01 Mar 2010 @ 7:38 AM 

Sometime last summer, I got an e-mail from this guy Kevin. I didn’t know who he was. He was a fan of North Carolina beer and had an eye on this website called Know Your Brewer. It was a site that I had run across before – it was something that had been put together at the tail end of Pop the Cap by Sean Wilson – the guy who put PtC together – as a site to highlight North Carolina beer. Kevin had noticed that there wasn’t much movement on the site and had a few ideas about how to get things rolling again. I’ve never been quite sure about why he decided to include me on the e-mail (among a few others who I DO understand, because they’ve been involved in the beer scene – @Geistbear and another local beer guy – who ended up being too busy to be involved at the time). It turned out to be me, Sean, and Kevin sitting at a bar sort of brainstorming ideas of how to highlight NC breweries.

A few weeks later, the North Carolina Brewers Guild spoke up. They were interested in pulling the content that Sean had originally put into Know Your Brewer into their domain, NCBeer.org. They needed someone to manage the creation of content and help move the site forward. Sean was busy (and still is) with the launch of his own brewery, so he sent a message out asking if anybody was interested in stepping up. I jumped at it, and have been working for the Brewers Guild managing their website, its content, and whatever else they need – alongside Rob Ulick who has been in-freakin’-valuable and fantastic – ever since.

In the meantime, Know Your Brewer went a little vacant. A lot of the content that had originally been created got moved over to ncbeer.org. A lot of the traffic moved, as well. But I had an idea sort of banging around in the back of my head and I pitched it to Sean.

This Know Your Brewer idea was a good one. I had really enjoyed reading the interviews on the site, and I was a little sad to see it die. What if, I asked, we took the time to move this nationwide? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could celebrate breweries everywhere? One of the things that had struck me ever since I started getting into the craft beer industry is just how nice the people are. It might be the friendliest industry I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. There’s camaraderie in the place of competition. What’s more, like any small business, the people involved are very much the epitome of their own brand.

Every brewery has its own story that each day and each beer become sentences, paragraphs, and chapters of. The people that work there are characters in their own storyline. Customers – beer geeks – tend to get wrapped up in the story of the brewery and in most cases (high profile breweries aside) don’t get the chance chance to know anything about the greatest protagonist: the brewer. That, I said to Sean, is what I’d like to see. We’re such a young industry, we’ve got so many good people with so many good stories – someone should be telling them.

For whatever foolhardy reason, Sean agreed; we’ve been moving forward ever since. He’s been an idea machine and – let’s face it, it was his site. That he was gracious enough to allow me to descend on it with my idea was wonderful. That he jumped in feet-first with brainstorming and hard work whilst in the midst of starting a business is beyond awesome.

It’s been a little rough to get moving at times. Neither of us really have the time to dive into another project that we’re not getting paid for. The site needed a pretty hefty redesign and, most importantly, it needed content. I started contacting breweries in every place that I was traveling in the winter and coming up in the spring and trying to arrange interviews. We asked a friend of mine that I met through Intrepid Media, Russ Carr to give us a hand with the design and then we set out to recruit writers. Kevin Myers, the guy who sent me the e-mail to start this insane chain into action, was one of the first people to sign up. His interview with Josh Brewer of Mother Earth Brewing will start off our second week. The reason that Know Your Brewer looks as snazzy as it does is due 110% to the hard work that Russ put in. I owe Russ lots and lots of beer.

The reason that we have good content queued up is because we’ve had some really great writers step up and volunteer to throw some stuff our way. Nobody’s getting paid to do any of this. We’re all working through this as a labor of love to tell the stories of some pretty admirable men and women.

Take the time to head over to Know Your Brewer and read a little bit about Brian Connery, Senior Brewer at Dogfish Head – a really nice guy who took time out of his schedule two days after Christmas, to get interviewed by me at the end of his work day. He’s dealt with me badgering him over the past few months, promising that this content was going to go up sometime and, oh by the way, would you mind answering this other thing, too?

