LONDON MASH: Steve Hindy // Interview

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The Brooklyn Brewery’s MASH tour has kicked off with a special farm-based dinner and a weekend of hops appreciation.
Things crank up notch by notch as the week goes on, with Wednesday MASH event welcoming Steve Hindy – the co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery – to London to talk all things beer with the head honchos from London breweries CRATE, Beavertown and Camden Town Brewery.

In 1984, Associated Press correspondent Hindy returned from a six-year stint in the Middle East and settled in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. Having caught the homebrewing bug from diplomats stationed in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where alcoholic beverages were forbidden.

With his downstairs neighbour, Tom Potter, a former lending officer at Chemical Bank, Hindy quit his job and founded The Brooklyn Brewery. Their initial goal was to bring good beer back to New York City. Twenty-six years later, Brooklyn is one of the largest craft beer brewers in America.

Ahead of Wednesday’s talk at Camden Town Brewery, Hindy gives us an insight into how he’s hit the hoppy heights – and even what beer he’s got on tap in his kitchen:

Between running one of America’s biggest craft breweries, writing a new book and travelling to spread the word about the Brooklyn Brewery you must be a pretty busy man. What keeps you motivated?

It took 15 years to get Brooklyn Brewery on a really sound footing. When we started, no one knew what craft beer was. It took years of patient pushing and educating to lay the ground work for Brooklyn. Today, we are selling in 26 states and more than 20 countries around the world. We just opened a brewery in Stockholm in partnership with Carlsberg. My book, The Craft Beer Revolution, tells the story of the renaissance of the American brewing industry. I’m having a blast!

What do you think makes Brooklyn beers travel and sell well to foreign lands? And how much of your focus is on international sales? Specifically, you’ve just done a deal with Carlsberg in Sweden – why do you think they love Brooklyn Brewery?

We don’t do traditional advertising, so we rely on beer drinkers to discover our beers and talk about them. In a way, the beer drinkers own our brand—they are our best marketers. Our brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, makes great beers. And the name Brooklyn seems to resonate with beer drinkers all over the world. This year, our export sales will be more than 30% of our total sales, and I expect that to go to 50% in the next couple of years. We are spending more and more time on our international business.

During The Mash tour, you are talking about your book and hosting a conversation about beer with your colleagues Mark Dredge, Jasper Cuppaidge, Jess Seaton and Jenn Merrick. What do you think your story and experience can offer to them and what makes Brooklyn different than other craft brewers?

Craft brewers all over the world face similar struggles: educating a generation that got brainwashed by light lager beer; educating restaurateurs and bar owners about the art of pairing beer and food; educating distributors about the exciting rainbow of beer styles that the international conglomerate brewers ignore. All craft brewers also are familiar with the challenge of making a profit. And we all love telling our war stories.

As an American, is it daunting to come to Europe – historically a pretty beer-friendly place! – and talk about beer? Given your brewery is 26 years old, how do you relate your message to European breweries who have been at it for centuries?

It is amazing that most of my generation of craft brewers (people who started in the 1980s) were inspired to make great beer by the great brewers of Scandinavia, Britain, Germany and Belgium. We travelled in Europe and learned there was more to beer than Budweiser. And now we are bringing our American craft beers to those very countries. I think it shows we have built on the European classics in a way which appeals to beer drinkers in those countries. We respect the great brewers of Europe and we think we have something to add to the world’s brewing culture.

You’ve previously said: “A perfect beer has to fit the occasion – and tell a little story: with a beginning, a middle and an end.” What kind of story do you think Brooklyn Lager tells?

Brooklyn Lager is a little taste of New York. A drink of Brooklyn Lager begins with the fragrance of hops emanating from the frothy head; continues with a rich, nutty mouthful of malted barley and ends with an appetizing blast of hops. We are confident this experience will lead the beer drinker to the next story.

In your book, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery said you offer a ’fearless exploration of these entrepreneurs who changed the face of American brewing’. Who inspired you? And when do you think the big brewers really started to take notice of the craft brewing revolution?

In college, I was puzzled by the fact that Schlitz beer could taste so good for a couple of sips and then so bad when you got the bottom of the can. Why should the first inch of beer be different than the last? The answer: it was cold at the beginning, so you couldn’t really taste it, and warm at the end when you could. When I drank beer in England and Germany, it tasted the same from top to bottom. The big brewers have played around with craft beer for decades. But only in the past five years have them begun to take it seriously because their light lager beers are declining and craft beer is booming.

Given England’s place as starting a few beer revolutions of its own, it’s nice to see a bit of the British influence in the very lovely Brooklyn Summer Ale. Would you ever consider launching a ‘real ale’ for the English market?

We make a cask ale for the Spotted Pig pub in New York City and some other locals. I think real ale is best drunk near to the source, so I don’t expect we will be shipping any cask to England—except maybe for a special occasion…

You’ve also mentioned a family trip to New York City in 1957 where you were dragged to see Billy Graham at the old Madison Square Garden and one of the last Brooklyn Dodgers’ games in Ebbets Field. Is your familial love of baseball behind your Pennant Ale? And shouldn’t Pennant Ale really be a seasonal ale? And chose one: Yankees or Mets?

My Dad pitched to Babe Ruth when the Babe toured with a team called Babe Ruth’s All Stars. So baseball has always been a big thing in our family. I like your idea of making Pennant a seasonal. I am a Mets fan, a long-suffering Mets fan.

Is it true that you have Brooklyn Brown Ale on tap in your kitchen?

Actually, I have Brooklyn Summer Ale on tap now at home.

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For more information and tickets to all the London Mash events Steve Hindy talks about, head here.