Saturday, July 28, 2012

how to answer the most difficult interview question

I dread the interview question; " Tell us about yourself". I think we all do. We feel strange talking about ourselves. We don't know exactly what the interviewer is looking for, we want to sound professional, calm and thoughtful. That completely goes against what it's really like for most people's career path. 

Many of us interviewing regularly have an ambiguous route. We're trying to get a job, any job the first few career steps. Wandering in the early stages of our career helps to shape a satisfying work life later. This is normal and healthy, but it sounds lame. Solution; transform your wanderings into adventure and highlight all the great experience you acquired on the way. Extra bonus points if you can relate experiences to your perspective on the industry you're in now. 

Practice telling your story as an evolving development to your present passions and focus.
life is a highway? More like a meandering goat trail!

Here's my short biography

I started home brewing with friends at Washington State University. We all studied science together and loved brewing after class and applying our chemistry class to fun pursuits (it was cheap too!). After graduating with my bachelors in microbiology, I did cellar at Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River Oregon. Here I learned about production, yeast handling and the needs of large production breweries. Next I studied hops at S.S. Steiner in their R&D lab. I loved learning the science behind hop extraction and cultivation. I worked with their team to analyze data, care for our greenhouse and create tools to help breeders identify hops with development potential. I pursued a masters in genetics until I realized research was a terrible career path for me. I love interacting with people and the thrill of industry and business too much to stay in a lab.

Back in Washington, I worked at Saddlerock Pub and Brewery in downtown Wenatchee and Icicle Brewing Company in Leavenworth simultaneously. That's a lot of bar tending! Still a big nerd, I kept studying brewing science. The pub downtown showed me the business of running a taproom (dealing with distributors, liquor control board, throwing events) and the art of customer service.

At Icicle my responsibilities kept growing. I began offering brewery tours, putting together food and beer pairings, teaching staff about beer styles and production and hosting charity outreach nights. I spent time with our salesman and learned to value our relationship to commercial customers. Icicle's distribution grew and I began to see more brewing industry folks coming through. I made sure they got the special treatment our owners expected. We put together a customer outreach position to ensure our retail guests had great service in our tasting room. By spring of 2012 I felt ready to apply to brewing school. I was accepted to the master brewing program at University of California, Davis. This program has a lengthy waiting list so I'm using my time to continue gaining industry experience.

By summer 2012, I had made great connections to several breweries in Washington and Oregon. John Roberston, walked through our door one fine day. He promptly took the best seat in the house and a kolsch. We talked about beer styles, brewing as a business and customer service. Tony Powell and Scott Hansen (of Fish Tale and Leavenworth Biers) joined him and we toured the brewhouse. We discussed craft beer in Washington and Oregon over several pints. John asked the one question bothering me: Why are you not brewing? I loved Icicle and my job in customer service, but my dream of brewing couldn't happen at Icicle simply due to size and timing. John and I kept in touch as he pushed toward opening Bellevue Brewing. In July, the guys asked me to join the brewing team at Bellevue Brewing Company. 

Here's how it really went:
I wasn't sure if leaving research was a good choice, I felt adrift and lost plenty of times. I was exhausted from moving to a different city every few months those first years out of college. 

By focusing on what we've gained from our experience and how it contributes to our current dream job we can tell a great story with ourselves as protagonist. If you're under 25 potential employers dont really care about your experience. What you can offer is passion, enthusiasm, great personality and sense of humor. Highlight your passion for your industry by pointing out how your hobbies are related or any writing you've done about your work. Blogging, homebrewer's meetings, and culinary training all play into my work life. What are your hobbies doing for your career?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cater to women with your tasting room

I'm not talking about how women are hugely important as leaders and consumers of craft beer. If you need to catch up on that conversation check out these great posts here and here.

Women loving your brand = $$$. So what can your brewery do to establish and maintain a strong female following?

