stories from the long, lonesome highway. What's one of the crazier things that's happened to you while on the road selling beer?

Well… shit. I’d guess the craziest story would be when I was going the speed limit and got pulled over by a state trooper because he thought I was his friend’s cousins named “Hackensack.” He realized his error and we parted ways. I got a warning for looking like someone he thought he knew.

What is one thing that everyone (like, everyone in America) should know about Dan Conway?

I will never remember your name the first time… unless I give you a nickname the first time I see you. (very few exceptions on this rule and no offense).

Who would win in a wrestling match: Cameron Saunders or Nima Hadien?


While answering:

Beer - An excellent porter I’ve never had before

Music - Woods

Visuals - Poster from the Black Angels’ tour I caught at the first Unitarian Church

Soundscape - South Broad Street Philadelphia, Pa

Chair - Comfortable

Quote – “Do your damn thing.”

Thought – Love all you guys… even you Joel


Read more!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Week #22 - Cameron Saunders

As morning creeps in and front of house staffs across Philly begin to brace themselves for a marathon week of capacity crowds, special guests, special events, people wanting what they can't have, people wanting more of what there's none left of, and the yearly hysteria that is Philly Beer Week there's one guy out there that's shifted into cruise control. At this point he's been going out of his mind for the last three weeks, he's wrangled more tap handles than you can shake a stick at, he's coordinated and tracked down beer for, like, 80 beer menus, and somehow he managed a workout or 12 in there to. He's Cameron Saunders, the dude that sells all that Shangy's beer in Philly. Cameron threw himself head first into beer distribution and quickly became the guy that everybody loves to have a beer with. To use one of his phrases (and there are many) we've had lunches that are just epic.

If you see Cameron this week in your travels pat him on the back, buy him a beer, and offer him a ride to the next bar.

How long were you interested in beer and thinking about the beer business before you got hired by Shangy's?

Well, I have been drinking craft beer since 2000 when I was going to school down in Florida. I was already drinking beers like Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, and Pete’s Wicked Ale, but the kicker was when my wife Jes and I went to a Belgian bar down there and were blown away at what a great beer should be like. The bartender kept giving us free samples of Chimay, Corsendonk, Duvel, and Lindemans.

From that day we both were hooked on great beers and constantly were trying new beers. I started home brewing in 2006. That helped me gain a better knowledge of how beer is made and all the science and hard work involved. I was in sales already and figured why not try to combine what I love with what I’m good at.

I went to a bar all the time called Quotations in Media and became friends with the owner, Mike. He helped get me in contact with Shangy’s. They were looking for a sales rep in Philly in the near future. That near future took about six months of follow up and finally I got a call to go on an interview. Two weeks later I was hired and now I’m a beer industry lifer! I love the business, the people in it, and most importantly the beers I’m selling.

Whenever I come back to Philly it seems like you have stories upon stories of events. What are some of the craziest ones you recall?

We did a Bell’s Brewing event during Philly Beer Week 2010 where they brought 31 different beers to City Tap House. There were about 600 people there at one point trying to get their hands on all the special beers that never leave the brewpub. It was NUTS!

This is more about me getting crazy but Hans Peter Drexler, head brew master of Schneider Brewery in Germany, came over for a couple days. The day before he left we did a daylong tour of the city with events starting at 11:30AM. We had four different events set up throughout the day. At each bar we drank about four half liters of the delicious nectar. If you know Schneider you know his beers are all hovering around 7- 8.5% ABV. Then the Eisbock firkin comes out,12% ABV, and then the schnapps shots. By the time 1AM rolls around I crawl in a cab and may or may not have forgot where I lived and told the driver to let me off here. That “here” was about 4 miles from home and I pretty much walked through the hood to get there. Again, that may or may not have happened.

This business is all about relationships. Is it hard sometimes to have tough business conversations in an industry full of cool people that you're working with one minute and partying with the next?

Yes it is! You see these people every week for sales calls, then you go hang out at their bar for beers at night. You get to be really close to a lot of the owners and managers who make the business decisions. If they happen to be down with our company it can be a tough thing to say 'Hey man I really need to talk to you about our numbers'. We are down such and such percent with you and really need to figure a way to get back on track. That’s a hard thing to have to switch the buddy buddy off and get back to a strictly business persona. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

Tap Handles are awesome, right? In your opinion, what's the best way for tap handles to get from brewery (or manufacturer/warehouse) to the tap tower at the bars on your sales route?

There’s no way I could hate tap handles any more than I do now! They are the bane of my existence. It’s a constant struggle to make sure every bar has all the right handles. Breweries can’t send us enough handles and we don’t order enough of them so I’m always robbing Peter to pay Paul. The best way to deal with them is blow them all up and use generic handles. Then people might actually buy a beer based on style or flavor instead of, “Hey I want the beer with the pencil handle or the one with the shotgun or witch on it.” Yes I know, I’m bitter!

What does Craft Beer as a whole need right now? (more events? less events? more session beers?)

I absolutely think we need better-made session beers. The craft beer drinker probably is drinking beers with an average of 7% ABV and higher. You can only sustain drinking those for so long at that rate. The whole point of drinking beer is to hang out with friends and have great conversations and to meet some new people. Maybe because it tastes amazing too but it’s hard to hang out if you’re hammered three beers in within an hour at the bar.

I think all the breweries will at some point come back around to nice low alcohol beers that you can knock back all night. It will help them sell more beer and help the bars make more money. New Holland, as you know, is a great example of this. The Mad Hatter IPA is 5.5% ABV and tastes amazing. It’s a beer that satisfies the hop head but something you can sit back and enjoy the ride with too. I love how all the core brands are really low alcohol beers but don’t lack anything in the flavor department. (end New Holland plug)

What's your favorite thing about working in Philly?

I would have to say the vast amount of beer available to us! We have almost every brand worth drinking at this point. Philly is one of if not THE best beer drinking city in the country and because of that you can hardly go to any restaurant without finding great craft beers on their menu. That makes my job easier because the average Joe here knows a lot about beer and already knows the brands I sell before I even walk in the door. It’s great.

If you could put together Cameron's Ultimate Beer Dinner where in Philly would it be and what beers would be served?

Hmmmm. I’m gonna go with Osteria. They have such a good array of beer friendly food including cheese plates, salads, pastas, pizza, and dishes with meats you don’t see all the time. I would have a sour beer dinner there including Lost Abbey Red Poppy, Girardin Geuze, Russian River Consecration, and Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek. I would also add in Tripel Karmeliet for the dessert just because I can.

If you could have one beer, from Shangy's or otherwise, on the kegerator at all times what would it be?

Why would you do this to me?? That’s a really tough question but I’m not going to take the easy way out. I would probably say either Bell’s Two Hearted or Avery Joe’s Pilsner. I am really on a pilsner kick right now. It’s such a nice beer to sit back and drink all night without getting too hammered.

Ok tough question here...for one reason or another you can only go to one more Phish show. Maybe you're losing your hearing from too many Biscuits shows or you develop an allergy to veggie burritos, something. What venue would you want to see them at and if you could call the encore what would it be?

I would probably say Red Rocks only because I’ve never been there before and it seems to be an epic place to see a show. The encore is a tough question but I would say Crosseyed and Painless into Punch You in the Eye. That sounds perfect as long as I still have a good beer in my hand and they haven’t stopped selling yet. Read more!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Week #20 - Matt Simpson

Bridging the gap between a beer and its final destination is sort of a shared responsibility that falls on the shoulders of every advocate and champion of the craft beer movement. Without a blossoming field of new beer drinkers (and more educated current beer drinkers) a beer can go to package and then slowly draw to its demise if there is not an element of understanding about that beer's application out in the world of sensory pleasure. Professionally, brewers spread the word and market themselves through a variety of channels; at wholesale, sales reps taste and educate their accounts on what is new, what is available, and what people are drinking elsewhere. In the best of scenarios, retailers and their staffs are guiding consumers through their purchases. Beyond that, beer can hit the shelf or hit the tap and fly right out there door...or it can go to a sad state of purgatory, degrading and sadly falling to a state far from the brewers' intention or hope. The fate of that beer lies almost solely in all of the outlined steps prior.

Enter Matt Simpson, The Beer Sommelier. Matt's efforts touch all of the aforementioned paths and dig a trench to an all important x-factor: The curious craft beer consumer. Through a variety of consultation and informative services, Matt educates restaurant and retail shop staffs, he guides curious drinkers through Beer 101, food pairing possibilities, and an increased knowledge of how beer goes from raw materials to a half empty pint. Combining a wealth of knowledge and experience, Simpson's efforts touch both the provider and the consumer and in some cases even the unexpected TV viewer who's prime for an all important 'What's this craft beer stuff?' moment. Most recently Matt has released The Beer Expert App, which from all I can tell is the mack daddy of all beer apps. Drawing from a library of 300,000 beers, it is beer knowledge on call, at your fingertips. Enough from me though, check out the story behind The Beer Sommelier...

