It’s a little weird (kind of Clint Eastwood & the Empty Chair-esque) to interview oneself, but I thought it might make for a good first post. So I sat down and did just that at New York’s The Recovery Room with Sunday Football on in the background. (Not out loud, you understand. With a notebook and a great pint of Guinness.)
I would like to interview some of the people who make this wonderful industry tick. To provide insight, interest and perspective I’ve created 10 simple questions. I’ll ask the same 10 questions to everyone for the sake of uniformity and objectivity. I hope to ask these questions to people who work in beer, wine and spirits; people who work in craft as well as mainstream drinks; people both senior and junior; old-timers and newbies. My only criteria will be that they like what they do and they care about the impact they have on the business of making, selling & marketing alcoholic beverages.
So, to give you a little bit about me, here is the first 10 Questions To Educate The Drinking Classes.
Can you describe what your company/organization does in one sentence?
Not at this stage.
How long have you worked here?
How and why did you come to be here?
My younger brother, Peter, got into tending bar, then seriously into tending bar while I was working at Kellogg’s in the mid 2000s and from hanging out with him I knew I wanted to work in drinks. I did some research, decided that Diageo was the place for me, and started working there in London in 2007. I moved to New York in 2010 to work on Guinness when craft was really embedded. It was exciting. We did some amazing things with Guinness, and I got to travel, meet some fantastic people and spend time in great bars. I recently decided I wanted to do something smaller, with more variety, and hung up my Guinness boots. With very mixed feelings. Guinness is more of an institution than a beer, and I’ve loved it since I can remember. It will always be my go-to.
What is your daily routine?
Right now it’s very fluid, which is to say every day is a mix with no fixed routine. My wife gets up early for work and I get up with her, and have a good breakfast. Breakfast is the key to life. Then I head out if I’m going to head out or fire up the laptop if I’m not. My biggest focus right now is meeting people, talking to people, and getting as much feedback as possible. I’m also reading as much as I can, which is harder than it sounds because there’s so much out there. Oh, and I exercise pretty well too. Have a good breakfast and work out every day and you’re ready for anything.
What is the hardest thing about your job?
I’ll come back to that in a few months. I can see some challenges; we’ll see how hard they prove to be.
In your view, what does it take to “make it” in drinks?
Passion, which is the obvious answer. The great thing about drinks is they’re drunk for fun: there’s no “functional” reason to have a beer, you do it because you want to, and usually for a reason that makes you happy. Whether you’re celebrating, toasting, savoring, or just catching up with a friend, you have a drink to enhance an already good situation. The people behind the drinks need to be able to connect with that if they’re going to make something of it as a career. I guess you also need to be social, able to move fast, and frankly a bit geeky, to be able to take it seriously. Everyone, no matter their role in an organization in the industry, needs to know how the stuff is made. Why it tastes the way it tastes, what’s in it, how it’s different to other similar products. You’re just not credible otherwise.
What is success for you?
Well first up, this isn’t a big money industry. If you’re driven by the prospect of a big paycheck, I would do something else! But the enormously positive flipside is that you can have a LOT of fun in drinks. You meet the best people, it’s very social, and you can achieve a lot. You know, you can easily build things.
Personally, success will be doing something – no matter if it’s relatively small – to move the industry forward. There’s just so much great stuff going on right now, I want to be able to look back and say that I helped either make it better or continue things in the right direction. And I want to have an awesome time doing it. Your job should never feel like something you don’t want to do, each and every day.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
In a cliched way, I’d ask “Why can’t everyone just get along?”. This is an industry that’s highly prone to snobbery, and it shouldn’t be. No single person is the arbiter of what’s good or not, and it’s sad when you see people decry or unnecessarily criticize each other’s products. Yes, you should call someone out if they’re putting anti-freeze in their beer, but otherwise let people decide what they want to make and drink. It’s every person’s inalienable right to decide what they do and don’t like.
Apart from your own, what are your three favorite alcoholic drinks, and why?
I don’t own or work on any right now, so that’s easy. Apart from the choosing only three bit…
1. In 2013 my wife and I took a trip to the Pac North West – just an amazing place – and spent a day in the Willamette Valley. We drank the Sitar Verse at Alexana Winery; it’s one of the best pinots I’ve ever tried. Couple that with the with the Pac NW and trying it alongside my wife and you have a winning combination.
2. Lagavulin 16 Year Old is a) one of the richest, deepest whiskies in the world and b) my grandfather’s favorite drink.
3. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is my standard answer to “What’s your favorite beer?”. Which, let’s face it, is not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, it’s an incredible beer: potent, balanced, complex. On the other, it’s got amazing history. I believe drinkers like to connect with the provenance of what they drink, and how can you not connect with a beer that’s made in the same brewery Arthur Guinness bought in 1759?! And this beer in particular was invented to travel to British colonies in the 19th century, which is the reason we have IPAs and other highly hopped beers today. And then on the third hand, if you have one, Guinness has been very good to me and it will always have a special place in my heart.
What’s the best place to go in NYC for a beer?
For me that’s an easy call. While there are many great beer bars (although not as many as you would have thought perhaps) in New York City, I have a near-fanatical affection for Swift Hibernian Lounge in the East Village. Great beer selection, great atmosphere, awesome staff, perfect location. And the best Guinness in New York.