Erin Lowder | General Manager, Solemn Oath Brewery

If you’ve stopped in at Solemn Oath’s taproom or attended one of their off-the-wall events, you’ve probably met Erin Lowder. While technically the brewery’s General Manager, she wears a lot of hats. She manages the taproom, orders supplies, handles the artwork direction, updates the website, plans events, helps with labeling, creates the merch… pretty much everything except making the beer. 

Like many beer folks, Erin came to industry from another passion and almost by accident. After graduating from Columbia in fashion design and working retail jobs, a friend of hers dragged her to Solemn Oath’s first event. She met one of the owners and, with a Bell’s Two Hearted in hand, proceeded to vent about her shitty job. “Apparently they needed someone to come on part time in the taproom. One thing led to another, they tracked me down afterwards and offered me the job."

She even has a scar from her first day. "I had never poured a beer or filled a growler or anything. The growler hose used to be a very tight fit and you’d have to jam it in there and you couldn’t get it out. So I was trying to get it off and my hand smacked down on the grate really hard. I remember thinking that it hurt but I didn’t think to look… and I took the growler to the guy that had ordered it and he goes, “Uh, miss.” I was bleeding down my arm. He ran out to his car to get a band aid and now every time he comes in he says, “Remember me? The band aid guy!” It was pretty sad and funny. 

We sat down to chat over Stiegl Goldbrau Lagers at the Map Room. 

What Are You Drinking? 

Stiegl Goldbrau. I’ve been drinking a ton of lagers recently, now that it’s hot outside. I like a crisp lager. It’s really refreshing. And they usually have it on tap here at the Map Room. I love my IPAs and hops but when the weather gets hot, I tend to like a cold, crisp lager.

What’s Something We Can’t Google About You? 

The first time I ever made out with somebody was on camera. I used to act when I was younger. I was an extra in movies and this is one that I’ve never seen, I don’t know what happened with it… Basically, there was a party scene and I had to sit on a chair with another extra with beer bottles filled with ginger ale, and kiss repeatedly. Then the director would be like, “Can you put your arm here?” and give all these commands and I was shaking. I was in shock I think. I was kind of shy when I was younger and acting was my outlet so when they shouted “action” I just went for it. I don’t know if I ever want to see that. Hopefully I didn’t make the cut. 

How Do You Explain Your Job To Your Mother? 

I basically tell people that I wear many hats and am involved in pretty much all aspects of the business. Yes, I do drink a significant amount of beer, and yes, I have access to it anytime of day but I learned very quickly that if I want to have a productive day, I can’t do that.

When I started there part time, my Mom was like, “Why are you commuting over an hour to be a bartender? Why don’t you just do that down the road?” She didn’t really understand the bigger picture, and the culture within Solemn Oath and the industry in general. That’s something I learned about pretty much right away. Our regulars and the other breweries and the Windy City reps would come in and I quickly learned that there’s a lot more to it. That was hard to explain to my mother in the beginning. My parents were domestic drinkers, Miller Lite and Heineken. As I learned about the process, I would explain it to them and they gained more respect for Solemn Oath and the industry and now they’re totally into craft beer. They come into Solemn Oath at minimum, once a week. Father’s Day is Sunday and my Mom’s already called me like five times to request certain beers for me to bring. 

What’s So Exciting About The Beer Industry?

There’s always something new to learn. I just became a Certified Cicerone last year which I was excited about. And I’d like to start studying to become a Master Cicerone… we’ll see. There are only a few women. There are only a few, period. There’s always more to learn and it’s exciting that there are endless possibilities and so many ways to be creative. Whether it’s with a wacky event or a weird piece of merch or doing a spin on a traditional style — we’re always keeping people on their toes. 

What’s So Frustrating About The Beer Industry?

We’ve grown a lot but we’re selling 100% of our product still, even after this expansion where we’ve doubled capacity. It’s an awesome thing, but it’s also frustrating. As soon as the beer is ready, it’s sold. We’ve had a lot of great people that started with us in the beginning and have been with us for years and not being able to provide them with other opportunities for growth can be frustrating. We want them to stick with us. I don’t see them leaving anytime soon but we’re still very small. We have 17 people working for us now. There’s only so much growth that can happen so quickly.  


Rick Wildt | Market Development Manager, SweetWater Brewing

Rick Wildt is a positive guy with a laid back vibe and a deep passion for craft beer. And tacos. He really likes tacos. He's like a Midwest kid trapped in the vibe of a West Coast surfer type -- super chill and instant friends with everyone he meets. He’s also the kind of guy that’s got an endless supply of good stories. Take his, “how I got my first beer job” story for example. Years ago he was working in the entertainment industry in LA and decided he wanted to move back to Chicago and sell craft beer, even though he had no experience. So he moved back home to Grand Rapids and started to formulate his plan. 

“I went to Founders every single day for three weeks until they gave me a job.” He eventually talked them into hiring him as a bar back every other Saturday night, then went online and found every wholesaler who represented Founders, including Hunterdon Distributors in New Jersey where, coincidentally, Rick’s uncle lives. 

“I put my uncle's address on my resume and wrote that I was a bartender at Founders… even though I was a bar back who had literally worked four shifts.” His strategy paid off when he got a call from Hunterdon, who, seeing the “local” address on his resume, asked him to come to the office later that day. Rick stalled, and secured an interview the day after, and jumped in his car to drive to Jersey.

“I get a call from my boss at Founders who said, “Something came across my desk and I know about your job hunt in Jersey. When you come back, why don’t we talk about your employment in general.” And I’m like, “Damn.” When he sat for his interview at Hunterdon, the manager told him, “If you’re crazy enough to pull off something like that and move here, I’m crazy enough to hire you.” And he was. He ended up growing the territory by 80%, studied for and passed the Cicerone exam and, 311 days of employment later, moved to Chicago to take a job at Goose Island. A few years later, he took his current job at SweetWater Brewing.

We got to our interview over cans of Avery Liliko’i Kepolo and "burger tacos" at DMK Burger Bar. 

What Are You Drinking?

Avery Liliko’i Kepolo. I love Avery and this is riff on their White Rascal with passion fruit added. I like to support my friends and favorite breweries. Avery is one of the best breweries in the US so if I’m at a place that doesn’t have my beer, I want to support what I consider to be one of the top 10. It’s always fun to support the people that you’ve met in this journey. It’s about making friends. 

