Pete Slosberg is one of the original members of the American craft beer movement. As an employee of Xerox, he discovered home brewing around 1980 and eventually founded his own brewery, Pete’s Brewing Company, in 1986. After twelve highly successful years, he sold the company and embarked on a second career in the chocolate business. He is now retired and tours the world as a BeerJudge, passing on his knowledge. Here, South America is particularly close to his heart, where he helped set up major beer competitions. In the beer world, he will always be best remembered for creating his own beer style, American Brown Ale, which has found its way into all style guides. In the podcast, we drink exciting beers from two worlds and hear Pete’s exciting story….
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Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast BierTalk. Today we do a far journey because we go to the west coast to San Francisco. We meet Pete Slosberg, famous and renowned brewer, writer, and of course, beer judge. And that’s why we are meeting at the moment in Krakow in Poland. So we are more or less travelling the world and meeting in one or the other places around and yes, very happy to have you here, Pete. And maybe you introduce yourself shortly to the listeners.
Peter Slosberg: Hey, Markus. It’s great to see you. But it is so bloody cold here. And it’s snowing my god. In San Francisco, we don’t have anything like this. It’s been like 40 years since I’ve been in a snowstorm. But time for beer, I guess. Glad to be seeing you again.
Markus Raupach: Yes, me too. And also, I remember when I was a child, it started to look in November, like it is now in Krakow. But nowadays, I think the last 10, 15 years in Bamberg, we didn’t have snow for more than one or two days. And in that amount which is now outside, it’s totally unknown. For the young children, they wouldn’t even know what that is. So you really have a feeling of that climate change now.
Peter Slosberg: When I got out of school, back in the old days, I went up to Rochester, New York, which is a city on one of the Great Lakes near the Canadian border. And I was working for Xerox, the photocopying company. When I interviewed there, I was asking them about the weather because it’s pretty far north in the US. And my manager said, yes, we have two seasons here. We have winter and the Fourth of July, the Fourth of July being our national holiday. But it’s winter, so much of the year. They would have snow from October through May, sometimes September through May, which is kind of shitty.
Markus Raupach: A long, cold season. Okay. So let’s see, we will have the next week here in Krakow and we’ll be judging beers, and we’ll be having a lot of party and things. So looking forward to that. But maybe first about you, your personal history. So of course you are in the beer business now for quite a long time. But how did it start? So did you have the idea as a child, I want to do something with beer? Or how did it start into your life?
Peter Slosberg: In my family, my parents rarely drank alcohol. They weren’t anti-alcohol, they just didn’t drink. I did not like the taste, but they’d allow me to try wine and beer. And I was born in 1950. So many, many, many, many, many years ago. And certainly didn’t have the choice that we have today on anything, wine, spirits, beer. It was more industrial back in post-World War II, 1950s, 1960s. And I just didn’t like the taste of any alcohol. And even in college, surprising to say I didn’t drink beer in college. I just didn’t like the taste of that industrial beer. And then I met my wife.
Markus Raupach: That was seduction.
Peter Slosberg: I was a senior in engineering school, and I met her and she liked alcohol, but not a lot of it. And she slowly got me into wine. But the only wine I could drink was the cheap wine because that’s what I could afford. But you’d have to put it in the freezer to make it super cold and then I could tolerate it. And I never realized that when you make something super cold, it deadens your taste buds so you don’t taste it. And I love how industrial beer they say serve ice cold. Well, that’s just a red flag saying I’m so bad, don’t drink me at regular temperature. But she got me into wine. And I mentioned I went up to Rochester, New York to work for Xerox after school. And it turns out there’s an area in upstate New York called the Finger Lakes. Tens of thousands of years ago, when the glaciers came down, they carved out these long, narrow, narrow lakes in upstate New York. And that’s become a big vineyard and winery area. So I went from drinking crappy, cheap, ice-cold wine to experimenting with New York State wineries and there were some good ones. It’s not like Napa or Sonoma, but there’s still some good ones. And I had a hallelujah moment when a friend asked me over to dinner and served wine. And I said, I’m just getting into wine. This is the best wine I’ve had, by far. I’m not bullshitting you. This was just for me the best wine I had. And I said who made it? And he smiled and he said he did. I said what? He said, yes, come to my cellar. And he showed me winemaking equipment. I didn’t know you could make wine at home. And I told my wife, if we ever have room, because we had a tiny apartment then, if we ever have room I want to make wine. And several years later, I went out to California and one of the first things we did was go to a home winemaking store, get winemaking equipment and we were in the Bay Area, San Francisco area. And the winemaking store, it was called Wine and The People. And besides getting the equipment, they contracted with vintners to bring in grapes by the … the minimum purchase was about 200 pounds. So a little less than a hundred kilos. So I got 200 pounds of cabernet sauvignon grapes from Napa Valley, which was pretty cool. Hand squeezed it, fermented it, put it in bottles, and then I realized, holy shit, I have to wait three to five years before I can drink this. This is nuts. I don’t want to wait. So I went back to the store and I said, I made my wine now I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. What can I do that’s quicker? And they said you can do white wine in a year, or beer in 30 days. And I go, wow, 30 days is what I want to do. But I don’t like beer. Again, we’re going back in time, and the only real beer was the industrial beer and I didn’t like it. The guy said, well, have you ever had a homebrew? And I said, no. And he said, I guarantee you’ll like it. So give it a shot. And back then it was hard to find the real ingredients like barley malt and fresh hops. Back then it was malt syrup and old hops if you can get it. But I made my first beer and I fell in love with it. And I couldn’t understand why I hated commercial beer. But homebrew tasted so good. Now in the US as a kid, I have a sweet tooth and I like candy. And we have candy called Whoppers. It’s a malt ball. A malt centre, crunchy with a chocolate covering. You have Maltesers in Europe.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
Peter Slosberg: And when I tasted my first homebrew, it reminded me of Whoppers. I go holy crap. There’s something to home beer making. So that energized me and I continued home brewing and the company I was working out in Silicon Valley, I asked the senior management, do you mind if I start a homebrew club at work?
Markus Raupach: Inside the company?
Peter Slosberg: Inside the company. And they said, yes, go for it. We had Friday afternoon beer bashes. So beer wasn’t a bad thing. Fast forward several years, our company got bought by IBM, and IBM the computer company, instantly said no alcohol on campus. But in those old days, we could do it. So yes, I got into beer. It’s a long road. But I’m glad that it got to the point where it did.
Markus Raupach: It’s very interesting to hear that it started with wine and then a little bit back to people after the 30 Years War in Germany, because all the wineries were destroyed, all the breweries were destroyed and then was the idea of what do we do to make alcohol again? And it was the same question. Do we wait three years to have wine? Or do we wait 30 days to have beer? So funny. All right. Yes. Maybe before we open the first beer, because you also have two interesting beers, just one question. When you started the home brewing, was it already legal in California this time?
Peter Slosberg: I started home brewing in 1979.
Markus Raupach: It was just legal.
Peter Slosberg: President Carter, I think the Congress approved it in 76 and I think the President approved in 77. So it was only a couple of years legal, but that didn’t keep people from doing homebrew before that. But yes, it was relatively recent. And it’s just phenomenal to go into a homebrew store now. Who goes to a store? You go online. But the ingredients now, the literature, my God, trying to get any book on home brewing back then. I was able to get an old book from England. I mean, that was really the only source. So it was kind of fun to start the homebrew club and share information and get going that way.
Markus Raupach: And is it true that in the States at this time, on the East Coast, you have more the serious working people and on the West Coast you have more the crazy guys trying new things, which was more or less the basis for all that tech development and also the craft beer scene?
Peter Slosberg: There is a general, it’s my perception, but there’s a general perception that people are more experimental and willing to take risks out west than back east. It’s more conservative back east. And I think certainly the Bay Area is the source of many, many, many, many food and drink trends. Starts in San Francisco, sometimes Seattle and then emanates out from there.
Markus Raupach: One question. Where have you been born?
Peter Slosberg: I was born halfway between New York and Boston. The area’s called New England. I grew up in the state of Connecticut in a small town. And when I wanted to go to the university, I wanted to go to an engineering school, but I wanted to go in a big city. So I went to New York City and that was a major step. And that’s where I met my wife.
Markus Raupach: Then you change from the east type to the west type.
Peter Slosberg: Yes. Well, after three winters in Rochester, New York, I had to get out to California.