You're a Jersey Boy that calls Atlanta home. What led you to the South?

Well, originally, I worked in Journalism and broadcasting/tv/video…I moved to Atlanta for a job in that field. But after years of its ins and outs driving me nuts, I decided to open The Beer Sommelier® for business and follow my passion, instead of my training.

When did you start homebrewing? What styles do you most like to brew?

I began brewing some time about 2003. My teacher/mentor was Mark Nelson, one of the two creators of Georgians for World Class Beer, the organization that was instrumental in the lifting of Georgia’s 6% abv cap. Back then, my tastes were fairly myopic. I tended towards really big beers – the bigger, the better. That, combined with the fact that I have a hard time drinking great quantities in any reasonable time (which is why I bottle to this day, for cellaring, as opposed to kegging), led me to only create styles like barleywines, imperial stouts and Belgian strong ales. On the occasions I brew these days, I still make big styles (my last creation was an 18% sweet mead), but am considering a sour sometime in the future.

At what point did you decide that beer was something you were more than just interested in? How did the decision to take on the role of educator come about?

As I mentioned earlier, I really got sick of not only being in and out of work, but always working for “the man.” My last external engagement involved working for a friend’s company, who’d committed to partnering in eventually opening a craft beer store in Atlanta. When that prospect fell through, I decided it was time to open my own beer business – one that negated the need for massive overhead, startup costs and time and monetary investments. Having already had decades of craft beer experience (thousands of sampled beers, brewing, travel, writing, co-founding and editing TheBeerCellar.com, etc.), it was simply a matter of creating and protecting the company, gaining credibility, forging industry relationships and MAPs (marketing, advertising & promotions). The latter being possibly the most important, since you can be the best at what you do, but if nobody knows you exist, what’s the point? Fortunately, my writing and creative background allowed me to create my own marketing materials, including ads, business cards, press releases, web site (with much help from my developer, Geoff Coleman), social networking sites, etc. Then it was just a matter of earning my BJCP certification, seeking major writing outlets for columns and finding new revenue streams. I think the biggest success to date for The Beer Sommelier®, will be our The Beer Expert app – powered by RateBeer.com. Imagine being able to walk into any package store, grocery, or brewpub, and having immediate access to the information and user reviews for any beer in front of you, simply by speaking its name into your phone. Now that’s exciting!

How did you go about organizing or approaching the way the Beer Education 101 class at Emory University would work and the sources that students would study from?

It was simply a matter of forming a plan. So I created a class itinerary that covered all the bases, in the most logical order; what beer’s made of, how it’s brewed, styles, history, beer & food pairing. I then created a 30-page primer and PowerPoint presentation, to illustrate my ideas and went about teaching the course. I provided all the ingredients for taste and smell, the beer for sampling (two or more styles each class) and homebrewing equipment, for hands-on inspection. It was lots of work, but fun. Much like any entrepreneurial venture, when I realized I could be doing these classes myself, I began to do so. They’ve been sporadic thus far, due to life’s adventures and diversions, but I plan to do more in 2011.

Your Beer Expert website offers a variety of services where virtually anyone could hire you to inform and guide a tasting, pairing, staff training, or event. How long have you been 'open for business' so to speak?

I “opened my doors” in 2007. I’ll never forget walking out of the city building with my first business license. I was very proud and full of dreams.

Of your on-premise customers, do you find that restaurants and bars come to you because their customers are putting the pressure on them to carry craft beer?

Either that, or they see the writing on the wall themselves, and know that with a relatively small fee to me, they can exponentially increase the knowledge of their employees, in turn, increasing their bottom line. I often tell the story of “Ryan,” a server at a local beer bar, over a decade ago. Every time my friends and I came in, he’d ask us what we’d like, knowing we kind of knew our stuff about beer. If we showed either indifference or curiosity about anything new, he’d always make suggestions that reflected our style tastes…or sometimes just surprise us. And he never steered us wrong. In fact, we’d usually buy 2-3 more pints, simply based on his personable, educated and persuasive personality. This anecdote perfectly illustrates the power of staff education and its positive impact on a retail establishment’s bottom line.

Can restaurants come to you looking to take an existing or past manager's beer program to the next level?

Sure thing. I’ve got a huge list (two pages) of marketing plans, that may be used by either bars, package stores, or restaurants. Their implementation is a win-win for the retailer – at the very least, they’ll drum up business and create buzz. As I tell them, even “break even” programs are a winning proposition for the house. Even if they don’t generate tons of revenue, their clientele walk away happy and satisfied. And happy customers tell other folks, who in turn, become new customers.

Is there one general message that you have about beer that you try to convey or instill in your clients, regardless of the service they request, or the level of knowledge they have?

There are two, actually. First, is to sample, sample, sample. The only way to know if you like something, is to try it. I can’t tell you how many wine folks I’ve met, who swear they don’t like beer, only to be swayed by something I offer them – say, a saison, imperial stout, or lambic. It’s very heartening to see their faces, once they realize that macro lagers aren’t the only beverages that qualify as “beer.” The other tenet I try to impose on folks with whom I meet, is education. Knowledge is power, plain and simple. The fact that many wine lovers don’t know that there’s an entire bell curve of styles, spanning a history of hundreds to thousands of years, is a reflection of the lack of beer education to which we’ve become accustomed in the U.S. I aim to help reverse that trend. My company slogan is “My cellar of expertise, to your table of knowledge,” but my business model and personal motto is “Bringing craft beer to the masses.” It’s what drives me in what I do.

I watched several clips of you on television from your site. How many more times do we have to watch TV personalities say, "Oh, we're talking about beer like its wine," before we're just on TV talking about beer? It seems like every news or Morning Show appearance I see by someone from the beer community there's this general joking tone that comes from the hosts. Why do you think it is that beer doesn't get taken as seriously by these types of media outlets?

It’s a simple matter of past marketing. But it’s changing. In the past, macro lagers have marketed themselves in a lowest-common-denominator manner…selling their products, not based on their quality or consistency, but with models, sports figures and talking animals. So that’s the image we have of the products and the people who drink them. But not only is that marketing changing, to reflect the hard work, craftsmanship, ingredients and overall quality of the products, the perception of said products and companies is starting to change as well. Videos like “I am a Craft Brewer,” movies like “Beer Wars” and marketing like that of Boston Brewing are helping to increase public awareness that there is no more time-honored, complex, fun yet serious beverage on the planet, than beer. While some beer geeks disagree, my school of thought is that we in the beer community need to hyper-market ourselves to the point in which we find ourselves with a cache, perception and respect above that of wine, before we can relax and take a step back.

Your website lists yours as, "One of the largest, most robust and comprehensive beer cellars in the world". Is there one beer in there that you'd sacrifice all others to keep? What are the prize pieces of the collection?

Lol. I am pretty proud of my cellar and have some pretty rare stuff (Southampton Double Icebock – 100 total bottles, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Roots Epic jeraboam –100 total bottles, BA Speedway from Pete Zein’s personal collection, Hair of the Dog Adambier Batch #1, Stone Vertical Epic 020202, a 22+ year vertical of Bigfoot, etc.), but to tell the truth, the bottom line is that they’re all beer and meant to be drunk. Eventually. ;-) And really some of the best beer I’ve ever had, has been homebrew. Live the dream, homebrewers! Read more!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Week #18 - Jason Ingram

The world of Craft Beer is made of an intricate web of stories, personalities, and backgrounds. The people that create that web have so many things in common when it comes to beer, but often bring a huge variety of other interests and tales to the table when it comes to the world outside of our precious liquids. Jason Ingram is one of those folks with some really cool tales. His connection to some of the great unsung heroes of American music is fascinating, which makes conversation over a beer really interesting. No one had ever broken down the lyrics to a Robert Earl Keen song to me or transformed a bar in the Outer Banks into a Honky Tonk before my very eyes until I started to hang out with Jason. And know this, nothing stands between him and the Auburn Tigers.

Always running hard to bring the beers of Left Hand Brewing Company to the Carolinas and points further south, Jason's dedication to serving the craft beer community is remarkable and the beer he's out there selling is some of the best in the country.

How long have you been working for Left Hand?

I started with Left Hand in May of 2009.

What led you to the beer business?

My first job out of college was in Marketing in the front office of the Atlanta Braves. I loved the job. I realized that I always needed to work in an industry that I was passionate about. From an early age (drinking age) I seemed to like better more interesting beers. I completely fell in Love with Craft Beer and specifically the idea of small companies that turned to the ultimate American success story. I knew that I needed to be a part of this crazy industry. I also realized that I was not a going to be a brewer, but my talents were in discussing beer and getting people excited about it.

