BierTalk English 26 – Talk with Jason Macias, Packaging Consultant at Zuckerman Honickman in King of Prussia, USA

Jason Macias lives near Philadelphia, his hometown, and came into contact with beer there in his youth. First as a guest, later as a hobby brewer and finally with his own brewery project called Lucky Cat. He now works for the supplier Zuckerman Honickman, which he represents internationally. In the podcast, we talk about his exciting history, Philadelphia, and South African hops, for which he has developed a particular soft spot…

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Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch:

Jason Macias, der in der Nähe von Philadelphia aufgewachsen ist, hatte dort seine ersten Kontakte mit Bier, zuerst als Gast, dann als Hobbybrauer und schließlich mit seinem eigenen Brauereiprojekt namens Lucky Cat​​. In der Sendung wird über seine interessante Geschichte, Philadelphia und seine Vorliebe für südafrikanische Hopfensorten gesprochen​​.

Macias erzählt, wie er als Kind heimlich Bier von seinem Vater probierte und später in einem lokalen Braupub seinen ersten Kontakt mit Craft-Bier hatte. Diese Erfahrungen weckten sein Interesse an verschiedenen Bierstilen und deren Geschichten​​. Seine Leidenschaft führte ihn zum Heimbrauen, wobei er in einem lokalen Geschäft namens Philly Homebrew Outlet einkaufte und dort seine eigenen Rezepte braute​​. Nach seinem MBA-Abschluss in Finanzen begann er, sich professionell mit Brauen zu beschäftigen, und wurde Assistenzbrauer in einer kleinen Brauerei namens Vault​​.

Macias diskutiert die Unterschiede in der Wachstumsmentalität zwischen amerikanischen und europäischen Brauereien, insbesondere wie die Pandemie die Wahrnehmung von Wachstum und Erfolg in der Brauindustrie verändert hat. Er betont, dass Wachstum nicht immer in der Steigerung der Produktionszahlen liegen muss, sondern auch in der Verbesserung der Qualität und Vielfalt der Produkte​​.

Seine Zeit bei Vault führte Macias schließlich in den Biervertrieb und danach zu einer Zusammenarbeit mit der Mälzerei Proximity. Diese Erfahrung brachte ihn in Kontakt mit vielen Schlüsselpersonen der Bierindustrie in Philadelphia und führte zur Gründung von Lucky Cat Brewing, einem Gemeinschaftsprojekt mit anderen unabhängigen Brauereien​​. Lucky Cat Brewing konzentriert sich auf nostalgische Bierstile und kombiniert verschiedene Einflüsse in ihren Rezepten, wie zum Beispiel ein Doppelbock, der zur Feier des Groundhog Day gebraut wird​​.

Schließlich begann Macias für Zuckerman-Honickman zu arbeiten, ein Unternehmen, das sich auf Verpackungslösungen spezialisiert hat. Hier wandte er seine Erfahrungen aus der Brauerei- und Vertriebsbranche an, um Brauereien und anderen Getränkeherstellern bei ihren Verpackungsbedürfnissen zu helfen. Er spricht über die Flexibilität von Brauereien, neben Bier auch andere Flüssigkeiten wie Seltzer oder alkoholfreie Getränke zu produzieren, um ihre Produktion zu optimieren​.



Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast BierTalk. Today again, we cross the Atlantic and visit the United States. We go to Philadelphia or close to Philadelphia and meet a new friend of mine, Jason Macias. We met at the World Beer Cup judging this year in Nashville, and we had a wonderful time. And I’m very happy to have you here, Jason. And maybe you can introduce yourself a little bit to our listeners.

Jason Macias: Thank you, Markus. I appreciate it. My name is Jason Macias. And as mentioned, I live just outside of Philadelphia. Currently working at Zuckerman-Honickman. We’re based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, again, just outside the outskirts of Philly.

Markus Raupach: For a German, it sounds crazy, someone living in a city called King of Prussia. Do you have any idea why the name is this?

Jason Macias: There’s definitely a lot of historical German immigrants and settlements in and around the area. I think that is for me, it’s kind of been a neighborhood, or a city near where I grew up. So it always kind of just flowed and made sense. But there’s definitely a lot of German immigration to this region specifically, hence why we have a lot of German beers and breweries as well, a lot of them with American influence. But at the heart of it, the German settlers that came here are abundant, basically.

Markus Raupach: And your family are also some German roots somewhere?

Jason Macias: I have a little bit of German. I’m a bit of a mutt. I did do the 23andMe a couple years back, and got a better breakdown of my kind of family heritage. Much of my family is attributed to my father’s side who’s from Mexico. So it comes up on 23andMe as, I want to say, it’s like Native American, or I don’t think it’s quite Mexican in terms of culture. But it does have I think it was like 20, 30% from that region. And then the next largest portion is actually German, French and I think the way again, it’s very regionally motivated how 23andMe works. But pretty much I feel like I have a little bit of a lot of culture in my upbringing and heritage.