Markus Raupach: Okay, I totally can understand this. Maybe we open our first beer. And we have a green label on the bottle and maybe the German listeners may know it. It’s the Schlenkerla Eiche. It’s a double bock, smoked beer double bock with oak smoked malt. And you already visited Schlenkerla, the brewery, so you saw the cellars…
Peter Slosberg: I got to taste the beer right from the tank. That’s heaven on earth.
Markus Raupach: That’s fantastic. And yes, and this is the fresh brew or the fresh version now, the 2022 version of this double bock. I just brought it here to Poland for talk I will give it a few days. And of course we will have one bottle now. The only thing, it’s warm but maybe for this kind of beer it’s not so bad to be warm, because it has a lot of aroma. And so it’ll just crosstalk.
Peter Slosberg: It’ll really open up.
Markus Raupach: So here you go.
Peter Slosberg: Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug. Nice pour. You’ve done this before.
Markus Raupach: Here you go, it’s really beautiful. So cheers.
Peter Slosberg: Salut.
Markus Raupach: Salut.
Peter Slosberg: I spent a lot of time in South America. So I’m used to salut. I love that aroma of smoke. And you said this is oak smoked.
Markus Raupach: Yes. This is oak smoked.
Peter Slosberg: So for the listeners out there, before coming to Poland, last week, it was only a week ago, I went to Dallas, Texas for four days of American barbecue. And talk about oak smoked. Boy, I got so much meat, pork, beef, you name it, chicken that was oak smoked. It was, well they used a lot of different ones down there.
Markus Raupach: Now we have the liquid version. Yes, that’s fantastic. I also love the colour. It’s a beautiful brown-reddish. Also the foam is very, very nice. Small bubbles, slightly tanned and wonderful in the glass, and this oak smoke smell.
Peter Slosberg: Beautiful thing. Really smooth. I like it. Thank you. This is a real treat and a joy.
Markus Raupach: Yes it is, and it has this slight sweetness also. It’s very well-balanced. At the end you have a bitterness and in between you have all these smoky, like a campfire. But also in Germany, you have many meat also made with smoked surroundings like ham and things. And that’s all a little bit in that. But I really like it.
Peter Slosberg: Well, this is, for me, it’s a real treat, like I said. But in the US and I would guess in most, in a lot of other countries, people don’t appreciate the smoke beer, which is sad. But the other thing that’s really noticeable here because I mentioned I liked Maltesers, I liked homebrew with a malt. This has a good malt character. One of the things that I don’t like these days is the lack of focus on malt. Whether it’s hops, and nothing wrong with hops or spices being thrown in, but a lot of the multi-beer styles in the US are disappearing. Now maybe they’ll, it’s all cyclical. Maybe they’ll come back. Even some of the best examples are the world-famous Belgian beers. They’re dead. They’re dead. The sour beers are still, the lambics and the goses are still very popular. But saisons, the trappist beers, the amount of sales have just nosedived, which is so sad.
Markus Raupach: I didn’t know that. Okay. I think I mentioned a little bit when BrewDog made a commercial some years ago, and they were explaining the brewing process. And then they said, for them malt is like the canvas on which they then paint with the hops. And if you reduce malt to just being a canvas, of course you lose the potential you have with all the roasty or smoky or whatever, other aromas, so. And I think it has a lot of potential as we already saw in Brazil with the very special malts. That’s great. So let’s hope that malt comes back. I’m a big fan of the darker beer styles. Of course, our red lagers and our smoked beers as we have them now, and the dark kettle beers. Alright, but maybe back to you. What was the first beer you made as a home brewer? And was it as expected to be?
Peter Slosberg: Who knows what it was? It was either an amber ale or a pale ale, and it was probably god-awful. But compared to what I got from commercial beer, it was a thousand times better. Then of course, getting mimeographed recipes from the Homebrew store and getting some books and experimenting with more and more styles. It was a slow progression. Now, I’ve been fortunate in my life to be able to change. Meaning, matter of fact, I like to say I can’t keep a job. I need to move on to other things after so many years. But I actually like the jobs I had in Silicon Valley. I worked for a telecommunications company. It was a standalone company, one of the first success companies in Silicon Valley. Then it got purchased by IBM, they destroyed it. And then they gave it away to Siemens the German company. So it was kind of interesting to work for three regimes in the same building. Completely different operating styles. But when IBM took over, they allowed me to branch out into different fields and I started doing a lot of travelling. Now, around that time, one of my best friends who left the company and moved on, started bugging me about starting our own company. And He worked for a venture capital firm, and he sees a lot of business plans. And he said, we’re two smart guys, why can’t we start our own thing? And I said, first of all, I don’t know how to start a company. Secondly, I can’t spell the word entrepreneurship. And third, I like my job. Why would I want to leave something I like to do something I know nothing about? And one of the benefits at this company that IBM continued was after six years of working, they gave you a 12-week paid sabbatical, and which is rare, totally rare in the US. And I told my friend, look, I like my job and I got a sabbatical in less than two years. So I’m not leaving. And I kept putting him off for a couple of years. And then during my sabbatical, I added four weeks of vacation. So I took 16 weeks off, which allows you to think about other things. So I called my friend up and I said, look, I’m still not willing to leave, but let’s talk. And if we can get some agreement on goals of if we start a company, what would be the goals of the company? Forget the product for a moment. Let’s talk about can we agree on the goals of the company. Because if we can’t agree on the goals, then fine, we just go off and do our own things. So we met at a delicatessen halfway between his work and my work and it was called the Jew and the Gentile. And it was great for the Jew and the Gentile to meet at the Jew and the Gentile. And we came up with three goals for the company. And this was actually the start of a process that my partner and I went through was to talk about doing, talk about things before you expend a lot of energy or money. And the three goals we came up with were, we had to have a world-class product, not some common thing. Didn’t know what it was going to be, but it had to be world-class. Gold medal-winning type of thing. Second was we wanted to get in a new industry or a new segment of an industry rather than getting into a crowded field. We thought we were smart and we thought if we’re that smart, maybe we have a higher probability of success in a new growing field, than trying to battle 100 different competitors. And the third was the one that really got the juices flowing and I’ve kind of reduced it to saying the third goal was we will treat the product with reverence, but everything else with irreverence. You know what that means? Do you know the English?
Markus Raupach: I think.
Peter Slosberg: So reverence means we’re going to be serious about the product. Irreverence means everything else is let’s have some fun and attitude. And so focus greatness on the product and everything else let’s not be serious about the other stuff. I mean, you’re serious, but let’s be a little bit. So once we got to those three, I thought, holy mackerel, if we could achieve these three goals, that would be something. I would actually leave IBM to do this. So sometimes it’s better to be lucky. For those of you out there, I will tell you, it’s great to be smart, but you’re much better off to be lucky. I got some homebrew awards. I mean, they weren’t very high awards, but I got some homebrew awards in the State Capitol in Sacramento. And it turns out my friend and partner Mark, his name is Mark, he’s never had alcohol to this day and he’s my age. So he’s an old fart too. So he asked me, okay, tell me what goes on at a beer competition. I explained it to him. Then he said, aren’t there some small companies making better beer than, not better beer, but more flavorful beer than the industrial brewers? I said, yes, locally, we have Anchor and Anchor Steam in the city, Sierra Nevada from Chico, Sam Adams from Boston, Red Hook from Seattle. And my friend said, Okay, do people like these new beers versus the old beers? And I mean, it was such a small industry then that they were hard to find. You really couldn’t find them in distribution. So what I saw was when people could find them, they liked them. They’re just hard to find. So Mark said, well, maybe this could be a ground-floor opportunity. Let’s do some research. So the beer market in the United States is basically flat for 30, 40 years. It’s $100 billion a year business, big business, but basically flat. Sometimes up a little sometimes down a little. So when we saw that we said, no, we don’t want to go into a business that’s flat. We want a rising business. But then we did a little more research and we found out in the US, the people who look at the industry don’t look at beer in total they look at the segments within beer. And some of the terminology in the US is a premium beer. That’s what Budweiser is. Budweiser and Miller and Coors. That’s premium. Then there’s super premium, like Michelob. And then there’s light beer and sub-premium imports. And then there was at that time, there was a little category called microbeer. It wasn’t even called craft beer. And when we started looking at it, this is 1985, micro beer out of $100 billion, micro beer was $25 million but growing at 50% a year. So we thought, let’s do some more research and there were maybe between brewpubs and microbreweries, maybe 20 around the country. So we thought we wouldn’t be the first we wouldn’t be the second but being in the first 20 should give us a ground floor opportunity. And given the third goal of treating the product with reverence and everything else with irreverence, we thought, okay, the people who are out there doing beer, they’re making really good beer. But they’re too fucking serious. It’s beer, come on, lighten up. So we thought, okay, this might be a great opportunity to have some creativity besides good beer. So we decided to go that route.
