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.