I hope you enjoy reading about his background and about why he loves his job so much. Later on the week, you can read a great recipe that he made up using two Dogfish Head beers that I’ll actually be cooking up in my kitchen this evening.

I hope, too, that I can get back to writing here on a more regular basis. Know Your Brewer has been taking up so much of my attention lately that Top Fermented has only gotten a few rants from me. Look for more in the upcoming weeks – when I’m not typing out my interviews for KYB.

And finally, I hope you’re moved to take the time, go talk to a brewer, and write it up to submit it to Know Your Brewer. We will always be in want of more content, but with 1500 breweries in the U.S. and more opening every day, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be swamped with it. If you’re interested in contributing, send a message over to info@knowyourbrewer.com and we can get you hooked up.

Enjoy. 🙂

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Mar 2010 @ 07 38 AM

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 06 Oct 2009 @ 11:22 AM 

This past weekend, as I vehemently elucidated this past week, gave us the combo World Beer Festival/Backyard Beer Festival in Durham, NC, complete with local Tweetcast. I won’t link in any of the audio from the weekend (mainly because I find it really strange to listen to myself talk – it’s like hearing myself on the answering machine, it’s all wrong), but you can go through the profanity-laden shorts over on my Posterous site.

I set out to write bit of a wrap-up of both events, but to be honest, the success and pure awesomeness of Fullsteam’s Backyard Beer Festival really blew me out of the water. Still, let’s start at the beginning.

World Beer Festival: Durham

It was fantastic to see the WBF back in its old digs at the Historic Durham Athletic Park. It’s just a nice space, and on the beautiful day that we had on Saturday it’s hard to not love walking around outside and drinking great beer.

The layout of this event was quite nice. All of the North Carolina beers (and others, more local like Georgia and South Carolina) were presented together, directly in the middle of the festival, and other breweries were fanned out around them. As usual, most of the imported beers were presented together as well as the obligatory macrobrews. It made navigation – even without a copy of the festival map in my hand (I gave it away to someone who didn’t get one) – very easy.

Every year that I go to this event, it always seems a little more crowded to me, but I’m not sure that reflects reality. It’s possible that I’m just getting more and more irritated with people being in between me and the beer. Why are all these people making me wait in line?!

The highlight of the festival for me happened to be the very first beer that I tried, which made the rest of the afternoon weirdly anti-climactic. Natty Greene’s from Greensboro brought a small keg of Flanders-style red ale that had been aging in oak barrels for 2 years. It was divine, and taking steps away from that afterwards was strange, especially as the general feel of the beer around the festival tended to focus almost exclusively toward the hoppy. Later, I got a chance to try their Cascade wet-hopped Southern Pale Ale again, and it was even more delicious than before. Awesome citrusy tang from the fresh Cascades, but quality-wise the sour red ale really stood out for me.

I was able to try a sample of Mother Earth’s soon-to-be-released IPA. It was big and hoppy, and quite nice if a little underbalanced (lots of hops!). I attempted their Wit soon afterwards, but it was totally overshadowed by the lingering hops of their IPA. I presume it is even awesomer than it seemed. They’re worth keeping an eye out for. Mother Earth has their grand opening set for October 24th.

I often approach beer festivals with goals in mind, as in “I’m going to try this particular type of beer today.” It won’t stop me from finding other styles that I enjoy, but I tend to focus on one and try to seek them out. This Saturday, that goal was Rye. Rye beers mystify me. For the most part, it seems almost like brewers are scared of rye. Maybe being able to say “Rye P-A” is just too good to pass up, but it seems to me that most of the time rye beers are so highly hopped that I can’t actually taste any rye. This stood true for every rye beer I tried at the festival. A short conversation I had with a friend of mine reveals how well this goes over.

Me: I’ve been trying rye beers today.

