Monday, February 24, 2014

Brew and A with Black Abbey Brewing Company


Courtesy of Black Abbey Facebook page
During my Nashville beer tour provided by Matty Hargrove of Better Beer Brigade, AKA Bounty Bev, I was taken to Black Abbey Brewing company, who specializes in Belgian style beers.  I was immediately impressed with their tasting room as well as their beers.   I thought they would be a great addition to our Brew and A series as a small, up and coming brewery located in a town that is making huge strides in the craft beer world. Matty introduced me to Carl Meier, founder of Black Abbey Brewing company and he agreed to participate.  Thanks Carl!


Carl Meier (L), founder of Black Abbey.  Photo by Black Abbey Brewing

Better Beer Authority (BBA):  When I visited the brewery in November, there was always someone waiting in line for a beer in the tasting room.  At the time, I was told you weren't distributing or bottling.  Has anything changed since?  Can your beers be found outside of the brewery?

Carl Meier (CM): Absolutely!  Tennessee State Law allows for breweries to distribute their products in the county where they are manufactured.  We handle distribution for Davidson County (Metro Nashville) and we work with BoutyBev as our distribution partner for counties outside of Davidson.  Right now we have beer in 85 bars/restaurants around middle Tennessee.
courtesy Black Abbey website

BBA:  I found the Nashville beer scene flourishing, friendly, and collaborative.  What makes Nashville a great place to be a brewer?  Also, how has the beer scene grown in Nashville while under the umbrella of outdated ABC laws in Tennessee?  


CM:  Nashville is a great place for brewers for a number of reasons.  The camaraderie, cooperation and caring attitude between and amongst brewers here is real, not fake at all.  We are all pulling the same rope.  If Black Abbey is making good beer, that’s good for Jackalope, BlackStone, Yazoo, etc.  if Black Abbey is making bad beer, that hurts our local beer community.  We take care of each other, we hang out together, Lord knows we drink some beer together.  It has been a wonderful experience for us at Black Abbey to be welcomed into the community of craft with open arms.  

The outdated beer laws in TN are just that, outdated.  Specifically the arbitrary ABV cap in the state.  Fix The Beer Cap That Cap That Ales Us  ,[ or as they are commonly known fixthecap.com] has a lot of very useful and detailed information about what is going on in the state right now and how The Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild is working to help change laws, policies and statutes to make our economy more friendly towards one of the most rapidly growing industries in the country.  Tennessee has always prided itself on being a pro-business pro-economic growth state, and those policies have done well for TN and for Nashville specifically.  Giving the local breweries the opportunity to provide our customers with a wide variety of high quality beer benefits Tennessee beer drinkers, it benefits economic development (folks moving here from Colorado or San Diego are surprised that they cannot find the broad spectrum of beer that they are used to seeing in grocery and package stores) and it grows local government coffers.  Fixing the beer cap really is a win-win.

BBA:  I don't know why, but I was surprised to find a Belgian style brewery in Nashville.  It only added to my fondness for the entire scene there.  Why did you think a Belgian style brewery would work there?


CM: I think a big part of the reason that our local beer scene is thriving and that the breweries all get along so well together is that we each bring something different to the table.  We each have a different take, a different stable of beers, different marketing approaches.  It makes the Nashville beer scene more robust and gives the local consumer more choices and a better appreciation for beer in general.  We have always loved belgian-style ales and knew that we wanted to focus our efforts on that style, among others.  The think I love most about abbey ales is the culture.  they are delicious and known as some of the best in the world, but I love the idea of the chapter house, where monks and lay-people meet and share pints.  We have always focused on brewing beer that is unique BUT approachable.  We really focus on making high quality beer that people can enjoy more than 1 of, that people can share throughout a conversation, an evening, a game or a party.  The Belgian-stlye framework of community and fellowship through beer appeals to us, in many ways, more than the styles of beer that we love to brew!


Courtesy of Black Abbey Facebook page

BBA: I see Black Abbey has participated in some beer festivals and events, including the 12 South Winter Warmer.  How do you decide what beers to bring to festivals and events?


CM: Excellent question.  As a new brewery it is important for us to “get our name out there” through the festival circuit.  It is also important, however, for us to be associated with high quality events that people love to attend, have great reputations and provide the attendees with a unique and memorable experience.  The Nashville area is fortunate to have many such festivals, big and small.  12South Winter Warmer is one of our favorites because of its size and its focus.  When a festival is limited to 1,000-1,500 attendees it allows the breweries flexibility to bring unique and “off the radar” projects, be they barrel aged beers, cask conditioned beer, etc to share with the attendees.  That’s why 12S Winter Warmer is one of the best festivals I have ever attended, because it is so unique and the breweries really bring “IT”!

Nashville has plenty of large festivals as well, and they are a great opportunity for a brewery to get their flagship products in front of a large number of people in a short period of time, which is also very important to the growth of a brand. 

I really feel like we have the best of both worlds here in town. 

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Brew & A with DC Brau's Brandon Skall



courtesy DC Brau Facebook page
DC Brau was the first production brewery to open up in Washington, DC in about 60 years. They made a national name for themselves with their Imperial IPA, On the Wings of Armageddon, which made the BBA top 10 list for 2013 (#6) . Local to us in Northern Virginia, we had some burning questions we wanted to ask them.  Brandon Skall was gracious enough to take time and answer our questions.

courtesy DC Brau Facebook page

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Better Beer Authority (BBA_:  On The Wings of Armageddon has become a massive hit and one of those beers that craft beer fans across the country are trying to get their hands on. Did you guys suspect that you had something special on your hands after the first couple of releases? 