Markus Raupach: Yes I think that’s all of us. We all have, we all are mixtures and also I did some research on my ancestors, and it’s somewhere in Poland and Denmark, and also some Slavic roots further on. So it’s, we all are mixtures, I think, though. And that’s nice. That’s a lot of culture, a lot of heritage and also a lot of different beers. Brings us a little bit into the topic. So can you remember your first beer and what it was?

Jason Macias: I do. I mean, fortunately, or unfortunately, I guess, I mean, I honestly still remember sipping my dad’s beer from when I was a child. Back then it was called Schmitz and that was a lager brewery, a German lager brewery, basically, that was based in Philadelphia at the time. And it’s funny because full circle, Schmitz shut down as a brewery. However, the family that owned it, had kind of kept some of the recipes and some of the intellectual property alive, and recently spun that into a new brewery called Von C, which is just actually nearby here in King of Prussia. And Von C actually just won a gold medal in, I want to say it was German lager category or something very specific like that, for the recipe that Schmitz used to brew. So kind of interesting that a light Lager that I tried probably as a seven, eight, nine-year-old sneaking sips from my dad’s unattended beer, actually won a gold medal just this past year under a new brewery, but the same recipe and the same kind of family heritage. So that was my first and that obviously didn’t do much to … I didn’t turn into a child alcoholic or anything like that. But honestly, I remember the bitterness of that beer and pilsner is the base style, if I’m not mistaken. And then fast forward to college, when I was probably about, honestly, like 17 or 18 at the time, and I was working as a server at a local brew pub basically. It was a craft brew pub called Independence. It was located right near the Reading Terminal, which is a tourist destination here in Philly. And that’s where I got my first taste of craft beer, I guess. I remember, I want to say it was a, like a winter spice lager or something that they brewed on site. And just tasting the maltiness and the higher alcohol, it was just, really came together for me. So that kind of wet my whistle on the craft beer circuit, so to speak. And then started kind of home brewing myself. So I got to experiment with a lot of different flavours and was really interested in the historical heritage and almost the history of each beer style and how each had a very specific kind of geographical story to tell. And that really just kind of kept my interest and kept me occupied while I found myself tasting different styles from all over the world, basically.

Markus Raupach: And how was it like to become a home brewer in these days? So did you go to a shop and buy some stuff and then you started? Or did you occupy your mother’s kitchen? Or how did it go?

Jason Macias: No, that’s a good question. I had a good friend of mine, Rich, back in when I was in college like, my main activity was skateboarding. So a lot of times, I would, that would be my spare time, is I would be out in the streets or at skate parks skateboarding. And one of my skateboarder friends, Rich Adler, he spent a lot of time, his other extra spare time homebrewing. And so usually, after we’d be done skating through the streets of Philly for a long day, we’d find ourselves at his house nearby Love Park and he would have his local homebrew basically on tap or in bottles. Sometimes he would go there and he’d be actually brewing up a new batch. So he got me into it. And there was local shops that are still around. Philly Homebrew Outlet was my kind of local shop. And at the time, I think there may have been some online options to order. But I was very hands-on and tangibly kind of educated. So I like to have the actual shop to go and hang out. I became real close friends with all the owners and oftentimes, we brew my homebrew recipes on their shop system, just because they had a lot of bells and whistles that I didn’t have at home as far as pumps or better equipment, better ways to clean it, things like that. So that was kind of my intro into the homebrewing world. And while I was there, I was actually contemplating my next career move, so to speak. I had recently graduated with my MBA in finance, and was a little kind of unsure where I wanted to take that education. So I had really hoped to try to get into brewing and learn some hands-on experience almost like, actually brewing beer. So I was really, really excited to get an opportunity to brew at a local upstart brewery, basically, from spending my time at the homebrew shop. The homebrew world is kind of small when you think about it. So I think just kind of putting that energy out into the world that I was looking to get into a new kind of career a new job and a few weeks later after I had made that decision, I applied to a couple positions and got a job as an assistant brewer at a local brewery called Vault. It was in an old bank building. So the vault that was still there was actually repurposed to be a like cellaring room. So that was kind of my segue from non-brewer to homebrewer and technically to a professional assistant brewer at the time.

Markus Raupach: And a little bit back to finance.

Jason Macias: Exactly. I mean now I certainly, full circle I feel like the education really, the foundation, I get to work with a lot more in my day-to-day now. But at the time my family did think I was a little sick or not feeling well at the time because I think they thought I would kind of pivot and take a role in a bank or in some Philly highrise just kind of jamming keystrokes and shuffling emails here and there. But I really knew that I wanted to do more than just kind of be involved in finance. I wanted to use my education and build on to it in a way that I felt would be more useful with like my hands, my body, and my kind of education. So I was really excited too. Like I kind of knew that my path wouldn’t end as an assistant brewer. But I think my family was not so convinced at the time.

Markus Raupach: Of course, of course. They always want the best for you, if you ask them and for them, okay, and a clear job, an easy job and safe job in the financial industry is always something they would like for the children, of course. But on the other hand, you did what you liked. And yes, I meant you were back to finance because you were in the Vault.

Jason Macias: Exactly.