Him: Man, I can’t get behind it. It’s like you get a really good IPA going on and then there’s something really weird and wrong with it. Why would they ruin a good IPA like that?

Me: Or you could ask why they’re spending so much time covering up the flavor of rye with all those hops.

Him: Because it SUCKS.

I can’t say I agree.

I like the spiciness from rye, but it’s not often balanced well with the hop schedule which really just gives you a weird tasting IPA. This is a topic for a later column, but worth thinking about, anyway.

The one rye takeaway was from New Holland: Rye-Smoked Rye Doppelbock. It was not overly hopped. In fact, it was big and round and smoky and tasted almost exactly how bacon smells. I’m not sure if this is what they were shooting for, but they hit it, dead on. The first sip took me by complete surprise and then over the course of the sample I was continually more pleased with it. Is it a refreshing drinker? A pint to be had while shooting the shit with friends? Probably not. But with the right food it would be amazing.

Backyard Beer Festival

This was, to me, by far the highlight of the day. Why? Well certainly because I got to share my own beer with people. But what really made this whole experience stand out for me was the sheer enthusiasm of both the homebrewers and attendees. Sean and Chris took a good idea and executed it flawlessly. It’s especially impressive given that they did so in an incredibly short amount of time (3 weeks!) and inside a brewery that is under construction. These guys deserve every ounce of credit people can muster. It was a fantastic event.

Here’s a PDF of the brewers info sheet that was handed out to all the attendees as they came in. I hope Sean and Chris don’t mind that I scanned this in.

I can’t really take you through it from the point of view of an attendee, and maybe some of the people that attended will be willing to share some thoughts in discussion, but from a homebrewer’s perspective this was just damn cool.

A lot of people stopped to talk about the beer. They wanted to know about recipe formulation, what kind of hops I was using, what I was thinking (What were you thinking!?) when I came up with a recipe, and even about process. It was great to hear compliments about the beer and to be able to just shoot the shit about homebrew. It was wonderful to be able to taste a wide range of other people’s homebrew, as well. People really outdid themselves in this, especially in a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, it’s just now – days later – that I’m finally pairing up my memories of the beer that my wife and friends kept bringing over to me with pictures of people and the brewers info sheet to actually make a connection of exactly who made what I tried. I wish there had been more time to walk around and interact with other brewers. With any luck we’ll be able to connect at a later time.

A couple of homebrewers, I think, really need to be pointed out for their sheer ballsiness. These two guys, Austin Dowd and Brandy Callanan: they came in here with 5 months of brewing experience under their belts and poured two great beers. 5 months after I started brewing I was terrified to have my roommate try my beer much less a giant group of strangers. Those guys should get a medal for bravery.

I clearly need to stop this post, since we’re moving onto something like 35 pages now. I’d really love to hear from people who attended the event and other homebrewers, as well. Please, if you’re familiar with people who are there (or are one), send this around, shoot some feedback into discussion. I had a blast, I’m hoping everyone else did, too.

Finally, here are collected photos of both the World Beer Festival and the Backyard Beer Festival. These have been collected from various Facebook postings and other (even professional) outlets. Credit is given where it is due. I’ll be adding pictures to this gallery as I get more, so it’s probably worth checking back. I’ve tried to keep them in relative order of the day. Roughly.

For whatever reason I ended up in a LOT of pictures here (mind you – my wife and friends took some of these), and I apologize that you’re going to have to keep coming across my mug. It’s a good thing I’m so dashingly handsome.

[nggallery id=2]

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Categories: appreciation, beer festival, new beer, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Oct 2009 @ 11 24 AM

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 01 May 2009 @ 10:02 AM 

I am not, by nature, a beer reviewer.

In heaven, there is no beer.

In heaven, there is no beer.