I went out there there once when I was at GABF. It was a gorgeous day and Adam Avery was hanging out with us and everyone couldn’t have been nicer. The facilities were some of the nicest I’ve ever seen. And since we were from SweetWater, they gave us the VIP treatment and were really cool. Beer conjures memories, and now when I see Avery, I remember that good time. 

What’s Something We Can’t Google About You?

I’m a huge Depeche Mode fan. Starting back in 1986. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t know where that came from but there it is. Great band. 

How Do You Explain Your Job to Your Mother? 

My Mom’s super cool. She’s always been supportive. I tell her it’s a territory sales job just like any other territory sales job. My commodity just happens to be beer.

I think at first she was like, “What, you want to go sell beer? Are you an alcoholic?” but I think that’s probably what everybody’s Mom says when they first tell them that. But she’s seen the successes that I’ve had and the impact craft beer has had on me and the family, that it’s not an industry that’s going to go anywhere. And with Founders being such a huge part of the Grand Rapids culture, we’ve been exposed to craft beer for my whole life and she knows how important it is to me and my family. I think ultimately if I’m happy, she’s happy. As long as I don’t get DUI’s and call her for the credit card. I think she’s just happy that I can support myself. She’s the best. 

What Makes The Beer Industry So Exciting?

There’s so many things that are exciting about the beer industry and for me, it’s still discovery. There’s not an industry that’s been as impactful as this in the last 15-20 years. People are still going out, they’re still searching, they’re still trying something new. They’re still finding what they like, what they want and what they enjoy. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can help them do that.

Besides that, and I’m sure you get this all the time but it’s the people. Ultimately, when you talk about the identity of the brewery, it all comes from the people. I talked about Avery because it was cool to go see Adam Avery’s brewery. And I’m on the frontline for Freddy Bensch (SweetWater’s Owner) working, killing it, trying to work for his dream and his passion. Then the people like you and me — I can see you and we can just laugh and have a good time. You see your “competition” and even though we live in a corporate world, and they’re technically the competition, they’re not at the same time. They’re your friends. You go to their breweries. You drink their beer. 

Its a lot like indie music. You’re going out to support your buddies, you’re going to their shows and buying their albums. And the more music people listen to the better — their fans are going to end up coming around and listening to you too. 

What Makes The Beer Industry So Frustrating?

The most frustrating thing for sure is the amount of people that think they’re experts that aren’t experts. The amount of people the have opinions about beer. It’s funny because with Beer Advocate and RateBeer, there aren’t other industries where people rate you like that. Also, there are so many things that people rate that have nothing to do with the brewery. Maybe you picked up a bottle that was eight months old at retail, maybe your glass had a bunch of soap in it. But all of the sudden, AleMan65 is the most experienced person about this and he’s talking about how terrible this beer is and his followers talk about it too. It’s like Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule — it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I’ve been doing this now for a while and have my cicerone certification, but by no means do I think I’m a master at all. I love hearing about beer from great people in our industry but at the end of the day, beer’s like any art form —it’s so subjective. People taste things differently. It’s like with a painting if it looks good, or with music if it sounds good you’ll fucking feel it. Stop listening to what other people are telling you is good and decide on your own what you like. You’re going to be very surprised about what you find. Beer’s about having a good time. That’s what it is, dude. It’s all about having a good time.  

Josh Seago | Founder & President, Lou Dog Events.

Josh Seago is one humble dude. He's president and founder of Lou Dog Events, a craft beer-focused events company that will host more than 12 beer fests this year... and yet, he keeps talking about his team, the brewers, the beer -- anyone but himself.  When pushed, he describes himself as "just a part of the team." And that’s not an exaggeration. Regular attendees of Lou Dog festivals will recognize him as the guy at the door taking tickets, clearing trash, moving kegs, re-affixing signs, or a million other things. As he puts it, "If the garbage needs to be changed, the garbage needs to be changed."

It's this humility, plus his genuine desire to help build the craft beer community, and a TON of hard work that's built a craft beer events company with a brewers-first mentality. Lou Dog pays for every keg of beer they serve. They don't ask for discounts, or special favors… something that not every company can claim. As a result, Lou Dog Events is quickly becoming one of the most respected beer festival companies in Chicago. And that’s no small feat. 

We sat down for our five questions at Big Star over pints of Revolution Brewing's Fist City. 

What Are You Drinking? 

Revolution’s Fist City. I like to stay local wherever I go. If I’m in Chicago, I like to drink beer from Chicago. If I’m in Naperville, I like to drink beer from Naperville. I also like to pair what I’m drinking with what’s going on with the seasons. I just came off of month’s of drinking stouts and porters and barleywines. So now I’m forcing myself into summer mode. 

One of the things I love about craft beer is how these brewers are making an impact in their neighborhoods. They’re hiring local people, they’re contributing to their local economies. When I’m in Naperville, I like to pick something up from Solemn Oath. When I’m in Grand Rapids, I’ll get something from Founders. That doesn’t mean I only drink Founders in Grand Rapids, but when possible I try to support local community. Because the money that they make are supporting their families and impact their communities. It’s exciting to be able to say, “I’m helping contribute to that.” 

What’s Something We Can’t Google About You?

If you dug deep, you could probably find this… but I’m also a half-time professor at North Central College. I did my MBA there and I teach in the business program. Under Graduate Principals of Management and Principals of Marketing. I love it. If I wasn’t working in the beer industry, I’d be a full time professor. I always tell the students that I did 15 years in banking and left to start my own festival management and production company. And when you talk to a student about “production management” it’s not that sexy. But as the course goes on and they find out I do beer festivals, then that’s all they want to talk about.

Teaching is exciting. I’m shaping the minds of our future business leaders, but also at the same time turning them into craft beer snobs. 

How Do You Explain Your Job To Your Mother?

We’re really a family business. In the beginning when you’re starting off and bootstrapping it and looking for funding, you approach your family and friends. So at our festivals I had all of my family members working — mom, dad, brother, sisters, uncles, cousins — everyone. College roommates. High School friends. Industry friends. Our first year I had like 40 people out there working for me and people thought we were a really large company but it was all my family and friends helping out, working for beer. 