Markus Raupach: Also a little bit money related again, but what was this type of brewery? What did they do and how was your first day there?

Jason Macias: No, that’s a great question. It was a 10-barrel brewhouse. It was a two-vessel system, something of an upstart. They had been open for maybe six to eight months at the time and at that point, were looking to kind of increase their production and were ready to hire some help around the brewery. So they had a 10-barrel brewhouse, two fermenters and four bright tanks and it was kind of the perfect sized system for me to learn on and in hindsight. The head brewer’s name was Mark Thomas. Still close with him now, I still consider him my brewing mentor and he was very methodical. He approached brewing with a creative spark, but also a dedication to kind of minimizing variability. And really trying to get to the heart of replicating great beer styles over and over again on that system. So it was a good approach, whereas my homebrew kind of mindset almost trained me to be open to my beer taking a turn. And I feel like home brewers obviously they want to try to keep beer styles consistent, or their recipes consistent. But oftentimes the homebrew scale and equipment can usually lead to variations pretty easily. So it was a nice change of pace to really kind of buckle down on the smaller details of brewing that I had kind of, more or less rushed through as an actual homebrewer. But now I could actually quantify different pH better, or different Plato readings and things like that. It was the first time I manipulated my water profile before brewing. So things like that really kind of piqued my interest even more to a new career that I was just embarking on at the time. So, we also experimented with … we maintained our draft systems there. So I got a lot of ancillary education from my time as a brewer. I took the micromatic draft dispense course, and learned a lot about other sides, I guess, to brewing. And we also experimented a lot with nitro beers, as well as real ale in terms of like, cask firkins or pins. And for us at the time, it was just a way for us to kind of turn one batch into more than just one batch, whether it be pulling some of that beer into a pin and additionally, dry hopping it or different things like that allowed for us to make more with less at the time.

Markus Raupach: It’s a fascinating story and a fascinating variety of different beers and coaches you had in this brewery. Is it still existing?

Jason Macias: It is. They’ve actually expanded, they’re now a larger production brewery. They do not still brew at the same location, but that location is still their flagship tap room. And they actually still use the bright tanks, although the fermenters and the brewhouse at this point had been sold. But I do still keep in touch with some of the brewers that at the time were new hire assistant brewers just starting. And then full circle after I kind of left, years later, they became the head brewer. So it was a great experience. And they’re continuing to brew some of the recipes that we pioneered, back when I was there. So it’s great to see the community kind of continue to rally around the local brewery and to see them successfully kind of grow into a new production space, grow into distribution. And it’s almost like a mini case study and just another new brewery and their path, I guess towards success.

Markus Raupach: That’s also interesting. When I visited a lot of breweries when I was in Nashville and also before I was in New York, and every brewer I was asking, no matter if it was a new brewery or an older one, or whatever, the first or second sentence was we want to grow. So we know next year, we will be there, the year after we will be there, and then we buy this, and then we have that. So this is very different to interviews I can do with European brewers. Because they say, okay, for example, here in Germany, we exist for 15, 20 generations and we never grew. So we have our equipment, we have that size, we produce what we can, we are happy if we sell what we produce, and then it’s all good. And it’s a very different approach to the whole thing. And I think that’s a huge difference. But also, that’s the reason why the US craft industry is where it is because people are really driving it forward, always every time. So it’s like in the DNA.

Jason Macias: It is. I mean, I think especially with my finance background, I mean, it seems like the definition of a business is to grow, generally speaking. And I think it’s interesting, because of what we’ve come through post-pandemic and all, I think growth is a relative term. And I think growth can occur, even with your numbers staying relatively stagnant for example. I think you can grow your sensory program, for example, you can grow your educational, how you train your staff, and pair it with foods and things like that. So I think there’s, before the pandemic, I feel like there was little wrong a brewer could do by saying their goal is to grow. I think your investors want to hear that, your customers want to hear that, you want to hear that telling it to yourself. But in hindsight I do think now post-pandemic, I think breweries are still looking to grow, but I think they realise they need to have a more solid foundation from which to grow on top of or grow towards. So I do still think growth is important. It’s just, I would almost argue that, like, growth has now been broken down into various segments and it’s not always necessarily barrels or profitability.

Markus Raupach: So you would say the pandemic has had a huge impact or made a huge change in the mind of American brewers?

