BierTalk English 27 – Talk with Chris Shields, Director of Education at Rhinegeist Brewery, Cincinnati, USA

Chris Shields has a real dream job in the beer industry. He started as a high school teacher, became a home brewer, worked at a brewery in his hometown in North Carolina, and eventually moved to Cincinnati to become a brewer at Rheingeist Brewery eight years ago, which has grown a lot over the years. That meant a lot of new employees, but some of them didn’t really know much about beer. And so Chris also became a teacher again and is now the brewery’s training manager. In the podcast, Chris tells his exciting story and that of Rheingeist, and lets us in on life in the former and current beer town of Cincinnati…

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Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch:

Chris Shields begann seine Karriere als Lehrer an einer High School, wurde dann Heimbrauer und arbeitete in einer Brauerei in seiner Heimatstadt in North Carolina, bevor er nach Cincinnati zog, um bei Rhinegeist Brewery zu arbeiten. Dort entwickelte er sich weiter und wurde schließlich Ausbildungsleiter der Brauerei. Er erzählt von seiner faszinierenden Geschichte und der Entwicklung von Rhinegeist.

Rhinegeist, in einem alten Brauereigebäude vor der Prohibition angesiedelt, feierte kürzlich sein 10-jähriges Jubiläum. Die Brauerei befindet sich im historisch deutschen Teil von Cincinnati, bekannt als „Over the Rhine“. Der Name Rhinegeist reflektiert diese Geschichte und das Erbe – „Rhine“ für den Rhein und „Geist“ für den Geist oder das Echo der Vergangenheit.

Chris Shields diskutiert auch die Bedeutung der Bierbildung, sowohl intern für das Personal als auch extern für Kunden und Partner. Er betont die Notwendigkeit, verschiedene Bierstile zu verstehen und zu schätzen, und wie dies zur Entwicklung und zum Wachstum der Brauerei beigetragen hat.

Shields reflektiert über seine Zeit bei Mystery Brewing Company in North Carolina, wo er in der Produktion tätig war und eine Vielzahl von Bieren braute. Er spricht über die Herausforderungen und Freuden des Brauens in einer kleinen Brauerei und die Bedeutung der Experimentierfreudigkeit in der Craft-Bier-Industrie.

Abschließend diskutiert er die Bedeutung von Geschichtenerzählen und Bildung in der Bierindustrie und wie dies dazu beiträgt, das Bewusstsein und das Interesse an verschiedenen Bierstilen zu fördern. Shields betont, dass es nicht nur darum geht, gutes Bier zu brauen, sondern auch darum, die Geschichten dahinter zu erzählen und die Menschen für das Bier zu begeistern.

 

Interviewtext:

Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast BierTalk. Today, we cross again the Atlantic. We go to the United States and go to a city with a lot of German heritage, we go to Cincinnati or Cinni, and we meet a new friend of mine, which I met judging at the World Beer Cup, Chris Shields. And he’s not only brewing, he’s also beer educating. So I’m very curious about his story. Great to have you here, Chris. And maybe you introduce yourself a little bit to our listeners.

Chris Shields: Yes, great. Lovely to be here. Thanks for inviting me to join the show. My name is Chris Shields. I’m the Director of Education at Rhinegeist Brewery, as you said, in Cincinnati, Ohio, here in the middle part of the United States. And yes, we had some great conversations at the World Beer Cup and I’m excited to get back to it.

Markus Raupach: Yes, fantastic to meet you. And first of all, if people will hear you are educational director at a brewery that sounds maybe strange. So what is behind that?