My Mom always works out merchandise tent. She’s in her 60’s, doesn’t drink at all and she’s working the merchandise and information tent so she has a really intimate view of what’s going on. It was like trial by fire when she got thrown into it and people are asking her questions and she learned on the fly. So she can really explain intimately what we do.

It’s also nice because I get her input after festivals. I still remember one of the festivals in Naperville we poured Zombie Dust and people went crazy for it. Everyone was coming up to the information tent and asking her where Zombie Dust was. And at the end of the festival she goes, “I don’t know what that Zombie Dust stuff is but you need to order more of it because people were going crazy for it!” I mean, she had no idea who 3 Floyds was, but everyone was asking for it. Her note at the end said “Next year, order more Zombie Dust.” I love getting her perspective because she comes in with a layman’s view on it so it’s really neat to see her perspective on it. I was just proud she was saying “Zombie Dust” and “3 Floyds."

What Makes The Beer Industry So Exciting? 

I came from the banking industry and I don’t think you can get more opposite from craft beer. Banking is very competitive, very cut throat. If you can squash a competitor, that’s great. And then you go into craft beer and it’s a completely different atmosphere. IT’s more collaborate, people working together. People give advice and resources, it’s an incredibly collaborative community. 

When I started, I considered the "craft beer industry” as only the brewers, they were doing incredible things making incredible beer and I had so much admiration for those guys. I didn’t really consider myself to be part of the beer industry. I didn’t feel like an insider. I’m just working on the outside layer of it. But as we’ve become more involved and I’ve gotten to know the brewers, I want to be careful about it and don’t want to say we’re 100% a part of it but in a sense we’re doing our best to represent the industry well and do what’s right by it. 

What Makes The Beer Industry So Frustrating?

On the festival side, there’s a small part that’s in it for the wrong reasons. To make money off of the beer community. When we got started we said, “If we’re going to get into this industry and participate, we have to do things the right way and be in it for the right reasons."

I was talking to a festival producer from out of town and asked him why he was in the business, and he said, "There’s only one reason to be in any business, and that’s money. And if you don’t think that way, you’re not going to survive.” And I thought, “You know what, that guy’s not going to be here in the long term.” We’re in it for the exact opposite reason. There were certain things we said we’d do when we came into it. We said we’re always going to pay for the beers. We sat down and added up what we’re going to buy, and we’re going to purchase 1,000 1/2bbls of beer for 2016 which is roughly $200,000 that we’ll spend in craft beer. If we were a bar, or a restaurant or a grocery store and we were purchasing $200,000 of craft beer, we’d be one of the top contenders in the market. That’s a lot of beer. You have to be in it for the right reasons — and for us that’s to support the brewers that we care so much about. 

 

 

Working For Beer Season 2 Is On Its Way!

Dear Friends & Readers,

Thank you for reading and supporting and asking questions about and being featured in and reading and supporting and reading Working For Beer. It's been fun. 

We're currently out drinking beer with industry folk as we develop season two so stay tuned... we've got some great stuff in the works!

And, as always, if you or someone you know what to be featured, shoot us an email

Cheers!

Matt(ing For Beer)

 

 

Lee McComb & Meredith Anderson | Cellerman & Communications Coordinator, Half Acre Beer Co

Lee and Meredith are a rare beer industry couple. They met at a brewery. They dated at a brewery. They got engaged while working at a brewery and then got married. And they still work at the brewery. They make, sell and market beer all day, drink it at night, and in their free time, take beer trips. I'm here today to try and figure out how the hell they make that work. 

They're both members of Half Acre's tight-knit family. Lee's a cellarman and brewer at the new Balmoral production facility and Meredith, who’s got one of my favorite "How I Got My Job" stories is the marketing/events/everything else person at the brewery. She’s the voice behind Half Acre’s bizarro brand. These two are fun to drink with but shit, they're really fun to interview. Lee is warm, kind and bombastic, with wild hair, an unkempt brewers beard and a laugh that fills rooms. Meredith on the other hand is a much more careful, think-before-you-speak kind of person but in a kind way - she makes you feel important and listened to. The two of them together are hysterical. We got to our five questions over various Half Acre beers at their new Balmoral Ave production facility. 

What Are You Drinking? 

Meredith: Freedom of ’78. It’s got like 800 pounds of guava but it’s not sweet. The label is a bunch of Half Acre employees at the Half Acre house. This was supposed to be a take on the Freedom of ’76 album cover by Ween, where a bunch of people are hanging out in a front yard but it doesn’t look anything like it. Nobody’s showing their boobs, nobody’s smoking a bong. Turns out Ween is much cooler than us. 

Lee: It's a fruity IPA. Really bitter. The fruit matches the hop profile pretty well. It’s overly fruity but it’s so dry that it works. Historically, we really avoid anything that’s non-traditional "Half Acre." Mainly, I think it’s because we had no space and were under such tight reigns for production, and didn’t have a lot of freedom for exploration. Now we finally have enough breathing room to do some throw back beers. We didn’t have enough time because of the move to come up with new recipes every week so we went deep into the archives and pulled out all these different beers that we’d forgotten about. Summer Rules, Get Right, Kalla Knife, Meat Wave, Shrub Tundra, Akari Mist… which is a firkin that we’d dub Akari Mist, because it’s Akari Shogun with lemon and lime zest. We brewed a big batch of it but they didn’t want to call it Akari Mist. I can’t imagine why. 

What’s Something We Can’t Google About You?

Lee: I don’t think you can even Google me period. I’m not really important enough to have a Google vibe. One thing I’ve recently been getting into… Meredith has trouble with Gluten. Beer’s fine but bread makes her stomach hurt so I’ve been trying to do a lot of Gluten-free baking. I usually just judge everything I make by "is it not terrible?" A couple weeks ago I made biscuits and I was feeling like my biscuit game was really getting on point… but then one of our co-worker’s wife brought biscuits in and DAMNIT! They were better.   

Meredith: I feel like you could probably Google everything about me. My nick name around these parts is Merder, sometimes shortened to "merd" which means "shit" in French. I love it. Because it hardens me, which I’m always trying to be perceived as. I aspire to be a hard person. It comes from when I was a camp counselor in Sweden and Swedish children can't say "Meredith" to save their lives because of the "th" sound. So "Merder" was easier. And then they found out about my fear of butterflies. You might be able to Google that about me. I hate butterflies. 