Jason Macias: I don’t know that it would, I think we’re still seeing that. I mean, I do still think growth is important. But I also back even when, pre-pandemic, I mean, I feel like some brewers almost bet on growth, and that changed the dynamic of their brewery. I don’t think all breweries are meant to grow in perpetuity. I think that there’s space for breweries that are, I think now there’s different, I guess, ways to approach it. If you’re talking about profitability, or long-term financial stability, obviously, there’s almost like a minimum-sized brewery that can be profitable. I don’t think you can have a 30-gallon homebrew setup and turn that into a profitable brewery in any real scale. But that being said I do think there’s room for the, quote, unquote, smaller nano breweries that are seven to 10 barrels that maybe only put out a thousand barrels a year and do that really well within their community and let almost, let your business, your growth almost come naturally. I think, for example, there’s a couple breweries here in the States that are doing really well that don’t distribute outside of the States. And I think that model was unheard of to distribution breweries in the past. They would feel like you’re almost capping your potential growth by only distributing in your state. But now I feel like with a lot more direct-to-consumer sales and things like that, like that’s almost a strategy to make your beer more desirable outside of the state than ever before. So it’s an interesting dynamic, I think, with just growth in general. I mean, I do think businesses are designed to grow but I don’t think necessarily that means that every brewery’s goal should be to exponentially grow in perpetuity. I think with growth comes a lot more additional financial investment, employee retention and different educational investments into your business and brand. And again, I don’t think all brands are best suited to, I guess, seek to grow at such a high clip. I think right now, especially post-pandemic, I think a lot of brewers realized they kind of had to clean up some business blind spots that maybe they have been overlooking, to make sure that they’re fully profitable in all aspects of their business and not just necessarily how many barrels they brew.

Markus Raupach: Yes, and maybe it’s also a little bit, if you think in like life circles, so that it starts and it grows, and the art is to start the next grow before the decline is too far. So like that. So if you want to have a continuous growth in your company, so.

Jason Macias: Definitely. Well, I think some some brewers, some business folks their goal is to start a brewery, grow it and sell it, and then start again. It’s almost like a serial entrepreneur in a way. I mean, I think to me, though I think that’s definitely one way to look at it. But I think also that if your goal is to brew great beer continually, and kind of, you enjoy the size of and scale that you’re producing on, growth can be found in other ways without necessarily expanding like, your barrels by exponentially, for example. But I think, again, each business is a little different, and it’s exciting to see the variety of businesses that succeed, or even ones that have trouble and kind of learn from it. So I definitely think times are different. But I also think that the times of big beer just having an open blank chequebook, looking to buy breweries is also up. So I think times have changed and I think breweries are adapting their mindset, adapting their brew schedule, and adapting their growth model, basically.

Markus Raupach: Absolutely. And that’s a very good point that also on the other side, the normal models don’t work anymore. So now, they will have to find new ways. But when you have been to the Vault, how long have you been there? And did you develop also own projects in this time.

Jason Macias: Smaller recipes here or there. I did, like, we did a lot of one-off weekly, kind of pins and firkin. So I had a couple recipes that they still utilize now. But that role really kind of pushed me into beer sales, eventually. We had extra beer to sell basically, at the time, we were just self-distributing and really weren’t distributing much at all. And so I took it upon myself to kind of help grow the brand by embarking in some sales calls as well. Long story short, that kind of led to me selling more beer. They were in a growth stage at the time, so they had to fill my role in the brewery that was now, since I was out in the field kind of selling. And then ultimately the success of the brand dictated that the owners decided to sign with a distribution company. So at the time, I was fully in sales kind of of lost my role in the brewery to new assistant brewers. And so that kind of led to me leaving Vault, leaving Vault’s sales team, and ultimately staying in sales. Because as I mentioned before the scale that they operate on, a 10-barrel system with only two fermenters and four bright tanks, pretty much caps your brews per week at two, maybe three. So it was kind of perfect at the time. I had a young son, so my family is and was important to me, and I think the knowledge or the understanding that my job was pretty much like a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday job was very important. When I went to look for new brew jobs, after I kind of lost my role on the sales side, many other opportunities were at larger breweries that wouldn’t have been the same dynamic. It would have been more of just kind of like a factory job in a way. I would have still been brewing, but they’d have been on bigger systems. So a little less hands-on, a little more just kind of shift work. So that didn’t intrigue me. And I stayed in sales and that kind of catapulted me out of the brewery into sales, which was kind of my plan again. As far as my educational background, I kind of figured at some point I would spin the actual production operation side of things into something that would be a little more kind of built on my educational foundation so that the sales was kind of right up my alley.

Markus Raupach: I found an interesting name. It’s called Lucky Cat. Was that something you found afterwards?

Jason Macias: It is. So I mean, after my time at Vault, I linked up with a brewery called Neshaminy Creek. And they’re still in operation today as well. And so I was working beer sales for Neshaminy Creek, I kind of segwayed that role into a role with a malt company called Proximity. Proximity had done a special collaboration with Neshaminy Creek at the time. And so I got introduced to the sales team at that malt company. And we hit it off real well and it seemed like a real good fit. And so this is still kind of pre-Lucky Cat. But during that whole time, I was very involved in the Philadelphia beer culture, so to speak. I was a board member for the non-profit organisation that put on Philly Beer Week each year. And so that brought me kind of face-to-face with a lot of Philadelphia’s beer leadership team kind of. I got to work with a lot of different beer distributors, brewers and different tavern owners. And at the time, one of the tavern owners who had gotten along with me really well was, his name’s Scoats. He owned a place called The Grey Lodge, which is in the northeast of Philly. And it was one of Philly’s first craft beer bars. It operated for a little over 25 years and they offered beer that at the time just wasn’t really available in the form of different craft beer from locally and from across the country and globe. The pandemic pretty much put an end to that tavern model in that part of town. But Scoats had the wherewithal to kind of plan for the next step in his career and his evolution and had gotten a brewing license basically. And at the time, it was kind of tethered to his tavern. But he and I started working on what would then become Lucky Cat Brewing. We now are partners in Lucky Cat Brewing and that’s kind of a separate kind of side project, since I’m not technically the brewer, since we’re kind of technically Lucky Cat Beer Company. We ended up partnering with two other independent beer breweries, one called Trager and the other Broken Goblet. Broken Goblet is the location that we now call home and basically, we partnered up all three entities to create something of a brewers co-op so to speak. So the three independent brands all operate out of the same brewery, and we share a lot of the same kind of overhead and taproom and venue space at the location, which is just outside of Philadelphia as well.