There can definitely be some challenges to working hundreds of miles away from your brewery, but growth in far off lands certainly comes with its own set of rewards. If you had your preference would the brewery be right in your back yard or as far away as it is?

That is very true that sometimes I face disadvantages being away from the brewery. If I need any supplies or would like to take someone by to see it, it would be nice if that were accessible. But Left Hand is located in beautiful and fun Colorado so I am always super excited to get to visit. So it also has its advantages as well.

What are some things that people probably don't know about Left Hand, but should?

Just how small we actually are. We are growing at a brisk pace but most people have not the slightest idea that although we sell beer in around 30 states … we only have around 35 employees. We have a great set of folks that work extremely hard to make world class beer. It is a challenge but we are all so in love with what we do.

What's your favorite thing about working for Left Hand....and what's your favorite beer from the brewery?

I love so many things but specifically about Left Hand would probably be the way in which we as employees are treated. I really feel a true since of partnership within the company. It motivates me to do my best and pull my weight to continue to grow along with Left Hand. Favorite beer changes with whatever hour of the day it is. At this moment: Nitro Sawtooth. An American ESB on a nitro pour with an ABV in the 4% range is floating my boat.

What are some of your favorite places to go out for a beer in your territory?

I am spoiled in that I live only a couple of miles from the famous Brick Store Pub. But in addition: Red Light Red Light and The Ravenous Pig in Orlando. Datz Deli in Tampa. 8oz Burger Bar in South Beach (We sell Milk Stout draft on South Beach Miami… how cool is that? Craft beer is everywhere). 12 South Taproom in Nashville. The Porter Beer Bar in Atlanta. The J-Clyde in Birmingham. A whole bunch of others.

And when you need to get away from the beer world? What do you do for fun?

Funny as even when I am on vacation and not working I always try to find the local brewery or brewpub to visit. I love beer too much to ever really get away from it. Even when I do not feel like drinking beer I never tire from talking about craft beer. That is how I know I am in the right job. That said I love Auburn Football more than life. So my interests are My Wife, Sports, and Craft Beer. And depending on what mood she is in is how they get ranked :) Read more!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Week #17 - Nancy Maddaloni

Looking for beer in New Jersey has gotten a whole lot cooler in the last few months. All channels of social media got a shot in the arm when Hunterdon Brewing Company, distributor of many fine beer brands, moved Nancy Maddaloni from their sales force to their communication blitzkrieg of the interwebs. In just a few turns of the calendar pages Nancy has made finding beer and beer events in the Garden State interesting and easy all in one shot. With a rapid fire twitter account (@hunterdonbrew) and probably the best beer wholesaler website that I've ever seen, Nancy and Hunterdon are pushing forward in this digital age and using social media to increase consumer knowledge, increase visibility for their numerous suppliers, and increase sales. It's very awesome, and so is she....so here's Nancy.

In the last half of 2010 you stepped away from a role in Sales and into the world of Social Media & Communications, what has your new position enabled you to accomplish
that you couldn't before?

You mean, aside from wearing my slippers to work? Mostly I enjoy spreading the word to our retailers and NJ consumers about all the great things happening in the world of craft beer. Everyday there are more and more news articles about our brands and tons of awards are being won everyday, so there is plenty to keep me writing, blurbing, blogging and tweeting. It has also been really nice communicating with the great people that work at our breweries and getting to know them on more of a personal basis.

Do you miss driving in circles around North Jersey sometimes?

Only when it's a torrential rainstorm and I know Hoboken is flooded. No, just kidding. Although that did give me an excuse to wear my cool orange boots!
I don't miss driving in circles, parking illegally and searching under the seat cushions for quarters, but I do miss some of the super nice people at my accounts.

How vital is social media in the world of Craft Beer these days?

Beer geeks love to talk... (most of the times they won't shut up!) and they love to listen. The social media is a terrific way for craft breweries to reach millions of people without even leaving their front door. Through facebook, twitter and blogs, retailers and consumers are becoming more interested in and more educated about the world of craft beer. Beer geeks are forming communities both online and in their local areas. Taking a few minutes here and there to send out bits of info about a beer, or even about what is going on in the brewery is really exciting to people who sit at desk jobs all day. It is pretty cool to see the amount of buzz that is circling the craft beer scene now and I think the social media has a lot to do with that.

Without a doubt Hunterdon Distributors has the best beer portfolio in the state of New Jersey. How has Hunterdon helped to grow craft beer's popularity?

We have a team of passionate beer geeks who are committed to transforming non-believers into craft beer drinkers. Sometimes it takes years to get product into one particular shop or restaurant...so it's a lot of perseverance....but that one bottle placement can open up 10 more doors by word of mouth. Repeat that a few hundred times and I think that is why NJ is a great place to drink craft beer today.

Meet our awesome staff here: http://www.hunterdonbrewing.com/staff.html

What kind of changes have you seen in the market during your time with Hunterdon?

It's pretty crazy the amount of changes. When I first started I only had a handful of accounts in Hoboken and Jersey City. People would laugh in my face when I asked them to try craft beer. Now I think we have close to 100 accounts just in those two towns and the amount of people calling us every week to open up an account is pretty impressive. It's like everyone just woke up. The best is when people who scoffed at canned beer call up and say they would like to order some. I love that.

What is one misconception you think the beer consuming public has about the way that the beer business works?

When I tell people what I do they think I just sit around and drink beer all day. Oh and they think I get a lot of free schwag.

What one beer do you always want to have a case of in your house?

Joel, I am pretty indecisive. One beer is not doable. How about I tell you a couple beers I would have on hand for each season or each mood?

Its a rainy, blustery fall day outside: Smuttynose Robust Porter

I'm feeling bitter: Great Divide Fresh Hop

It's a beautiful summer day: Allagash White

I just got back from a trip on my time machine: Avery Ale to the Chief!

What's the deal with cheesesteaks in North Jersey? I've had one at Piccolo's and one at Biggie's and they are much different than cheesesteaks in Philly. They're all delicious, don't get me wrong....

I'm no expert but Piccolo's cheesesteaks are super duper yummy. They actually use real steak and a real piece of cheese and have these delicious cherry peppers that are making me salivate just thinking of them. They should have a throw-down with Pat and Geno. I would like a cheesesteak now please. Read more!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week #16 - Jon Brandt

Jon Brandt makes nights and weekends better. He demystifies gift giving and puts the right liquids on your dinner table when you're just not sure what belongs there. He can tell you what you might like better than you yourself might know. That's right beer and wine shoppers in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Jon Brandt is at Rick's Wine and Gourmet waiting for you. A Michigan boy from the get go, Jon's travels and trades brought him to the DC area where he know stands amid an intense selection of the finest beer and wine available to Virginians. His insight is only matched by his helpfulness, but that does not take opinion out of the game at all. Jon's blog, Notes From The Beermudgeon, is a look at beer critically, sometimes through the eyes of the expert but other times through the all important eyes of the Retailer (See: Open Letter to DFH). Selection isn't the only reason I send people to Rick's Wine and Gourmet, I send them there because I know they'll love Jon the second the start talking to him.

One thing I often see at off-premise shops is the staff's knowledge of some of their customers buying habits. With Rick's having such a thorough inventory of both wine and beer, do you see much cross over with people buying up both or are customers predominantly only buying one or the other?

I would say that our customers are predominantly either beer drinkers/buyers or wine drinkers/buyers. The nice thing is, however, that there are occasions when people on one side of the aisle need to cross over to the other side -- and we are there to help, given our knowledge of both and of our regular customers' tastes. There are, of course, many customers who happily indulge in products throughout the store.

In addition to beer, your knowledge of and background in wine is rather sophisticated. What tools from the CSW training program have informed your palate and your approach to thinking about beer?

The CSW program is geared more toward knowledge of wine than toward taste and description of wine. I'd say that the thing about wine that most influences my palate is the 50+ wines that I get to sample every week from our sales reps and winery reps. Those tastings then influence my thinking about how things taste and also expands my vocabulary to describe what I am tasting. (Parenthetically, I wish more beer people would sample their wares with us in the manner that the wine people do. It's really helpful.)

If, hypothetically, one had a reason to attempt swaying wine drinkers over to craft beer, what would be good steps to take? What should be avoided?

I am often amazed that the same people who have very refined wine palates have very pedestrian (i.e. Bud, Miller, Coors) tastes in beer. The best thing to do is to simply get those wine drinkers to taste interesting craft beers and let them decide for themselves. That's why we have our weekly tastings at Rick's. People will sample 5-6 wines, then have the opportunity to try 5-6 beers as well. Often, the wine people are surprised to find they like some beers that they would have never tried otherwise. What to be avoided? Well, something I struggle with is to not be condescending about people's choices ("White zinfandel? Surely you jest! Fat Tire? That swill?!) while still offering alternatives that might help them along the path of palate development.

