Profiles in Beer

Feature by | Sep 2008 | Issue #20

Photo by Jodi Taylor

By Todd Alström, Jay R. Brooks, Andy Crouch, Bryce Eddings, and Lisa Morrison

During our first beer fest—the Art of Beer Festival in May 2003—we coined the phrase: “There’s more to beer than beer.” It confused a few, but if you stop and think, as much as beer is about brewing and consuming, it’s equally about the people and their passion for what we here at BeerAdvocate call “the ultimate social lubricant.”

And, of course, without the people and passion we’d have no beer—or maybe we would, but it would be brewed by automatons, and that would suck.

Now that we’ve laid the foundation, it’s time once again to pay homage to eight greats of the brewing industry in our annual nod to those who make beer more than just a beverage. So raise your brew of choice in their general direction, and join us as we say “Cheers!” to these badass BAs. —Todd Alström

Most Likely to Get You on Your Bike
Kim Jordan
Co-founder and CEO, New Belgium Brewing Co.

Every day, Kim Jordan hops on her bike and rides it to work.

“There is something incredibly joyful about that transition between home and work and work and home when you’re riding a bike,” she says.

Bicycle culture is incredibly important to Jordan, and not just because of its positive effects on the environment. “Biking as a part of a simple lifestyle is really pleasurable. It keeps you low to the ground and in touch with your world. It’s pretty nice to be able to slow down in that way.”

It’s all part of a multifaceted approach to the business of brewing beer that Jordan calls a three-legged stool of social responsibility, profitability and environmental work. This way of doing business led to modifications like giving free bikes to employees, recycling heat in the brewhouse, utilizing wind-generated electricity and creating the Tour de Fat bike festivals.

“We’re particularly enthusiastic and driven by some of the things that we do here at New Belgium, whether it’s the environmental stuff or the practice that we call ‘high involvement culture,’” Jordan explains. New Belgium employees are also owners. They have access to the company’s books and are key to developing the company’s strategy every year. As Jordan puts it, they are very involved in the business of running the business.

But they have never lost sight of the beer. Great and innovative beers have been the hallmark of New Belgium since they started selling and brewing beer 17 years ago. Back then, few beer lovers in the US were familiar with Belgian beer and even fewer had ever tried the types of ales that Jordan and her husband, Jeff Lebesch, were brewing. Despite being told that Americans weren’t ready for Belgian ales, they knew that they were making good beer and embraced the challenge of marketing it.

“That never deters us,” Jordan says, laughing at their stubbornness. “If it’s more difficult and harder to translate, then it’s right up our alley.”

These days, brewmaster Peter Bouckaert continues to spread the culture of good beer and brewing innovation. “He has an aversion to styles,” Jordan says. “His feeling is that you either like the beer and think it’s interesting or you don’t like the beer. To get hung up on whether it meets a particular style is of no consequence to him.” —Bryce Eddings

The Usher of the Next Generation
Brett Joyce
President, Rogue Ales

Brett Joyce learned to drive the same year his father, Jack, founded Rogue Ales. From the age of 16, he worked in the brewery, washing kegs, driving a truck and even helping brewer John Maier. No matter what job he had, he made minimum wage, even when the position warranted higher pay. That was by design. His father wanted to instill in him a solid work ethic and demonstrate he didn’t play favorites. “My dad taught me you’ve got to work hard to get what you want.”

After graduating from Willamette University, he planned on being a card dealer in Las Vegas, but instead found himself living in Carlsbad, Calif., working for Adidas and doing marketing for their global golf footwear line. In 12 years, he took the division from a $10 million business to almost $300 million. He enjoyed the work, and there was never a plan to return to the family business. But then he got the call.

Brett’s father phoned one day to say his name had been floated as the number two potential at Rogue, and would he like to consider changing professions? That was two and a half years ago. In short order, Brett has tried to learn almost every job at Rogue, including sales, finance, production, the pubs, distilling and, of course, marketing. The biggest challenge Brett faced was going from a simple, two-tier world to beer’s intricate three-tier system, where no two states have the same laws.

Brett recognizes that he’s not the only second-generation brewery kid, and he’s even formed a club celebrating that fact. The “G2 Craft Brewers” is a loosely affiliated group of young people involved in the breweries their parents founded, and includes Sierra Grossman and Eddie Stoudt, among others. G2 meets informally whenever they’re all in the same place at beer events around the country.

