Monday, February 10, 2014

Heavy Seas Brew & A Hugh Sisson

Heavy Seas, located in Baltimore, MD has been a favorite of some of us at the BBA for quite some time. We ran into Hugh Sisson at their recent Beer and Oyster Festival and asked if he would like to participate in a Brew & A. They run four events a year at their brewery including a bacon and beer, and a BBQ one. A Heavy Seas Ale House is set to open in Arlington, Virginia and we wanted to get the scoop on that and lots of other topics.

courtesy of Heavy Seas website

Better Beer Authority (BBA): Heavy Seas puts a big emphasis on cask beer, all of your events seems to have many casks etc. Why is serving cask beer so important to Heavy Seas?

Hugh Sisson (HS): First off we think that cask beer is draft beer at is highest expression – we love it!  It is also a good marketing differentiater.

BBA: Sisson’s became a brewpub in 1989 then you left and started Clipper City which has grown into what is now Heavy Seas, did Baltimore embrace the brewpub scene, and what makes Baltimore a unique place for craft beer?

HS: Sisson’s was pretty well received but we were definitely way out in front and even when I started Clipper City 5 years later it became clear that Baltimore’s “craft beer” market was pretty much in its infancy.  In the last 5 or 6 years the market has significantly improved and the level of consumer knowledge and sophistication has made great strides.  This is a great place for us to be these days.

courtesy of Heavy Seas website

BBA: According to your Web site you are currently working on a book, can you give us some insight as to what this book will be about and who it is aimed for?

HS: It is going to take me quite some time to finish these projects, but one book will be on the trials and tribulations of being a small business person.  The second project involves writing a book about beer for wine lovers.

BBA: Not that long ago Heavy Seas had changes to the brewing team, has the brewing philosophy changed and what new things can fans expect in the future from Heavy Seas?

HS: The brewing philosophy is basically the same – it aint broke so…  When we finish the expansion we will finally have some wiggle room in production so we hope to be able to do some newer projects and perhaps some collaborations – things we haven’t been able to do in the last few years due to production constraints.

BBA: A Heavy Seas Alehouse is set to open in Arlington, VA in the coming weeks, how far do you want to expand these ales houses and how big do you see them getting?

HS: The Ale House’s are trademark licensing deals so we don’t own them, just license them   Dogfish has basically done the same thing.  The idea is to help grow the brand through positive retail experiences.  As to how far we want to take it, frankly we are not sure.  We are focused more on brand building than trying to create a substantive retail entity.

BBA: We love the food recipes on your website, especially the wings" Do you taste the recipes before you post them? (editor's note:  The wing recipe is fantastic.  I have made it numerous times)

HS: I occasionally taste the dishes but certainly not always.  My daughter Caroline handles a lot of that and she is becoming pretty good at it.  We also get contributions from a variety of folks – including our partners at the Ale House – so we have great confidence in the quality of the recipes.

BBA:  Maryland recently passed laws so you can now sell your beer by the growler or pint in your tasting room. What other changes would you like to see that would not just benefit Heavy Seas, but the craft beer scene in Maryland as well?

HS: Actually the recent changes have been really helpful so I don’t see anything major right now we need to deal with.  At some point we will need to look at franchise law regarding distribution – that is being tweaked on a national basis – but that is probably best handled between the brewers and the distributors, and only after we come to some sort of arrangement, should we get involved in legislation.

courtesy of Heavy Seas website
BBA: If there was one pirate in history who you would like to share a Below Decks Barley Wine with?

HS: Interesting question.  If we are limiting this to a real person it would certainly have to be Blackbeard.  It certainly would be an interesting experience – I think I would prefer to have more than one Below Decks!!

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