Since coming on as the beer manager at Rick's, how have you seen the beer section of the store change? Have beer customers changed?

Since joining the Rick's staff as beer manager in October 2008, the sheer number of brands available to us has expanded significantly, but our shelf space has not. I am constantly trying to find ways to shoehorn in a few more brands, but often that has to come at the expense of less-popular brands. One key example is the Dominion Brewing Co. (a.k.a. Old Dominion); five to seven years ago, it was probably our best-selling brand, with lots of brand loyalty among our customers. However, when Dominion was bought out by a consortium that included Anheuser-Busch, then was moved from Ashburn, Va., to Dover, Del., and fiddled with many of Old Dominion's recipes, demand for the brand waned significantly -- to the point that I no longer carry any of their beers and they are rarely requested. Our main customer base is quite savvy to the comings and goings of the beer world and are constantly evolving.

What are some struggles that a beer buyer goes through? What's the tough part of the job?

One of the toughest parts of the job of a beer buyer is when a brewery creates what I would call "false" demand through advertising, promotions, TV shows, etc., then does not provide us with enough product to meet the demand they have created. (Examples: Sam Adams Utopias, Dogfish Head Bitches Brew.) Customers are understandably frustrated when they are told a beer they have read about or seen on TV isn't available -- it creates a lot of extra, unnecessary work for the store to have to explain why those beers aren't available. Another problem are the beer geek hoarders -- the people who want to get multiple cases of semi-rare brews like Bell's Hop Slam, Founders KBS, Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA or Stone's latest anniversary beer. What people don't understand is that we do not have an unlimited supply of these beers and we have a large customer base looking for them. If I wanted to make it easy on myself, I'd just sell the five cases of Hop Slam to the first five people who ask for it, make my money and move on. But I usually have 50+ customers on a waiting list for Hop Slam each year and I try to dole it out equitably. I think that most (but certainly not all) our customers appreciate that.

What makes it enjoyable?

First, I enjoy educating our customers about beer -- it's origins and history, its variety, ways to pair it with food, etc. Second, It's fun to track down a particular beer that someone has been looking for for years and actually find it for them. I also enjoy doing private tastings for people and doing events like our Beer Cruise on the Potomac.

What's one thing that you wish consumers understood more clearly about beer retailers?

As indicated above, people should understand that retailers can only sell the beers (and wines) that are available to them. Just because you can get Pliny the Elder in Philadelphia doesn't mean that I am stupid or inept for not having it at our store; Russian River simply doesn't distribute their products to Virginia and there's nothing I can do to help that. Similarly, some distributors that carry a particular brand may not carry all their beers, which is frustrating to our customers and us as well. Believe me, we want to sell you all the beers you are looking for -- we just can't get them all. I do wish customers would appreciate the large and diverse number of beers they can get rather than complain about the few they can't get.

If you were quarantined inside of Rick's for an unknown amount of time, what is the one item in inventory that would disappear most quickly?

Depending on the time of year, it would probably be Bell's Two Hearted Ale or Bell's Oberon (sorry, Joel). But, I'm sure I'd tire even of those -- I just enjoy trying lots of new things at least once and also returning to my old standbys (like New Holland Mad Hatter!) to see how they are doing. Read more!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week #15 - Gina Talley

I couldn't be more excited about this week's interview. For those of you reading this that do not know Gina Talley I'm jealous about what is going to happen to you when you check out her blog.

Gina Talley and I first crossed paths during that first year at Teresa's Next Door when the place seemed to be on its own orbit. In many, many ways it still is it's own suburban planet, but there was something in the air surrounding that place before people grew accustomed to the amazing things that happen there. People were freaking out about it. It was a mystical time and a mystical place. Gina's knowledge of beer and food shined at Teresa's, which is a testament to their staff trainings and her constant personal quest to learn every detail about all things food and drink. Combine this with her being a self-admitted service industry geek and it's not hard to figure out why we became fast friends. Gina's blog, Femme Fermental is an honest look at food and drink wherever she goes. Her rap list of employers includes Teresa's Next Door, Maia, & Tria and she's got great stories to tell. So, here it is then. Gina Talley, in her own words...

Bring us up to speed on how Gina Talley became the Femme Fermental. At what point did things start clicking in your mind about food and beer and wine and restaurants?

Not surprisingly, this whole thing involves working at a few restaurants, and meeting a few people. While I was mildly into food during college, I never really knew what it meant to be “into” food. I lived in Philly during college and accidentally went to some great restaurants. In 2003, for my 19th birthday, I went to Django; I had no idea what it was, what the concept was, or that I was eating Bryan Sikora’s food.

I started at Teresa’s Café in Wayne and got into food. Then, with the idea of Teresa’s Next Door floating around, I started to get into beer. I bought an intro book on Belgian beer and went to Monk’s for the first time. I was really dorky back then; I took notes in the book. I still do that now, but never when I’m actually sitting in the restaurant. Essentially, the beer side of me developed just before Teresa’s Next Door opened.

The wine side came later. I remained a beer snob for a few years. Wine seemed esoteric and unattainable. When I worked at the infamous Maia, I met Melissa Monosoff. I credit Melissa, now a Master Sommelier, with demystifying wine for me. The layouts of her menus made sense, I learned basic styles, and retained enough to get by for the time. Then I enrolled in the WSET program and started working at Tria.
I decided to go for the blog once I had a good name for it. I was tired of just being a critic in my head. And a few people were tired of listening to me complain about Philly restaurants.

What were some of your early discoveries on the beer side of things? Beers or places or people?

Once I decided to get into beer, a few places were indispensable to me. First, Monk’s Café. I went there as much as I possibly could. I also went to Tria Café, late at night. I was still newly into beer, and I found some solid stylistic examples there.

Then I found a beer store on Beer Advocate: State Line Liquor, in Elkton, MD. I started venturing down there to buy single bottles. Pennsylvania is a hard place to learn about different beers in a very cost effective manner.

Specifically, the first beer I remember being blown away by was Monk’s Café Sour. I was SO into this beer that I actually bought a case of it. Now, I don’t drink it. But, it was my introduction to sour beers. I call it a gateway sour because, while it tastes far too sweet for me now, it will blow your mind if you’ve never tasted a sour beer. I quickly got into serious sours: lambics and gueuzes.

I love on the blog where you say that you're a, "Semi-retired restaurant employee by obsession," I find it totally relatable. What is it about restaurants that makes some people just fall in love with the work? What is it about the service industry that you find so irresistible?

When I went back to school a year and a half ago, I figured I better change my blog description. Semi-retired made sense. I’m not willing to give up the industry entirely; this past summer I went back to working at Tria. I love working at restaurants.

I think there are a few things that make people fall in love with the industry; the people, the pace, and the lifestyle. While many of these qualities aren’t likely to seem like a good thing, to people in the industry it just makes sense. Working in a fast-paced work environment creates (at its best) a sense of camaraderie amongst employees. The pace can also be particularly addicting. In a busy restaurant, hours will fly by and you won’t even notice. The other benefits include an instant group of potential friends: a group of people usually in the same place in life, who also happen to enjoy drinking. This last part can be both the best and the worst part about the business. Everything about it can go so right, or it can go so wrong.
Oh, and the money’s pretty good too.

What's one lesson that you will take away from your years in the business?

Give the guest what they want. The cost of fixing a problem right away is less than the cost of losing a guest. It’s the little things that can be the difference between going back to a restaurant, and telling five friends never to go there. This includes being attuned to the details. I love it when I go to a restaurant and they’ve thought of some service detail that I’ve never seen before.

You did a little bit of everything at Tria. How does working in someplace so tuned into the details and the tiny bits of our favorite fermentables inform your palate and sensibilities for all things wine, beer, and food?

Tria is all about developing amazing systems. Everything is systematized. This includes the way that you learn about beer, wine and cheese. I started working at Tria thinking that I knew so much about beer. But, really, I had no idea how to categorize everything. I didn’t know how to put what I knew into useful language to help guests figure out what they want to drink. Now, when I think about a new beer, wine, or cheese I’ve tried, I put it into a category in my head.

Alright, down to brass tacks. I've been at the table with you for two of the benchmark meals of my life: Talula's during the Sikora years and Suckling Pig at Amada. If you could take one of the two places and plop it down in Amherst, which one are you taking up the coast? Do you go with the always changing sensory jamboree of Talula's or the always consistently awesome Amada?

This question is really, really tough. Talula’s would fit very well in Amherst. The Pioneer Valley is the number one produce-producing region in New England. Talula’s would have a ton of great farmers to work with for their menus. On the other hand, Amherst needs a “fancy” restaurant, badly. But, personally, I’d take Talula’s during the Sikora years. Those meals were so memorable.