Brett and Jack divide the work equally and keep their two lives separate: “As a rule, we don’t talk about family at work or work at home. It’s quite natural to me. When I talk about Jack to other people, he’s Jack, but when I talk directly to him, he’s Dad.” And it seems to work. In a very short time, Brett has gained the respect of his peers and the beer community at large. As for the next step—filling his father’s shoes one day—Brett is in no rush. “I hope he stays around as long as he wants.” —Jay R. Brooks

Most Likely to School You in the World of Beer
Steve Hindy
Co-founder and president, Brooklyn Brewery

He might not be the face of Brooklyn Brewery, but Steve Hindy can teach you a thing or two about the side of beer many would rather not discuss—the business.

Maybe it’s his experience as a Middle East war correspondent for the Associated Press and assistant foreign editor for Newsday during the ’80s, or his innate common sense and articulate storytelling, time as chair of the Brewers Association, master’s in teaching English from Cornell, or all of the above? But if you’ve ever spent more than a minute with the man behind Brooklyn Brewery, you’ve no doubt realized that you were learning something every minute thereafter.

Besides, anyone who’s stood up to the mob and survived being robbed at gunpoint must have some words of wisdom to bestow upon the world.*

When I informed Hindy of his BA accolade, he replied, “I do enjoy talking about my experiences in building Brooklyn Brewery. The American craft brewing industry is an extraordinary accomplishment. A group of people from incredibly diverse backgrounds started breweries in an industry that was dominated by powerful multinational companies. I have a deep respect for the pioneers of the craft beer movement. All we had in common was a passion for great beer. Someday, these stories are going to be an important course in entrepreneurship at business schools around the world.”

Until then, we have Beer School—a first-person account of two men and a brewery—authored by Hindy and his co-founder in beer, Tom Potter. Even if you’ve only dreamed of opening up a brewery, this is the book to read. Like some of the conversations I’ve had with Hindy, it revolves around an idea or challenge, followed by some reflection, lessons learned, successes and sage-like advice. Simply put, both the book and Hindy are inspiring.

Hindy admits, “Everyone who knew anything about the beer business told me not to try to start a brewery.” Hardly encouraging, but it’s a good thing he didn’t act on this advice and got inspired by a fellow journalist named Michael Jackson. From the first bottle of Brooklyn Lager sold in 1988, to a change in the guard, Brooklyn Brewery has become one of the top 50 breweries in the US (based on 2007 sales volume).

And Hindy has a tip for those of you in BA-land looking to go pro: “Distribution. You’ve got to make a great beer, but it’s all about distribution.” That’s sound advice from someone who divulged that Brooklyn Brewery will spend $100,000 on litigation with distributors this year. Class dismissed. —Todd Alström

*You’ll need to read the book.

Fred Eckhardt; ex-Marine, Buddhist, and Beer Enthusiast. Eckhardt is a pinacle figure in the development of Microbrewing in the Pacific Northwest. | Photo by Chris Ryan

Photo by Chris Ryan

Most Likely to Inspire You to Have Another
Fred Eckhardt
Friend to the foam, author and critic. Portland, Ore.

At 82 and still going strong, Fred Eckhardt, often called the “dean of American beer writers,” is a man to be celebrated as much or more than the beers he has been writing about for longer than many of us have been alive.

Eckhardt’s first book, A Treatise on Lager Beer, which explains how to brew lagers, was published in 1969, 10 years before homebrewing was legalized again in the US. His second book, The Essentials of Beer Style, which details beers by style instead of the country or region—the common theme at the time—remains a go-to reference for beer fans, homebrewers and beer judges nearly two decades since it was first printed.

With his twinkling blue eyes and perfectly groomed handlebar mustache, Eckhardt at times seems more like a pixie than an ex-Marine, but it’s his Yoda-like mannerisms that helped nurture some of the nation’s pioneering craft brewers.

“I wasn’t entirely altruistic,” Eckhardt says about his influence in the early days. “I was writing a beer column for The Oregonian, and you had to keep suggesting new beers to the brewers so there was something to write about.”

It’s Eckhardt’s ability to dance from logical historian to childish imp to Zen master that makes sharing a beer with him such a delight—either one-on-one or en masse at one of his now-infamous tastings. Eckhardt pioneered chocolate and beer pairings (“because I wanted to write chocolate off my taxes”) and has been putting on cheese and beer tastings for 17 years. He has a standing annual date with the Foam Rangers Homebrew Club in Houston, to deliver some sort of odd beer and food pairing (breakfast cereal and beer, anyone?), and somehow makes it simultaneously informational, friendly and fun.

“The crazy people of this world are the most fun to spend time with,” he says.

Eckhardt coined the phrase “listen to your beer,” indicating that good beer should be appreciated by all five senses, and he even insists that a trained ear can hear the difference between frothy heads in various beer styles.

“Center yourself and just be present to your beer,” the Zen beer master wrote in an earlier-day article, something he still says today. “Different beer types have different sounds … be there with it. It is well worth the extra effort.”

