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




Bryan Kolesar said...

And, there's the essence of knowing Left Hand Dan! Good stuff

Leigh said...

Enjoying these interviews, dude.