Also, you were at THE dinner...Garces & Garrett. What from that night remains present in your mind?

The third course: Pato Verde. Duck confit, beer rice, and fava beans paired with Brooklyn Local 2. I can still taste this dish. The duck was perfect, the beer rice was perfect, and the beer paired so well. This dinner was the first time I had Local 2, and it has proved to be one of my favorite beers. I paired beers for a dinner party this past summer and used Brooklyn Local 1 and Local 2. While Garrett can be quite a handful, his beers really do pair well with food.

Get ready for it.......lightning round:

Most versatile style of beer for pairing and why?

Cliché as it is, it’s true: saison. It has everything you need: spice, fruitiness, carbonation, and balance. It’s a go-to beer.

Hardest style of wine to pair and why?

A white or red with terrible American oak. It’s just gross.

What's one thing food fad or trend that needs to just die already?

This might be blasphemy, and I sound like a terrible snob, but someone has to say it: restaurant week. Restaurant week has devolved into a terrible experience for all. The restaurants that participate loathe it, the restaurants that don’t participate loathe it, and the people who enjoy good food at good restaurants on a regular basis loathe it. Restaurant week menus aren’t exciting; they are clear attempts to save on food-costs and to cater to the unadventurous palate. And now, restaurant week has been extended to restaurant month. It was a great idea to begin with, and in “these tough economic times” it still seems like a great idea. But, it has transformed into a pretty mediocre experience for everyone involved. Maybe it doesn’t have to go, but it certainly has to change.

What's one dish or style of food that you're dying to try, but still haven't had the chance?

This is pretty lame of me, but I haven’t made it to Bibou. I really want to try the Pied de Porc: braised pig foot stuffed with foie gras.

Beef or Pork?

Beef in its purist form, pork in all its incarnations. Read more!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Week #14 - Dan Becker

We're going Coast to Coast this week for an interview with the co-creator of one of the beer world's best news and information websites. The Full Pint (thefullpint.com) is a national beer news site that posts great brewer interviews, news, and style descriptions and examples. Full Pint is practically a news ticker with it's finger on the pulse of the beer industry. Stories break on Full Pint and stories are explored in depth with an industry minded tone.

Dan hails from Pitman, NJ and is a long time Phillies and Eagles fan. Ladies and gents, I present: Dan Becker...

How did The Full Pint come about? What made you and Jon decide to go for it?

Jon and I are college buddies. We've been doing IT as a trade, and wanted to put our love of beer together with our online media skills and make that our full time job. 3 years ago, we were one of the first Wordpress based beer websites out there, we were cheered on by the craft brewing community, so we decided to keep pushing forward.

One thing that I really like about the site is that you have such rich local coverage to the area that you're based in, but have enlisted the help of writers, "in the field" in other beer regions. How long into running the site did you guys decide to branch out and grab regional contributors?

It's very hard keeping a balance of national craft beer news coverage when you have San Diego in your back yard. They have over a dozen world class craft breweries, innovating and shaping many of the brewing and beer marketing trends in the rest of the country. A smart man named Sage Osterfeld of Port Brewing told us early in the project to cover other regions. He said San Diegan craft beer enthusiasts have a pretty good grip on the scene, but there are many new emerging craft beer havens that need to be heard and covered. We have had a handful of great contributors in areas outside of California soon after we started, with the main goal of diversifying our perspective on craft beer. While we don't actively advertise the fact, we always welcome a new perspective in the form of a regional contributor.

What's the ultimate vision for the site? Where do you want to take The Full Pint in the future and what will it take to get there?

We know that traditional media in its current form (newspapers, magazines) are falling behind new media (online publications and netcasts). We want to be the first place people go to for current info in the craft beer world, whether they are in the industry or an enthusiast. We think with the shift to online and digital content, we have a chance to be the household name for craft beer publications. With our progress and the huge progress craft beer is making, we think this is obtainable.

What's your favorite thing about West Coast beer?

For me, the way IPAs are brewed is my favorite thing about West Coast beer. Some will argue they are over hopped, and not exhibiting balance. I find them to be amazing, delicious, addictive and refreshing. As for West Coast beer in general, the region makes some of the best big beers and sours around.

How about LA specifically? How does it rate as a beer town? Most of my readers are on the East Coast, so what should we know about LA if we're coming to town?

Los Angeles has started to realize the craft beer revolution is amongst us. While we are still in the developmental phases of craft brewing, we have an abundance of beer bars, serving some of the best Southern California has to offer. Los Angeles is one of the biggest, most spread out areas of people in the nation. That has been a hinderance as far as molding a new craft community like say a Philadelphia or Chicago. I would like to predict in the next five years, we will have a half-dozen new, quality craft breweries. As I've mentioned before, we have plenty of folks thirsty for fresh craft beer, we just need the brewers to make it feasible to make it.

What can you tell us about LA Beer Week? Was 2009's Beer Week vastly different than 2010's?

LA Beer Week 2009 and 2010 were almost night and day. Because we are such a young craft beer city, we had to take a plunge into the deep end to see what would interest the locals. With 2010, we had way more events, and many of the events appealed to our well established foodie culture. There is a huge crossover market with craft beer and foodies that is just waiting to be exploited. Think wine pairing but far less douchey. Everyone involved in LA Beer Week 2010 was very passionate about raising craft beer awareness in LA, and it felt good to be a part of that team.

In these interviews I've been spinning the 'Desert Island Beer Question' many different ways. So for you I want to ask: You've got a kegorator at home and can put one bottomless keg on tap. Always fresh, always at its peak and never runs dry. What's the one keg you're sinking your coupler into?

Russian River's Pliny The Elder. I think after a few weeks, I'd be tolerant to the 8% abv. Read more!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week #13 - David Turley

Heading up the coast from North Carolina, where most of these interviewees are from so far, I'm pulling the car over in Virginia and hanging out with a great blogger from Fredericksburg, VA. David Turley's 'Musings Over A Pint' is a great blog to keep informed about what's happening with the state of beer in Virginia, but it is also considerably more than that. David is one of the rare bloggers that allows all of his thoughts, curiosities, and beliefs to hold equal space on his site, rather than shelving them to be beer and beer only. David covers a wide range of topics so you never know what you're going to get when you go to the blog, which keeps things fresh and quite interesting. There aren't an abundance of folks blogging about specific beers and events from the region spanning from DC to Richmond, so Musings is one of the few places you can read about the great beer coming out of that area.

Raise a pint and let it be your muse. Ladies and gents...David Turley.

I've made this note for a few different blogger interviews now and not really done much with it, so here goes: Why blog? What was the reason you started a beer blog?

I had not planned on starting a beer blog specifically. Initially I was just going to chat about my thoughts on many subjects, hence the "musings" in the blog name. However, I was focusing a lot of my activities at the time around craft beer, so that's the direction it which it took off, covering craft beer, especially around Virginia. I've recently made an effort to expand the posts to include other interests and topics that might come up as I am "musing over a pint with friends." Rest assured, it will be still be mostly about craft beer.

How much do you think beer culture has changed in your area since you started blogging?

The craft beer culture in Virginia, and the Fredericksburg region, in particular, has exploded in the past few years. When I started writing "Musings Over a Pint" the only local brewery was Blue & Gray. There were a couple of pubs here that had some of the more widely distributed beers (Bells, Sierra Nevada) as well as Virginia beers such as Blue & Gray, Legend, Old Dominion, but it really was a craft beer desert.

Since that time Battlefield Brewing started brewing at a local pub, named of all things, The Pub. Blue & Gray Brewing opened Lee's Retreat Brewpub at their brewery. We even got a few decent "beer bars." Capital Ale House opened in Fredericksburg bringing a wide selection of craft beers, both draft and bottles. The Fredericksburg Pub (not to be confused with the aforementioned The Pub) is another new local establishment that has a decent selection of beers.

At the retail level, Total Wine, Wegman's, and two locally owned shops, kybecca and Virginia Wine Experience, all help to make a wide variety of beers available here without the need to travel to Richmond or Northern Virginia.
Virginia breweries such as Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, Starr Hill, and Mad Fox have been bringing the spotlight to Virginia with increasing frequency in recent years. Smaller breweries such as Wolf Hills, Wild Wolf, Shooting Creek, are frequently in the news. What's great is that beers from even these small regional brewers are showing up at restaurants throughout the state. It's an exciting time to be a craft beer fan in Virginia.

2008 was a huge blogging for you, Musings Over A Pint average close to a post a day for the year. Is there a 'pre-production' phase to your blogging where a post ends up being expansions of notes or blue prints you've written down or do you let an idea rumble around your head until it's time to sit down and post it to the blog?