Markus Raupach: Wow. So would you say at this time the other microbreweries were more already in the business like brew masters who were concentrating on beer and the business and not the fun and everything around?
Peter Slosberg: Yes, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. There was a lack of focus on the distribution side. It was all on the beer.
Markus Raupach: So it’s totally different from what we imagine maybe, the first craft brewers maybe more cheering than brewing. So that it was the other way around
Peter Slosberg: You know the saying in English, if you build it, they will come. You know that phrase?
Markus Raupach: No.
Peter Slosberg: Well, the phrase means if you make something, if you build something, people will come and want it. But that’s not, it’s 180 degrees from that. But people believe if you build it, they will come and the general attitude in micro beer back then was, let me make a good beer and people will come knocking on my door to come buy it. And if I send it to a distributor, our beer is so good, the distributor will want to sell it. No. It doesn’t work like that. You actually have to do some things to get people motivated to want to sell your beer. So we decided let’s go into micro beer. Let’s see what we can do to cause some noise, have some attitude. Not like, certainly not the attitude of Stone. But they were 20 years later, not 20 years.
Markus Raupach: The Beer Jesus.
Peter Slosberg: Yes right. So Mark and I both have MBAs. Mine’s in finance, his was in systems. Neither one of us had a marketing class. So never had marketing. And Mark’s father was in advertising. And when his father found out we were going into beer, he was supportive. But he said, you guys have to follow the holy trinity of marketing. And we go great, what’s the holy trinity of marketing? And he said that the three things are awareness. Nobody’s going to buy your product, unless they’re aware that it exists. The second, trial, means what are you going to do to motivate people to try the beer? To pick it up off the shelf and pay for it? What are you going to do to make that happen? And then the third one is repetition. Once they buy it the first time, how do you get them to buy it again or tell your friends to come get it? So we talked about this concept of awareness, trial, repetition, awareness, trial, repetition. And the more we talked about it, the more it went from this abstract three words to it makes sense. There’s a logic to the sequence. So ultimately, we never made a decision that didn’t affect awareness, trial, repetition. So we started the company and Mark doesn’t drink beer. He left the brewing up to me and I didn’t know what to make. I’m indecisive, and what do you come out with? And my favourite beer at the time, though, was a beer from Northern England, from Yorkshire called Sam Smith’s. And my favourite beer of Sam Smith’s was nut brown ale.
Markus Raupach: I love that beer.
Peter Slosberg: It’s an amazing beer. It’s not a well-known beer, but one of my biggest surprises ever was to go to England on a business trip pre-beer, being in the south of England, and my wife was with me and I said, you know, we’re in England. I don’t know if we’re coming back. Do you mind if we drive 400 miles, 700 kilometres up to Tadcaster? I’d like to get Sam Smith’s nut brown ale on tap. And my wife says, yes, let’s do it. And we go up to Tadcaster, go on the tour, and after the tour, you go to the tasting room. And they said what would you like? And I said I’d like a nut brown ale. They said we don’t have it. What do you mean you don’t have it? How about a taddy porter? We don’t have it.
Markus Raupach: That is a great place!
Peter Slosberg: And I said, but I drink it in the US. And this was one of the amazing flashes. It turns out there’s a gentleman from Seattle. His name is Charles Finkel. And Charles had a marketing agency but started importing beers, one of the early importers. And he did the design work for the labels for these foreign beers. And he was importing Sam Smith’s, but he did a deal with Sam Smith’s to recreate this old nut brown ale style, the old taddy porter style. They weren’t available in England. Everything that was made was made under contract to Charles to sell in the United States.
Markus Raupach: But it was brewed in England or brewed in the States?
Peter Slosberg: No, it was brewed at Tadcaster, but none of it stayed in England. It was all, it was Charles’s contracted beers. And I thought, wow, this is crazy. And I want to mention Charles here. Charles, how you doing? You’re my hero. He gets so little credit in the United States and there’s a lot of talk about who gets a lot of the credit in the early craft beer scene. And certainly Charlie Papazian through American Home Brewers, there’s a lot of credit, but I give Charles equal or more credit in that he would bring in examples of world-class styles that you could taste. Where in home brewing, promoting home brewing, you have pages of formulas, but you don’t really get to taste the real stuff. So Charles deserves all the credit in the world for letting people taste what is possible and he was my inspiration. So Mark again, doesn’t drink. He let me create the beer. I tried four times to copy Sam Smith’s nut brown ale and I had four failures. But the fourth failure was even better. And what I discovered was, as you know, English brown ales are on the sweeter side. And I do like malt and I do like sweet, but I started adding more hops as balance and added more hops and more hops and then dry-hopped it. So the fourth failure was what came to be known as Pete’s Wicked Ale. And that was kind of cool to come out with that because it became popular. And the whole style American brown ale only came about because of Pete’s Wicked Ale success. So it’s kind of cool to invent a beer style as well as a company.
Markus Raupach: Did you ever go back to Sam Smith’s and talk to the people there that you took over the beer style and created something new with it?
Peter Slosberg: No, I haven’t been in England in a long time now. But no.
Markus Raupach: Okay, well, maybe you have to. Sam is a very nice guy. We’re good friends. And he already was also on BierTalk. And I was visiting this year, the brewery and they still are using the old devices, the Yorkshire squares, and it’s fantastic. Like a living museum. They still do their own corporation. It’s great.
Peter Slosberg: So I kind of diverted from awareness, trial and repetition. So when you talk about things before really starting, it really opens your eyes to God, there’s a lot to this, there’s a lot of bases you have to cover, and let’s go through them ahead of time. And one was what we call the company. And we were in Silicon Valley. Your listeners probably have never heard of Mrs. Fields cookies.
Markus Raupach: No.
Peter Slosberg: It was a chain of homestyle cookies all around, it was successful all around the country. And it turned out Debbie Fields started within miles of where we lived. And we started talking about her success and we thought maybe, maybe, maybe as a startup people get behind real people. We have a very popular ice cream company from the 70s called Ben and Jerry’s. Two guys, they get behind real people rather than a made-up name. Is it true? Our gut instinct is probably a little bit higher probability of success when you can identify real people doing it. So it was going to be Mark and Pete’s Brewing Company or Pete and Mark’s Brewing Company. And at the last minute, Mark said, look, I don’t drink so I don’t want my name on it. So the name of the company was Pete’s Brewing Company, because we wanted to personalize it. Now, when it came to coming out with the first beer, the first American brown ale, what we were going to call the beer and what kind of label would we have. And getting back to this idea of awareness, trial and repetition, we thought through. We went to a beer aisle, and you see the beer labels. And certainly they’re crazier today than they were in the 1980s. When you look at them, they kind of blended together. So we decided, let’s create a label that you can see from five meters away. Your eyes goes to ours first. And we have no money for an agency. But I had an English bullterrier, kind of a funny-looking dog with a long nose. I thought it was a cute dog, Mark thought it was an ugly dog. But we both agreed at that time nobody put a dog on the label. So let’s be different. We put a white dog on the label with a purple background. And you could see it from five meters away. And that was for awareness. Now you can argue whether that is a beautiful label or not. I mean, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But for a small company, it didn’t matter whether it was a beautiful label or not. Did it get awareness? So that was our goal, our mission and we accomplished it. Now, fast forward four years when we started getting some income and we decided let’s upgrade the label now that we were becoming more known. And we hired an agency. We could afford to change our label and we got the Clio award for the best label on Earth. But if you think as a small company just starting out, would that have been helpful in the beginning versus more awareness. And we firmly believe the awareness was more important than the beauty of a label. So that was our label. That was awareness. Okay, trial, what do you do as a small company to get people to, once they see you on the shelf, how do you get them to pick it up? And if we were any other company at that time, we would have called it Pete’s Ale, Pete’s Dark Ale, Pete’s Brown Ale. And you stick your finger down your throat and you puke on that, it’s like, that’s not very interesting. But that was common, that was way to do it. We said, no, let’s come up with an adjective that would demonstrate either humour or attitude. And we threw out a lot of words and nothing really worked. And then again, it’s better to be lucky than smart. We heard a comedian on a San Francisco radio station tell some jokes, and he yelled and screamed wicked this, wicked that. And we go, holy mackerel, that’s it. Now in American slang, well, the word wicked means bad, the worst. Where American slang, it’s the best. It’s the opposite. So it had dual connotations and it just stood out. And over the course of our company’s life, we sold a billion bottles of beer, which is for a small company, that’s not insignificant. And I’d ask people, why did you try it for the first time and 99 out of 100 people said with the name wicked, we had to try it. So awareness, the label, trial, wicked. And for repetition, we ended up getting gold medals for Pete’s Wicked Ale. So that helped convince people that it was a decent product and get the word out.