Markus Raupach: Very practical.

Jason Macias: It is, it is. Yes and it just really kind of everything really came together. Shortly after my time with Proximity, I had gotten an interview request from the company that I’m with now, Zuckerman-Honickman. And they are basically a packaging solutions company that have been operating for over four generations in and around the Philadelphia area. And basically, had started working for Zuckerman-Honickman selling malt and hops. It was their first kind of segue into the raw materials side of things. Whereas ZH had primarily sold cans, bottles, and different packaging equipment in the past, this was an experimental kind of project to get into raw material sales basically. So, that is kind of my day job still today. We did end up getting out of the malt and hops market. Just supply chains were a little bit difficult to manage and confirm and I think our wheelhouse really is packaging. So now I’m basically a packaging consultant. I specialize in aluminium cans and ends although we currently sell everything from glass bottles to PET plastic, aluminium cans and ends as well as flexible packaging. So I’m still very much kind of involved in the brewing world for my day job here at ZH and they really have a lot of great plans for the future in terms of just kind of working with brewers and other beverage companies to kind of supply their packaging needs. And it’s really opened my eyes to a whole new part of the industry in terms of brewers now being co-packers for various other non-beer brands, and things like that. So it really just kind of flows into I guess, everything sort of.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s very interesting. We come back to the agent in a moment. I just have a little thing just to mention with the Lucky Cat project. In many ways, it looked very interesting for me, because I saw you do German beer styles like a double bock. Then you have the name, Lucky Cat, which is more or less this Chinese animal. And I saw you made a beer for Groundhog Day, which is one of my favourite movies. So it’s a lot of things coming together. So maybe first Lucky Cat, where does the name come from?

Jason Macias: Well, yes, Lucky Cat, my partner Scoats, he’s really into cats honestly. That’s basically where it came from. He had always kind of collected different figurines, and not even necessarily the traditional lucky cat that we’re used to seeing. But that term kind of always was near and dear to him, he’s always been kind of a cat person, so to speak. But since then, we’ve actually kind of rebranded a little bit and we’ve kind of moved away from that traditional lucky cat imagery. And our new cans are, we’re about to actually launch into the market in a few short weeks here, basically have a different logo approach. And all of our branding is kind of cohesive with our sister companies, so to speak. Basically, our philosophy with the Lucky Cat project is basically to kind of brew what we’re calling like nostalgic beer styles, which is the way that we envision the West Coast style IPA, for example. It’s gone through a lot of iterations in the last 15, 20 years, although we still remember certain beers and certain times that we associate with that style. So with Lucky Cat, we basically kind of handpicked a handful of specific beers from a specific time in our lives, and looked to kind of replicate or bring those recipes into the year 2023. So that Doppelbock recipe, for example, is a style that we always just appreciated, especially in the winter here in Philly. We get all four seasons basically. So around Groundhog Day, is for us, right in the middle of our winter. So Doppelbock is perfect style for that time of year, and we remembered specific Doppelbocks from years past that we kind of used as a basis to create the recipe for what has become now Prognosticator, which is our annual Doppelbock release that we time with Groundhog’s Day. Again, appropriately named, Prognosticator, for the fact that here Groundhog’s Day is meant to, I guess, elicit whether or not winter will be extended for six weeks. So that’s kind of the excitement every year here in Pennsylvania. Everyone looks to see if the groundhog sees his shadow or not, which is what dictates obviously the weather.

Markus Raupach: Yes, fantastic. And I don’t know if you have seen the movie, I guess. But many of our listeners maybe are too young to have it. But if you have the possibility, you have to watch Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. It’s a fantastic film. I really love it. Have you seen it?

Jason Macias: Oh, definitely. Yes. We play, what we used to have, because when Scoats operated the tavern, he had different restrictions and he was able to open the bar early. So he would open like first thing in the morning and Groundhog’s Day was always on repeat on at least one TV throughout the bar. So we definitely share that movie every year for our Groundhog’s Day celebrations. And it’s definitely a staple for us as well.

Markus Raupach: Have you ever been to Punxsutawney?

Jason Macias: I have not. And we were actually planning on going one year and we just honestly haven’t made it yet. Each year since the pandemic, Scoats shifted the typical Groundhog’s Day celebration, which would be at his tavern online. So now I think we’ve just gotten a little too comfortable with just waking up. It’s already an early day on Groundhog’s Day because I think the groundhog basically sees his shadow at first sunlight. So the party starts at like four in the morning if not sooner out in Punxsutawney. So we’ll get out there one day. Maybe we’ll do an episode on the road or something.

