On the Road for Hops and Malt
When most people think of traveling for beer they usually imagine heading to the local pub for a couple of pints or perhaps taking the trip of a lifetime to visit breweries in Belgium. But for others, traveling for beer is a daily way of life.
A career in beer can take many forms. It could involve a nomadic life with a passport filled with stamps from exotic locations; or days spent behind the wheel, with an occasional snooze in the car after the road has taken its toll. Beer is a liquid that flows across state and national borders, taking with it the men and women who call the industry home. For some, the road warrior life can be a step in their career development; for others, being a beer nomad is a lifestyle and business decision made after decades in the business.
Dann Paquette embarked on a dream career when he started brewing professionally back in 1992. He worked for a couple of American breweries before heading to England to make traditional real ale in North Yorkshire. But Paquette had a passion to do his own thing and came back to the United States in the summer of 2008.
Because I’m a brewer, I didn’t have a few million dollars to pull out of my back pocket to build a brewery,” Paquette says. Deciding that going into debt to start a brewery was not for them, Paquette and his wife, Martha, came up with the idea for Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. For $13,000 they would launch a wandering brewery that leases the equipment of other craft beer companies to produce their beer.
I’ll go in to a brewery in the middle of the night to brew and finish up around lunchtime,” Paquette says of his brewing schedule. “The hardest thing is to find a brewery to work with because most are bursting at the seams. If you went to 100 breweries and asked them to do what we do, 99 would not let you in.”
Paquette firmly states that Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is not a contract brewer. He leases the equipment and brews his own beer. He says his business model confuses some people, but at the end of the day he is connected and passionate about his beer. “Life is consumed with the beer and brewing. I’m more attached to these beers than most brewers,” Paquette says.
Currently Paquette brews his flagship Jack D’Or Saison and other beers at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, MA, and Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, MA. One of the interesting series of beers Pretty Things has launched is the Once Upon a Time collection that takes a date out of brewing history for inspiration. The idea is to look at the brewing log at a historic brewery and recreate the recipe used that day. The first beer in the series was taken from Feb. 27th, 1832; a London XXXX Mild Ale brewed on Brick Lane. The recipe attracted Paquette because the “Mild” weighs in at 10.5 percent alcohol by volume. The next beer in the series will be a dark ale brewed by Whitbread in 1901.
While Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project has reached 2,500 barrels of annual output and remains debt free, “I don’t think I’d go out of my way to choose this business model,” Paquette says. “At the end of the day, I’m not the boss of the brewery. You have to work with how they have their equipment set up and they have to trust that you won’t go around moving and changing things.”
But Paquette is not planning to change his itinerate brewing style any time soon. In fact, one idea he has is to match breweries to beers he wants to make.
It would be great to choose the right brewery to make the right beer,” Paquette says. “You could make a style in a brewhouse designed to produce that particular beer.”
Selling Beer is Not a Desk Job
The explosion of craft breweries in the United States has created a cornucopia of beer options for consumers. There is a wide variety of distribution models that exist for craft brewers—everything from selling every drop they make across a brewpub bar to shipping beer nationwide through a network of distributors. For brands making the transition from local to regional distribution, success often depends on garnering attention from distributors who must juggle multiple labels and retailers who are being pitched daily to replace your tap handle with a nationally advertised brand.
Quality beer and strong branding is important, but the critical linchpin in the operation is often the regional sales manager who does everything from organizing a pub night and introducing the brand to a new market to attending beer festival after beer festival, pouring samples for as many potential customers as possible.
Joel Armato was working a desk job and had a beer blog two years ago when he decided to become a “beer ambassador” for Michigan’s New Holland Brewing. He was into beer, had been a bartender and run beer tastings, but this did not prepare him for the 2,500 miles a month he typically covers representing Mad Hatter IPA and Dragon’s Milk in a territory that stretches from New Jersey to South Carolina. Some days can stretch to 18 hours, taking away some of the glamour and fun of being in the beer business.