Markus Raupach: So it took four years to have it profitable?
Peter Slosberg: We wanted to grow the company. We decided we don’t want to show any profits. So we could have been profitable, but any profits that we had we put into hiring more salespeople, more this, more that to generate a higher growth. And we did something that very few companies have ever done in the world. And that is, we grew over 100% per year for 10 years. And in our 10th year, I’ll do it in hectoliters. In our 10th year, we did 500,000 hectoliters,
Markus Raupach: Wow, which would be one of the 20 biggest in Germany. So it’s a huge number.
Peter Slosberg: Yes.
Markus Raupach: Wow.
Peter Slosberg: So and a lot of this comes about from talking about things ahead of time, putting a strategy together and kind of adhering to the strategy.
Markus Raupach: But doesn’t it change a lot inside the company if you start as a more or less two-man business, and then going into 10 years to 500,000 hectoliters. So that means also your job went away maybe from brewing more to managing and also having people managing people. All these things, which is very hard, I think, for many of the brewers who are growing because when the company is successful in the beginning, then they change from being brewers to being managers, and then they don’t succeed anymore.
Peter Slosberg: Totally, totally agree. But my response to that is, yes, totally agree. But we talked about it ahead of time. And there’s a philosophical question any company, whether it’s a brewery or not, you have to ask and I’ll ask you, and if you don’t understand, I’ll explain it. The philosophical question is, would you rather be a large owner of a small company, or a small owner of a large company? And there’s nothing wrong with either way, but it affects what you do in the business. And from the very beginning, Mark and I agreed philosophically we would much rather be small owners of a large company. And what that means is, we’re willing to bring in investors, and we’re willing to hire the best people and give them equity, share the wealth type of thing. And by going that route, rather than just funding it ourselves and controlling everything, I mean one person can’t do it all. But we got our egos out of the way from the philosophical discussion and to your before, we kept our day jobs for a year and a half and did the beer stuff after hours. And after a year, year and a half, we sat down and we said, so how come our sales aren’t very high? And we realized working part-time, the company is not going to go very far. So he looked at me and I looked at him and we said do you want to be president and we both agreed that in a small company, time equals money. And you have a window in which you have to get on the road to success. And if you don’t have the resources to do that, the probabilities of winning or losing just get enhanced. So that night when we said, do you want to be president, we both agreed, let’s not get our egos in the way of the right business decision. Let’s go hire somebody who knows the beer business. Let them be the operating hand. We’re both on the board. We’re both the founders, we’re both on the board. We don’t know anything about the beer business. We know some fundamentals. But there’s a term in English, a learning curve. Now we’re smart guys and we’d come up the learning curve, but it might be months, if not years before, we’re fully cognizant of how to succeed in the beer business. So we hired a guy. And like I said, he became the head internal guy, which is fine by me, because I didn’t want to be in an office. And because my name was on it. I was the one on the outside. And not that I like travelling. But I enjoyed talking to distributors and retailers and the press and all that. So I got what I wanted. And the company got the right stuff.
Markus Raupach: So you established really a very successful big company in the craft beer business. How was the communication with the other brewers? Was it like a friendship? Or did they see you more as a competitor after ten years? Or how was this?
Peter Slosberg: Well two things, our business model, being in Silicon Valley, what we saw, again, not knowing anything about the beer business per se, that computer chip companies in Silicon Valley, there were many chip companies, but very few that manufacture chips. So we thought maybe in the world of beer, we didn’t know the term contract brewing or gipsy brewing. That was unknown to us. But we thought maybe in the world of beer, if there is a brewery that isn’t operating at capacity, maybe they’ll let me make my beer on their equipment. And my first telephone call was to a small company ten kilometres away called Palo Alto brewing. And I said, here’s what I want to do. Can I make beer on your equipment and pay you for it? And they said, yes, come on down. So our business model was contract brewing from day one. So how are we perceived in the industry? A lot of the other brewers, they could give a shit. You’re just a contract brewer. And there’s some people that under the terms of contract brewing, they’re not doing anything. They’re taking an existing beer from the other brewery and just relabelling it and passing it on. That was not what we did. We actually did our own formulations. We took it a step further, we did hire our own brewmaster, Pat Couteau. He was the first American to graduate from Weihenstephan. So we got the first Weihenstephan grad to be our brewmaster. And we told him, you’re not working at corporate, you’re physically going to be at the partner brewery. We wanted our own people, our own brewmaster and operations people to be physically at the other brewery. And when we did contracts with the other breweries not only for how much beer and at what price, but square footage for our own people. So we could control our destiny within the other brewery but not own the building. We couldn’t give a shit about owning the building. In many cases, brewers want to put their arms around the tanks. That’s fine. But we didn’t think that was the best business decision for us. So by the time we got acquired, we had 14 people, 14 of our own people at the partner brewery.
Markus Raupach: So time you get acquired means after ten years? Or how did that then turn out that you say, okay, start something else?
Peter Slosberg: Well, after ten years we went public. We went to New York and raised money in New York. So we were a public company. Being a public company changes the dynamic because you have Wall Street one quarterly results and it really screws up the way you plan things. But we went public, we had money in the bank. Some of our board wanted to build our own brewery, build a 500,000 hectolitre brewery, that was one part of our board. The part I was on was as long as we can still contract brew, let’s continue that. But because we have money and we had a big salesforce, we had 140 employees. We had 95 in sales. We wanted feet on the street to work day in day out with the distributors. Hand in hand. I’m kind of going all over the place now. But what a lot of my friends in the industry would say is, man, that distributor XYZ they’re a pain in the ass. They don’t sell any of our beer. My response is, did you ever go into market and work with them? Oh, no, no, no, that’s their job. We didn’t believe that. We wanted our own salespeople working day in day out with the retailers and the distributors. So when we went public we had I think $30 million in the bank that would have funded a good brewery. But we decided let’s look for acquiring other microbreweries that have a different approach than what we’re doing so that our salespeople can sell multiple brands. If they’re going to make the sales call, offer Pete’s, offer company A, company B, so we can have more offerings. And while we were looking to buy another company, out of the blue, company Gambrinus out of Texas came to us. We weren’t looking to be acquired, but they came and we looked at their offer and said okay.
Markus Raupach: So you took the money and you were out of the beer business?