Yea, 2008 was insane. I was intensely focused on craft beer and it showed on the blog and the traveling to support it. Of course, that took time away from my many other interests. I took a bit of a break in 2010 from regular blogging. It wasn't something that was planned, it just happened. In 2011, so far, I've been posting regularly, often multiple times a day. Even though I remain extremely busy with family and career commitments, I've found that sitting down a cranking out a blog post or two is a great way to unwind.

I rarely write blog posts in advance. I get an idea and run with it. On occasion I keep an idea in my head for a day or two until I have time to sit down and write. But there's no long editorial process. Blog posts are typically published the same day they are written. If I get an idea or come across something that I think might be interesting to someone else, I'll simply run with it. After all, we're just musing.

One aspect of Musings Over A Pint that I really like is how much Virginia beer news I can read on the site. There are a lot of great brewing outfits in VA that seem to get over shadowed by larger breweries in neighboring states. What do you love about your local brewers? Is there a feeling that you've got some of these breweries all to yourself?

I might have had it to myself, but I started blogging. :-) Seriously, I get lots of email from folks coming to Virginia and Fredericksburg who are looking for advice when visiting. The Fredericksburg region is a major tourist destination. It's a thrill to get those notes and I love sharing ideas and information. It's really funny though, I often feel that Virginia breweries are more well-known outside of Virginia than they are to the "locals." Blue & Gray Brewing has been around for nearly nine years and I still run into folks that live here who have never heard of them.

As far as being overshadowed by larger breweries in neighboring states, I really think that it's mostly a matter of distribution. We've seen the number of awards won in recent years by Virginia brewers; the quality is definitely there. But you have to search out some of these local beers. Even drinkers who go for good beer and eschew the factory beers are influenced by what they see on the local retail shelves. It's only us fanatics that subscribe to magazines and travel to beer fests! I hope in some small way "Musings Over a Pint" helps to spread the word. The posts get picked up by the local interest and tourism blogs and I think that's been beneficial in letting folks know what's going on in their back yard.

If we're travelling to Fredericksburg where should we be going to sit down to good food and good beer?

It's really where your tastes lie. Good food and fresh local beer? Lee's Retreat at Blue & Gray Brewery offers both, and has become my neighborhood pub of choice. The Pub is a worthwhile stop, and there's beer brewed onsite as well. Can't get a wide selection of beers in your hometown? Then it's Capital Ale House. There are few beer bars anywhere that match the selection there.

Heck, it's a small town, you can easily visit all of these places, and more!

Given your location almost smack dab between Washington, DC & Richmond, VA do you have a preference for either if you're travelling with beery intentions?

That's a tough question to answer. I rarely travel to either destination specifically for beer. It so happens that we have some good friends in Northern Virginia, so that's the direction we end up going when we get out and about. Northern Virginia has many great beer spots, but we really don't get up there much. The Dogfish Head Ale Houses and Mad Fox Brewing are stops that we've recently enjoyed.

Parting shot: Favorite Virginian beer & why?

Trying to get me in trouble are you? I typically don't answer the "favorite beer" question, there are just too many to choose from. My "favorites" usually revolve around those beers I've recently enjoyed. Blue & Gray Stonewall Stout is a local favorite I've enjoyed for years. It has a good balance of roasted malt with a hint of sweetness. Also, I never missed getting Blue & Gray's Oktoberfest the day it's released each fall.

Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA is another favorite. I'm a hop-head at heart and Starr Hill created an exceptional IPA that's "up front" enough to satisfy that craving, yet balanced enough to keep drinking. It used to be a seasonal release, but I'm glad they make this year-round now.

In fact, as I write this I'm drinking a Starr Hill Pale Ale and finding it quite satisfying. So, at this very moment, it's my favorite Virginia beer. :-) Read more!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Week #12 - Stan Hieronymus

This week's interview is a trip down a very long road of beer journeys, beer recipes, brewer interviews, fact finding, and beer tasting. It's a look through pages upon pages that sit on many a brewer's shelf. This week's interview is with the one and only Stan Hieronymus. My first introduction to Mr. Hieronymus' work actually resulted in a huge turning point for me in my understanding of the business side of beer. A wealth of beer writers all turned up to debate in a post on one of Stan's blogs, Appellation Beer, and I proceeded to see the multi-faceted monster that is beer writing. Many people know Stan from his book Brew Like A Monk (or more recently Brewing With Wheat), but I wanted to dig a little deeper so we could know Stan beyond bound pages and blog entries. Ladies and gents...Stan Heironymus.

Since writing is a singular act that's broadcasted out to a world of readers, how has putting beer into your own words affected your personal understanding of your relationship with beer itself? What has writing taught you about the people of the beer world and the places where beer comes from?

I write about beer for several different audiences, notably consumers, the selling trade, the brewing trade, hobbyist brewers - there's obviously a lot of overlap. Doing my job well means thinking about what beer means to the reader - which, when things are going smoothly, might also be what really matters to me. It's a good day when I learn something, and a better one when I can tell other people about something new to them or cause them to think about something else in a new way.

Goofy as it might sound, writing about a brewer isn't necessarily any different than writing about a high school music teacher who began coaching the tennis team because one of his star pupils asked him to (something I did in an earlier life). I enjoy watching people figure things out. One of the best ways to learn about and from a brewer is talking to him (or her) while he (or she) is at work - meaning the brewer may interrupt our conversation to get something more important done.

Place? The best beers come to life in a very particular place and are particular to that place. Of course place can elevate an otherwise pedestrian beers to pretty substantial heights when it comes to life again in the glass, or - unfortunately - wreck the best of beers.

I love the tagline to your blog, "In Search of the Soul of Beer". In your five years of writing Appellation Beer, how close have you gotten to the soul of the matter?

I've had some fascinating conversations with brewers about the essence of beer or what constitutes "soul." A bit surprising because often these are "meat and potatoes" guys, who know the science of beer inside and out. I'm still asking the questions, but one of these years I guess I'll have to come to some sort of conclusion and put it on paper (or a screen, of course). One interesting idea suggested by a brewer who seldom puts his boots on anymore (such is how the business works - supervising is important) is that the energy - soul, if you want - that the people doing the physical labor put into a batch has to “go somewhere.”

In your recent Beer Rules, you write that, 'You cannot know all there is to know about beer', and you're the same guy that gave us 15 chapters on one grain in "Brewing with Wheat". Is it comforting or maddening for you that you can break something down all the way to its core (or multiple cores, I suppose) and still admit that you can never learn everything about it?

It can be liberating. If you waited to "know everything" you'd never be able to write anything. One thing I love about brewing is that there is not just one way to do things. I try to present a range, talking to brewers about the choices they make and why. Of course, it helps if readers are on board with the idea. My books occasionally get panned by people who expect more absolutes.

What was it about brewing with wheat or drinking wheat beers that made you decide to write a book dedicated to brewing with it?

Honestly, it wasn't my idea. Ray Daniels, still the head of Brewers Publications at the time, suggested BP needed a book on wheat. Since our family was planning a sabbatical that would take us through regions closely associated with wheat beers (Belgium, the south of Germany, Berlin, Leipzig, Portland, Kansas City) I wrote an outline.

I had to find a story, or a collection of stories, that wasn't contrived. We talked about a book that might have included "alternative" grains - that is everything beyond barley. Rye is certainly worth of writing about, and there is a spelt subculture that merits at least a magazine article. But wheat, and wheat itself, made a complete story.

The research portion alone for "Brew Like A Monk" seems like a dream come true for many beer drinkers. Was it? What was the process of pulling your material together like for that book?

I wish the research could have been more leisurely. Something you should allot years for.

The monastery brewers totally spoiled me. I went in thinking the book would be American-centric. How Americans brew beers inspired by the Belgians. First, I was surprised that I even got into the monastery breweries. I believed what turned out to be a myth, that everything about brewing in Belgium is secretive. Of course, I benefited in part from the timing. For instance, Rochefort was just beginning (in 2004) to become more accessible. I really don’t know why the monks at Westvleteren opened their doors to me. Anyway, the brewers kept answering my questions so I asked more. They didn’t provide complete recipes, but everything about process (pitching rates, fermentation temperatures, times, bottling regimen, etc) that constitutes the how.

That's what spoiled me. Now when I visit any brewery - be it in Germany, Italy or Texas - I'm disappointed when brewers are reluctant to share what they seem to consider secrets.

Speaking of myths, I learned early on researching the history of monastery brewing how much misinformation was/is floating around. Really, not only history, but facts about current practices and ingredients. Just because you can read something on the internet, and in multiple languages, doesn't mean it is accurate. You need to track down source material, or find references that already have, and you need to talk to the people actually brewing the beer.

