Author Archives: Thomas Vincent

The Session #96 Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I like the topic this month so why not?

The February 2015 Session topic is “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

Much of the answer depends on where the festival is and how it is held. For instance events now held in North Carolina, because we have a started to develop a more mature market for beer are often a Geek Gathering. Take for instance Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting that was recently held. At $70 a ticket you won’t likely attract someone who has never had a ‘craft’ beer to the event but beer geeks buy all the tickets in a matter of hours. The same goes for events like SAVOR, Fobab, or Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Festival. So we have reached a point where many are Geek Gatherings.

That said there is still a market for Beer Dissemination and much of that is based on the structure of the event in question. The last few years locally Brewgaloo has been held downtown Raleigh. This event attracts thousands of people, but for all those folks you can get to beers in general, fairly easily. There is a low barrier to entry, an id check then you buy as many or few tickets as you like, so if you want just to have a few tasters then go on about your day you can. The low level of commitment required opens the door to people who haven’t had ‘craft’ beer before but want to see what it is all about.

This becomes a far more important component as we get to less developed markets as All About Beer’s World Beer Festival have been doing in South Carolina or in the past in Florida. Last year I was in Mexico to help a brewery and it reminded me of what the US market was like 30 years ago. One of the marketing components I recommended to the brewer there was to start an educational outreach program and launch a local beer festival as a component of that program.

Festivals whether geek gathering or beer dissemination need to incorporate education as a key component to their design. This helps newer customers better understand and enjoy their beer. It takes away some of the mystery or fear that people seem to have when faced with the array of choices festival often offer. Festivals are one of the brewers best outreach methods when properly run that help spread the word, okay the flavor, no the awareness of ‘craft’ beer.

PS – I used the term ‘craft’ refer to the more flavorful beers, but it’s a term I tend like All About Beer and other places tend to be stepping away from using, but I needed a modifier on the word beer so I went with what we have got.

Mad Skills Needed

I have worked for a couple of breweries before starting this one. I have seen tens if not hundreds open their doors. The process is long, it never goes as fast as you want, it is the nature of the beast.

Brewing is by it’s nature requires a many skill sets, problem solver, electrician, tour guide, and of course janitor, mostly in fact janitor.

So neither of the areas were any surprise as we are starting. The element that perhaps strikes me unsuspecting was how often I’d be asked about an opinion on something that I had no experience in, nor any preference. For example last week I was evaluating a used forklift, I have worked with them regularly enough in the past but I am far from an expert. So I called up a repair company and had one of their guys join me. It was old so it needed some repairs, not surprising really. Along the way we also discovered it wasn’t the model advertised so then I was left working numbers to see if it fit our needs. Remember how many kids complain in ask when we would need algebra in school, in the brewers world I would say the answer is regularly. 20 years later I wished I’d taken that calculus class as well some days too.

Another week it’s support struts and how many we need on the bar. Media expert, plumbing guru, and the titles keep rolling on. At times it’s fun and other times you sit saying to yourself “I’d just like to start making beer, please.”

Keep your head down, do your homework, admit your ignorance, and be on time. Every day a little more progress and yeah, when do I open?


School is Back

Today starts the fourth section of the Wake Tech Craft Brewing class basics class. It has been fun to teach, but more importantly it is helping people prepare for careers related to the brewing industry. The other benefit is local brewers will have better trained new staff walking in the door.

The students come from a wide range from young adults trying to get their career going to retired folks looking for a hobby. Some homebrewers take it, but over half attendees have no experience with brewing before walking in the door.

The class is review of the brewing process and issues in a brewery. I work to set expectations from the first day, not this is not a class on making wort, it’s about general operations. The class does make one beer on a pilot system, but this is done to make sure they understand the entire brewing process start to finish in a hands-on approach. And yes, the beer is enjoyed for the class graduation. The last big point I try to make clear is brewing is work, hard work. Long days standing getting wet in hot or cold conditions are the norm, drinking beer is often the exception not the rule.

Teaching the class requires me focus on the basic elements of the brewing. As the adage goes you only really know a skill when you teach it to others. Standing up in front of 20 students helps me practice on public speaking which is under appreciated but often needed skill when opening a brewery. All those funny odd skills from cleaning to electrical repair to public speaking that go into brewing that people never stop to think of, but perhaps because it does require so an odd mixture of skills that makes the life so appealing.