How Do You Explain Your Job To Your Mother?

Meredith: My Mom actually has a good handle on what I do because I talk about it more with her. Most of the time people ask what I do and I say the easy things... I do our Facebook and our Twitter and all of our email correspondence. That’s the easy part and it’s like 15% of my day. The rest of it is too messy to explain to anyone so I don’t even bother. My Mom gets it. I like to use the show Veep as an example. All the people around her have to do whatever it is in the moment that JLD needs, and that’s what I do around here. We need a keg delivered to Freemont so I’m packing it up in my car and driving it out. I’m figuring out how to change our address. Or we’re having a party… and figuring out how to have a party. 

As hard as any of my days get, I still work for an amazing company. That’s the exact same thing that frustrates me because when I do go to that easy answer, people are like, "Oh." And them I’m like, "yeah, but it’s so much more than that." 

Lee: Man, I’m a total momma’s boy. We talk all the time. I grew up pretty conservative. They weren’t against alcohol, they just never really drank it. So when I got a job at the brewery they were like, "Oh boy. Okay. Well, we thought you were gonna be a teacher but I guess drinking for a living is good too. We’ll try and be supportive." They visit me every summer and the first year you could tell they were hoping it was a phase, and then by the second summer I was doing something different and they were like, “Oh, this is kinda neat” and then every year this place gets bigger and my role changes and they’re kind of like, "You DO have a legitimate job. We’re into that." My Mom, with me being the baby of the family, she wants to know everything. She’s the most supportive, nicest woman you’ll ever find in your life. She tries to sit down with me all the time to find out exactly what I do so she can tell her friends. She writes everything on 3x5 cards... like, word for word, and then memorizes it. I think that my mom could describe my job to people better than I can. Especially when I started getting into it, and people would always ask me what’s a cellar man… and I’d try and give this long explanation and they’d ask what a CIP is and what dry hopping is and then finally one of the other cellarmen really put it nicely when he called it "beer babysitting." The brewers brew the beer into the tanks, I get the tanks set up to be brewed into and then I babysit it until it’s ready to be packaged. But that’s not good enough for my mother, she needs the nitty gritty.   

What Makes The Beer Industry So Exciting?

Lee: I think for me it’s maybe a little bit different being from a production background: I learn something every single day. I think that I would just get bored really easily if it was just the same old stuff. I also think the beer industry is really awesome because it’s so professional in one sense, if you’re going to survive as a beer company, you’re going to have to learn how to make the best damn beer you possibly can but then there’s other pieces that are just so completely unprofessional. A big thing for me is I wake up every morning and I put on a t-shirt and some Carharts and some boots and I don’t cut my hair — ever — I don’t shave my face, I never really been the most well-dressed person. Yeah, you’re not going to make as much money as elsewhere... but it's also amazing to go out to bars and see cans and I KNOW that I’ve touched them. Or I cleaned that keg, I wrapped it, I helped load it into a truck. 

Meredith: I think it’s kind of similar. Both of our perspectives are probably different from a lot of people you talk to because we’re not in front of people the same way. I’m not meeting other industry folks that often, I don’t think it’s the same as sales life. I think for me it’s Half Acre. We talk all he time that we could move to California, or get other brewery jobs — but would it ever live up to what we have here? We always conclude that it wouldn’t. It’s not the industry for us, it’s Half Acre itself. I get to be creative every day, to try and create things and write things and use my brain, and I don’t know where else I would get that and be as happy. I am myself every single day at work. I don’t have to put on my "work person" every morning and then take it off when I get home. These people are some of my favorite people in the world and being here is great — it’s still hard, it’s still work, you still get pissed but it’s always great to come back to. We hang out NOT at work. It’s phenomenal. It’s like, I cheer for Half Acre. I’ve only been here for three years but I feel so much ownership. I mean, I graduated with degrees in Philosophy and Scandinavian studies, and now I get to write riddles and hide things around Chicago once a month and make people find them. That makes NO sense but I get to do it and it’s great. 

All The Half Acre Bottles

What makes the beer industry so frustrating? 

Lee: The biggest thing that drives me bonkers about this industry is the constant talking about the next release or what you got in your cellar. There’s a point to where I just want to be like, "it’s just beer!" I mean, we're a couple where we both work in the beer industry, so this is like pot calling the kettle black, because I’m as bad at this as everyone else. But I think that if I worked for Half Acre Rug Company, I wouldn't obsess over rugs. I wouldn’t marry a rug girl and we talk only about rugs. I wouldn’t read rug blogs. I wouldn't take rug trips. 

Meredith: I spend a lot of time on the internet and I’m afraid of the internet. I’m afraid of those people who are going to be mean to me online. It’s like, it’s just beer! And I hate when people talk to me and are super excited to be here and then later on Beer Advocate you’re like, "Oh man, this didn’t pull any whales." I’m like, "Come on dude, just drink it. Be happy. Just drink it. And be happy. Empty out your cellar." I mean, they have all the right in the world to grow their giant cellars and it’s great but THAT’S what’s most frustrating to me. The haters or the people that want to take all the fun out of it. How can you take the fun out of beer? It’s amazing to me.

I care about what people say about us. I read all of the forums and all of the comments and all of the Untappd check-ins all the time because what we’re producing and how people react to it matters. So when people are saying disparaging things — and luckily that doesn’t happen too often — it just hurts. I take it personally. Half Acre is a part of me.   

Half Acre Cans
Half Acre Cans Close




Bob Egan | Illinois Account Representative/Cider Slinger, Vander Mill Cider Co.

Bob Egan may be the funniest guy in Chicago beer. I probably spent more time during our interview laughing than asking any meaningful questions. He also loves Vander Mill. Before the recorder was even switched on, we were talking about the cider making process, the future of the category and whether or not the cider scene will ever look like the beer scene does now. We got to our five questions over Vander Mill ciders at one of Bob's favorite spots, Skylark.