Because I thought at the outset it would be focused more on "the American way" I mailed just about every American microbrewery then making an "abbey style" beer to learn more about their approaches. I included an offer to ask the questions they really wanted answers to when I visited Belgium. Understanding what they needed to know, and getting answers when I could - or at least presenting the options - became central to the book. So I did that again for “Brewing With Wheat” and will again for the next book.

Is there a new book in the works? Other than maintaining your multiple blogs, what are you up to?

The next book will be called "For the Love of Hops," so you can guess the focus. It is the second in Brewers Publications' four-part series about ingredients. The first, about yeast, just came out. The others will focus on water and malt. You'll see less writing in my blogs in the next year because this book is going to take most of my time. A lot to learn, then to write about. I’m excited and terrified. It will be out in September of 2012.

Like with "Brew Like a Monk" and "Brewing With Wheat" I'm collecting questions that potential readers would like to see answered. Anybody can pitch in at www.fortheloveofhops.com.

The Fantasy Beer Dinners portion of your blog is such absolutely fun reading. Could you give us some insight on the guests you chose for your personal Fantasy Beer Dinner?

Thanks. I picked four who I think would strike up a conversation I could just sit back and enjoy. Much of what I do involves collecting stories. Some great ones to eavesdrop on here.

I started with A.A. Applegate, my great grandfather. He was a berry farmer in central Illinois, and a lay preacher and the local correspondent for two area newspapers. He also ran for local office on the Prohibition ticket. The other choices were Woody Guthrie, Williams Shakespeare and Tom Wicker, who I hope anybody reading this knows wrote (and still writes) excellent fiction and non-fiction. Four masters of communication - you'll have to trust me about my great grandfather - but I expect the ideas they'd discuss ultimately would be more interesting than talk about how they communicated with readers or listeners.

Because of A.A., I was thinking in terms of comfort food, the sort of meal he would be offered in somebody's home after preaching a Sunday sermon. Maybe I should have thought it out better. After all, A.A. didn't drink. Session beers, whatever they are, go well with comfort food. So how about an old-style (meaning one with a little more hops than you get in Munich these days) helles or British bitter with the meal?

Ok, fantasy question of my own here....Bottomless case: What's the one beer you want a case of that will never run dry?

This isn't the only beer I drink from now on, right? And it would always be fresh?

If so, Westmalle Extra, brewed about twice a year for the monks themselves to drink. A little over 5% abv, very dry, wonderful noble hop flavor and bitterness. Simple, but beautiful. Read more!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week #11 - David Gonzalez

Keeping up with the Charlotte Craft Beer Week theme of last week with Darrin, this week we're talking to Dave Gonzalez of Alternative Beverage in Belmont, NC. Managing operations and brewing on the store's Brewmagic system, Dave continues his role as an important member of North Carolina's expanding craft beer landscape. Another story of a from up North finding his home in the South, Dave's brewing career began in Maine at Belfast Bay and continued with the Gordon Biersch Group where he called Rock Bottom his home for a good many years. Now homebrewers and curious beer fans have full access to his knowledge and expertise at Alternative Beverage.

You've been up and down the East Coast a bit so far in your brewing career. How did you get your first apprentice gig in New York and what led you up to Maine for those early brewing years of yours?

Yeah, I'm from Long Island, New York, and that's where I got my start. I went to college (SUNY-Stony Brook) to become a History teacher. After I graduated, and waiting for the fall to start teaching, I got a job in a beer distributor. We literally had 100's of different beers on our walls. So, every day, I would go home with 2-3 different ones to explore the world of beer. One day, I was in a coffee joint near where I went to school. I was wearing a sweatshirt from a brewpub (now defunct James Bay Brewing Company) across the street that I had gotten. When I turned around to leave, the guy behind me was wearing the same shirt. So, we started chatting and bs-ing. Turned out he was one of the owners and Head Brewer. When I told him about my interest in beer and brewing, he invited me to spend a day with him. So, I did, and got hooked. I was spending any available time there. Eventually, after a year, I gave up teaching and was working at the distributor and brewery all the time. After some time, they convinced me to go to brewing school (Siebel). So, I did. By this time, this brewery was closing, so I went back to the distributor full time. What led me to Maine was my folks. They had gone up there on vacation. One of the guys I worked with at James Bay had moved up there to start up a place. I told my folks that if they were in the area of his brewery (now defunct Rocky Bay Brewing Company) to stop in and say hi for me. Well, they did; And my Mom wanting me to get a gig suggested that I work there. So, I did. I was there for a few months, then went to Belfast Bay Brewing Company (I actually was living in this town: Rocky Bay was located in Rockland; 30 miles south of Belfast). By the time I took that job, the girl that I was living with (from NY too) and I had decided to move to North Carolina due to friends and family being in the state. btw- she is not whom I am married to (LOL).

I had known someone at Carolina Beer and Beverage (right when they were first starting). He invited me down for an assistant brewer's interview. I didn't get a definitive answer from them, but was moving to the area. I walked into Rock Bottom and got hired on the spot. The rest is history.

How would you describe Siebel's effect on your approach to the craft? Did the Brewing Technology short course give you more of a fine tuning of the knowledge you in with or did you walk away with a head full of new information?

I took Siebel's Short Course in Brewing Technology in June 1997: A long time ago. When I did, I had only apprenticed (worked for beer) at James Bay BC. So, I had only been in a small brewpub. When I took the class there were folks from Miller, Coors (seperate at the time), Guinness, Heineken, etc. So, the class was geared towards the bigger guys. But, I did take the info I learned and applied it to the smaller scale. Even though I had done a bunch of reading (being a homebrewer first), I was still new to the industry and making beer commercially. That being said, a lot of the information was new. Though, like I said earlier, some of it I could apply and use. For me, the best, and favorite, part of it was the sensory evaluation classes: getting to know off-flavors and why. Theory is theory and hands on is hands on.

Are there any mistakes you made as a young brewer that you think back on now and just shake your head?

Of course! Everyone does it. If they don't they're lying (LOL). I have recently made mistakes and said the same thing. Being a brewer is constantly learning and adapting.

What can you say about brewing under the 'corporate structure'? A younger version of myself was definitely guilty of avoiding Rock Bottom for a while, until I realized that one of my area’s really great brewers was working there. Is there a lot of stigma behind brewing for a chain or is there still a lot of room to express yourself with the beers?

Corporate brewing has its advantages and disadvantages (though, any situation has this). I'll say it was interesting. I remember when I first started with Rock Bottom/Gordon Biersch, I was telling a well known beer writer (that I'm now very good friends with), and he saying, "Why would you want to go there? They go through brewers left and right." I was shocked. Though, my career with them lasted 11+ years. Yeah, there are a few corporate brewing chains out there, but to be honest, they have mostly great brewers that make great beers. I thought the same way as you about Hops. I have a friend who still works for them who makes great beers. You just have to go in, get to know the brewer and try their beers for yourself. Everyone, and beer, deserves a chance.

As far as part two of this question, it depends on the corporate structure (look at the give a beer a chance statement above). With my last employer, there was some that was mandated, and some creativity. It all depends on the situation.
To this day, what's the best batch of beer you've brewed or your biggest personal accomplishment as a brewer (...or both)?

I never like to pat myself on the back. Though, there have been times (LOL). One day, my wife and I were sitting at Rock Bottom's bar sipping on a pint, and I said, "Man, that's really good". Nikki said, "See, you do make good beer." It was a Belgian Witbier that I had come up with the recipe (btw- that batch lasted 7 days!) There are a few others. The Spiced Pumpkin Ale I made for a few years I take pride in. The reason being was that my boss at the time HATED pumpkin beers, so I had to convince him to let me do it (show him the numbers of how that style of beer sold in this market). he eventually "caved" and let me do it. There were also a few cask beers that I'm proud of: The Mexican Devil (Jalapeno Tequila Pilsner), and The Yeti (Bourbon Stout) (this one I won a Gold Medal with). I also brewed a batch of Prospector's Pilsner that won a Gold Medal that I'm proud of. When it was announced, it was the first Gold Medal of the night, and the other folks in the room I think were caught off guard. I think I got a lot of respect that night (LOL).

I know you've got some beer distribution experience under your belt as well. What do you like about that side of the business?

I actually like that side of the business a lot. The place was a small mom & pop, but did decent business. I liked the work and people there. I still have good friends that work there (12 years after I left).

As far as that side of the business, even though you have competitors, there's camaraderie. Though, in brewing, I call it fraternal. Most everyone will help each other out. So, there's that difference there.

You have been in Charlotte for over a decade now. Just from what I know of conversation, Pop The Cap, changes in the market, etc there has been a great deal of change in beer culture in North Carolina. How has Charlotte adapted with that change? Has Charlotte come into it's own yet in the beer realm?