Chris Shields: Yes, it’s a little bit of a lot of things as you can probably guess. My background is on the production side, so as a brewer. That’s where I got started in the beer and brewing industry and where I was when I first joined Rhinegeist a little over eight years ago. I was brewing and Rhinegeist was growing pretty quickly in those early days. And as we grew, we realized that we needed people. We were hiring a lot of people and not just brewers, but sales staff, and bartenders, and accountants and marketing people and human resources and all these other things. And we wanted to unify everybody with a base level, some introductory at least level of beer knowledge. And gradually, I sort of shifted to doing some basic beer education for originally just our internal team. And then over time, that grew to now I work still with our internal staff, but also with our wholesale and distribution partners, and bars and restaurants, and even things with the general public, our customers as well.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s a fascinating story. And I don’t know one brewery in Germany who has an educational director. So that’s really a fantastic thing and very interesting and very important. Because of course, you have to educate the staff and the distributors, and also the customers to know about your beers, and that’s a very good idea. And I really think it’s a fantastic thing to have such a person. So I hope some of them will listen to the podcast and will be encouraged to have this same idea. So great thing. Maybe just before we started to your life a few words about Rhinegeist. So I already said we are in Cincinnati, a city with a lot of German heritage. A part of it is called over the Rhine because they were thinking of the Rhine River when they went there. And Rhinegeist reflects a little bit to that. So it’s a lot of German heritage. And maybe you can tell a little bit about Rhinegeist and the city and the spirit.

Chris Shields: Yes, absolutely. So Rhinegeist as a brewery, we just celebrated actually a couple of weeks ago, our 10th anniversary. So it’s a little bit of a funny age in the US for a brewery because to me we still feel new. But there’s so many breweries that have opened since we have opened. We’re also kind of a little bit on the older side for craft breweries. But then I think of breweries like Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams that have been around for much, much longer than us. We’re actually as you said, in not only in a German part of Cincinnati, so Cincinnati was a big area for German immigrants coming to Ohio and to the US. And Cincinnati, before prohibition, the main industry was brewing. Probably no surprises there with the German influence, but also ironwork and pork processing. So a very industrial town, the city really at the time. And we had, I think somewhere around 20 or 30 breweries operating before prohibition and our brewery, Rhinegeist is actually in an old pre-prohibition brewery building. Our building, some parts of it are from the late 1800s, and other pieces from the early 1900s. But there was a brewery called Christian Moerlein that was making lots and lots of beer but didn’t survive the closure, the prohibition of alcohol production and sales. And this building, and a lot of things in Cincinnati. Cincinnati had such a big reliance on brewing that it took, prohibition really was hard for the city and especially in the neighbourhood of the city that we’re in. As you mentioned, OTR, or over the Rhine, at the time, there was a canal that connected this neighbourhood with the Ohio River, which is our southern border both for Cincinnati and for the state of Ohio. And the joke for the people that lived near the river in this sort of upper-class, central business part of downtown was you had to go over the Rhine, over that canal to get into the German section of town. So that’s where all the German families lived and worked because they were working at the brewery, they were working in the factories, they were working in the processing and smelting and iron work facilities. Beautiful, beautiful ironwork all over the city and architecture as well.

Markus Raupach: So I really have to come. It sounds so interesting.

Chris Shields: Yes, you’ve got to come see. We’ve got some old, I mean, we have lagering tunnels underneath the city and some historic buildings that never got torn down. So much in the US got torn down and replaced over time. But in Cincinnati, we still have a lot of these old buildings, and that speaks to our name. Rhinegeist being obviously Rhine in reference to our neighbourhood and to the river, and that side of the history. But Geist being some of that history. The ghost, the spirit, the echoes of what used to be here. And really just also a fun play on words with spirit meaning alcohol. So it works both ways I guess.

Markus Raupach: You don’t do spirits, or do you?

Chris Shields: We do not. We do not do distilled spirits here, at least not yet. I’ve learned never to say never in this business. But we do. We try to think, a lot of times we get asked, oh, is Rhinegeist a very traditional German-style brewery. And we’re not. But we honour what was happening here before, right? The breweries that were here, that brought brewing to Cincinnati, those German brewers, they were modern brewers of their era. And that’s what we like to think we are. We’re taking that spirit of innovation and hard work and passion, and translating that into the modern space.

Markus Raupach: Wow, that sounds very interesting. And I think we will come back to Rhinegeist in a moment. But before I would like to travel a little bit into your personal history. So you are not born in Cincinnati? So you are from North Carolina. Is that right?

