SAVOR (an American Craft Beer and Food Experience) returns to Washington, DC on June 1-2. The lineup is strong. Rather than profiling each brewery, which is frankly a time suck for me and your friendly staff, I reached out to a number of breweries in attendance that are interesting to me for one reason or another for interviews to get to know them better. Look out for our annual Top 25 list as well as a top 10 beer and food pairings list closer to the main event. Purchase tickets for SAVOR here.
We continue the interview series with Austin, TX’s Hops & Grain Brewing. Big thanks to Josh Hare, Founder and President, for taking the time to answer our questions via email. What follows below is a transcript loosely edited for length and clarity. Find Hops & Grain and Josh on Instagram and Twitter at @hopsandgrain and @hopsandjosh.
DCBeer: As an out of DC market brewery, what do you see as the value of participating in SAVOR?
Josh Hare: So much of the inspiration that we get as brewers comes from sources outside of our brewery. Not only is SAVOR just a really kick ass event to attend, but it also serves as a wonderful source of inspiration that I am able to take back to the brewery to help us develop brands and strengthen relationships with our other food industry partners.
In a nutshell, what's your brewery's philosophy about beer and business?
Our brewery has always been guided by three core values: environmental stewardship, community engagement, and product quality innovation. This extends from creating new beers all the way to Human Resources. If our decisions as a business bring about a positive impact on the environment, a positive impact on our community, and a positive impact on the quality of our products then we've generally found them to be the right decisions.
What beers are you bringing to SAVOR, why, and what do you think/want those beers to say about your brewery to consumers?
We are bringing two of our favorite hop-forward beers to SAVOR: Haze County IIPA and Pellets & Powder IPA. We chose these two beers because of their diverse set of hop-forward characteristics as well as for their complex flavor, aroma, and texture. Maintaining very low bitterness, these beers both set themselves up well for food pairings.
Why is Hops and Grain so community-focused? You've chosen to make that a huge part of your business. Why would you encourage other breweries to do the same? How has it been a strength?
At the core of any successful business is a story. In the beer industry we fully believe that our story is as important to our brewery as our beer. If we don't have a story to tell them we're just making widgets, and making widgets gets boring. Community is so crucial to us because our east Austin community is at the heart of our story. Being a good corporate citizen is incredibly important in today's crowded marketplace. Transparency and ethical standards are not only the right way to run a business, but it's also a very marketable way to run a business. And at the end of the day, we strongly believe that if you can't get your local community to support your brand it's only going to get harder to sell the further and further you get from home.
The Austin beer scene is really great. Why should someone who hasn't checked it out make it a priority to do so? What are some of the key spots to hit?
I believe that the Austin beer scene is growing into one of the best in the country. At the core of that is the fact that Austin is just a great city to visit. While I'm all for spending an entire vacation visiting breweries, the cool thing about Austin is that the craft beer scene is woven into just about anything that you do in Austin. If waiting in the infamous Franklin BBQ line is on your list of things to do, great! You can enjoy a couple of our River Beer Premium Lagers while you wait in line. The food scene in Austin is fantastic, the art scene in Austin is fantastic, and the music scene in Austin is fantastic. And what goes better with food, art, and music than beer! Also make sure to visit our good friends at Pinthouse Pizza, killer IPAs and fantastic pizza.
Have you been to DC to check out our beer scene? Any favorite spots?
This will be my fourth time out for SAVOR, and I've enjoyed every trip to DC thus far! I always make a stop into Right Proper and, depending on the crowds, ChurchKey and Meridian Pint also generally make my list. And I always pop by to see our friends at Hill Country Barbecue Market.
Thinking about either your local market or the nation overall, what do you think the key strengths and weaknesses are of independent or craft beer? What can and should we be doing better as an industry?
I think that the greatest thing about the beer industry is that for the most part we're all pretty independent thinkers. Most of us came to beer for a specific reason, and it had nothing to do with money. For me personally it was to create a workplace environment that fostered inclusion, professional development, and career growth. The more layers that your management structure has, the harder it is to make decisions on the fly. And I generally like making decisions on the fly and don't do well in a boardroom.
That said, I truly believe that what we should be doing as an industry is trying to bridge the divide between global brewers and small, local brewers. The worst way that we advertise ourselves to new drinkers is through an “us vs. them” attitude. My general thought is that consumers enjoy drinking beer because they enjoy community. Selling a divisive story isn't the most attractive message. At the end of the day, it's just beer, and we should step back and remind ourselves of that. The health and longevity of our industry rely on beer as a whole working together to grow our collective slice of the pie.
Somewhat related to the above: what advice do you have for new breweries out there? What advice do you have for veteran breweries?
My advice for new breweries is to think long and hard about what differentiates you from the other 6,000+ breweries out there. And I also encourage them to, once they've figured out the differentiator, to focus on selling everything that you can across your bar. It's the most honest and immediate feedback loop that you'll ever have, and will let you know pretty quickly whether or not this industry is for you. Better to figure that out before you have a multi-million dollar bank note that's influencing your decision making.
Just for dry-hops and giggles, look into your crystal ball and predict what the big craft beer trend is this time next year.
My guess is that we're going to start seeing a sort of West Coast/New England IPA hybrid begin to be the new norm for IPA. Blending the wonderful tropical and citrus characteristics that NEIPA has become known for but with a touch more bitterness to help round out the beer and make it a bit more enjoyable to drink more than one of. I also think that you'll starting seeing more quick-soured IPAs coming out soon.
How do you make Zoe so damn good?
Hah! Well thank you for the compliment. Zoe has been a really fun adventure for us. Introduced as our house Pale Lager it has grown into our flagship and makes up about 40% of our overall sales. But all the praise for this beer goes to our Hops & Grain team. From the brewers and cellar operators all the way to our sales and marketing team, Zoe would not have seen the success that it has without the hard work and dedication of our awesome team!
Thanks to Josh for his time. Looking forward to seeing Hops & Grain at SAVOR. Feel free to drop a pallet of Zoe off at Meridian Pint.