I think Charlotte, as well as the rest of the state, has expanded it's taste buds because of Pop The Cap. There are so many more beer places, more variety of beer in the market and being brewed in the market because of it. Even at Rock Bottom, when I first started there, the Light Lager out sold any of the other beers. Over the past 5-6 years, I noticed a change in the product mix of the IPA, Brown Ale, etc moving up, as the Light Lager went down and then the numbers became equal. There were many times, then these other beers out sold the Light Lager and such.

Though, I still think Charlotte has some room to grow. I've heard it referred to "Nascar Country" and "The Bible Belt". So, there are plenty of folks who love their lighter beers, or no beer at all. It's changing, but I still think it has a ways to go.

Can you explain your involvement with Charlotte Craft Beer Week? What are some of the goals that the committee has for 2011?

I am on the Board of Organizers for Charlotte Craft Beer Week. This coming year will be year #2 for us. There were a few other "beer weeks" in Charlotte in the past (that I advised on), but CCBW is different: Better, more diverse.

You ask a good question. I think basically educating Charlotte and it's surrounding areas of what a great beer place it can be. Having educational, fun, and great events that go well and are well attended. Getting the name that Charlotte is a great place for beer!

If you could have one beer always waiting for you in the fridge after a long day of brewing, what would it be?

A cold, free one (LOL). That's the typical answer. Seriously, there are many. I'm not necessarily a fan of specific beers, but styles. Yes, I have beers that I absolutely love, but I constantly like to try beers that I haven't had before or not in a long time. I guess one beer would be Olde Hickory's Bardstown Brand. It's freakin' unbelievable! But, I don' t know if I'd want that after a long day of brewing.

To answer this question, there's a time and place for almost every beer. What I like is beer memories. I remember playing softball with a company my Dad used to work for. At the end of the inning, on a hot summer day, I went to the cooler, dug my hand in the ice water and grabbed out a can of Budweiser. I chugged 3 cans before the inning changed, and it tasted fantastic. Though, I will RARELY go to a bar and order one (I can't remember the last time I had one). It's all in the time and moment.

Everyone in the business is somewhat of a "beer geek". I guess I am too. Ever since I was 18 (shh...don't tell my folks) I have kept a list of all the beers I've ever had. I think I am currently around 3,800 different brands. Read more!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week #10 - Darrin Pikarsky

To celebrate the official kickoff of Charlotte Craft Beer Week 2011 today's interview is with one of the key links in the CCBW chain. Darrin PIkarsky has been an integral part of Charlotte, NC's burgeoning craft beer scene. His Charlotte Beer Club has exposed hundreds of the Queen City's residents to great craft beer from their hometown brewery to beers from all corners of the globe.

Taking his efforts a step further, Darrin and several other appointed committee members joined forces in 2010 to organize the first Charlotte Craft Beer Week with great success. In it's sophmore year Charlotte Craft Beer Week will boast another schedule filled with great, focused beer events.

Ladies and gents, get to know Darrin Pikarsky...

As a Charlotte resident, you've done quite a lot to help grow beer culutre in the Queen City. Did you originally take on projects like Charlotte Beer Club and Charlotte Craft Beer Week because you saw a void that needed to be filled or was it more of an attempt to add to an already thriving beer culture in your city?

It was definitely more of a large void that needed to be filled in Charlotte. I had been enjoying craft beers & great imports from Europe since the late 80's in Syracuse NY before moving here in early 1999. In '99, there were slim pickins' to choose from due to the low limits on alcohol in North Carolina. When 2005's "Pop The Cap" removed the alcohol restrictions, the growth of craft beers started to find its’ way to Charlotte. Festivals were far and few in the state as well. I remember the 1st ever Charlotte Oktoberfest, there was like 100 people there (if that!). Now there's 5,000!

How has Meetup.com allowed you to find so many people in Charlotte interested in craft beer? I think the number of members is over 1,000? How many of members do you have actively coming out to events?

Meetup.com was something I stumbled on while doing some research on real estate networking. I quickly discovered it was the right place to pull people together with various interests. Charlotte is a highly sought after city for people looking to relocate from other cities. People from great beer states miss their hometown brews. By our "Mem-BEERS" requesting them from retailers and distributors, our demands are being met, of course there's ALWAYS room for more brands here. The number of members is now over 1,000 in about 2.5 years. We have approximately 300-400 that come out on occasion and another few hundred that come out every few months due to traveling and family commitments. Sometimes I don't see members for 6 months and they'll pop in to an event because it's a brewery they miss from home or something they haven't tried yet. They make it perfectly clear to me that they are joining us for their love of great beer.

I've been to several Beer Club events and even had the pleasure of presenting beers to the group. How do the events come about? Do bars and restaurants come to you looking to do something in particular or are you and your fellow organizers out there pitching events to different venues?

Dr. Joel you are always welcome to any and all of our events. You're like a cult hero, the crazy uncle or a Muppet to us, I'm not sure which one or maybe it's a combo of all 3 (LOL!)! It's a little bit of both. I'm very selective in where I will do a Charlotte Beer Club event. I have many places throughout Charlotte calling and emailing me. I receive about 25 requests per week for us to come out to various establishments. I decline most offers since most of them are looking to make a quick buck off of a large group. This brings me to hit the road and visit the familiar places and try some new places to book events. I book all the events myself. If it's not a good fit or good event, I blame myself. I have too much invested to let others book my events, plus it keeps me up to speed on the Charlotte beer scene, getting around town.

Can you describe for me the months and weeks leading up to the first Charlotte Craft Beer Week? All of the events I was at were well attended and a lot of fun. How many hours would you say that you and the rest of committee put into the planning side of CCBW?

We are heading into our 2nd year. The months before last year’s event, started out with me hitting up a group Charlotte beer enthusiasts that know the Charlotte beer market inside and out. I asked them if they would back me and be a part of the committee, if I put this together. They are a great bunch of guys. I have known all of them for a good number of years in Charlotte. The guys in the committee have been a huge part of the Charlotte beer culture over the last decade. We have brewers, brewery owners, distributors, regional managers and others that were very excited to be a part of this. We all volunteer our time and donate our time. It's truly a grass roots effort. Each event last year and this year is hand selected by the CCBW committee. We know events. We know what works in this market. We meet a few times a month until we get into the 90-120 day window, then it's many times per month.

Do you have a favorite event or favorite moment from last year's beer week?

I was a proud poppa last year for our inaugural CCBW. Obviously I couldn't make all of the events. I think I made about half of them. I would have to say The Freak Fest at The Common Market in South End was my favorite. We had great beers including one off's and a cask, a ton of people of all ages and a live freak show. A girl on a bed of nails, fire swallowers, human pin cushions, a live punk band and much more. It was unbelievable to see the reactions to the entertainment from the crowd. What a blast! Although, I heard from others on the committee that the Beasts Of The East Big Beer tasting and The Cask Festival were great as well.

With one year under your belt what big lessons came out of the initial execution of beer week?

We do not want to get too big too fast. We still want to hand select every event to ensure quality. We want everyone that attends to have a great time and we want every brewery and hosting establishment to get a good crowd. It's easy to open up your calendar and let everyone do whatever you want and have 2, 3, 400 events. You can't ensure good events that way, we don't want that. We're more of the thought of quality not quantity. A few great, hand selected events every night.

Several cities in North Carolina have their own identity when it comes to craft beer. Asheville has a ton of local options, the Triangle has its’ own brewing scene emerging, all the way out on the coast Wilmington has some great places for beer. How would you describe Charlotte's craft beer identity?

Charlotte is lucky enough to be right smack dab in the middle of it all! We get it from all sides. Charlotte is definitely about one to two years into a beer revolution and I do not think we are even close to peakin' yet. Our identity would best be described as the cog that turns the wheels in the surrounding cities.

Do you have a favorite place to sit down for a beer in Charlotte?

It would be my front porch or back patio with a Belgian, barleywine or imperial stout and a cigar. There are new places popping up all over the Charlotte region. I enjoy a place with a decent selection of beers and comfortable surroundings. I'm not one typically for loud bars that are 6 people deep.

Ok, so let's say a beer bar opens up right next door to you. The owner decides to let you choose one beer to be on tap for as long as your neighbors. It can only be one beer, but he'll keep ordering keg after keg. What beer are you putting on tap?

Ohhhh you're good Dr. Joel, really good! If a bar would open up right next door to me, my go to beer would be...Brewery Ommegang Abbey Ale from Cooperstown NY. It's a city I have visited many times over the years going to the Baseball HOF before the brewery was there. It's only about 2 1/2 hours from my home town of Syracuse NY, so consider it a homer selection. It's very easy to drink with an incredible nose. It gives me a taste of Belgium while supporting our own local craft breweries in the USA. Read more!