Still a contributing writer to numerous beer publications and an in-demand international speaker on beer, retirement doesn’t seem to be in Eckhardt’s future—luckily for us.

“I’m having way too much fun,” he says. —Lisa Morrison

Craft Beer Pioneer of the East
Toshi Ishii
COO and brewmaster, Yo-Ho Brewing Co.

From Asia to North America and Europe, Japanese brewer Toshi Ishii is quietly spreading the message of craft beer across the globe. When I reached Ishii, the chief operating officer and brewmaster for the Yo-Ho Brewing Co., he was in London enjoying his third appearance at the Great British Beer Festival and preparing another round of his Tokyo Porter at the JD Wetherspoon Group brewery.

An unlikely brewer, Ishii stumbled upon an opportunity to learn the trade after emailing Greg Koch and Steve Wagner at the Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego. Ishii, whose last name means “stone” in Japanese, was the brewery’s intern and then third employee from 1997 to 2001.

After returning to his native Japan, Ishii helped start Yo-Ho Brewing and crafted its flagship Yona Yona Pale Ale, a hoppy, West Coast-style IPA. While emblazoned with the figure of a classic Kabuki actor on its label, the Yona Yona was a radical departure from traditional Japanese beers when it appeared on the beer scene. While in San Diego, Ishii also encountered an unusual beverage that at first both shocked and attracted him. While attending one of Pizza Port’s early Real Ale Festivals, Ishii was intrigued by the beer’s weird flavors and aromas. The more Ishii learned more about Cask Ale, the more he grew to love it. In fact, Ishii founded the Tokyo Real Ale Festival, which just celebrated its sixth year with more than 800 attendees. In contrast to other global beer markets, Cask Ale, with its depleted carbonation levels, is actually marketed toward women in Japan.

Ishii has also served as a pioneer and spokesperson for Japanese beer. At home, he helps educate other Japanese brewers about global beer styles and presentation methods. Ishii is also an inveterate traveler, bitten long ago by beer wanderlust. He spends several months every year traveling the world to learn and to promote his local beer, and often picks up samples to bring back for his brewing staff to try.

“Traveling the world is my fate, and I like to show to beer people in the world how many good craft beers exist here in Japan,” Ishii says. Of his brewing philosophy, Ishii says, “Simple is best.” Despite this axiom, Ishii’s beers are anything but pedestrian. His Barleywine, Abbey Ale and Bière de Garde are solid and interesting versions of classic styles that stand out from many of the German beers available in Japan. This unlikely brewer is an international brewing pioneer whose career we look forward to following in the future. —Andy Crouch

Your Reason to Move to Wisconsin
Dan Carey
Co-owner and brewmaster, New Glarus Brewing Co.

How does a brewery that distributes to exactly one state in the US become as well-known and regarded as the New Glarus Brewing Co.? It’s not a mystery to Dan Carey, New Glarus’ brewmaster and co-owner along with his wife Deborah. When asked if there might be a Coors effect at work—mystique through inaccessibility—Carey laughs and says that he hopes not. He would rather his brewery’s reputation be based on great beer.

Carey wants the New Glarus Brewing Co. to be two things—a brewer of great beer and a good employer that provides a living wage and a nice place to work. To Carey, these ideas are inseparable.

“There’s a lot to be said for the feeling in a brewery, how the brewery runs, how the employees view it and what they think about what they’re doing,” Carey explains. “That ultimately is reflected in the beer.”

Listening to Carey talk makes it hard to imagine a better locale than Wisconsin to build such a brewery. With its long heritage of good beer and beer lovers, it is the perfect place for him to brew and sell his beer. Deborah, the entrepreneurial spirit behind New Glarus, is from Wisconsin, and Carey has come to love his adopted state and its people.

He does not see it as a limitation to sell to only one state. Expansion into far-flung markets increases a brewery’s vulnerability to the whims of an ever-changing beer industry. But selling to your neighbors, Carey says, builds deep roots that can weather any storm that comes along.

Ultimately, though, Carey’s passion and New Glarus’ reputation lie in making great beer.

“How I define ‘great beer’ is complexity coupled with drinkability. In other words, a typical American light lager has drinkability but no complexity. And there are some microbrewed beers that are very complex, but four or five ounces is about all you can handle. So I think really the fun thing is to find that sweet spot between the two where a beer is drinkable and interesting. That’s what we always strive to do.” —Bryce Eddings

Photo by Gregory Daurer

Changing Minds About Big Beer
John Legnard & Tom Hail
Co-brewmasters, Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field

The heart of Denver’s popular LoDo District plays host to an unlikely brewery whose brewers are quietly challenging beer conventions in unlikely ways. Tucked away deep in the right field corner of Coors Field, the Sandlot Brewery has won almost as many GABF medals, including the Small Brewery of the Year Award, as any other craft brewer. At the brewery’s helm, co-brewmasters John Legnard and Tom Hail find themselves in an interesting position. The Sandlot is famously known as the birthplace of the juggernaut Blue Moon brand. Coors’ brewmaster Keith Villa developed Blue Moon Belgian White at the Sandlot in 1995. When it proved successful with the public, Coors took the brand national, where it exploded onto the better beer scene.

