Friday, January 05, 2007

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICK SELLERS OF PACIFIC BREW NEWS

I wrote earlier about my dabbling in the various beer-related podcasts available online, & how one show just stood out head & shoulders from the rest in terms of being engaging, knowledgeable, and actually fun to listen to. PACIFIC BREW NEWS is a bi-weekly (give or take) must for the beer geek, as Rick, Mark and Mike – and their frequent guests – are just a veritable fountain of beer knowledge, and they come off as the sort of fellas you’d actually like to school you on arcane styles & tell you what you should be drinking. I only started downloading these a few months ago but I’ve already learned a ton, and feel like these smart-drinking hombres are my brothers. I hope to break bread and gulp grog with them one day. Rick Sellers, one of the hosts, was kind enough to agree to be interviewed by HBJ & share his thoughts and perspective on craft/microbrewed beer in 2007, as well as insights into what goes into making a podcast work as well as his does. Check them out on the web by clicking here. Here’s what Rick had to say to our probing queries:


HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Getting a podcast off the ground, and actually making an entertaining one about BEER, no less, is not exactly an easy proposition. What drove you guys to put the Pacific Brew News podcast together, and why does this one seem to work so well?

Rick Sellers: A lot of factors that led to a 'perfect storm' of sorts. To begin I'll have to give my dues to Jeff and Greg at Craft Beer Radio. I first found their show when I was introduced to podcasts and immediately enjoyed their content and format. However, in the beginning, I found that most of the beers they sampled I had never heard of. Mike, Mark and myself had been beer drinking buddies for years and had formed the SOBER group to sample beers together. I figured we had such a good time drinking and being nerdy together, maybe a show for west coast beers would be fun.

Why does it work? I have to say that we're just comfortable with each other. Our show format is really freaking close to our SOBER meeting formats - except we don't do blind tasting on the show. Mark and Mike have great history and I have known Mark long enough to know that we are very different in personality. Bringing Mike on was our biggest hit though. He's quiet and all, but if you meet the guy you'll understand how profound he really is. So, in essence, we're just buds sharing beer. Who wouldn't like that?

HBJ: Do you have any sort of mission for the podcast - and the site? What sort of response have you received so far? Where are your listeners based?

Rick: Mission was simple - Promote West Coast Beer. I really didn't think anyone would listen who didn't live in our area and I figured we'd get a lot of criticism for being 'NPR-ish'. I also had aspirations related to the BJCP and I thought this show would help with that. Listeners are from everywhere - really. I have had the pleasure of meeting several people who found our show when I travel and it just amazes me that people even have that interest. Just over the holidays I have had the pleasure of meeting people in Portland and BC - that rocks.The mission has changed in practice a bit. I have found that my passion for beer has grown exponentially and I feel more strongly the need to 'help' brewers whenever I can. In fact I am hoping to put together a services package for brewers that helps get their word out. We'll see.

HBJ: What is the state of the craft/micro beer industry in the US in 2007, particularly on the west coast? Any strong trends you’re seeing?

Rick: Wow. The West Coast beer scene is really broken up into four distinct regions: San Diego, Bay Area, Portland and Washington. San Diego is leading the pack in pushing the boundaries when it comes to hopping American-styled beers. I look to that area to begin introducing beers that really change how we perceive the styles of IPA and DIPA. The Bay Area brewers are world class in so many ways, and I really think have the best variety of beer on the West Coast - driven by Russian River in many ways. Portland, dare I say, is peaking I think. I go there and enjoy the beers, but find that there is little up there that is truly outstanding in any way. I know the sheer number of brewers up there is impressive and a lot of them make great beer - but I don't see Portland making a name for themselves when it comes to distinction. Washington is shockingly behind and I see them making up a lot of ground in the years to come, and I think they have all the ingredients to make something great. They have the cooler weather, they have the hop fields, and they're close to some wonderful grain farms. I see them really making big wonderful beers in the near future. For now I think much of the NW perception of beer is just perception - but I think Washington will take off while Oregon stagnates.

I probably just lost all credibility.