What are you drinking

I’m drinking Vander Mill hard apple Cider. All Michigan apples. Semi-sweet dry cider. It’s definitely not that sweet cider that will give you a stomach ache and make your teeth hurt. It’s very lightly back-sweetened. We’ve got a press that I’m pretty sure has German U-boat parts in it… it doesn’t break.

As far as apples go, this is primarily Jonathan, Golden delicious apples and kind of dealers choice after that, like Gala, Ida, Macintosh and Northern Spy. At the end of the day, cider is just fermented juice so what we’re doing is very close to wine making.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

For six years, I performed at Improv Olympics. I went to Columbia for Theater and started performing at IO when I was 19… no one really started carding me until I was 21. It was a great opportunity to have fun on stage, and when you have to make 50 people staring at you laugh, walking into the Hopleaf to sell cider isn’t so intimidating. It's about knowing how to think on your feet when someone gives you A, B, and C on why they can’t take you in. The biggest thing about improv is listening, it's that way in sales too. You need to listen to what they need -- right product, right place, right time. Listening to what the buyer’s telling you.

Life’s a series of tangents. It’s what I always tell my little brother when he tells me he doesn’t know what he wants to be. I just tell him, “Go. Just go. Do something. Find something that makes you happy and want to get out of the bed every morning. And stop living at Mom’s.”

I put “retired improviser” on my Tinder.

How do you describe your job to your mother?

My Mom is all too well aware of what I do and is probably harder on me than my boss is… She’s like, “Yeah, I’m hanging out at so-and-sos and they don’t have you on draft. No cans here, Bob. Guy’s name is Steve, he’s here on Wednesdays, maybe you should bring him some samples.” I think when I got into Lou Malnati’s my Mom was like, “This is awesome. I like those bars you bring me to with no TVs but this is LOU MALNATI’S. We can bring the family here now.”

My Mom gets it but for other people, I usually say, “I sell depressants” and they change the subject. For a lot of people I don’t think it’s too tangible you know, the early morning sending out emails, reaching out to Walgreen's, stuff like that is kind of in the background. It can be a grind. Saturday afternoon at a beer festival, Saturday night at Binny’s pouring samples, Sunday morning I get a call ‘our draft system's down, you’re the only one that answered.’

I love my brother and sister but sometimes they’ll tell me all this is a bubble. I think it was around Christmas sometime and we were having a couple drinks and arguing about it and I said, “What’s more American than working at a local brewery or cidery? We employee people in Michigan. When we expand our new Grand Rapids facility will employee over 50 people; assistant cider makers, cellermen, servers, bartenders, tour guides and others” and my uncle looked and me and said, “You fucked up, you should’ve been a lawyer.”

What makes the beer industry so special?

I think for me it’s the camaraderie between the reps. At the end of the day, all of us kind of live on an island out here in Chicago. A lot of these guys are representing brands from out of state - we don’t really have the camaraderie by getting back to the facility as much as we'd like to. We’re all trying to make sure that good beer and good cider wins. There’s mild competition between people but being able to reach out to somebody and say, “I can’t get a hold of the buyer at X bar, what day is he in?” or going to each other's events. A lot of times when you do events you’re like, “I hope people show up, this thing’s been on Facebook for three weeks.” And then when your friends from other breweries come out and fill the seats it makes you feel good. You think, “That guy didn't need to come out. It’s a Thursday night and I know he had events Tuesday night and Wednesday night too.”

Being able to have that camaraderie with other breweries is one of my favorite things about the industry. That and the free product.

What is it that makes the beer industry so frustrating?

I think for me what makes it frustrating is the lack of transparency from some companies. When they say it’s based in one place but it’s made somewhere else. I was at a sampling the other day with another cidery and I was talking about what kind of apples go into each product and they were talking about how theirs was a “manly cider.” I don’t want to say I’m frustrated, I just think we’re ambassadors for brands. We’re supposed to walk up to a table and say, “Hey, I saw you ordered a Vander Mill” and engage people. It takes 10-15 minutes. It’s important to be honest about your brand, have transparency and let people know what you're about.

I just heard it twice this week, where accounts were like, “I had this brewery in and they did an event but they didn’t talk to anyone.” They came here, spent a $100… but who’d they talk to? That doesn’t have a lasting impact. That’s why when people say, “Let’s do a giant beer dinner and fill this place out!” I say, “No, let’s do something tight where we’ve got 20 people and do some small pairings so people hang out after the dinner and talk.”

I started off drinking Honey Brown. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. I just want to see true craft cider do well

*Bob's brother has moved out of his mothers house.



Drew Daly | Brewery Sales Representative, Destihl Brewing Company

Drew Daley, Brewery Sales Representative, Destihl Brewing Company

I’d never met Drew Daly before I walked into Bangers & Lace for our interview but by the time I walked out a few hours later, I felt like I'd known him for years. Drew's one of those guys whose friendly, dissarming demeanor combined with his knowledge makes you feel like he's an old friend, and it's this quality that makes me believe he could sell snow to a polar bear... or whatever. Right now he sells Belgians and sours for Destihl Brewing Company. We got to our five questions over a round of Sünner Kölsch. 

What Are You Drinking?

I'm drinking a Sünner Kölsch. I was first introduced to this beer when I was beverage buying for Bar Toma and we were revamping our beverage list and starting to introduce some craft brands. Adam Schulte with Artisanal Imports came in and tasted me on the book. I wasn't too familiar with Kolch's -- I mean, Metropolitan Krankshaft was another fantastic example that I knew but I'd never really been exposed to one of the traditional styles. He tasted me out on this beer and I fucking fell in love with it. 

Sunner Kolsch

Obviously, I'm a good company man, I love drinking my own liquid but if you're drinking Belgian's and sour beers all the time, it's nice to switch it up with something lighter or hop-heavy.

WHAT'S SOMETHING WE CAN'T GOOGLE ABOUT YOU?

There was a point in time where I almost didn't come to Chicago because I was deathly afraid of the city. This was college-ish time and I was dating a girl and wanted to impress her. She was from the burbs so I was like, let’s go to Chicago and have a night in the city. We tried to go to this restaurant on the far north side and I got in a fender bender because I didn’t know how to parallel park… and then I got so lost on the way home. It gave me this really sour taste of Chicago. I used to tell people, “Why would I want to live in the big city? That’s just silly. Everything I need is right here: I got an Applebee’s.” Then when I actually spent time in the neighborhoods, I kind of fell in love with the city.