Peter Slosberg: I took the money. Well, we took the money. I had to spend two years with them, which was like two years in prison. I was still judging. I got my BJCP rating in like 92 or 93. Our offer came in 98. And I had to work through the year 2000. So during that period, I was still judging. Things like, I was allowed to judge five times at GBBF, the Great British Beer Festival in the mid to late 90s. So that was great. So I continued judging. My life changed again after I was free, after I got out of prison with Gambrinus. I had developed a good friendship with Pierre Celis, the gentleman who started Hoegaarden or resurrected the wit beer. And Pierre, and throughout the 90s kept saying, come to Belgium, I’ll be your guide. And who the hell would ever turn down Pierre to be your guide? But I was so busy working, I couldn’t go to Belgium. But after in 2000, when I was free, I went over. And Pierre was great friend and great tour guide. And what amazed me the most besides great beers was the quality of the chocolate. I couldn’t leave European chocolate because back in the US, chocolate sucks. And I asked people in Belgium on those trips, why is European chocolate so much better. And I would hear that we in Europe have been making chocolate for so long, we have access to the best cocoa beans. And you poor Americans, you’re late at the game, you get the crap beans afterward that we leave. And I thought yes, bullshit. This does not sound right. So I went back to the US and started researching, why is it that American chocolate sucks? Turns out it’s prime, yes, you can say sometimes better quality beans are better, but the major reason was the government regulations. For example, if you want to be called milk chocolate in the United States, you only need 10%, only 10% real chocolate. In the EU, the minimum is 25%. So two and a half times the amount of the good stuff. Dark chocolate is 15% minimum in the US, 15%, and 35% in the EU. So I thought wow. So what’s the other percentage in chocolate? So in dark chocolate, the minimum is 35 and then 65% of sugar. Sugar being an adjunct to the chocolate. And I go why didn’t I like commercial beer in the 70s and 80s? It’s because they had adjuncts rice and corn that took away the flavour of the barley. And in chocolate it’s the more sugar you add the less chocolate character is. So I thought this is amazing. There’s a correlation between beer and microbeer in the 70s and 80s and chocolate and craft chocolate in 2000. So I started looking around, and I found a couple craft chocolatiers that were opening. And I thought, hmm, maybe what we did to try to have a great quality product, but with a sense of humour in the world of beer, what if we try to recreate that in the world of chocolate? So in 2000, I started Coco Pete’s Chocolate Adventures, trying to do great high-quality chocolate, but with lighten up, come on, it’s fun. Don’t be so serious about it. So we took a Ben and Jerry’s if you know, their approach of puns for names and bright colours. So we did Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures for seven years, and then got acquired after that. But I still make chocolate at home.
Markus Raupach: So and then you started concentrating on judging and still also homebrewing? Or did you quit that?
Peter Slosberg: About 30 years ago I let somebody borrow my home brewing equipment. And I don’t know who the hell has it. But that’s point one. Point two is, I know so many people in the industry. Oh, and I want to get back to how we were perceived in the industry. But I know so many people in the industry, and I go visit a lot of my friends in the industry. Of course, everybody’s so kind and generous. I always get a free beer. So why would I homebrew when I get some of the best beer on Earth delivered to me? Now, I don’t accept it, just the beer. I make chocolate, which is kind of a equal trade. But yes, so my home brewing was never great. So I’d rather just taste beers from my friends. But getting back to the perception of the company. Yes, we took heat for being a contract brewer from other brewers, but not from the public. The public just wanted a good high-quality product that they liked. But we also did something that nobody else did at least in a major way. In the early 90s, since my job was the outside guy, I didn’t know what an outside guy does. So I actually went to Mrs. Fields, Debbie Fields and said, what do you do for your chocolate chip cookie company? And she gave me a list of things she did and they weren’t quite the same level of appropriateness. But I began to think what do I do? And one of the things you got to do in the business is if you go out into the market into a different city, you go to your distributor and say I’m here, how can I help you? What do you want me to do? I have my own things I want to do, but we’re supporting you. They’d always say go to restaurant A for lunch and restaurant B for dinner, and then go to bar BCD and all that and say, thanks. That’s easy. But I would go in unannounced. I wanted to see how people presented beers in general just to get more familiar. And what I found all around the country, this is like 1990-ish, you’d go in and I’m being sent because the distributor said they sell Pete’s Wicked Ale. So I go in and get seated and the server says, what would you like to drink? And I’m thinking to myself, holy crap, I can’t wait for them to say Pete’s Wicked Ale. I can’t wait for them to say Pete’s Wicked Ale. And I said, you know, I feel like a beer. What do you have? And all around the country, the response was the same. We have Bud, Miller and Coors. And I’m thinking to myself, Why am I here? And I like having fun with people. So I told the server, well, I want something with colour, taste or aroma. And you get a laugh. And then they’d hesitatingly say we have Pete’s Wicked Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams, Boston Lager. And then I’d say, if you have them, why don’t you mention them? And like I said, I have an engineering degree and an MBA, but they don’t teach you this shit in school. The servers would say, look, we depend on tips. In the US, the common tip is 15%. We depend on tips. If we do a good job, maybe it’ll be 20%. And if we look like we don’t know what we’re doing, the tip might go below 15%. So everywhere people would say, we don’t mention Pete’s Wicked Ale, because if we do, we know you the consumer haven’t heard of it. So you’re going to say never heard of it. What does it taste like? And the server has never been trained to describe any of these micro beers, craft beers. So rather than being embarrassed and saying, I don’t know how to describe it, they don’t mention it. And I go, shit. That’s absolutely the wrong thing. So it took a while, but I created a beer education chart. It’s called Pete’s Landscape of Beers. You can find it online, it’s still exists. Pete’s Landscape of Beers. And with this chart, I can make anybody a distributor salesperson, a bartender, a blogger, an investor. I can make anybody a beer expert in under ten minutes. And it’s pretty phenomenal. And I must have trained I don’t know, 25,000 people, 50,000 people in the course of my travels. Matter of fact, in early 2000, I was at a conference in Montreal, a beer competition and conference called Mondial de la Biere. And Jeanine asked me to speak about beer and chocolate because I already had my chocolate company. And I go there to speak and I’m waiting my turn to speak and I’m sitting in the audience and I ended up sitting next to Sam from Dogfish Head. And I said, Sam, this is so cool. I love what you’re doing. He’d only been around for seven or eight years. It was, I think he started in like, 95, 96. I said, Sam, I love what you’re doing. I just want to introduce myself. I’m Pete from Pete’s Wicked Ale, and he looks at me said, oh, we met. And I’m going oh, shit. I know. I’m getting old and my memory’s bad, but where did we meet? I just don’t remember it. And it turned out in like 91, Sam was at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and working part-time at a bar across the street from the journalism school called the West End bar. And I did a beer training for the staff at West End and he was part of the group I did my training too. Of course, he remembered me but I didn’t remember him. So we believe that the goal wasn’t so much to promote Pete’s Brewing Company. The goal was to get a Bud, Miller or Coors drinker to step away, have a good experience, whether it’s Sam or Sierra or anybody, but have them have a positive experience. And then with what we do in the market with our marketing, that didn’t sound right, but what we do to support the product, they’ll get around to trying us. But the important thing was to get them to try any craft beer, any micro beer and have a good experience. And by the chart, we avoided things like asking a server what do you like. And there are a lot of hopheads out there. Now imagine if you’re a Bud drinker and the server says why don’t you try XYZ IPA or double IPA? Do you think they’ll like it? And do you think they’ll ever try another craft beer? No. So part of our education was, it’s a visual chart and you can see where your likes are. And we recommended baby steps, small circles around where your likes are, for a positive experience and it’s step-by-step. So we believed education was important. There’s another term in English, a rising tide raises all ships. Have you heard that before?
Markus Raupach: I know what it means. But it didn’t hear it as a saying.
Peter Slosberg: Yes. So we believe that if we promoted the whole category, we’ll succeed even more. So we believed if we got the category to rise, then we can do even better than just trying to promote ourselves. So we believed and wanted to be known as the educator of the industry, because nobody else was doing it.
Markus Raupach: Yes. And I think that’s a really very important thing. Of course, if you raise one thing, you raise the whole bunch.
Peter Slosberg: Right. Now with this chart, again, Pete’s Landscape of Beers is on the internet. People said, this is a great chart. You need to do t-shirts. So we did a t-shirt with a chart on it. But being what we did, we put the chart on upside down on the shirt. And we did it for getting back to awareness, trial and repetition. Your eye when you see something that looks out of whack, you look at it more. So being upside down, we had a lot of people say oh, you screwed up the printing of this shirt. We did it upside down. Internally, we say gotcha. You saw it. You paid attention. Then our response would be to show some humour. No, it’s not upside down. If I’m in a bar, if I have a question, I can pull my shirt down and look on the chart and get the answer from looking down on it. Then you get some grins and it becomes memorable.
Markus Raupach: Right away. I really love that. Maybe one question. What did your wife say when you started with the beers? Because she was from the wine side. So was there then the idea what are you doing? Or did she like it?
Peter Slosberg: Well she listened in on a lot of conversations that Mark and I had. So she kind of knew where we were trying to go with this thing. And her words of caution were don’t lose our house. So that was the guidance we had to adhere to.
Markus Raupach: Right. And you also made at least one book. I don’t know if there are more, but I know that one where you also tell the story. Was it like a resume of what you did? Or what was the idea to publish that book?