During my first couple of months on this job, I would have been a good one to follow around to get a few good laughs,” Armato says. Those first few road trips included ordering a hot dog and a beer in a Pittsburgh bar at 8:30 a.m. to be able to get to use the bathroom, a night sleeping in his car and a wardrobe change in the middle of a farm field.
I was on my way to a beer dinner and got lost in the middle of Pennsylvania farm country. The only way to show up looking like I knew what I was doing was to pull over and get changed into my clothes for the evening,” says Armato. “I figured if you show up wearing the appropriate clothing no one will ask where you put it on.”
The life of a brewery regional sales representative is a combination of sales calls and special events, the former building availability and the latter generating demand. Armato spends his workdays riding with distributor sales staff to meet managers at on- and off-premise accounts. His nights and weekends are often filled with beer dinners, tastings for consumers at retailers and working some of the many festivals that have popped up around the country.
When you cover a big territory, things can get undone as you go. The wholesaler guys on the street who are in these accounts on a weekly basis are key: they are at least 80 percent of the process,” Armato says. “There are bars that it has taken the better part of a year to get our beer in. Then you get a bar that immediately wants 30 kegs of our Golden Cap to run as a promotion all summer.”
The craft beer world is a small one, Armato points out. Competitors often end up being friends as they meet up at the same festivals over the course of a year.
We’re peers just as much as we are competitors,” says Armato. “We like to see each other. We’re pretty much all good friends and like to hang out after a festival ends.”
Passport to Brew
Alan Kornhauser has had his brewing passport stamped in places like Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Tibet and China. Along the way, he has worked for regional brewers, craft brewers and international breweries.
I live in Japan, but I brew in China and Hawaii,” Kornhauser says. After breaking into the business with Huber Brewing in Wisconsin, Kornhauser was at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco when he decided to leave the company to move to Japan to learn the language.
I have had a lifelong infatuation with Japan,” he says. “My father’s cousin, David Kornhauser, was a translator after the War and ended up marrying Kyoko Kornhauser, so there have been Japanese Kornhausers in my family from the time I was 3 years old.” While in Kyoto, Kornhauser met his wife, Yukako. She passed away nearly four years ago, but Kornhauser continues to live in Japan when he is not on the road as Pabst’s brewmaster and chief representative for Asia.
At this point in my career, I’ve had 20 to 30 years of 10- to12-hour days,” Kornhauser says. Being located in Japan makes travel relatively simple to get to Chaoquing, China, or Hilo, HI, the locations of the two breweries he is responsible for at Pabst.
I’m in China every other month for two to three weeks. While I’m in Chaoquing, I do a complete audit of the plant, from brewing to aging and packaging. I check everything, even the warehouse to be sure things are being used in the correct rotation,” Kornhauser says. In Hawaii, he is responsible for overseeing the brewing of Primo draught.
Kornhauser has spearheaded the launch of what he calls the first craft beers made in China, Pabst Black Lager and 1844, a reddish brown, all malt, dry-hopped ale, conditioned in new, uncharred American oak whiskey barrels.
The Chinese beer market is changing by leaps and bounds. Palates are really expanding,” Kornhauser says.
Mike Saxton has made about 40 trips to Europe to visit breweries and drink in pubs. And he gets paid to do it.
Saxton runs BeerTrips.com, a company that specializes in developing small group tours to European and North American beer hot spots. The tours take 12 to 15 guests on malty journeys ranging from five to nine nights to explore beer culture.
Beer is an excellent path into European history,” Saxton says. “What we try to do with our tours is to focus on beer, but leave time for people to go out and explore, enjoy dinner on their own, visit a museum, take some pictures and check out a bar they’ve heard about.”
BeerTrips.com got its start back in 1998 when Saxton happened to meet Greg Hall from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago. The pair used the same printer. Saxton was working for a small tour company; Hall was interested in putting a trip together for customers to visit Belgium. Saxton had discovered Belgian beer during a side trip in college while spending a semester in France. The Great Beers of Belgium trip was born and would ultimately take travelers to Chimay, Orval, Rodenbach, Cantillon, Rochefort and beyond.