Involve women. Every aspect of a brewery needs female influence, but especially the brewery's public face. Your tasting room defines your brand and builds relationships with customers. Here's how secure a loyal female base.
Enthusiastic and friendly dirndls
Get your staff right.
Each server has their own segment of customers they connect with, so stack your team to engage wide range. Bartending at 24, I resonated with women 28-60, men 35-70 and moms with young kids. I passed younger customers to servers that ensured they had a great time. Together we appealed to nearly everyone. Aim to represent a mix of genders and cultures. A diverse team behind the bar ensures professionalism and customer comfortability. A great serving team appeals to women because everyone feels welcome. Women want a bar they can take their mom, a date, and their transexual coworker.

Use neutral language.
Don't allow staff to say “hey guys” to group of women decked out in their best. Ladies spend effort into looking nice so make sure it's appreciated. Mixed gender groups should be called “folks”. If in doubt, just say hello and welcome. Women are age sensitive. I suggest banning 'miss', 'madam' and 'girls' from tasting room as these can send a wrong message. Unless you're southern, avoid using 'ma'am'.

Hire quick moving extroverts with personalities.
You must greet every customer. If the bar staff is swamped at peak times, hire a greeter to help with overflow. A pint takes about 10 minutes to drink if sipping. That's 10 uncomfortable minutes if your bartender can't start a conversation with a solo lady. A good pub staff notices lone beer drinkers and gives them extra attention. Why? Because that customer patronizes your bar entirely for craft beer.

Host women specific events.
Beer education events engage customers and help to build a market. This works for both genders, but it's especially important to host women exclusive events. Create and promote frequent women only beer education events and tastings. Women feel more comfortable learning in female only groups. Take away the gender divide and focus on socializing and your beer. Women attach having a positive experience with their friends to beer and your brewery.

Partner with women specific charities in your area to raise money and awareness. The tasting room can serve as a public outreach space for any type of charity you support. Make sure to include those with important market segments.

Host women in brewing industry events.
Keep your business intimately tied to the female professional brewing networks to capitalize on their ideas and influence. Winning female customers is ultimately about doing something good for women with your business. Hosting a professional night for women in brewing shows you support women in all aspects of the industry. Pink Boots Society works to get women involved in craft beer as professionals, tasting judges, and educated consumers. They host national meetings and offer scholarships for brewing school. I encourage breweries to contact PBS to learn more about offering networking and mentorship events. 

Offer pairings.
Wine has made huge gains in the US largely to efforts to push this beverage as the food partner. Push your craft brews as everyday luxuries that enhance meals. Pairings infuse beer culture and appreciation into the tasting room experience. Established and neophyte customers alike can try beers in new ways. I've had success with cheeses, chocolates, ice cream, and dried meats. Dessert and beer pairings showcase beer's diversity as a food companion and resonate with women.  

Keep track of what they like.
Women's preferences in beer vary so ditch your biases. Do not hand a female customer your “girliest” or lightest beer without asking what flavors she's interested in. Also, keep track of gender when it comes to style. Recently I raised my eyebrows to a marketing guy when he proposed a male focused style description for a porter. To his surprise between 30-50% of that porters sold in the tasting room went to ladies. Words accompanying a beer may not turn off female fans, but it shows our (wrong) assumptions about who's drinking what.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Big Breweries take on craft

They have requisite money, talent, and desire to enter craft beer, but curiously fail often. American Lagers are a difficult beer to brew and large breweries make, ship, market and sell millions of gallons of it worldwide. So why can't they get a simple craft beer right?

40 oz of America! Pabst Brewing Company is the largest domestically owned brewery.
Miller, Coors, and Aneuser-Busch and Buweiser are owned by British and Belgian-Brazillian  multinational corporations. 

It's likely difficult to put the craft back into corporate brewing. Similar to attempting to reverse engineer Ikea into a producer of handcrafted furniture. Big brewing's business model relies on annihilating inconsistencies, fostering mass appeal, and extending shelf life. Broad appeal and using any chemical means necessary to create a heat and light stable beer clash with the very soul of craft beer. Craft means using local, fresh ingredients, appealing to small number of people and creating once a year magic. Hops and barley subtly change year to year. Like a hand crafted cigar that has subtle notes of acidic soil the tobacco is grown in; craft beer feels special, not plebeian.