Don’t get me wrong: I love beer. But I also love words. I have a difficult time with how most beers are described to people – I think they’re done in terms that are really inaccessible to the average layman drinker. (“Hoppy,” for instance, might be the worst adjective ever for a beer, in my mind. Hoppy, eh? You think? Because otherwise they’ve made gruit? Good work.) On the other hand, I’m not sure I can do any better – thus my reluctance to review beers.

However! I’ve had four beers over the last 7 days that aren’t very widely accessible, and they really need mention. Here they are, in chronological order.

La Muerta, Freetail Brewing: I was lucky enough to snag a bottle of this from Scott Metzger of Freetail at the end of the Craft Brewers Conference. I was visiting good beer-loving friends that weekend and as part of my host gift to them, we shared the bottle. The important thing here is that Freetail doesn’t bottle. It’s a brewpub in San Antonio. You could see where the indent on the cap from the emily capper. Awesome. Inside? Big lush imperial stout. Lots of great coffee and smoky notes – like lots of black patent rushing across your palate. Hops were balanced really well to not overwhelm nor be overwhelmed by roasty toasty goodness. You can only get this stuff in San Antonio, TX. If you’re near by go support your local brewpub. They make some quality material.

Paul’s Day Off, Duck Rabbit Brewery: This is a limited release from Duck Rabbit – on tap only around North Carolina. If you’re in the RDU area it is your duty to find this beer before it disappears. Here’s a quote from the brewery’s press release:

Earlier this year owner and brewmaster Paul Philippon gave himself a much needed day off. The other brewers at Duck-Rabbit took this lull in supervision to brew a special batch of beer to celebrate the day. When Paul returned he was greeted with Paul’s Day Off fermenting away in the tank. Paul’s Day Off is a Farmville style black ale. This beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and unsupervised. The beer is brewed with a variety of 7 different malts and a large dose of American hops. After fermentation the beer took a vacation in 23 year old pappy van winkle barrels before going back into the tanks for a final dry hopping of Nugget, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Chinook hops. The beer weighs in at around 9% and displays a big aroma of citrus, pine, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. The flavor shows layers of depth with hops, malt, and barrel character all melding together . The beer will be available draft only in North Carolina. We hope you enjoy Paul’s Day Off as much as we did, because who knows when or if Paul will ever take another one.

No joke. It is magical beer. The complexity of this brew is astounding. You’ve got big rounded malt flavors, coffee, chocolate, bourbon, smoke, vanilla, a fantastic big floral character from the hops. It’s a full journey inside your mouth. It also doesn’t feel a bit of its 9% ABV. It’s a drinker, to be sure. If you can, find some of this before it’s all gone.

From Plow to Pint

From Plow to Pint


Sweet Potato Beer, Fullsteam I got a chance to try out Fullsteam’s Sweet Potato beer at a “Tweetup” last night. It’s not what I think you’d expect from a sweet potato beer, and for that it’s better. You think sweet potato pie, or sweet potato casserole or something, you’re thinking sweet, marshmallows, allspice and all that crap, right? Not in this beer. No spices. It’s sweet potato. I asked brewmaster Chris Davis about it and he said, “I’m not sure how many fermentables I’m getting out of them [the sweet potatoes], but it [the beer] is getting most of the color, a good deal of the body, and a whole lot of aroma from them.” It’s a really fantastic beer – caramelly and earthy at the same time. It’ll be a real treat when they open doors and this is finally available commercially. I should also note that they’re “Rocket Science IPA” was damn, damn tasty.

LoneRider Shotgun Betty LoneRider was also at the “Tweetup” – another local startup available in an increasing number of venues around the triangle. Shotgun Betty is their flagship, a Hefeweizen. It’s always a real pleasure to get a good clean wheat beer – this one was very crisp and very refreshing, despite big banana and clove notes. I usually find big estery wheats to be a little cloying, but this was very clean. It’d be a great drinker on a hot summer afternoon.

