Monday, September 24, 2012

Shadows On My Wall - Fall 2012

What started as an homage to ladies well known and never heard of before turned quickly into a strange trip through psychedelia's influence on the pop music of the late 60's and early 70's. Rife with double meanings, hip talk and freakout vibes, this is a journey suitable for the crisp changes that early fall delivers. When I said that a new mix was dropping, I meant a little more than I said. Read more!

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, 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 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 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 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:

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!