Thursday, September 13, 2012

Catching Up with Strike Brewing for a Brief Interview

It’s no wonder Bay Area brewery newcomer Strike Brewing was formed by three athletes. They would need to be in good shape to survive their exhausting schedule they’ve undertaken in the past nine months to introduce their beer to the Bay Area. I first took notice of Strike back last February when I first tried their Brown Ale, and promptly made it Beer of the Month.   Brown Ales are not usually the beers that grab my attention, but Strike’s was full of roasty flavors with hints of chocolate that raised it above the ordinary.  It’s part of Strike’s Session Series Beers, with a focus on drinkable, flavorful, and lower alcohol beers.

So what's happened with Stike since then?  I caught up with Strike CEO Jenny Lewis who took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via e-mail.  Brewmast Drew Erhlich chimed in with some thoughts, too.

Strike Brewmaster Drew Ehrlick and CEO Jenny at the Martinez Bay Area Craft Beer Festival last May

Q: How have the first nine months gone starting out as a new brewery in the Bay Area?

Jenny:  It has been incredibly busy in a good way.  We’re at festivals, events, tastings, athletic functions and other events every weekend and a lot of week nights.  There is no free moment - literally.  And it’s pretty cool now that organizations, companies, and festivals are approaching us and we don’t have to go seek them out like we did the first few months.  Word gets out quickly about something new coming to town, and we have a lot of enthusiastic supporters.  The beer has also been well received. We’re always trying to decide what new beer to do next, what will become year-round and what we’ll do as a seasonal. Once we’re in our own facility, this will get easier too.  There’s not as much room for experimentation with contract brewing, because if it hits the tanks, it is going to be for sale.

We very quickly hit about 60 accounts. Now we’re working on getting more chain distribution to increase sales volume.  I’ve been doing a great deal of driving trying to get word out and hit the best craft beer pubs in each city from Berkeley to Monterrey.  So again, it’s just a lot of time getting the brand name out there, but it’s been rewarding seeing the growth in just 8 months.

Q:  When do you plan on moving into your own brewery?

Jenny:  As for moving into our own brewery, I am working as fast as I can to close on the capital right now and purchase equipment.  Most likely we will end up in San Jose and aim to be open and functioning by the spring.  It will be a production brewery with a tasting room attached, so that we can hold tours and events and tastings, but we will not serve any food.   Once we are in our own space the sky is the limit on the types of beers that Drew will brew.  I know he has an affinity towards sours right now and wants to try barrel aging a few things.  We’re also going to do some more beers that will appeal to the growing demographic of women drinking craft beer.  So we have a few things in the works to launch by next summer.  We’re also planning on canning at least one or two beers, probably the Blonde to start with.  Plus, we will always have an array of session beers available, since the Strike Session Series is an extremely important differentiator for us.

Q:  You mention plans to appeal to women beer drinkers.  What beers do you think will appeal to women?"

Jenny:  Usually when I think making more beers that appeal to women, I think adding more session beers, possibly with some interesting fruit combinations, and more spices.  I have a lot of fun right now mixing the beers we already have, sort of like Leinenkugels does in Wisconsin.  In particular the Imperial Red and Wit go pretty well together oddly enough.  I like being able to pick out all the different smells, spices and flavors so I assume other women would too.  We’ve been toying with the idea of adding some local fruit beers, sourcing them in the Bay Area and making something crazy with it.  They would be one-time releases and probably part of the session series. 

Drew:  It's hard to say what specific flavors would appeal to women rather than men.   I could only say that beers with more complex flavors might appeal more to women. I have read in a few places that women are much more receptive to flavors and able to pick them out better than men. I haven't heard a reason for this, and I don't know why, but it doesn't surprise me. So, as a result I think women have the ability to better savor beers and identify more of their flavor components.  However, it all comes down to what that one customer likes or doesn't like. No matter how receptive a woman may be to flavors, if she doesn't like hops, an IPA won't be "her" kind of beer.

I personally think it is rather presumptuous of larger companies who come out and say, "This is a new beer for woman!"  when in reality, there is no way they can say that all, or a vast majority of women, will like this beer.  Some women may be put off by the fact that they are trying to make a beer specifically for them, insinuating that they can't handle their other beers, which only appeal to men. So rather than say "we are designing a beer for women," I think it should more be a change in perception. Something like, "We aren't creating a new beer just for women because no two women are the same.” Women love flavor and want beers to satisfy that. That is why the world of craft beer is perfect for women. There are countless numbers of amazing beers that are bursting with flavor, and with the vast number of styles to choose from, every woman can enjoy the adventure of finding one that she truly loves."

Just like running, brewing for a living is both a lot of hard work and a lot of fun.  And the best thing is we all can enjoy the rewards of Jenny and Drew’s hard work.

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