Brandon Skall (DC): We really liked the beer ourselves but we weren’t expecting the nationwide clamoring that ensued. We are very proud to make OTWOA and we will continue to make more of it as we expand our hop contract on Falconer’s Flight. The first time we released it in cans was crazy. People were tailgating in the parking lot and the line to get inside the tasting room went around the building. 

BBAYou just expanded distribution to Philadelphia.  For our Philly fans, what can they expect from DC Brau in the future, will any of the collaboration kegs make it there?  How has the reception been to DC Brau in the city of brotherly love?

DC: The Philly reception has been incredible. We have been met with open arms. We have shipped them up some OTWOA and we do plan to get them some of the specialty brews sooner rather than later. Both Jeff and I have deep ties to the city of brotherly love so we are really happy to be sold there. 
courtesy DC Brau Facebook page

BBAYou have done a lot of collaborations.  Ska Brewing in Colorado, Epic in Salt Lake/Denver, and locally with Whole Foods and others.  How does DC Brau benefit from doing these collaborations.  What collaborations are on the horizon?

DC: I think the benefits are immeasurable. Collaboration represents an ethos in our industry, right now. Not only do we get to learn from each other when we collaborate but we also get to be inspired by other brewers creativity and innovation, and vise versa. This year we will be working again with Stillwater and a few new collaborations that I have to keep top secret at the moment. 

BBAAny chance you'd be willing to do a collaboration with a certain beer review show *COUGH* BBA *COUGH*?
           
DC: We would love to but we unfortunately just do not have the space right now at the facility. We have already planned out or specialty brews and collabs for the year. 
editors note:  We were partly joking....doesn't hurt to ask!
courtesy DC Brau Facebook page

BBAWe loved DC Beer Week last year, There were so many events featuring national brands and really focusing on Washington DC beers.  It may be a long time from now, but are there any events in the works for the 2014 DC Beer Week?

DC: I guarantee we WILL be doing our crab fest again this year. We love that event. Jeff and I are both big time crab pickers and we wouldn’t miss the chance to throw this event for the 3rd year in a row.  We will definitely be doing multiple events every night (as in years past). Nothing else has been planned yet but I assure you we will be busy. 

BBAPersonally, I was a big fan of your draft only release, Alpha Domina Melis. Any plans to bring that back or possibly can it?

DC: Yes, we brewed that with Honey from Burnside Farms. Next time we get some of their harvest we will definitely be brewing it again!



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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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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Flying Dog Brew & A with Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog Brewery

For our latest Brew & A we interviewed Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog Brewery out of Frederick, MD.   Jim responded to us in a little under 5 minutes when we asked for an interview, so we were excited for his enthusiasm to talk to us. Considered a local brewery for us in the Washington DC area, Flying Dog has a wide distribution and is making some great quality beers. They just recently celebrated the annual release of their Barrel Aged Gonzo as well as one of the country's first automated growler filling systems. . 

Courtesy of Flying Dog
Courtesy of Flying Dog
Better Beer Authority (BBA):Barrel-Aged Gonzo seems to be one of your biggest and most popular beers. Do you have any plans to barrel age any of your other beers in the future?  
Jim Caruso (FD): BAG is a phenomenal beer and extremely popular, produced in very limited quantities once a year.  Coincidentally, the release of this year’s BAG is today!  No plans for any others at this time.

BBA:The single hop series of your Imperial IPA seems to be a great way to showcase different hop flavors to your customers, what are the next steps in this series?   
FD: For 2014: El Dorado, Amarillo, Citra, and Galaxy.

BBA: When breweries move, it is usually down the street to a bigger location.  Flying Dog moved two times zones away!  How long was the transition to move from a Denver Brewery to be something that Frederick could call their own?  
FD: Flying Dog moved all production to MD in January 2008.  Flying Dog is Maryland’s largest brewery, and with its singular focus on Maryland, Northern Virginia and DC it established itself as the pre-eminent local brewery by 2011.

BBA: Maryland recently allowed breweries to fill their own growlers and you've added Mr. Belvedere to your tasting room. What has the response been so far, and is Mr. Belvedere as charming as he was on TV
FD: Everyone has a crush on him, even the guys!

BBA: You've made a great variety of videos on your YouTube channel. From the Support Local campaign to the incredibly creative beer launch videos like Wildeman and Raging Bitch. How do you feel social media has given the craft beer industry advantages in getting the word out?  
FD: As popular as social media is, especially among Millenials, most studies indicate that it accounts for less than 10% of what builds a brand.  I’d say that’s about the right metric for Flying Dog in particular and the craft industry in general.  It’s all about amazing beer, traditional PR moreso than social media, and a brand that connects with its consumers in ways that matter to those consumers, which for Flying Dog has a lot to do with music, the Gonzo spirit, film, and myriad local events.

BBA: Since your distribution to Europe, have you been able to get any true feedback about how American craft beers are accepted across the pond?  
FD: Europeans are loving American-style craft beers whether imported or brewed locally in Europe.  The top craft countries are Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands. 


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