Peter Slosberg: So again, I’m an engineer, I’m not a writer. I never thought I’d write a book. But because I was the outside guy, I had to give talks. I had to talk to distributor salespeople, I had to talk to retail groups, I had to talk to the press. And I’m a believer in doing things that will help people remember you. And I met a gentleman, probably the late 80s. It was something called Beer Camp in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky outside of Cincinnati. And I went and I went several times. And one of the speakers was a guy by the name of Alan Eames. Ever hear of Alan Eames?
Markus Raupach: No, not yet.
Peter Slosberg: He’s from Vermont and he built himself as the Indiana Jones of beer. And he would regale us with all these stories from the history of beer. And I’m going, wow, I can’t believe that’s true. I mean, that’s amazing. I really didn’t realize the history of beer. So I reached out to Alan and I said, can I be your student? I want to learn more. And Alan gave me some of his books and we talked a lot. And I used a lot of the things I learned from the books in my talks to make my talks more interesting. For example, I would walk out and to start my talk, I’d have a bottle of Pete’s Wicked Ale. And as I get to the mic, I take the top off and put a drinking straw in the beer and start drinking. And I’m looking at the audience to see, what’s this guy up there doing? Seeing people’s reactions. And I do that, it’s just a technique for speaking to get people’s attention. And after a while, I’d say, why are you looking at me? You don’t drink beer with a straw? And somebody would raise their hand said, this is crazy. What are you doing? And it turns out straws, drinking straws were invented by the Egyptians to drink beer way back when because you’d make the beer in these giant clay vessels and it wasn’t filtered. All the spent grain and any spices would float to the top and you put a reed growing along the river, a hollow tube through the crap at the top and get to the good beer underneath. So I just found that story to be so fascinating. That’s how I started my talks. And with all my travelling, I would start looking at as many old beer books as I could get, read them on the planes and pull out stories from the world of beer. One of my favourite ones is an English phrase doing things by the rule of thumb. Rule of thumb means, when you do something if it feels right, do it. And when I was reading some books about the rule of thumb, there are many explanations of where it comes from. And one of the common ones was from medieval days. A husband could beat his wife with a stick as long as it was smaller than your thumb. But that didn’t make sense. But the definition that resonates, I can’t confirm that it’s true, but the one that resonates even better is the thermometer wasn’t invented until the 1760s. So the only way a brewer would know when to pitch the yeast with a cooling wort was when you put your thumb into the cooling wort. And when it got to body temperature when you couldn’t feel a temperature differential, then you pitch the yeast. It would work every time. So that makes sense. So I collected, I had gotten almost 700 beer books, read them all, was trying to gather as many of these cool stories, and I wanted to write a book with all these incredible stories. And I found a publisher that liked all that, but they wanted the story behind Pete’s Wicked Ale. So I wrote a book in 1998 called Beer for Pete’s Sake. The first half is I kind of gave you a brief summary earlier what we went through to start Pete’s Brewing Company. Not what we actually did during the course of the company. I thought maybe that might be a later book. But what we did to start Pete’s Brewing Company and all these historical tales. So it was actually a best seller in 1998. You can probably find it for 25 cents on eBay. But it’s still a good read. I am contemplating doing another book with a friend of mine on beer and chocolate. And we’re working on the table of contents to see if it makes sense.
Markus Raupach: That sounds great. So I definitely will be one of the first buyers and readers. And yes, so we will also put some links in the show notes so that the listeners can also maybe find the book and of course find the charts. Just a question. We have this other beer here. Are you wanting to try it to share it with me?
Peter Slosberg: Absolutely.
Markus Raupach: Take your time. No problem. Yes. When we talk about beer judging, and you already mentioned that you started quite early. What does it mean to you? Is it about beer or judging or the people, or the different countries, or the different cultures? Or what is it all about?
Peter Slosberg: That’s exactly it. It’s all of the above. There’s a camaraderie amongst people in the beer industry. Sam from Dogfish Head had a saying years ago, craft beer industry is 99% asshole free. I wouldn’t agree it’s that high.
Markus Raupach: 95.
Peter Slosberg: But having been in other industries, telecom and then chocolate, there’s nothing like the general camaraderie within the world of beer. So it’s fun to try samples of beer, all different styles. Try them in different countries see what’s unique country by country. Having judges from all different backgrounds talking about it on the table. And it’s just a fun thing to do. And you know that too. So yes, one of the other things I did that has changed my life is, let’s see, 2007, 2008 our older son married a Mexican-American woman from a border town in Texas on the Mexican border. And a lot of her family speaks Spanish. And that’s fine, because down there, everybody speaks Spanish, even though it’s in the US. And we thought maybe we should try to learn some Spanish. So this was after we sold the chocolate company, we decided to let’s just go somewhere to try to learn Spanish and we picked Buenos Aires. Now, the Spanish in Argentina is quite different than other Spanish. But we wanted to go to that city. We went full-time to school and while we were there, I hooked up with a local homebrew club just to meet them and talk about things. And through them, I met some of the early craft brewers. And this is when it was just starting in Argentina. And the beers weren’t very good, the equipment wasn’t very good, the ingredients weren’t very good, very little information, and there was an attitude even though it was just a small number of people doing it, there was a general attitude of not working together. And I talked to two brewers, and I said, look, if you want Argentina, if you want craft beer to take off at all, you’re going to have to have a conference to share information. And you’re going to have to have a competition. The analogy would be in the US having a GABF, Great American Beer Festival, and a craft brewers conference. So the three of us co-founded something called the South Beer Cup for all of South America that is a combination conference and competition. And we’re going into our 11th year and that’s been really exciting because it’s for all South America and having judges and beers from all over South America is incredible. And in the beginning, all the beers were oxidized because nobody was shipping refrigerated. But things have gotten better and it’s kind of cool to go from basically nothing for South America to some of the competitions, I think Brazil had over 3000 beers in the competition, Argentina had 2500 beers in the competition. So it’s really cool to see how that’s grown and to be a part of that.
Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s a fantastic world. I also like that and if you see how it grows in the other countries, in the other continents. But that’s something I also think is quite interesting. If you see like Germany, or maybe also the other Central European countries, maybe there was first beer and then the definition of beer styles. If you look more to the Americas, you have maybe first beer styles, and then home brewers who made beers according to that styles. Is that somehow true? And did you feel that maybe in the 70s, 80s, because when I was young, the brewers didn’t know, do I make a pilsner? Do I make a helles? It was just their beer. And later on they claimed the idea, is it a pilsner, is it a helles? So that’s maybe different when you started with beer.
Peter Slosberg: Yes, there were no defined styles per se. And to be quite frank, I’m not a fan of styles. I’m more, I enjoy the freedom of artistry. One of the problems with styles is there’s an overlap. If you look at the definition of a style, it’s like a giant amoeba. And when you have 100 different styles, there’s a lot of overlap between the amoebas. So it makes no sense. Matter of fact, at several competitions, winners in a style are actually a different style. But the technical specs are close enough that it works. I’ll give you an example of what I did to try to get away from styles. I was judging at the British Beer Festival. The way the British Beer Festival works is they have regional competitions and then the winners of the region go to the nationals. So one year I was judging barley wines. Six judges, six beers. And we narrowed it down to two of the six and three judges, and never have an even number of judges. That’s just a problem. But we had three judges that liked one and three judges that liked another. And the knock against the beer that I liked was it was really dark for the style. And nobody would budge. Everybody had their heels just in the ground, nobody would budge. And I said let me suggest something. What do you think of the idea of getting two new pours, one of each of the two beers, but when they come up close your eyes. And it went from three to three to six to zero. And that became the best barley wine. Now in the British competition, the best of each style go on to the best of Britain, only judged by Brits like Roger Protz and Michael Jackson. And that barley wine went on to become the best of Britain. And I go, fucking A. I fought for something and I feel really good. Give the brewer some flexibility. Now I was curious what that barley wine was. But they don’t announce it until the festival. And at the festival It was announced it was a beer called Norman Conquest from Cottage Brewing. And I wanted to find either the brewer or the owner to say, look, I fought for you. You don’t owe me anything. But I just want you to know it wasn’t a slam dunk that you were going to get this. And I found the owner. And they said, this is what I did. I love your beer. I’m glad I fought for it. Congratulations. And by the way, the name, you call it Norman Conquest. Do you call it Norman Conquest because it’s so alcoholic, it conquers your brain? And he smiled and said no, no, no, no, no. We call it Norman Conquest because the original gravity was 1066, the year of the Norman Conquest. And what’s so funny is this beer, which was the wrong colour, the starting gravity was too low and yet it’s the best of Britain, so.