How Do You Explain Your Job To someone Outside the industry?

There's a very romanticized view of what this job is. It's the same romanticism that I had when I saw suppliers come in to my bars and restaurants and thought, "That's gotta be the sweetest job! You just drink booze all day and you sit down in restaurants and bars and you eat their really awesome food." It's a LOT more work than that. A lot more work. I try to tell people that when you do this job you're a middleman, you're a front man, you're the backman -- you're playing all points. You're the face of the brand, and you want people to associate you with the brewery, but also need to work with accounts and bring new product in, and work with the distributors. You’re wearing so many different hats. I try to explain to people that it's a little bit more like playing a game of really tricky chess - you're moving so many pieces and your day could go from "Today I've got 10 accounts that I'm going to go see" and all of the sudden you get a phone call from one of you're other markets about something that they're not sure of and your entire day goes out the window.

Drew Daley, Brewery Sales Representative, Destihl Brewing Company
Drew Daley, Brewery Sales Representative, Destihl Brewing Company

What makes the beer industry so special?

If you really want to look at what we do from kind of a twisted perspective (and this was said to me by a friend, I’m not trying to take credit for it): we’re just legalized drug dealers. We’re selling something that at one point in this country’s history was illegal. I think that’s hysterical. And awesome. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition.

Craft beer specifically is really cool because you're talking to people about a product that’s made with certain expectations but is so varied and so different. It’s also wrapped up in a ton of history. I think that’s super special and most of the people in this industry have that appreciation for it. Yeah, what we sell can get you drunk -- and that’s really, really cool -- but you have all these people that are super dialed into that 16oz glass sitting in front of them and all that went into it. And everyone in the industry really eats, breathes and sleeps that.

It’s a weird business, but it’s a great business full of really talented and super passionate people.

Drew Daley, Brewery Sales Representative, Destihl Brewing Company

What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

This question is like tap dancing on a landmine.

There’s a lot of facets of it that can be frustrating and challenging at times. I work for a two year old brewery and we’re such a small piece in such a large puzzle and sometimes it’s tough to set ourselves apart. There’s so much liquid out there. So many great beers. You feel like you’re just one of the crowd. I always get this visual of being in Grand Central Station packed with people and you're just like, “Would somebody please just listen to me! No? Alright cool.” It’s one of those things that consumes a lot of my time. The goal is to get myself and my brewery out there. It’s a huge challenge.

Another huge thing is the highs and lows. Some days I look back and think, “Man, I feel like I was so unproductive and I worked my ass off all day” and some days I think, “I really knocked it out of the park.” You have really, really great days and you’re super pumped about it… and other days you’re just like, “Dude, I didn’t get anything accomplished.” There’s a lot of ups and downs and you really have to work through it to keep moving forwards. I’ll wake up in the morning and think “yesterday really sucked, I hope today doesn’t suck too.”

I have a hard time finding negativity about what we do because I love it so much. I mean, yeah, it can be a bit of a burden - a bit of a bitch sometimes but at the end of the day I’m not saving lives -- and I’m really happy I don’t have those jobs. Too stressfull.



Addison Ashbaugh | Beer Buyer, Sheffield's Beer and Wine Garden

Addison is arguably the nicest person in the Chicago beer scene. He practically sweats good vibes. I mean, he genuinely struggled to come up with anything to say when asked what frustrated him about the craft beer industry. And not out of politeness, but out of a genuine lack of hard feelings. 

He's also seen the industry from nearly every vantage point in the past few years -- he's been on the brewery side (Tallgrass Brewing Company), the distributor side (Lakeshore Beverage) and now, he's in retail as the beer buyer at Sheffield's Beer and Wine Garden. He's also the best karaoke'er I've ever seen. And I grew up in China. 

We get to our five questions on a dark and rainy day at Sheffield’s back bar as Addison gets up and down to pull samples of beers I just have to try, because that’s what he loves to do -- share beer with people.

What are you drinking?

I'm drinking North Coast Scrimshaw. Outside of Germany, it’s probably one of the most classic, underrated Pilsners. In the the 70’s when people wanted to order a beer they’d just say, "give me a beer" and for me, as far as the craft scene goes this is one of the greatest examples of "just a beer." It’s one that you can drink on and it’s not going to fill you up too much. You can have food with it. Or you can just drink it all night and not get hammered. That’s really what it’s all about for me when drinking beer all day long, every day is to not get… drunk. You have to function.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

I used to compete in the air guitar circuit. Rolling Stone flew me to South Padre island to compete in an air guitar competition. My brother and I hosted a competition at the bar I worked at and a few months later one of the other local bars had one and everyone was like, “you should totally enter!” I was like, “I guess so.” I ended up winning that competition with a song called The Devil Stole the Beat From God by the Helicopters -- it’s all shredding. My friend was bartending at the time so during part of it, I ran and jumped up and slid across the bar and as I’m shredding, he just opens up the Jack Daniels and pours it down my throat. So then Rolling Stone wanted me to go out to South Padre island for this competition and I won second place.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

What I would I love to tell her is that I just drink beer for a living. That’s what I tell people all the time. But inside of that, it’s all relationships. It’s fostering new relationships with new breweries to give them a spotlight so people are exposed to good beer here in Chicago. But it’s also about holding onto the old standards that I grew up drinking and then ones that do really well in the bar. I guess I’m curating a palate of beer and beer standards that lend to people’s tastes in and outside of their comfort zones.

I’m also a manager here so it’s up to me to educate the staff and give them something they maybe haven’t tried yet and then at least a sentence description that they can share with their customers. I’m partly an event planner too - we do, on average, five to six events a month. I want this to be a place that industry people can come to because one - they can drink something that’s like, "Shoot, this is on draft? Awesome!” and two because they can pour their beers here and bring the rest of their co-workers or distributors and enjoy themselves, eat some good BBQ and drink some good beer.

What makes the beer industry so special?

I think that there’s a lot of cool upcoming breweries and with Chicago being a big city, we’re able to get a lot of the great beers that other cities aren’t able to get because there’s such a demand for craft beer here. That’s what's neat about it. It’s local but also people from throughout the United States are sending beer to one area. We’re one thirsty town. We’re a hard working town and we like to drink hard too.