I really wanted to speak to DeadEye Jack – their porter – which I sampled, as well. But I’m under the impression that it had a coffee addition this time around that isn’t usual. It was incredibly tasty, but I’d hate to give a wrong impression about their beer, especially as I appeared to get both their Twitter feed and the name of their product wrong when I was Tweeting about it yesterday. Good heavens, how embarrassing. Beer giveth and beer taketh away.

Unfortunately, 99% of the internet won’t be able to find these – at least not today. But the time is coming. With any luck, all of these guys will fare well with the craft beer market and you’ll have your day of being able to find one, or many, of these excellent brews. If you’re local to any of them, it’d be a crime not to track some down. Do it!

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Categories: beer review, RDU
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 May 2009 @ 10 53 AM

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 29 Apr 2009 @ 12:21 PM 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the wake of the Craft Brewers Conference and the “Beer on the Web” panel. It was good, but I almost felt like there wasn’t enough time to cover things in any sort of detail.
Tweet!
I talked to a bunch of people after the panel and there was a really wide array of comfort levels with technology. Some people in the industry are super savvy and comfortable with technology some really have no idea what we’re talking about, much less how to use it well. Today’s post is a service to the latter group. If you know a brewer(y), please pass this on:

What is Twitter?

Think of it as a micro-blog. It’s basically like what you’re seeing here, except in 140 character snippets. Everything you post on Twitter is available to anybody to read, unless you send a direct message – those are private. You can read more here before you sign up.

Why you should use Twitter

1. It’s your target demographic. Here are some interesting statistics about Twitter (collected by Nielsen Online):

  • 85% of Twitter users are over the age of 21.
  • Twitter’s largest user demographic is aged 35-49 (41.7% of traffic). This happens to line up almost exactly with the largest craft beer drinking demographic.

2. It reaches an enormous audience very quickly. Let’s pretend you’re just getting started and you have 200 people following your Twitter feed. You post something of interest, and half of those people decide to re-Tweet your post when they read it (this is when people re-post what you’ve posted, noting a re-Tweet by including the letters ‘RT’ at the beginning of the post), and let’s pretend that those people each have 100 people following them. You have, in about 35 seconds of work, reached 10,000 people with your message. Those numbers are small, too. To give you some comparison, at the time of this writing Dogfish Head’s Twitter feed had just under 4,000 followers, Rogue and Harpoon had about 1,700 each. Beer Advocate’s Twitter feed (and they do a lot of re-tweeting) reaches just under 5,000 people. Twitter is the fastest growing social network; it saw 7 million visitors in February 2009. These numbers all have the potential to grow and grow BIG.

3. It’s fast and free. Signing up for a Twitter feed takes about 30 seconds. Posting to Twitter takes about 30 seconds. You could probably do at some point to take 10 or 15 minutes to brand it with your design and color scheme. If you don’t have a marketing department that can wing this off for you in a heartbeat, drop me a line. I’ll do it for free. Seriously.

How to Post to Twitter

This is not a “where do I type” tutorial. This is “what do I share?” One of the questions in the “Beer on the Web” panel was something along the lines of: There’s not much happens that’s very interesting – half the time all I’m doing is doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks. So what do I post?

Well, posting that you’re doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks isn’t a bad start. In fact, it’s a great start.

Here’s the thing: You’re running a brewery or a brewpub. You’re not just selling beer. You’re selling you. You, the people who make your beer, who deliver your beer, who answer the phones, everyone, are all wrapped up in the personal brand that you’re projecting out to the consumer. Consumers can say, as often as they’d like, that who makes the beer doesn’t matter, it’s about how the beer tastes, but they’re not being honest with themselves. People love having personal connections with the products they consume and you can do this in a way that large corporations and megabreweries cannot.

You’re running a small business. Your brand is you.

Twitter, because of its brevity and its informality, allows you to give people an inside view of you and your brewery. It’s like being on a brewery tour every day. Let me show you a couple of great posts that have popped up in my Twitter feed over the past day.