The brand’s success has led parent company MillerCoors to rebrand the brewpub at the Sandlot the Blue Moon Brewing Co.

Sandlot’s story would be impressive if it ended with Blue Moon, but that is just the beginning. While appreciating Blue Moon and its success—the brewery continues to brew the brand, its seasonals and test batches—Legnard and Hail have struck their own brewing path. The brewery, which is operated separately from the adjacent pub, “flies below the radar,” according to Legnard. Or as Hail, a master of entertaining analogies, once described the corporate relationship to me, Sandlot is the “Puerto Rico of Coors,” owned by the brewing giant, but in some manner distinct from it.

“The higher-ups know who we are and appreciate what we do and leave us to create and brew what we wish,” says Legnard. This independence allows the guys to brew some of the nation’s best small-batch lagers in an impressive range of styles, including the sharp Barmen Pilsner, named after Adolph Coors’ hometown. Many of the lagers fall under the Brewmaster’s Special series. In contrast to ephemeral, barrel-aged alcohol bombs, Sandlot is a place to find well-executed, traditional styles. In a timely Olympic comparison, Hail suggests that “[we] don’t invent the moves, we just try to perfect them.” In addition to its outstanding lagers (the appreciation for which Hail compares to “pretty girls who don’t need makeup”), Sandlot also produces a flavorful Scottish Ale, an ESB and a stout, among others.

Despite their success, the Sandlot brewers have failed to receive the public acclaim accorded to other award-winning brewers. In fact, they’ve occasionally been subjected to the derision of beer geeks, including journalists, who summarily dismiss their beers due to the big brewery affiliation. After firing back with beers named Clueless Beer Writer and Most Beer Judges Are Bone Heads and occasional chiding on websites, Legnard is ready to let the beer speak for itself. “We always tell people, ‘Judge us by the beers we brew, not who owns the place.’” Cheers to that. —Andy Crouch

Most Likely to Make You Shout “L’Chaim!”
Jeremy Cowan
Founder, Shmaltz Brewing Company

Israel’s Maccabee was once the most recognizable beer associated with Judaism. He’Brew has since succeeded it as the undisputed king of Jewish beers, but it’s also something more. Jeremy Cowan founded Shmaltz Brewing with a knowing wink back in 1996, just as craft beer began tanking. For Hanukkah that year, he delivered 100 hand-bottled cases using his grandmother’s car. Today, Cowan is arguably making some of the best contract-brewed beers in America.

Cowan’s vision was to tap the Jewish demographic, figuring 10 percent of any given urban market was probably Jewish. He strived to have fun with He’Brew, drawing on pop culture and Jewish history. The first offering, Genesis Ale, also included pomegranate, one of the seven sacred species from the land of milk and honey. Three others are barley, wheat and figs, which were used in He’Brew’s newest release, the Rejewvenator (“Doppelbock… Shmoppelbock”).

Cowan moved production to the Mendocino Brewery in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., from California five years ago. That’s when things really started to change. During the early years, walking softly but wielding a big shtick, he ended up getting He’Brew into some of the best beer bars in major cities in over half the states, selling—as he puts it—“a little beer in a lot of places.” Discovered almost on accident, it’s become the secret to his success. “It’s been really cool for the past few years, pushing the quality using innovative recipes. The more we do that, the more the best beer drinkers respond to us.”

As the “English major behind the brewmaster,” Cowan describes exactly what he wants, and then he and brewer Paul McErlean “taste an enormous array of beers” to find the next He’Brew. That’s how they started making extreme beers—like Jewbelation Eleven and Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. “It’s just a bummer that contract brewing got a bad name. It’s really not that different in the scheme of things than the owner of a brewery who doesn’t know how to brew.”

Jeremy’s latest project is the Coney Island line of lager beers, outfitted with provocative labels by Matt Polacheck and a Brooklyn tattoo artist. When an interviewer asked if he was selling out, Cowan summed up his philosophy: “Well, if circus freaks are more mainstream than Jews, then I guess we’re going mainstream. I’m proud of sticking to my goal of digging deeper into the cult personality of the brand, using ingredients, shtick and themes that are close to the original vision for Genesis Ale.” Such a mensch. —Jay R. Brooks 

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