HBJ: Are you based in Sacramento, California itself, or nearby? Would you say that the area distinguishes itself in any way as a “beer region”? I know there seem to be a lot of beer runs to Sonoma and Marin counties for you guys....

Rick: Beer regions are huge. We're north a bit in Placer County. Beers vary a bunch depending on where they're brewed, I think, because brewers inadvertently emulate what has worked in their area. For instance, Stone in SD really began a hop craze some years ago and found a market for it. Now you have Pizza Port, Alpine and Green Flash all in the area making some of the most wonderfully hopped beers. Washington has good browns and porters, but not really a lot of aggressively hopped beers. Same is true for Portland, although many brewers in that region seem to be making Imperial Reds - not common in California. Southern Oregon brewers all make a decent Kolsch, believe it or not. So, yes, I think where you're situated geographically has a big impact on what works for the brewery. Please don't think I am putting any of this on the brewers - instead I think consumers in a region define their palates based on what they're 'first love' is.

HBJ: Do each of you guys have a particular favorite beer style that trumps all the others, and if so, what’s the best example in that style for each of you?

Rick: We're all hopheads, Mike to the extreme. I personally love sour beers above all else, but that may be a novelty factor there. Mark probably has the broadest appreciation for styles.

HBJ: You’re all able to talk about taste characteristics of beers in a pretty educated manner, without coming off as pompous or preachy. Where & how did you learn to “taste” beer?

Rick: Beermann's on the dock after work on Fridays. That's where it all started. Mark started by bringing in beers in brown paper bags to see if we could guess what style of beer he had picked up in the store - and this was before we really knew what 'styles' were. We also had a wonderful old bar called Owl Club that really sought to provide the best beers he could get. In the crowds we were in coming across pretentious would be a death nail, as the crowds were made up of real blue collar types - rough, gruff and a lot of fun. Sadly the Owl Club has gone to pot with new owners and Beermann's has become really freaking popular, so a bit harder to gather like we once did.

On top of this, Mark and I both went through the BJCP course and passed the test. We judge as much as we can - last year I officially judged 9 competitions.

HBJ: You guys seem like you’re working on expanding your beer education empire in coming months, well beyond just the podcast. What are your next moves?

Rick: HA! You'll never know! Oh, wait....

Services is a big dream of mine. I want to imitate what the wine industry did in the early 90's that made wine a) acceptable b) fashionable c) popular. My vision is to work with restaurant managers, pub owners and brewers to develop sales techniques designed to sell good beer. My frustration is always pushed when I go to a nice restaurant with pages of good/expensive wine and crap beer. I almost always demand to speak to a manager and demand they give me a jug of Ernest and Julio Gallo Blush or Franzia Box Wine. They insist they don't carry it, they only have fine wines. I tell them that these wines are the most popular in the US by sales volume, but they come back with the 'we only sell fine wines'. So then I hit them with a "so why the hell do you only have crappy beer?" Most will begin to say that is what customers want, but I cut them off and point out that customers also 'want' cheap wine - if you're looking at sales. I go on to tell them that they don't have good beer because they're too freaking lazy to actually sell good beer, and that is the truth. Beer is so easy to sell to people and I have proved this time and again with restaurants that allow me to make a point. I have worked with restaurants taking food orders with a server - when the food order is placed I simply ask if they'd like to compliment that meal with a [fill in the appropriate beer], usually followed with the most basic description of the beer (color, aroma, taste). It's too easy and the wine people have perfected this practice.

Other items include flyers/pamphlets and cards that generally introduce patrons to beer. Starbucks and other coffee places do this with their bean varieties, explaining the color, aroma, flavor and origin of the bean. They do this with great success, but I have only ever seen one beer bar even try to do this.I want beer to become socially acceptable, trendy, and popular. I hope that through PBN I can help facilitate this.

HBJ: How are you able to get people to mail you large quantities of beer for tastings? What’s the best beer you’ve received in this manner?

Rick: This is just one of the odd things in life. People want to send us their favorites to try. I think people perceive us as experts - and in some respects we try to be - and are looking for validation that they really do drink good beer. Who really knows? Best beer? Man....I think there was an Imperial Stout we tried a few months ago that rocked my world.