The Twitter

See what’s going on here? You’ve got notification of promotions and events, you’ve got notification of new brews, and you’ve got a peek inside the life of a brewer. It shows a little process without giving anything away. Information is great, it will sell your product, you just need to put it out there because people are looking for it. Let them find it. They want to be a fan of you and your brewery!

Recommendations

1. Use it regularly. Like any presence on the web, having something stagnate is much worse than having nothing there at all. It’s amazing how many breweries out there have Twitter feeds with nothing on them – some of them even have a ton of followers and no content. It’s a huge waste of opportunity.

2. Pace yourself. You don’t have to post every 20 minutes. You can probably get by with just posting once a day, but really – if you’ve got a piece of information, put it out there. On the other hand, if you’re posting every single thing that comes up, you’re just creating spam. I have stopped following people because they tweet too much, other people will to.

3. Don’t go crazy re-tweeting. Pick and choose. Yes, when you re-tweet is encourages others to re-tweet, but it also, as I said before, creates spam if you do it a lot. Never, ever, re-tweet just to find something to tweet.

4. Get TweetDeck. It is a really easy way to get a handle on Twitter – it’s especially powerful as it allows you to create search queries, the example you see below is a column that I created on a search for “Duck Rabbit.” Note that I’m looking for a product name, not a twitter handle.

Duck Rabbit on the Tweets

I cannot say enough how much of an advantage I think it is for your brewery to use Twitter effectively and efficiently, the return on investment in incalculable. Use it. You’ll thank me.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Apr 2009 @ 12 21 PM

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 08 Apr 2009 @ 6:28 AM 

Sean over at Fullsteam, a brewery-in-planning in Durham, NC, posted a brilliant piece on his blog yesterday, and it really needs to be shared.

Unfortunately, Sean and I share a lot of viewpoints about beer and craft breweries. I say “unfortunately” because Sean is currently in the throes of a startup and I am not. Color me jealous.

Invite the other 99.

Invite the other 99.


Sean put up a piece about “the other 99 beers.” Give it a read if you get a chance, but I’ll sum it up here, as well. The gist is that, here in NC, craft beer has a 4% market share. He posits that only about 1/4 of that 4% is locally made beer, which brings you down to 1-in-100 drinkers who are actually drinking locally made craft beer. His argument? That the other local beer makers are not his competitors, but his compatriots. He doesn’t want to win over that 1-in-100. He wants to win over the other 99. As he puts it, his market is:

The foodie who boasts about eating local, but has a soft spot for, I don’t know, Iron City. The wine guy who knows all about Puligny-Montrachet’s chalky soil but drinks Amstel Light out of habit. The busy and overwhelmed grocery shopper who buys whatever is on sale.

Yes! I cannot agree with this enough. Unfortunately, this does sort of cast regional breweries as.. well.. not the bad guy, per se, but certainly not the good guy. In this scenario, Sam Adams fills the same (large) niche as Budweiser. No matter how you slice it, they are taking a sale away from a local brewery. On the other hand – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those larger craft breweries as well as, let’s face it, the different style options from the megabreweries, give a consumers a familiar product that they can interact with in many different locations – pretty much no matter where they are. You can get Sam Adams Boston Lager – a great brew, make no mistake – at any airport or sports bar. A local brewery is a specialty, like a local dairy or a local bakery; their products are something you can only get in one geographic locale. The people who like good beer enough to buy a Sam Adams are almost definitely the people who will drink a locally brewed beer – but how do you let THEM know that, and in fact, how do you stop them from buying that Sam Adams? And DO you want to stop them from buying that Sam Adams? Probably only where your beer is served.

It’s a delicate balance, to be sure. I think that Sean and Chris at Fullsteam are heading in the right direction with this attitude. I can’t wait to see more.

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Categories: appreciation, blog, brewery, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Apr 2009 @ 06 28 AM

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