Markus Raupach: Okay, we won’t tell anybody. Maybe it’s out now.
Peter Slosberg: So yes, I mean, there’s a reason why there are guidelines. But come on. If the beer is really good, and just on the periphery, give some credit.
Markus Raupach: I try when I’m at the judging table, always to refer to the idea of the style. So if I have like a, let’s say, a carabiner or so, it’s all about drinkability and harmony and all of that. So more than like colour or bitter units, all these things. So and if you understand what is the idea of a style, you can more or less say, okay, it’s according to it, or it’s not. So, but there’s a lot of talks to do, especially if you have young and no experience judges maybe or people who are just starting with the BJCP and having the guidelines as a bible.
Peter Slosberg: Well let’s talk about styles because this is another bug up my ass. There’s a proliferation of IPA styles and crazy styles. Milkshake this and all that. I think one of the problems I see around the world, maybe you do, too, so many brewers want to get on the bandwagon of these new crazy styles that they don’t learn how to make the base styles first.
Markus Raupach: Proper beer.
Peter Slosberg: Yes. And I just think that’s a, I think it’s a sad thing. But I also think it’s a bad thing.
Markus Raupach: Yes, I think that’s also maybe the reason if you look in the German beer market, and especially in the craft beer market that we can see, there were a lot of people coming into the market maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Many of them not being brewers, just trying home brewing and then starting a company. But if you now look after 10, 15 years, those who are really successful are those who know what they’re doing. So it’s the breweries will have a quite good range of standard beer styles, standard beers. And then they use their abilities to try new things, to try new recipes, to be creative. And I think it’s always important that you know the basic stuff. So if you don’t know how to cook properly, maybe you never would make a very good menu. Maybe once if you’re lucky, and you have the right things, but not repeating. So back to your story of repeating.
Peter Slosberg: One of the examples, it’s not quite historical styles doing them well, but it’s brewers trying to push the envelope too much. A friend of mine in San Francisco, Kim Sturdivant, he invented the style brewed IPA. It’s a dead style now. And it’s a dead style, because a properly made brewed IPA, and since Kim started it he did a lot of experiments and found that it was either 22 or 23 IBUs. The beer is so bone dry that you don’t need a lot of hops to really get it and have it in some form of balance. And around the world, I try these brewed IPAs where there’d be 40 or 50 IBUs, and you grab your throat from the bitterness. People just went off on a whole new thing and it killed the style. But I think what I think is also quite kind of interesting is brewed IPAs are basically dead. But if you’ve heard of West Coast IPAs, in the last four or five years West Coast IPAs have changed completely from like, let’s say a traditional IPA with some malt character and some hops, to a light, light, light golden beer with some adjuncts to lighten it in colour. It’s bone dry and it’s relatively balancing bitter, which is a brewed IPA. And the cold IPA, when you peel it back and you look at cold IPA, what is that? It’s a brewed IPA. It’s very light, bone dry and balancing hops. So come on, guys. Keep it in line. Keep it in your pants, so to speak.
Markus Raupach: Yes. And also, yes, maybe it’s also strange idea to always invent new beer styles. It’s more variations or whatever. So but as I mentioned, repeating it, I remember of a beer you gave me which was called Re-Pete. Another one, which was called Re-Re-Pete. And now we have another Re-Re whatever. But they were from Hoppin Frog. And this is again from Hoppin Frog. And now it’s called Pentuple.
Peter Slosberg: Yes, this is something completely different. So what we’re talking about is a friend of mine, his name is Fred Carne. He’s from Akron, Ohio. He has a little brewery called Hoppin Frog, been around a while and is a longtime winner at GABF for his variety of very high-alcohol beers, very high alcohol, and they’re smooth as silk. And he came to San Francisco seven or eight years ago, and we chatted about doing a collaboration. And I said, yes, I’d love to come out and do one. And he said, Pete, what would you like to do? And I said, in the back of my mind, I’ve always liked Pete’s Wicked Ale. It’s a dead product, can’t get it anymore. But for grins, what if we do a double-size version of it. Instead of 5.1, let’s do a 10.2. Fred says, yes, let’s do it. So we did it, and we called it Re-Pete. I couldn’t call it Pete’s Wicked Ale. And it was fantastic to try the beer in a much more intense form. At the time when we did Pete’s Wicked Ale, our aroma hop, our exotic aroma hop back in the 80s was Brewers Gold, which has kind of become a dead hop. So we resurrected it in this Re-Pete and it was, when I opened the can and I smelled the Brewers Gold, the hairs on my arm went up because you just don’t smell that hop anymore. And then right before Covid, like a month before Covid hit, I went out, and we did a three times version of 15% and we call that Re-Re-Pete. And just, well it’s malt-forward given that alcohol, but the hops come through. Fred and I stay in touch, and I told him about a beer I had in Brazil in March in the city of Curitiba, one of the breweries there, it’s called Way, W-a-y, Brewing and they were a relatively old brewery in Brazil, craft brewery, so it’s not that old, but one of the early ones. And they were the first in Brazil to make a beer with amburana, a special wood. They were the first. And they’ve always done interesting beers. And in March when I was there, I had a 4.7% schwarzbier, German black beer, with a hint of amburana. And it was just perfectly balanced. Sometimes amburana is so strong, it overwhelms everything. But this was perfectly balanced. I told Fred about it and he said, yes, come on out, we’ll make that but we’ll do 14% instead of 4%. So we went out. I haven’t tried it yet. It’s been lagering for four or five weeks, but it came out at 12%. And we’re going to use two different woods, amburana wood from Brazil and Palo Santo from Paraguay. And we’re going to do it in halves and with the different wood. Well, while I was there, Fred shared with me some of his beers, which is what Markus has in front of us. And this is his interpretation of, oh this one. No, this was, in the world of Belgian beers, you have singles, doubles, and triples, and 15 years ago, a quadruple. And Fred said, screw that let’s add more alcohol and make it a quintuple. So this is his version of a 5x Belgian-style beer.
Markus Raupach: Yes, they’re very strong. And those are barrel aged, so yes. Maybe clean the glasses a little bit.
Peter Slosberg: So it’s fun doing collaborations. While Markus is pouring, I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of collaborations, mostly with chocolate. About 20 years ago, I started doing, helping friends out using cocoa nibs and beer. And it took years but we finally got a good technique. So you could get the maximum chocolate character in a beer. And the quick and dirty answer is don’t put the chocolate on the hot side. Don’t put it on the boil, put it in the fermenter on the cold side. Basically dry nib is similar to dry hopping, and then add a little vanilla too and it gives you really good results. But being crazy like I am, Kim Sturdivant the guy who invented brewed IPA, he called me one day several years ago and he said I just did a Belgian Saison aged in a red wine barrel that he got from Napa, with Brett and cocoa nibs. And I said, I gotta come over and try it. And then he said, okay, come over. But what do I do with the nibs. Do I throw them out? And I don’t know why the idea came to me, but I said don’t throw them out. Let’s wash them and dry them in the oven and then I’ll make chocolate bars from the spent nibs. So not only do the nibs add chocolate character the beer, but the beer gets into the cocoa nib. So I was blown away about the beer character that came through in the chocolate bar. So now when friends of mine use nibs and they think about it, I’ll get the spent nibs from them.
Markus Raupach: You’re a wise collector.
Peter Slosberg: Yes.
Markus Raupach: Great. But to be honest, one of the chocolate beers I was most impressed of is the Xocoveza, the first version which did Stone. But what do you think of that beer?
Peter Slosberg: Did they put spices in it?
Markus Raupach: They put spices also. Chilli peppers.
Peter Slosberg: Right, so like Mexican chocolate.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
Peter Slosberg: Yes, not a fan. Not a fan of spices in my chocolate.
Markus Raupach: Okay.
Peter Slosberg: For some people yes, but not for me. In Brazil have you had from Bodebrown, Cacau IPA?
Markus Raupach: To be honest, I don’t remember. I had so many beers.
Peter Slosberg: It’s an IPA with chocolate aroma.
Markus Raupach: Yes, I had one. Yes. But it was a lot of chocolate aroma.
Peter Slosberg: Yes. Yes, he wins a lot of awards for that.
Markus Raupach: Yes, it was fantastic. All right. So now I’m pouring out of this little can.
Peter Slosberg: Look at that colour.