Markus Raupach: Okay. If you do, please send me a picture.

Jason Macias: I will.

Markus Raupach: Okay, but back to ZH, Zuckerman-Honickman. It’s also, it sounds a little bit German or like German heritage. Do you know about it?

Jason Macias: To tell you the truth, I’m not too sure. Both families Zuckerman and Honickman are very historic names in packaging, and specifically, and throughout this region. I’m really not to 100% familiar with the history enough to kind of share details. But ultimately, the Zuckerman Honickman families have owned this company for over four generations. Eventually, I think the Honickman side of things, they kind of leaned more into distribution, whereas the Zuckerman side kind of stayed on the packaging, which is kind of where I find myself now that the company is still called Zuckerman-Honickman, but it’s primarily we focus on packaging now. Whereas there’s another separate company that is more kind of headed by the Honickmans that specializes in distribution. But then, just I guess recently, within the past few years, Zuckerman was actually acquired by a global company called TricorBraun. So now, for the first time, Zuckerman, our team has expanded basically, and the Tricor umbrella has allowed us to basically increase our specializations. Our growth was primarily in aluminium, whereas Tricor has a lot of different substrates such as glass, plastic and flexible options that we now basically are able to provide to our customers. In addition to just kind of having bigger bandwidth, we’re now working with a lot of great breweries and beverage companies of all sizes. And we’re kind of helped figure out the logistics during the pandemic and made sure that cans were still flowing. And now’s a totally different time. I feel like we’ve certainly come full circle from the pandemic, and there’s almost a gluttony of cans available. So I think our relationship-based selling here at Zuckerman has really allowed us to continue to thrive, regardless of the environmental factors, and I guess manufacturing kind of ups and downs. So it’s been an interesting transition, I think, specifically for me, to come from brewer into beer sales, then into raw material sales, and finally in packaging, as well as for the company. I think we definitely caught the aluminium wave right at the right time, so to speak, and we’re one of the top providers of aluminium cans in the country. So it’s something we’re very proud of. And speaking of growth I feel like it’s a different industry. But we’re certainly poised to continue growing here at Zuckerman, especially as new, I guess, customer segments pop up. I mean, for me, my speciality is brewers. I understand the brewing world. But there’s a lot of other things that go into cans. And I think it’s interesting to see how breweries and their production capabilities kind of fit into that conversation and how some breweries are able to fill capacity by doing things like seltzers and even just water or flavoured beverages in a way that just, I feel like speaks to the ingenuity of the industry. Obviously, an empty tank is best filled with beer, but next best thing is any liquid that will sell and can be packaged and consumers enjoy. So I think it’s great to see the industry continue to evolve and continue to grow in different segments.

Markus Raupach: So you would say more and more breweries are now also making like hard seltzers and other liquids, in addition to the beer program?

Jason Macias: Well, I mean, not necessarily. I mean, I think I mean, yes I feel like there’s, again, kind of mini waves within the larger waves that really drive industry growth. I do think that breweries of all sizes that have empty tanks are at least having the conversation. Should we put another beer in there? Or should we put a seltzer? Or should we put a non-alcoholic? Or try something different? And then I think larger breweries, however, that have some of the bigger capabilities in terms of production space and canning or bottling capabilities, I think, I’m finding a lot of those breweries are now working with other non-alcoholic beverages or even some alcoholic RTDs, and things like that. But I think, basically, in the past, I feel like breweries only wanted to make their beer on their equipment. There would be contract situations, but that was a little bit less frequent and not the goal of a brewery, because I don’t feel like, I think the goal of a brewery was to brew it yourself and grow your brand internally. I think now, there’s more of an openness to either starting a brewery by contract brewing and building your customer base that way, and then eventually down the road, kind of opening a taproom and bringing it in-house. Or also just other companies that are non-alcoholic or other beverage companies just seeking someone who can package their formula in a can or in a bottle. So I think breweries are uniquely set up to do that and therefore find unique opportunities to kind of fill some otherwise empty tanks or down space in their production schedule

Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s an interesting development. And also, you should talk about bottles and cans. So what is the ratio at the moment? And is there any shift? Is it now much more cans than bottles? Or is there like a revival of bottles? Or what is the market in the US at the moment?

