If you think those who work for craft brewing companies are rock stars, they are.
“It’s like being part of a band and I’m the drummer,” explains Jonathan Parker of Jekyll Brewing in Alpharetta.
“I mean, who wouldn’t want this job?” echoes Wes Sessoms of Red Hare Brewing Company in Marietta.
True. But if craft brewery employees are part rock star, they’re equal parts marching band geek.
At least that’s what the Metro Spirit took away from a recent conversation with Parker, Sessoms, Josh Kirssin of Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta and JJ Mercurio of Eagle Creek Brewing Company in Statesboro. They sat around the newspaper office one recent afternoon to talk brews in anticipation of this Saturday’s Augusta Beerfest at the Bell Auditorium.
And while the conversation often turned colorful (“You can’t funnel wine!” Parker pointed out) and loud, it was more often filled with enough terms to make the casual beer drinker’s head spin. This heady discussion continued for so long that Mercurio finally suggests renaming the event Nerdfest.
They admit that what follows are the exact kinds of conversations they’ll have with those who come to the Bell Saturday to sample beers.
“Well, this is how they’ll start,” Sessoms says. “At the end of session 2?”
“Yeah, these are the exact conversations we’ll have,” Kirssin adds. “But I’ll have a beer in my hand. And, at some point, we’ll be talking about each other’s beers.”
“Have you had their beers?” Parker says, pretending to slur his words and pointing at his competitors. “I love them.”
After a chorus of “I love you, mans” dies down, Mercurio also points out that they’ll continue the conversation, they’re sure, Saturday night on Broad Street. And the conversation will actually begin Friday night, when O’Donovan’s Irish Pub hosts Beer with the Brewers.
“We’ll be out talking about beer Saturday night after Beerfest and Friday night before Beerfest,” Mercurio says.
Sounds like a difficult, trying job. Here’s why these guys say they stick around during the tough times.
Metro Spirit: Do you go to a lot of festivals like these?
Jonathan Parker: I know especially with Jekyll, we’re known as being a hand-crafted brewery so it’s only right for us to be out there and talk to these people first hand and let them know what they’re missing out on, to tell them more about what we’re all about.
Wes Sessoms: The craft beer industry is so vast that you start to see the beers on the shelves and you don’t make that connection with a face or story to that beer, so that’s a great opportunity to kind of let people, even if they’ve had your beer a hundred times, to let them know something new about the brewery. For us, our Gangway IPA, I’m sure everybody’s had it, but they haven’t had our brown ale, Watership Brown. That’ll be a perfect opportunity for them to be like, “Oh wow, I never really liked brown ales but this is different, I like this.” It’s just a great way to see the whole portfolio and get a better view of the brewery and what it’s all about.
JK: I think the coolest part of beerfests is taking your domestic drinker and putting him out of his environment that he’s not comfortable with and testing his palate, see what he’s comfortable with and trying to figure out really what it is, because I was a domestic beer drinker when I went to Georgia Southern.
JJ Mercurio: I still am!
WS: Personally, when I go to beer festivals I start to treat it like a wine tasting. I have a restaurant background and we would do these wine tastings and you start with the whites and move on to the reds. Everyone’s got a lighter beer, a pale ale or a lager, so you start there and gear up to those high alcohol and those bigger flavors as you go on throughout the day so you’re not starting off with something like an imperial IPA that’s going to wreck your palate.
MS: Why IPAs? You all have one, right?
JK: Every brewery has an IPA.
JJM: We don’t. We have a pale ale. And I’ve given it to the nerdiest of the nerdy beer nerds and they thought it was an IPA. Nope. It’s a pale ale.
WS: There’s an emerging style between all of our breweries of an East Coast or a Southern IPA. It’s not as dark, it’s not as heavy of an IPA and that’s the thing that I have tried to tell people more recently, you know, don’t compare us or any of our IPAs to a Stone or a Lagunitas or any of these West Coast breweries because it’s a completely different environment. It’s hot here in the summertime. You can’t have an 8 percent, hoppy, dank IPA. That’s just not refreshing, so the one thing that all of us do is that style, more of an emerging, Southern style.
JP: Ours actually says Southern IPA.
MS: What are craft beer drinkers like now?
WS: They’re more educated now. You can’t screw anything up. People will know.
JP: It’s not the generation of, I want a Budweiser because I can drink 20 of them. It’s I’m an IPA fan. I want an IPA but I want a session IPA. I want more flavor.
Mike Marty: You’ve got to have a good game. You can’t cover up problems in the brewing with lighter beers.
WS: Especially with a lager. We brew a lager and it is the toughest beer to brew. You can’t hide behind any imperfection in a lager, but it’s the most popular style in the world. It’s an insanely tough beer to do right and you are at the mercy of the beer. You’re not controlling it; it’s controlling you.
JP: Most of the time you’re going to see ales because it’s the easiest thing to get done and get out the door. And I think that’s your biggest thing when you’re a microbrewery. I want to make something good, get it done and get it out the door and sell it.
MS: How do you decide on beer styles?
WS: I think it’s just because these head brewers come from very different backgrounds and it’s an art. It’s what you see and what you want people to taste. You kind of have an idea of what you want to put out there but it’s also open to interpretation. For us, our owner spent some time in Europe and he fell in love with old-school Czech-style lager, so that’s why our Long Day Lager is kind of the way it is. So there’s are little stories, background of why it is the way it is.
JK: It’s all the background of the brewers and who founded it. Our Fu Manbrew is a Belgian Wit, and we brew it with ginger because one of our owners lived 10 years in Japan and wanted to put his Asian influence on a beer.
JJM: We’re in Statesboro so you need stuff you can drink fast.
MS: What will you be offering at Augusta Beerfest?
JP: Three regular styles and two specialty casks.
WS: The same for us; three regular styles and two specialty casks.
JK: Five and a specialty cask.
JJM: Two and two specialty casks.
WS: The cool thing about specialty casks is you’re not going to find that beer anywhere else. It’s just for this event. The beauty of it is that it’s super rare and super special; you gotta be there to have it. The downside is if you really, really like it you’re never going to see it again.
Saturday, August 16
Noon-3 p.m. or 4-7 p.m.
$30, advance; $35, door