What is your official title at Hop & Barrel?
What does a typical day look like for you?
Remember the Tasmanian Devil cartoons? How he would go crazy and turn himself into a mini tornado of activity and chaos? Something like that.
I spend 2-4 days per week on the road selling beer from St. Joesph to Superior and across to Rice Lake, with everything in between that triangle. I really enjoy being on the road and meeting with our current and new customers. Northwest Wisconsin is a part of the state that doesn’t get a lot of love from craft breweries and being able to bring a local option around has been extremely rewarding. I love talking to people, and I love talking about beer, especially our beer, so this is easily one of my favorite parts of the job.
The other days I’m at the brewery doing 50/50 office work and problem solving or odd jobs. On brewery days I always have a few regular business management tasks that need to be tended to like bookwork, banking, taxes, payroll, etc., we also have weekly and monthly meetings with every group at the brewery (brewers, salespeople, beertenders, marketing, management, etc.). We may have a close-knit family-like group but we’ve found semi-formal regular meeting are quite useful when we’re all off in our own worlds so often. Many people don’t stop to think about the variety of different roles in a brewery, and in some ways it’s like running 3 different businesses at once. Beyond all that, the the daily variety is staggering. You never know what random thing needs fixing, responding to (ahem… biography questions), or who is going to drop in that needs a few moments of time
How did you come to be a part of the Hop & Barrel team?
I dreamt it up and met Brian… that about sums it up. I Apart from that, I’d been contemplating and planning about opening a brewery for a couple years, this would be in 2015-2016. Ever since American Sky left Hudson, it just seemed like there was a need in town and the region. I was a long way from opening anything, but the seed was growing. At the time I was homebrewing at an obsessive rate (4+ batches a month) and entering into a lot of contests for feedback, and because, frankly, I’m quite competitive. I was also a lawyer in the Twin Cities and had hit a point where it was time to either open my own firm or venture out and try something new…
So I decided to meet up with Brian. We’d stayed in touch after Brian had been sold/hired away by Lucid (now Inbound). At the time, December of 2016, he had just returned from a consulting gig opening up a brewery in Guatemala. I pitched the rough idea of opening a brewery to him in the Hudson area. He was nice, probably cause I had bought the beers, but clearly thought I was dumb and/or crazy at first. But I’m relentless if nothing else. We keep meeting, and I like to think more importantly he reviewed some of my ideas from the original business plan. After our current site became available we were talking one night on the phone and all the sudden the conversation became “we” and I knew “we” were in this for the long haul.
We spent the rest of 2017 planning, getting equipment, hiring, and changing the law in Hudson to let us open up, but that’s a whole other story. Our brewhouse showed up around Halloween that year and we opened on December 8th, 2017 with 8 beers, 16 by the following week. November is even more of a blur than the summer I spent preparing for the bar exam.
What makes Hop & Barrel unique?
Besides having amazing beer?
We have an almost family-like approach to many of our meetings/plans/discussions. When I was a lawyer I spent most of my career at a firm with an very family-like setting. There are pro’s and con’s to a workplace like this, but in my mind there are way more benefits, especially in a smaller core group of full timers. I’d like to think that everyone legitimately enjoys being at the brewery (most of the time at least) and respect one another on our team.
Why craft beer and brewing?
I ask myself that every day. Over, and over, and over….
Just kidding! Come on. Lots of reasons really. I started homebrewing after getting involved with the Hudson Rotaract Brew Review. It was my first exposure to craft beer and I was hooked. My first batch was an Irish Red kit from Northern Brewer, that I brewed with my dad and uncle, Dave. After that kit I immediately started writing my own recipes and switched to all grain within a couple months. Then the hobby quickly became an obsession: brewstand, scheduling days off to brew, contest brews, home tap systems, research, etc.
What I love so much about the process is that it’s the perfect blend of science and art. Some brewers/breweries definitely lean towards one or the other, but I believe there’s a time and place for both. Almost every process we do is backed up by a test or scientific method approach, at the same time we build our recipes and make a huge number of our determinations on finished products based on taste and an almost culinary-like approach to formulation. I’m definitely a scientifically orientated person, but brewing helps me express a creative bent.
What is your favorite Hop & Barrel beer?
Currently Double Bromance would be the short answer. Although Crooked Grin is my go-to whenever something new hasn’t popped up to grab my attention.
But, as corny as it sounds, all of them is what I feel I have to say, but for different reasons. Knowing the story, what goes into the formulation, brewing, packaging, marketing, and getting that beer to the lips of our consumers makes it hard to not appreciate something about everything we do.
Zorro Rojo is my pride and joy, and perhaps with some bias, I believe our most drinkable but complex profiles. It works on a lot of levels.
Minnesconsin was based solely on wanting to use a particular malt Brian and I fell in love with at Homebrew Con in Minneapolis.
Space Force. It’s just so fucking good! I’ve never seen an IPA appeal to people who say they don’t like IPA’s before. It’s a testimony beer to the difference between “bitterness” and “hoppiness” (i.e. flavor).
Lactose Panda… well… Just kidding. Apart from a weird-ass name this beer is just so crushable for a dark beer. It’s a borderline tropical stout that drinks so cleanly and easy that it works year round. I’ll admit we’ve played with the recipe on this one more than any other beer. We’ve worked to draw out more caramel layers with just a mild roast note to balance the sweetness. It’s right where we want it now.
Lemon Breaker. Shandy’s rock. We’ve made this beer for a year now as Minnesconsin Shandy and it’s amazing. We because the biggest purchaser for awhile of Spring Grove Soda in Wisconsin just due to this beer. But for me, it’s so cool to now be making a beer with an iconic company (from my home area) like Spring Grove Soda. Kinda surreal.
Alright, I’m probably rambling now. For me each beer just has a unique story that I don’t often get the chance to share, so it’s kinda cool to be able to get a few words in about each.
Tell us something people may not know about you:
I grew up on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota. Growing up it didn’t seem like that much of a novel thing. I was still one of maybe 20 kids in my class (of 80 something) that was actually raised on a farm, but I didn’t think much of it until college. Then I realized how rare that is, even in rural communities. Three things about being raised on a farm: 1) Not saying there aren’t other ways to instill the ethics of hard work, but farm life definitely teaches you the value of never giving up. Something integral to running a business. On a farm you have to work your ass off every day, or lose everything. 2) You learn the value of community (whether you get along all the time or not) and coming together for a common cause. 3) Cow Tipping is TOTAL bullshit and anyone else who tells you otherwise is full of shit.