Markus Raupach: Wow. It’s a little bit close to the Eiche we just had.
Peter Slosberg: Yes.
Markus Raupach: Very nice.
Peter Slosberg: I smell malt.
Markus Raupach: Pentuple. So also something like a new beer style. Beautiful colour. Reddish brown.
Peter Slosberg: Oh man that is so smooth. That’s dangerous. The alcohol percent on this is, it’s high. It’s only 15.4.
Markus Raupach: Only. Okay.
Peter Slosberg: But Fred only puts it in a small can. This is eight ounces. So this is about what? 200 mil?
Markus Raupach: 240 mil, yes. But it’s enough, I think. Also, the smell is wonderful. A lot of barrel, a lot of dried fruits.
Peter Slosberg: He’s a magician at balance. It’s just incredible.
Markus Raupach: And that’s a beer you really can drink at room temperature, it’s really …
Peter Slosberg: So for your audience, I assume a lot of Germans. So when I did one of the collaborations with Fred at Hoppin Frog on his board, the list of beers on the board, the electronic board, he had 20 beers or so and the lowest alcohol on the board was 9.3. Can you imagine a pub, the lowest alcohol? But then on a paper sign on the wall, he had a 7.5% Radler.
Markus Raupach: We have a similar thing in Germany with Georg Tscheuschner. He’s the one who started a company called Schorschbräu and it was a regular brewery, a restaurant and everything. And then he turned into making stronger and stronger beers. And there was a time when his lightest beer was double percentage 12, 11, 12 something. And then people in the restaurant said, okay, we like to come to you. And we like to come to your pub and sit and eat and drink. But the problem is you cannot be there if you only have these strong beers. But his answer was okay, I close the restaurant. And he started concentrating on beers and made it more and more. And now he has the strongest beer in the world. He makes Eisbock. So 57.8% was the last of a long letter.
Peter Slosberg: Was he the one that competed against BrewDog?
Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s what the story. Well, they sink the best mark and that of history and all these things. And the last one was then the collaboration between the two during the pandemic with the 57.8. So that’s a long story. But it’s interesting, then there’s something similar in the States. And also we have lots of listeners in Germany, but also lots of listeners in the States. It is interesting because they say we want to learn German, but we want to learn German with a topic that interests us.
Peter Slosberg: And there’ll be similar words.
Markus Raupach: Yes, yes and also they say, okay, we are interested in beer, we love beer. And we love to hear about beer. If we learn German that way, that’s a good thing. So especially, of course, the German BierTalks, which are by far the most at the moment, there are also many listeners in the States. And we get some emails back and they ask about special phrases and things. So that’s an interesting cultural exchange also, yes. Also something which is really, for me, it was quite new. And I started the podcast because of the pandemic. But I never thought that it could be such a worldwide thing. But now if you look, we have, I think 90% of the countries in the world that we have some people, maybe some countries, only one or two people, but it’s interesting. So in the whole world there are people listening to it, and sometimes writing and that’s really a nice experience. And I’m very happy to have you here on board also. So what are your next plans if you’re out of beer now, out of chocolate? Still into judging? Any ideas what to do next?
Peter Slosberg: Like I said before, I can’t keep a job. I like new things. The idea of another book wasn’t really top of my list, but I found this friend on the east coast of the US who had similar desires and our skill base are different. So hopefully that’ll make the book more interesting. They can cover certain things and I can cover certain things and hopefully it’ll come together. So the idea if we do this, and I think we are, the fundamental idea is if you look at the history of chocolate and beer going way, way back, these two, chocolate was a liquid back then. It only became a solid in like the 1800s. It was a drink. So the primary use of beer and chocolate was ceremonial. And so looking at the history, not just medieval but pre-medieval, how beer and chocolate were used ceremonially. Imagine that’s one bookend of the story. And then at the other bookend, when I had the chocolate company, I want to do something different, make some noise. And we were enthusiastic about putting on brewmaster dinners with our beer company. I’m a believer in pairing. And we did a lot successfully. When we did the chocolate company, when we started, people would say, oh, you’re starting a chocolate company. You’ve got to pair dark chocolate with red wine. And the answer is, you can’t. It’s really, really hard to get a pairing that is of any interest. And it pissed me off because so many people say it and every winery I went to in Napa and Sonoma, they were interested in selling our chocolate. And I’d sit down to find out what pairings we can do. And let’s say they had 15 or 20 wines. If we got one or two to work that was lucky. And I remember one day coming home, I had to go through San Francisco on the way back home. Stopped at the 21st Amendment, some friends of mine started that brewery brewpub, and I stopped and I said, I am so tired. I’m so pissed. Chocolate just doesn’t work with wine. And they said, well pull out your chocolates, we’ll pull out all of our beers, and let’s just see how chocolate pairs with beer. And boom, b-boom, b-boom, b-boom, it’s like one after another, certainly different chocolates with different beer styles. But the probability of success with beer and chocolate was mind-boggling versus beer and wine, chocolate and wine. So we did a lot of chocolate and beer pairings. But I wanted to take it one step further. So I worked with chefs around the US, again, do something completely different. I asked them if they were willing to put on a dinner with us, where they used our chocolates as a savoury ingredient in every course, not just dessert. So things like a chocolate salad, a chocolate soup, a chocolate this, a chocolate that. Really minimizing chocolate and dessert because it’s been done before. And we did all these beer and chocolate dinners around the country and the highlight was there’s an organization in New York City called the James Beard Foundation. James Beard was a famous chef in the US in the 70s and 80s. And he left his money, his fortune to have a foundation to honour chefs around the country. If you’re a chef and you win a James Beard Award, you’re hot shit. I mean, it’s pretty cool. We got invited to do a beer and chocolate dinner at the James Beard Foundation. So the bookend of how beer and chocolate were used ceremonially a thousand, two thousand years ago, to ceremonially in today’s times at the James Beard Foundation, that’s kind of the two bookends and we’re trying to figure out, can we connect that along the way.
Markus Raupach: So I’m really looking forward to having this book and to share the experience then. Maybe we can do another talk then and try some of your pairings which will be maybe in the …
Peter Slosberg: By the way, I will be asking you and people in your audience if you are so inclined, since I’ve done a lot of these beer and chocolate pairings around the US, partial in South America. But if you do or know of people who do beer and chocolate pairings in different countries, what I want to do is have a chapter where we have pairers from around the world talking about what they’ve done and why they do it. I want to have a chapter on that.
Markus Raupach: I’m happy, maybe we did the first serious beer and chocolate thing in 2014 in Germany because we have a member of a local chocolatier. He is in slow food and very, very well, and won lots of awards. And we made a masterclass of beer and chocolate at this time. And there was great stuff. And we have other friends in a city called Erfurt. Their chocolatiery is called Goldhelm and they really make world-class chocolate, especially ganache chocolate bars. And we did lots of pairing for them. So there is some experience around so. I will be happy to share that and when we started our online teaching with the beer sommelier courses, a friend of mine, he’s a professor at the Mainz University, Thomas Vilgis. He wrote also a book on beer pairing and he is doing it on a scientific way. And as far as I know, he is the first one and maybe still the only one who have the scientific approach. So he really makes the beer into its parts aromatically and the same with every food and chocolate.
Peter Slosberg: You need to hook him up with me.
Markus Raupach: Yes of course. It’s very interesting. And the basic idea is you have the basic taste, like sweet and sour and bitter, that you have on your tongue. And this is something you have to bring in like a harmony. So it should be more or less similar. And then you have all your tastes in the nose which is a huge world of different aromas and there you have to be more like being additionally. So and if you bring that together, you have the harmony basis and then the huge world to explore. And that really works. And so, we’ll talk about that.
Peter Slosberg: I can’t mention the brewer yet, but I think in early next year I’m going to be working with a Lambic producer to make a Lambic with cocoa nibs. And then you use the spent cocoa nibs and make chocolate bars in Belgium. I think that would be fun.
Markus Raupach: Great. I’ll come over. It’s not so far away from Bamberg. So thanks a lot for your time, for your information, for this wonderful beer you’re sharing with me.
Peter Slosberg: Well, thank you for pouring.
Markus Raupach: It’s fantastic. Really, as you said, harmony, pure harmony.
Peter Slosberg: Cheers.
Markus Raupach: Cheers.
Bier Talk – Der Podcast rund ums Bier. Alle Folgen unter www.biertalk.de