Also, consider American brewing history. The mega breweries that dominate today survived prohibition by creating nonalcoholic beer and entering the pharmaceutical production field. They learned how to produce consistently on a massive scale. Breweries that prospered during Prohibition are unlikely to abandon ideas that helped them survive. I think these companies cannot shake ideas of homogenization and control in order to brew craft beer.

John points out that the brewing industry created food and packaging science. He ponders how they fail even with talented and knowledgeable teams. While craft beer also benefits from innovation and technological advances, developments created by big brewing serve specific challenges not seen in craft beer. They developed beers as a mass product; cheap, drinkable, low alcohol, and largely forgettable. Packaging and flavor science pushed boundaries for distribution and consistency. Beer could last longer, taste the same in every bar across America and withstand abuse it was never expected to endure before. Goals pursued by corporate beer have little in common with the needs of craft beer drinkers.

They have succeeded by borrowing craft concepts with heavy, citrus extract infused wheat beers. Citrus notoriously covers up most problems in beer. In craft world, lemon and orange were probably originally added to American wheat ales to cover up infected beer or dirty draught lines. Wheat adds sugar and texture and also covers up any problems with particulate in bottle. When brewing 800-1000 bbl batches, risk of infection and minor changes could cost a brewery tens of thousands of dollars. These ingredients lack the consistency of sterilized rice and isomerized hop extract. Malted barley and pelleted hops vary each year if not batch to batch. Choosing wheat citrus styles may help breweries manage that risk. Large scale production of craft styles that show inconsistencies may turn customers off unless large brewers teach customers to appreciate and expect slight variation.

Corporate beer may have money, desire and science to get into craft beer but lack a connection to consumers and craft mentality. Craft beer centers not on bottom line mentality but on supporting individuality, humor, camaraderie and quality ingredients. Frankly, they just wouldn't get it. Small craft beer companies also know their customers better than larger companies. Whoever controls the relationship to the customer wins. Smaller brewing companies get better feedback, respond to specific regional trends faster and know how to market intuitively. Mega breweries also inherently lack credibility, a key to consumer acceptance.

American lagers lose about 3% market share per year. They can sense change coming and will diversify to survive the slow death of fizzy yellow lagers. I believe the large breweries will continue to buy up craft brands and run them on a small- medium scale to keep as much of the original flavor as necessary to hold onto loyal customers and brand identity. They will have to have many small breweries contributing to their distribution flow. Eventually these separate breweries will develop tiny differences and new recipes, techniques and brands will emerge. The brewing industry will benefit as a whole as numbers of professional brewers increase and they eventually start their own breweries armed with large scale production experience.

Large breweries' interest in the fate of craft beer benefits craft brewer's political and legal aspirations as well. Large breweries control legislative lobbying and give all beer producers a voice. Small craft brewers cannot pass legislative changes without the big boys.

Cross pollination of large brewery technology will improve craft beer as personnel migrate away from big labs and into craft beer. Quality control and assurance will become a part of even small brewery planning. Women, minorities and smaller marketing segments will become important consumers. Consumer education will transform the pub landscape into one of beer appreciation. Moronic and sexist advertising will fade away as we look upon a new golden age of American small business and a revival of beer culture nation wide. You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grow Up. Celebrate Ice Cream Month with beer floats

July is national ice cream month. Like I needed an excuse to stuff my face! (I love this country) Ice cream makes me thirsty though, so I'm opting for floats. Lets go for a more adult version with rich, molasses, espresso, and carmel beer. Barlerwines, rich stouts, and imperial anything have enough flavor to support the taste numbing effects of fatty and cold ice cream. Relive your childhood favorite this summer and make beer floats.

Dark beers pair well with coffee, berry, and vanilla flavored ice cream. If you're sensitive about texture (bubble tea creeps me out) avoid fruit chunks.
molasses porter and black cherry ice cream floats

Barley wine and fruit flavored or vanilla ice cream evokes flambe desserts with the heat from alcohol and sweetness contrasting.

Imperial IPA's with ginger ice cream or with carrot cake.
Imperial reds with carmel ice cream

Try sorbets for a fresher option.