HBJ: Finally, because we love lists at HBJ, what are 5-10 amazing beers that our readers need to seek out and try if they get the chance?

Rick:

1. Russian River Temptation - a sour belgian style beer that is not for the faint of heart

2. Moylan's Hopsickle - the most agressive and out of balance beer I know. If ever barley wine met imperial IPA, this would be it. Again, it'll offend your good senses.

3. Rubicon Wheat Wine - A one of a kind beer you'll only ever find at the brewery in Sacramento.

4. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye - Many people have already figured out that this beer is unique and wonderful.

5. Walking Man Homo Erectus, Knuckle Dragger - Available in several good Portland pubs, these beers are the best of the northwest in my opinion. The brewery is Stevenson Washington also tops my list of NW best brewers.

6. Russian River Pliny the Elder - this is what a double IPA should be. Light in color and body, big in hop aroma, flavor and topped with a fantastic lingering bitterness that isn't overwhelming.

To expand a bit I'd like to recommend to people the best place to find the best beers on tap. San Diego has O'Briens; San Francisco has Toronado; Portland has Horse Brass. You can go to these places any day of the week and find some of the region's best beers - as well as the world if you're at Toronado.

Also, understand your palate and seasonal aspects. If you like brown ales you'll probably be ok with porters, then maybe stouts, and then RIS. If you like pale ale, try some IPAs before wrecking your palate with DIPAs. If you like lighter beers, find a good kolsch or hefe or pilsner - each is pretty easy to find in your area (tip: get lighter beers as close to your home as possible, they just don't age or ship well at all). If it's hot out, nothing quenches like the light beers. In the cold of winter you'll be pleased with the richness and complexity of the Barley Wines and Russian Imperial's in the store - and big Double IPAs are wonderful this time of year too. Don't drink beer that is too cold. Cellar a beer or two for a year or two (big beers only). Play with beer and always look for something you haven't tried before. On the west coast of the US there are more than 500 craft brewers who make thousands of beers - there is no reason to get stuck in a rut.

(Thanks to Rick, and check out our earlier interview with Craig Wathen of San Francisco’s CITY BEER store as well)

3 comments:

socialretard said...

I find it interesting that Rick thinks Washington makes good browns and porters but doesn't do aggressively hopped beers. I've been living in Seattle for over a year now and a lot of the craft brewers here are extremely hop crazy. IPAs and very hoppy pale ales seem to dominate most of the craft brewers offerings. A lot of the local brewers don't even have stouts, porters or brown ales.

To illustrate the hop craze, take my beer experiences this weekend. I visited Big Time Brewing, which has 3 IPAs on their menu and the Hopvine, a beer bar near my apt., had 6 of its 12 taps occupied by locally-produced IPAs. Though I like a well-balanced IPA (as long as it's not too sadistic with the hops) as much as anyone, I'm a porter and stout man at heart. I'd like to see more variety from the brewers up here, especially more offerings in those styles.

Rick said...

If I may clarify a bit. The whole of the west coast is in a hop craze and clearly the IPA style is the most popular throughout the west coast's regions. With that in mind, I still believe that Washington is the least hop crazed region on the west and I get slack about this on a regular basis. Washington can hop that Walking Man's hop logic is catching - still my favorite Washington brewery.

FYI - Russian River has 3 IPAs, a Double IPA and a Triple IPA. Just down the street Moylan's has 1 IPA, 1 DIPA and 1 TIPA. Bear Republic also has multiple IPA/DIPAs. These brewers are within 30 miles of each other, and all are down the street from Lagunitas. There is no region on the west that has embraced hops like the brewers of California... specifically Bay Area and San Diego brewers.

If you're a hophead, by the way, Hayword's Double IPA Festival in the Bay Area is a must experience event.

socialretard said...

Yeah...I see your point, Rick. You don't see too many Double or Triples IPAs up here. I don't think I've had anything from Seattle or anywhere else in WA that is anywhere near as hoppy as the Walking Man Homo Erectus that the folks in Stevenson make. I'll get to experience the San Diego beers in person when when I do a brewery-crawl weekend there in March. Looking forward to it.