Also, I got to meet you through craft beer. I think the culture craft beer keeps is a little left of center. We’re rockers, we’re stoners, we’re nerds, we don’t follow the mainstream. I think that’s what craft beer does -- we’re just this explosion of not status quo.

I like that good beer brings good people together. It’s open ended. Take 3 Floyds. The state of Indiana, with their new law has discriminated against anyone who basically isn’t a white, married Christian. So 3 Floyds basically said a big “FU” to them and made a collaboration beer with Big Freedia who’s transgender. It’s all about acceptance. That’s what craft beer does -- it’s all across the board so we accept people from all across the board.

It’s a lifestyle.

What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

That’s tough man. <long pause>

I think good beer takes time. It’s like learning to be a chef, or learning a trade. Not everyone’s beer is good right out of the gate but I think that being complacent about the quality and standards of your beer can be the most frustrating thing. That goes for startup breweries and breweries that have been around a long time and haven’t reinvented the brewery and vision. For example, New Holland just reinvented Mad Hatter. The IBUs are a little higher and it’s Citra, but they just didn’t want to be complacent.

It's also people being complacent about trying new things. You can drink beer to get drunk -- that’s the goal, right, that euphoria it creates? But can you have a conversation about a Miller Lite or a Bud Light? No. But you can have a conversation about some barrel aged beer. While you’re drinking it and rallying around friendship, there’s a conversation to be had about the beer itself. That’s what I like about beer -- it has a story. Beer is the reason we’re no longer nomads, beer built the pyramids. It’s one of the first things we made and it’s our basic right. Did that answer your question?



Jeremy Teel | Taproom Manager, Plank Road Tap Room

The first time I met Jeremy was at a brewery launch party in Wicker Park. At the time, he was the writer behind the Suburban-focused beer blog, Subbeerbia and he showed up early. He was quiet and unassuming but clearly passionate about craft and the industry that surrounds it. In just a few short years Jeremy's career has taken a dramatic shift: he left a cushy, full-time job in the corporate world to dive headfirst into the beer industry with two part-time positions and a prayer. And now, we’re sitting at the bar in the cozy Plank Road Tap Room sharing a 5 Rabbit Tamarindo Paletas as he fills me in on his brand new promotion to Tap Room Manager.

Spend five minutes with Jeremy and it will become clear just how passionate this guy is for the community aspect of the beer community. Jeremy and his team are very serious about what they’ve built here -- they don’t serve food, there are no TVs, and they do everything they can to stay approachable. We got into our five questions as we discussed how the industry as a whole can work to do the same. 

What Are You Drinking?

I’m drinking 5 Rabbit Paletas. This is their summer wheat beer, part of a series they’re doing with different fruits. They started out with a guava version, which was bright pink, and this is their tamarindo version. I didn't even know what tamarindo was until this. It’s a tart citrus fruit so it gives it that tart flavor on top of a nice, thick wheat body. It’s only 3.5% so it’s a perfect summer beer. It’s thirst quenching. Kind of a great gateway beer in a lot of ways.

A lot of people come in and they say, “oh, I don’t drink beer” or “I’m more of a wine person, what do you have for me?” You can hand them this and be pretty confident that they’ll enjoy it. The first thing most people say when they try it is, “oh that’s refreshing” which is what you want with a summer beer.

We get a lot of people who come in thinking it's a bar and restaurant and their first question is, “Where’s the food?” and their second question is “Where’s the Miller Light or Bud Light?” We try very hard to never talk down to those people or make them feel uncomfortable about their beer choices. For us, it’s more like, “Well, no, we don’t but we do have this local pilsner that is fantastic. OR this Kolsch from right here in Chicago. It’s light and you’re going to enjoy it.” We have a lot of regulars that are self-proclaimed not craft beer drinkers, but they still come in once and week and drink craft beer.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

I was a published author at the age of five. I had a short story published in Highlights for Children. I’ve tried for years to find the issue. When I was younger I wanted to be a writer -- I thought that being able to create worlds and characters was fantastic and my Mother really instilled a love for reading in me really young. I wrote some story and they ended up publishing it. I think it was about a lost puppy or something.

How do you explain your job to your Mother?

My Mother was leary of me being involved in the industry from the get go. I grew up in a household where alcohol wasn’t seen in a good light at all. My father didn’t want any alcohol in the house whatsoever. As I grew up, I kind of rebelled. But then when I turned 22, I started to hang out at a brewery all the time and the brewer there became a friend and taught me all about beer.

When I told her a few years ago that I started the website, she got worried that I was out drinking too much… I tried to explain the industry to her from my limited knowledge at the time but that it just seemed like really good people that were part of a close knit community and that I wanted to be a part of it. I had moved out here 10 years ago and I had never really found a group of people that I felt a part of… and finally I was finding these people in the community when I went out to events. 

With this position, I just told her a week ago about it and she asked, “Well, what are you doing now that you weren't doing before?” I told her, “The operational stuff -- the day to day operations" but it’s a combination of so many things. You’re giving people a product they want, but you’re also part entertainer. When there are only three people at the bar, you don’t want awkward silence so you’re trying to maintain a conversation, make people smile, make them laugh, whatever you can do to keep them here and make them have a good time so they come back. It’s one part entertainer, one part service, sometimes a little bit of babysitting… it’s all those things. I think she’s getting a better understanding now. I mean, now when she goes on vacation she’ll send me pictures of a beer and say, “Oh, I’m trying this beer from Texas.” And I’m like, “That’s great Mom, keep trying new stuff.” She’s cautiously supportive of it.

What makes the beer industry so special?

For me, it’s been that sense of community. When I used to write for the website, I'd go to these events and the people were welcoming and would invite me to more events and releases. It was cool to walk into a place that maybe six months before, nobody knew me and the next time I walk in, I’m talking to a dozen people and the next time I walk in there’s two dozen people that I know. On the retail side, I've loved helping to build that community from scratch. The community of the consumer’s relationship with the retailer and then how that links together with our relationship with the distributors and the breweries.