Jason Macias: No, that’s a good question. I mean, I think, the production of bottles is very different obviously, than the net of cans. And I think bottles, for a lot of reasons are more expensive to ship, even empty can be more expensive to manufacture and store and things like that. But I feel like bottles still are in demand for a lot of consumers. I think I don’t want to get into too many specifics. But I think maybe a slightly older consumer would be more apt to lean towards a beer in a bottle, for example, as opposed to maybe some of the younger drinkers who are used to seeing their beer available in cans. And I think the availability of cans has increased drastically over the last few years with new plants coming online, whereas the bottle industry hasn’t necessarily been expanding at the same rate. So new breweries looking to get glass find themselves at the low end of the totem pole, or basically not much is available. By the time all the larger breweries who have contracts and things like that, place their orders, there’s not much glass left. So it’s a little bit more difficult to procure. But again, I feel like there’s some breweries who number one, they might have the bottling equipment, their consumers are used to seeing their beer in bottles, so they’re going to continue to put it into bottles. That being said, usually they also have a canning line or work with a co-packer or have like a mobile canner come in and do cans as well. Because I do think that the future is really in cans. I think consumers see cans as much more recyclable than plastic I guess. But I do think that consumers see cans as better suited for camping or outdoor activities. Whereas bottles are kind of traditionally like your mom or dad’s beer packaging of choice.

Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s a very interesting development. And I also see it here now in Germany. Oh yes, we are way behind, but I think at the moment, we have about, let’s say, five per cent cans now in the beer market. So it gets also faster and especially the newer ones which have also the younger target groups, they are more and more going into cans, just because it’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s easier also to ship and to have and to take with you and whatever. So a lot of advantages with cans if you compare it with bottles. I always say a can is a little barrel. So it’s much better for the beer. And so of course, as long as you drink it out of a glass and not out of the can, then it’s good, in my opinion.

Jason Macias: Definitely.

Markus Raupach: But one thing is, let’s look forward. If I remember the old days when I was listening to music, and I started with the old records, which you had your machine, you put them and you had to rotation. And then the CDs came up, and the records died. And then the mp3 files came up and then there was a revival of the records.

Jason Macias: Yes, yes.

Markus Raupach: So maybe in 10 years, 20 years, we will have a revival of bottles for maybe special beers or special editions or retro style things, maybe for that, but not as the regular thing for beer.

Jason Macias: Yes, well, I think the other part too is it’s interesting that we met on very much like a qualitative journey. We were testing beer, basically, we were judging beer, the liquid. But I think it’s interesting how consumers are really affected by the branding and packaging. And I think cans offer brewers and marketers a much larger almost canvas from which to market to their consumers. And beer bottles obviously have labels and are a little more nostalgic looking. But I think it’s interesting to see a lot of the developments in digital can printing technology, for example, and just to see the focus that a lot of brewers put into their branding, because they realize for better or for not, I feel like consumers are probably influenced more than 50% by the can, which has nothing to do with the liquid, but is arguably equally as important.

Markus Raupach: Yes, people buy because of labels, because of the design and all that things. And, of course, that’s very important. And cans really can look very, very nice nowadays. And we just talked about yours. But also what I think it’s very interesting, if you have your company with the bottles and cans and all these things, and then you also have raw materials. That’s quite unique, I think that a company which has bottles and cans also sells malt and hops. So is that a new development? Or did they always have this in the company?

Jason Macias: No, that was a new development, and it was pretty much a blip in the radar, I guess. Because we ultimately ended up shutting that program down. The supply chain was just a little too difficult to manage. I mean, I think we’re in a position now where our relationships with the current can manufacturing companies is very good. And we’re able to, we work with them very closely in order to help submit our orders in time so that they can create their ideal production schedule, ship them out, rinse, repeat. I think pre-pandemic, there was a lot of kind of extra weight in terms of warehousing and it got a little fast and loose. And now the industry really tightened up and the raw materials as far as malt and hops, we weren’t able to secure the same amount of guaranteed assurances. So I found that at the time I was selling, almost selling in a spot market, whereas my goal as raw material salesman was to sell spot market purchases in the beginning, but look to create long-term partnerships with contracted volumes. And if we couldn’t guarantee the contracted volumes, there’s no deal there. So, I think Zuckerman-Honickman really kind of took a step back and realized that this was probably a division that we couldn’t be as competitive at a high level that we’re used to operating under. So we decided to kind of pull the plug on the malt and hops. I still see a lot of companies that may package, I shouldn’t say a lot, but there are a couple companies here in the States that a brewer can order one pallet and get everything from cleaning chemicals to hops or malt and even paper towels for their bathrooms, things like that. I think there’s companies that that service that need. But I think again, our team here at Zuckerman, I think our big value is our relationships with our manufacturers and our relationships with our customers ultimately. And I think we understand our customer’s needs, they understand our abilities, and we tend to work really well, kind of in that middle grounds area.

Markus Raupach: Okay, but just one question, because it’s really also interesting for me, because you sold only South African hops. So I was quite curious how you came across with South Africa and what these hops are capable of? So whether it’s especially an aroma? Or what was these varieties?

