Small Biz Buddies: Brooklyn Brewery
When I was doing R&D on the Beer & Pretzel Caramel back in 2008, I was still working at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates. I figured I’d go to a cool local brand to see if they wanted to work together; and I actually first went to a different, shall-remain-nameless local brewer, one of the new, hip kids on the block. I stopped by with some samples and got a tour, some product to play around with…and an earful of unsolicited advice on how I should and should not proceed to make candy with it. From a marketing guy. It was frustrating, to say the least.
I’m sure it was that experience that colored my expectation for the next try; but maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the folks at Brooklyn Brewery were so friendly and open to working together. After all, they donate over $1 million worth of beer annually to various cultural institutions and nonprofits; BKB’s owners sit on the boards of a slew of local organizations; and their Mash events travel around the world bringing local drink, food, and culture together. Just from that, you might be able to guess the kind of environment they foster at the company. (Hint: it rhymes with “shmollaborative.”)
From day one working with Brooklyn Brewery (all the way back in 2009), there was excitement, encouragement, and all the beer we could handle; and to this day, that same sense of neighborliness and enthusiasm imbues everything that Andrew Gerson, BKB’s Head Chef and Culinary Programming director, and Gabe Barry, Beer Education and Community Ambassador, chatted with us about.
We ended up talking for over an hour, and the result is far to long and in-depth for a fun little post on one of our partners; but there were certainly some themes that kept popping up for all of us. (Warning to sensitive readers: the following contains swears.)
Andrew: “As a chef, the proof is in the pudding. If the dish is great, if the pastry’s great…that speaks for itself. But I think right now people also crave stories, they crave authenticity, they crave background, and they want to know more. And it’s not just eating a plate of food; it’s all the social media, it’s the blogs, it’s all that peripheral bullshit…if your story’s not real, people are going to see through that.“
Andrew: “So much of what we stand for here is about adhering to tradition, and celebrating a rich history and past of brewing; but it’s also about innovation and taking it to the next level. We have this amazing modern equipment, we have incredibly talented minds here, who are thinking about charred pineapple and jalapeño and mezcal barrels in the same way that we’re thinking about traditional lagering styles. So to have that dichotomy and that mix is really awesome.”
CREATIVITY, PERFECTION, FAILURE, AND CHOCOLATE CAKE
Gabe: “Being a creative is not necessarily doing one thing good once, one time. It’s doing something every day, banging your head into the wall again and again and again, and then you might do a good thing again; but you have to keep failing and keep…I wouldn’t say failing, but you have to keep trying and trying.”
Liz: “People need to make friends with the word ‘failure,’ because it’s kind of the best word for that experience. If you try something and don’t achieve it, then, technically, you failed…I feel like we need to get rid of all the baggage attached to failure.”
Jen: “And as long as you learn from it…how many amazing things have come out of failure or mistakes? Searching for the ‘perfect’ chocolate cake; I might try 35 different chocolate cakes, and none of them will be totally perfect, but I learn with each one, and they’re all delicious. At the end of the day, it’s still chocolate cake.”
Gabe: “And for each one of those chocolate cakes will be someone who thinks, this is my perfect chocolate cake.“
Andrew: “The idea of perfection is utter bullshit.”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE [_____]?
Turns out we all hate the “what is your favorite/last meal” question – because there’s no single answer.
Andrew: “‘What would your last meal be?’ I hope that I have no teeth and can’t eat because I’m really fuckin’ old!”
Liz: “Ask me that on the day that I know I’m going to die, and I’ll make a request.”
Gabe: “Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite beer is, I always say ‘the next beer that I’m gonna drink’ because I’m an asshole, and I really want to use that moment to point out some perspective…whatever my favorite beer is, is really a reflection of the moment that I’m in, the people that surround me, the beer I’m craving, the kind of day that I’ve had…It’s all about perspective.”
Andrew: ” It all goes back to collaboration. It’s all the artistic media coming together that can inspire something greater than the sum of its parts. …It’s not about collaborating with a brand; it’s about collaborating with people. Because it’s you and me sitting here. It’s not Liddabit and Brooklyn; we’re people, sitting here talking about beer and chocolate. We were one of the first breweries to ever do a collaboration beer; we don’t just work with the hottest newest restaurant or the hottest newest brewer, it’s about real relationships and friendships and people coming together.”
STAYING TRUE TO YOUR VALUES IN BUSINESS
Andrew: “There has to be a way of taking your art, your passion, your inspiration, your community, and turning it into something that’s sellable. That’s a weird thing. …We don’t do market research. We don’t do focus groups. If we sat here trying to create the beer that everybody wanted, that was going [sell] the best, we wouldn’t be anywhere.”
Jen: “Food is very personal, and it’s coming from your perspective and your story. So as far as the perfection model, it’s not necessarily trying to create the world’s perfect chocolate, it’s to create your idea of what perfection is. So if you can let go of the BS of constantly just trying to one-up competitors and ‘beat’ them – you’re not trying to beat them, you’re trying to beat yourself at making whatever your best thing is. It’s not about appeasing the masses; it’s about appeasing yourself.
“It’s about having an opinion. I would almost prefer to have someone say ‘I really didn’t like that’ than just sort of shrug and walk away.”
Andrew and Gabe then took us on a tour through the brewery, which was awesome; and we got to try some different types of malt, which was also awesome; and then they sent us home with a bunch of beer, which was extra-super-awesome. (Seriously? If you can, get your hands on some a’ that Improved Old Fashioned; it’ll knock your socks off.)
But what really stuck with me about our meeting was the intensity of passion and purpose. Here were two people taking time out of their day so I could write a little old blog post, and it would have been really easy to just push whatever their latest project was, give us a quick tour, and call it a day. But when you run a business the right way, as Brooklyn Brewery clearly does, the people within it aren’t just replaceable parts; they help move the entire organization forward and upward, because they care deeply about the process, the product, and the company.
So thank you, Andrew and Gabe and Brooklyn Brewery, for reminding us to stay inspired every day. And everyone else, go buy some Brooklyn Brewery beer, because it’s delicious and they’re a great company.