Shortly afterwards, Saxton purchased the beertrips.com domain name and set up a business that he says really was more of a hobby at the start. The trips soon expanded beyond Belgium, taking in brewing capitals like Prague, Bamberg, Munich, Amsterdam, Krakow, St. Petersburg, Dublin and Cologne. By 2008, even with the economic slowdown and negative exchange rate taking a toll, BeerTrips.com was sending beer tourists on 13 different tours to locations that now also included Oregon and Quebec.
Saxton says that his customers fall into three basic categories: first time European travelers wanting the security blanket of an organized tour, experienced travelers looking for insider access to famous breweries and the “repeat offenders” who have taken multiple BeerTrips.com tours. The common denominator is an interest in good beer.
One of Saxton’s specialties is getting access to places that average tourists cannot experience. In the early days that meant gaining approval of the abbot at Rochefort for his groups to visit the monastery, tour the brewery, take part in a church service with the monks and even eat in the dining hall.
We believe that less is more when it comes scheduling. Visiting two breweries and having a group lunch is a big day,” Saxton says. The first day in a city usually includes a walking tour of historic sites with a local guide, combined with stops at a couple of classic beer bars. “If we have a couple of busy days we’ll have a free day next to give people some time to enjoy themselves and relax.”
BeerTrips.com sometimes will include a stop at a beer festival along its route, but Saxton feels these do not work well for groups because they fail to offer the intimate experience most people enjoy. “I’d much rather have a brewmaster to ourselves in his cellar tasting beers than have to compete for their attention at a beer festival,” he says.
The addition of North American destinations to the schedule is partially a result of the economy and its impact on people’s willingness to spend the money to tour Europe. But it also reflects the continued improving beer scene and developing interest on this side of the Atlantic.
People will ask me ‘What is the best beer country?’ And I sheepishly will tell them that I think right now it is America,” Saxton says.
Keeping it Clean
Ed Ramshaw caught the craft beer bug in 1994 during a road trip in the western United States, after encountering a number of new and flavorful brews. Later, he lived in Oregon and Hawaii and helped with the Oregon Brewers Festival and Kona Brewers Festival while also working at breweries including Full Sail.
He then moved to Concord, NH, where he established Blue Line Draft Systems in January 2006. Now he travels an average of 500 to 600 miles per week, stopping at between five and nine bars each day to keep draft beer flowing smoothly.
Draft beer can be finicky, so systems need to be maintained on a consistent basis,” Ramshaw says. “Every two weeks, we will clean our customers’ lines. If you don’t, calcium oxalate settles in the lines and it starts catching organic material in the beer. Before long you have flavor issues and problems with foaming and beer flow.”
In addition to line cleaning, Blue Line Draft Systems will design and install new draft systems, repair existing systems and provide profitability consulting to bar owners.
I love beer,” Ramshaw says. “I’m very passionate about beer and doing this makes me feel like I’m playing a part to help bars and making sure consumers get good tasting beer.”
Ramshaw, who is president of the Concord Area Homebrewers, gets to cover an interesting territory around northern New England. His day might start off in the mountains and end up along the seacoast. His draft systems have been installed in tour boats and ski lodges.
At Loon Mountain, they have a couple of places up on the mountain, so I ride the gondola up and then will ski down with my equipment to do the maintenance work,” Ramshaw says.
One of his strangest draft system installs took place in Whitefield, NH, at the Spalding Inn, which is reputed to be haunted. The owners allowed Ramshaw and his family to stay in one of the rooms the night after the install was complete. He did not know it at the time, but they were the only people staying at the inn while work was progressing towards the opening.
It was not long before a few of the phones started ringing and Ramshaw heard some odd noises. He was alarmed to find candles flickering on the back deck of the inn when he stepped outside. “Then I realized they weren’t really candles. They were solar-powered lights,” laughs Ramshaw.
For centuries, travelers have been welcomed with a cold beer, a hearty meal and a warm bed. For nomads of the beer industry, hospitality on the road is both a welcomed respite and the reason for their journey. The road takes many turns, which are smoothed out by tasty ale at the end of the day.
Rick Lyke has been writing about beer for 30 years and is a contributor to the recent book "1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die."