Jason Macias: No, that’s a great question. I think specific to the South African region, you can kind of trace their hop heritage back to German settlers over 100 years ago. That’s why these hop farms aren’t upstarts. There’s acres and acres of these South African hops that are available. And, until recently, they were kind of difficult to obtain for any brewer or interested customer outside of the SAB team, basically. Because SAB was who owned the hop farms. And then once SAB got kind of purchased or merged in with AB, that is what kind of, I guess, allowed for those hops to be available in the market. What we’re trying to do was basically work directly with the hop farm in South Africa and bring those hops here to the States. And they had been available in years past, but we were hoping to kind of do what we do with cans, with the hops, or at least that was the plan. But I think the reality of hops versus aluminium cans are very different. The reality of the storage and logistical requirements to package and store hops is something that our network was not really suited for, or is not suited for, because it’s based around cans which are stored in ambient temperature warehouses, as opposed to freezers, for example. But again, I think that’s something that Zuckermann-Honickman was able to find, was an opportunity that Zuckermann and Honickman was able to work through based on the relationship. I think it also showed that ZH was always looking to kind of stay ahead of the curve, so to speak, and make sure that they’re involved in the next big wave as they were in aluminium. And I think there was a thought that maybe these South African hops or something unique that was unable to be really procured at high quantities in years past was something that we could help with. But again, I think after we kind of tested the waters for probably about 18 months, we realized it was probably more difficult than originally anticipated. And it’d probably be best for us to leave the hops and malt to the folks that are really good at the logistics and selling of hops and malt basically.

Markus Raupach: Yes. For me, it was just interesting to hear that there is these South African hops and these varieties, and I was just curious how they taste. So did you have beers with these hops? Are there special aromas?

Jason Macias: Oh, yes, definitely. I mean, I think the South African hops had a very, like red berry character kind of throughout. They each are very unique, but I do remember all of them still. I mean, there was, one is southern aroma, and that was very much more like a noble hop. It was a Saaz Hallertauer, it was of Saaz Hallertauer lineage. So it had that kind of light, grassy botanical character. It wasn’t too pungent, it wasn’t too high in alphas. Really good for pilsners or just kind of a … actually we use the southern aroma in our original Doppelbock recipe. Just a touch but just enough to kind of give a little bit of balanced bitterness, a little bit of kind of grassiness. And that was that variety. And then there was also a varied kind of IPA hop forward, hops available that were called African Queen or southern passion. These had much higher alpha acids, as I mentioned, a more pronounced kind of red berry character. And just, were all very kind of unique. It didn’t really have a typical piney west coast US hop character, nor did it have much of like a melon pithiness that some New Zealand hops had. So I was very happy to work with the variety of hops. There was a couple experimental ones also that were real fun to work with. And yes, I mean, I still, there’s a lot of the South African hops available. I know their acreage has been expanding the last few years as well. So if you can kind of find … I know there’s a couple distribution companies where you can still get the various varieties of South African hops. So, if you haven’t had a chance to sample some or brew a batch of beer with it, I definitely recommend trying it out. Personally, I think, again the southern aroma hop is a great example of a noble hop that you could experiment with. And I personally enjoyed brewing, like a rye IPA with some of the more red berry-leaning hops. I thought that it had just meshed well with a touch of rye and really kind of brought out the depth. So, that was a couple of the ones that I remember.

Markus Raupach: Yes, really very interesting. So now you make me curious. I have to find a way to try beers with South African hops. But it also brings us back to beer and back where we started, because we were talking about meeting at the World Beer Cup. And you told me that it was your first international competition. So if you recover a little bit on that, how was it for you? How did you experience the World Beer Cup?

Jason Macias: I’m always really humbled to get to participate in beer judging at that calibre. And I had previously been attending Great American Beer Fest, judging for the last few years, and was really quite comfortable with the process. I feel like the first two years, I was still kind of adapting the process of which you go about judging and kind of communicating your thoughts to other judges. And so this year with it being an international competition, I mean, I was just really excited to get to speak with people from all over the world and just have the same basic beer conversations, or Q and A’s for folks, but to hear a completely different regional approach. It was also really helpful when we had gotten more specific kind of international styles or entries to really ask some of the international judges their thoughts to just really, just learn. I mean, I think the beer industry is such a, always evolving industry and competitive landscape. But I think every brewer starts with the same building blocks. So the perception of how those building blocks are arranged can have a very regional dialect, so to speak. But I think the beer community at large understands at least what bad beer is, and then I think when we come together over good beer, I think it’s really neat to hear the nuances that come from those conversations. So, for me, it was just a much more colourful experience, I think. Whereas the GABF may have been a little more of a, more traditional rainbow. I feel like the World Beer Cup was more of like a rainbow with pastel colours kind of interdispersed throughout. So it was just a little, a more colourful time. And obviously the sociability, it’s just really great to hear everybody’s stories and to get to meet people like you and get to join your BierTalk and just kind of connect outside of our day-to-day.

Markus Raupach: Yes, I think that’s the most interesting thing that we meet each other, that we meet people from other parts of the world, that we have this communication and that we also learn that our common language is beer, whatever the native language is and that really helps and it’s always nice to be with the crowd. And so yes, so thank you. It was very great to have you here on the show and a lot of thanks for all your information.

Jason Macias: That’s all good. No, this was great Markus. I really appreciate your time. This was excellent getting to talk with you and get to catch up and hope to see you at a future competition or get to cheers over a new tavern and a new beer.

Markus Raupach: Have a nice day today and yes, hope to see you soon wherever in the world for a good beer or more of them.

Jason Macias: Indeed, Markus. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.


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