Throwback Thursday – Man on a Mission

This week’s Throwback Thursday a beer trip to San Francisco

Original post date: May 23, 2006

When I visited San Francisco little over a week ago I had two missions. One was to relax and enjoy good times with friends I don’t see often enough, people while not blood are in my book family. Then there was the second mission to see as many of the San Francisco area breweries as possible. I think I accomplished both.

We arrived on Friday and immediately I could smell something in the air, beer and it smelled damn tasty. After our crew arrived we had lunch, gathered our necessities and headed off in a cab.

Well one group did, but our group had the cabby from hell. I explained where we were going he replied.

“I dunno where it was.”

‘Great’ was my immediate thought, the only cabbie who doesn’t know his own city. I tried to explain again and he began to shout

“I don’t know where it is” in heavily accented English.

At this point I pulled out a map and explained roughly how far south he would need to drive us from our Union Square hotel to the area of the brewery. As I explained the location he interrupted once again.

“No No No I know how to get there but don’t know what is there.” He proceeded to explain three more times, shouting.

At this point I nearly told the bastard to pull over and go in search of a less surly cabbie. I was on vacation and I didn’t need this crap, if I had been alone I know I would have done it too. But considering I was there with two friends it seemed too much a hassle to bother them with the cabbie claimed to know how to get there and so we put up with his attitude.

Eventually he dropped us off at Speakeasy Ales and Lagers a nondescript commercial building a long ways from downtown. The place was rather quiet and empty when we arrived, not the most promising sign when your looking for brewers and beer, but it was my plan and tour so I had little choice. I marched up the dock entrance like I knew exactly where it would take me. In a way I sort of did know, I was going into a brewery. I hoped.

I knew we were in the right place when I saw the pallets of two row malt and the Speakeasy eyes gazing at me. Hard guitar licks played on an echoing stereo system and the smell of malt in my nostrils proved I was in the right place.

I had called their phone line and left a message I had five for a tour on that Friday, leaving my number in case they wanted to call back with questions or confirm. I never got a reply I meant to call back and confirm but I got busy and it never happened. I knew the brewery was open on Fridays so we took our chances.

The first person we met was Big Mike, aka the brewer, I liked him immediately. He didn’t have us on the tour list, but there was only another couple for the tour so they had plenty of room for us on the tour. After a few minutes wait he poured us a few pints to keep us entertained while we waited for the start of the tour. Their beers were malty, strong, and the imperials aggressively hop. I was in heaven. They reminded me of Stone beers, but more balanced in construction.

Big Mike lead us on a tour of their facility and I suspect he realized I wasn’t your average drunk visiting the brewery. I asked about hops used, temperature control, malt, yeast and every other question a homebrewer could come up with it. Mike seemed to enjoy the questions because it allowed him to pass along more than the regular “We boil here, we age it here, we bottle it there” tour.

I was impressed by their standards and commitment to excellence, but not at the expense of enjoying life, it is beer after all.

After the tour we returned to the tasting area, where their usual Friday afternoon open house is hosted.

While there I spoke with Chris in Sales, we had a great conversation about California beers, the recent microbrewery industry move to canning, and getting their beers into Flagstaff. Also while their beer is available in seven states, it’s evidently available in Finland. A bar there some how got a supplier to bring it in and they love it. Good for them but I’d hate to pay their prices for a pint. But considering Speakeasy’s beer it’s worth the trouble.

The Beers
My first beer was an Imperial Amber which was big, bold, and hoppy. It didn’t fit my mood of what I wanted to drink, but I knew I could drink it far easier than anyone else in the group so I suffered through it. Okay I didn’t really suffer, it was beer.

From there I moved over to their Bootlegger Black Lager which I had sampled earlier and found to be excellent, well balanced and no esters, exactly like you want a Black Lager to be. I intended to find a Black Czech lager I had discovered a few years ago while in San Francisco, but this was the best I could do. That said I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Last of the beers I have distinct memory was the Old Godfather Barley Wine-Style Ale , while not aggressively strong at 10.2%, it’s a deadly beast. It’s smooth and as balanced as any pale ale I have ever had. It was far too drinkable for something that strong. I wish I bought a growler full of it. In the end I did buy a growler, just because of their distinctive style, but having it filled with their Bootlegger Black Lager made it no trouble at all. Having to use later for my homebrews is only icing on the cake.

A short while later we piled into a cab to our next stop, 21st Amendment.

Postscript: Writing could be stronger, but I like the narrative structure. I have great memories from this trip.