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Can you talk about the growth of the craft beer industry over the past few years?
It's interesting watching the thing you've been doing all this time become normal and become a regular part of the culture. I think that in the mid 90s there were about a dozen breweries in the city. Most of them were brewpubs—you had Heartland, which was a brewpub at the time. You had Typhoon, you had Commonwealth Brewery, you had places on the Upper East Side, you had Times Square Brewery. And what's interesting is that what happened to all these brewpubs is that craft beer actually won, and as a kind of ironic result, the brewpub became disadvantaged versus the regular bar, which now had 15, 16, 20 draft lines. And here's the brewpub with their eight, which before would have been great, and it was the only place you could get real beer back in those days. But it's interesting that if you opened a bar now that had the same lineup of beers you'd have had in 1992, you'd close. Nobody would go to your bar. You can't live in that world anymore.Things are a lot different.
Could you speak about the differences between the beer cultures here versus overseas?
Well, what you really see is that even different parts of the US are developing definitively different beer cultures. The West is really different than the East. They don't even really like the same hops that we like. For example, a lot of the West Coast breweries prefer hop varieties that have dank, weed-like, oniony aromatics, whereas we prefer brighter citrus, floral characteristics. It's not an absolute split, but you talk to the hop growers, and they're like, "Oh yeah, the stuff you hate, they love it."
Also, you have some cities that are all about themselves. When you go to Philly, the first question someone asks is, "So, are you from Philly?" And if you're not, they don't really think they need to know you. In Brooklyn, people go out of their way to open bars that don't have anything from anywhere near by. Their thing might be that they're known for sours from at least 500 miles away, and it's all very specialized. We're very popular, which is great, but the geeky beer scene here reaches to the outside rather than the inside.
How important is it to you guys to engage with the beer geek community?
Well, we are beer geeks, so we always have and naturally would engage with everybody. I think what we don't do is we don't follow. And that's an important thing to me. There was a period when we were doing a lot of cool stuff and nobody knew about it, and it kinda goes back to the Waterfront Ale House. I'm just old enough to remember a day when the worst kind of person you could be was someone who talked about themselves all the time. That was the very worst. The idea that you'd be tweeting or telling everyone that you just came out with a new beer to me, was a little too boastful. We've started doing parties whenever we release new Brewmaster's Reserve beers. And when one of our guys suggested it, I was like, "I don't want to throw a party. We're just releasing some beer. We've been releasing beers for a long time; there's no reason to throw a party!" But it turns out I was wrong. People love coming to these parties, and I have fun at the parties.
I'm sure a lot of people here would love it if I tweeted a lot more often, but we're learning our way into that world. You want to let people know who you are without seeming immodest, which is a difficult balance to strike. For me, it's really important that, as we grow as a brewery, we become more interesting and not less interesting, and I think anybody who just took an objective look at the program of beers that we have that we just take to parties and don't release, which are special projects that may later become released, we're a much more artisanal brewery—to use that awful word—than we were even five or six years ago. And I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the team, proud of working with partners that will let me go where I want to take the brewery. I never get any push back.