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 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? 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.

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