Its hard to put your finger on what it is. I think in general the people in the beer industry have some characteristics that overlap with each other. There’s a lot of creative people in the industry, there’s a lot of open mindedness. There’s just friendly people in general… and the beer helps. When you get people together that have something that they’re that passionate about in common they just want to embrace the community. They're tight knit but at the same time open to new people.

IMG_3209.jpg

What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

There’s a small but loud group in the craft beer world both on the consumer and professional side of people that have an elitist attitude. On the professional side, I’ve grown very tired of this battle between craft beer and big beer. I mean, I understand it, I was a vocal member of the group against big beer but as time has gone on, it seems silly that we still have to make that distinction and use the words “craft beer.” I understand why we use it but at the same time, beer is beer. It brings people together. I just hate to see it used in any way that’s divisive instead of inclusive.

I think the danger is that once you start being elitist about it and calling people out for what they’re drinking -- whether that’s alight beer or just a beer you don’t like -- the danger is excluding them so that they never come back to a place like this. So then, instead of being an evangelist for craft beer, you start pushing people away from it. You can explain it in such a way that’s inclusive and relateable to instead of “Well that beer’s not craft beer, so it’s not worth your time.” 

I think it’s about creating cultures of inclusiveness. Instead of just outright rejecting other people’s opinions about beer - whether big beer or craft - trying to understand why they feel that way. If we don’t do that, craft beer isn't going to keep growing.



Michelle Foik | Owner & Managing Partner, Eris Brewery & Ciderhouse

Michelle Foik and I are sitting at the bar in the Logan Square staple, Lulas Cafe on a slow Friday afternoon. While Chicago still seems to be waking up from its winter slumber, Michelle is bursting with energy, as always. 

Michelle was one of the first people in the industry to show me the ropes when, a few weeks after I started my first beer job, we drove two hours to an Illinois Craft Brewers Guild meeting in Rockford. I've sought her guidance many times since then. She's one of those people that genuinely loves helping others and giving them advice about the industry, which she's completely qualified to do seeing as she's been at it for so long... and has seen every corner of the business. 

We get into our five questions over Half Acre Galactic Double Daisy Cutters.

What are you drinking?

A Half Acre Galactic Double Daisy Cutter. I honestly like it better than the regular Daisy Cutter. Sometimes Daisy Cutter is a little too hoppy for me. I know this is a galaxy double, but I like when they add malt to it and balance it out. I think this is more balanced. That’s the only thing I don’t like about certain beers -- especially bitter beers and IPAs -- if you don’t have a balanced beer, it’s not my style. I like a malt background with that bitterness in the front.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

I think that you can’t Google the I own a motorcycle. I don’t think most people know that about me because the bike only worked for six months and then it’s been hiding away for about two years. It’s a Suzuki GS 500, I got it from my friend Tim Sheldon who used to work at Goose Island. He’s promised me to fix it for the last year but… hasn’t. So, I technically ride a motorcycle but I don’t. I don’t think I’ve seen it in like a year.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

My mother knows what I do because she was in hospitality. So it’s not a fair question because my mom gets part of it. What she doesn’t get is how certain companies like Goose Island sent me to do sales in Europe. She said, “I’m sorry, what are you doing? You’re selling alcohol in Europe? And you’re out there just drinking?” I said, “Well, kind of, yeah. But I’m also selling.” And she said, “But you’re drinking? And everything’s happening for free?” So she kind of wishes she had my job back in the day. 

It’s not an easy explanation to general people who don’t work in the beer industry because any way you say it, you sound like an alcoholic. I mean, honestly. When they ask what I do I tell them I sell beer. And then they’re like, “Cool, cool, so what does that job entail?” And I tell them, “Well, you have to go to accounts and you sit around and have a beer with them.” “Oh, so this happens at night?” “Well, no sometimes it starts at noon, sometimes it starts at 3 and some nights, I have to stay out until 5 if I’m at an account.” I think it’s really weird because everybody wants my job, but that’s only because of the theory that they get to drink all the time. Nobody really understands that it’s hard work, it’s a lot of hours. I mean, try having a relationship in our industry. It’s really hard.

My day can start at 8 in the morning, answering emails but then sometimes I have to stay up until 2 and then I have to be at it again at 8. It sounds like I’m complaining about something that’s amazing but it takes a toll on you after a while.

What makes the beer industry so special?

I just love the people in it. I love the people I’ve grown up with. I started out in one of the incubators for the industry here: Goose Island. You went there, you trained, you learned, and then you went on to open your own brewery or helped someone else open something. So watching my fellow colleagues grow into opening their own breweries is so cool. I’m so proud of everyone who I’ve worked who's now fulfilling their dreams.

When you start talking about the industry as a whole outside of Chicago, none of us really have that much competition. When you get in a room with a bunch of other brewers or business owners of breweries, we talk about what our strengths and weaknesses are. I think there’s a lot of cutthroat businesses in this world and I don’t think we’re as big as that. We understand what the big boys at Miller and Budweiser do, and we don’t have that cutthroat idea. There’s a difference, a different mentality. We want to help eachother.

What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

There’s too many hobbyists and not enough business-minded people. Without sounding like a jerk, not every homebrewer can create a business in the brewing industry. I think we’ve allowed that to happen and one thing that we have not done is explain to homebrewers that there are so many different facets to it than just making beer. It’s not a hobby, it’s a business. You can make the best beer in the world, but if you don’t understand the numbers and the business behind it, or the marketing or the branding, it won’t succeed. The thing about the industry right now is that everyone’s willing to give you money because they see it booming and they see the profitability. But not everybody understands that it’s a business.

I want to support these people and I don’t think I would ever tell somebody that they should not do it -- because I think you should. But what I want startup breweries to understand is that just because you can brew a beer, doesn’t mean that you understand numbers, marketing, labels, and an image. I also think a lot of new brewers think they can just sell their beers to the wholesaler. And I have to say, the wholesaler is responsible for this too because the wholesaler doesn't stop buying the damn beer. I hear breweries saying, “The wholesaler’s not doing their job, I’m moving to a different wholesaler” I say, “No, you’re not doing your job.” Breweries just assume that they can make the beer and just sell it to the wholesaler and they’ll take care of it. They don’t. You have to support the wholesaler.

I think in the next ten years you’re going to see those with the best quality beer and the best business background really making a stride forward and I think we already know who the leaders are going to be.