Chris Shields: Yes. Yes. Born and raised in North Carolina and that’s actually where I got my start in the beer industry as well. So I got into beer and brewing as many folks do by after college starting to see more and more craft beers and imported beers showing up on the shelves and in the bars and restaurants in North Carolina. In about 2006, there was some laws changed in North Carolina that allowed a lot more beer from other places to show up. And I was just amazed at the diversity and how many different styles and the range of flavours and experiences that you could get with craft beer and I met more people. And as you know, beer people are wonderful people for the most part. And so I made some great friends and then of course got into homebrewing because I had to, my background education-wise was in biology and in sort of the scientific area. And I love that exploration, I love that balance of science and art that comes with brewing. And that’s what got me into making beer. And then eventually, one of those people that I met that was also passionate about beer, started a small brewery and I was the first employee there. And so for about four or five years, worked at a small brewery in North Carolina and was brewing and packaging and cleaning and delivering. Small brewery startup and kind of got to experience everything that goes into running a business and running a brewery. And then as fate would have it, it was actually through my family, my wife, she got a job in Cincinnati. And as sad as I was to leave North Carolina and leave the brewery that I was working at, that I’d helped build and grow, it was a nice opportunity. I lived in North Carolina for most of my life, and we were excited about a new adventure. And we moved to Cincinnati in 2015 and have fallen in love. I mean, truly. So we love it here and I feel very fortunate that I found Rhinegeist when Rhinegeist was young. And I always joke that Rhinegeist, everything was happening so fast that the brewery didn’t even know how much it needed more people. I don’t even think I applied to an open job. I don’t think they even had time to write up a job description. As you know, this industry, even though it’s grown a lot over the last couple decades, is still very small and people know each other. So when I learned that I was moving to Cincinnati, I just sent some emails and made some phone calls and said, hey, does anyone know anyone in Cincinnati? I had never been to Cincinnati. I didn’t know anyone in Cincinnati. But I got a couple connections and that led to some conversations and that led me to Rhinegeist.

Markus Raupach: What a story. And also, originally you have been a high school teacher. So you started educating and now you’re a little bit back in educating again.

Chris Shields:  Yes, it all comes around. After college, I went and I taught science and math at high school and I enjoyed it. It was fun to get involved in kids’ growth and development. I do miss it sometimes. I will say I don’t miss the … I always joked that if I could have just taught college students and adults, I probably would have had a little bit more time. When I was in graduate school, I got that chance to teach some as well just with teaching labs and as part of my graduate work, and I liked that balance of mutual respect and responsibility that you don’t always get with high school students.

Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s a very interesting parallel with my life. So because also I started to become a teacher, or that was my study. And during the study, I did internships at schools and I learned, okay, I really like to teach and I also think I’m a good teacher. That’s not the problem. But my problem always was to get a distance to the pupils. So I was always more of a friend, like a teacher. And it was very hard for me to be that strict and to be hard in some ways. And so I thought, okay, I can do it, but either it will kill me or I will kill them someday. So it’s maybe better not educating kids. And so I started in educating adults. And at first, I did it with the computer and this stuff, PC and internet rep programming and all that stuff. And now when I came into the beer industry at the end of the 90s, then it all slowly turned into beer. And also, I do a lot of education nowadays. But I think if you ever had this gene for education, this love of this job and that pairs with the love for beer, it’s a good combination. So you can be a good teacher and you can give the spirit to other people. And I think that’s a very important thing and there are not so many people in the industry which have these both skills on their side.

Chris Shields: Yes, yes. I always joke that I got into, even though I had done education in the past when I was a brewer, there’s not always as much opportunity, or at least not easy opportunity to do the education and to talk about beer and to share that passion. And that’s really what I enjoyed whether it’s biology or brewing. But it was interesting to, what I joked about was that I was always the brewer that volunteered to be on the interview or sit on the brewer’s panel, or ask a brewer interview. And all the other brewers loved it because they didn’t want to do that. And I loved it, because I did enjoy doing that. So even before I was officially doing education for Rhinegeist, I was sort of the unofficial representative in a lot of ways. I heard someone say once that brewers, they’re friendly and they’re passionate, and they’re knowledgeable, but they’re also people that have self-selected to work in small groups in a warehouse. They’re not necessarily the person that wants to get up in front of a big crowd and talk about anything, usually. So if you have that ability, and over the years, I’ve certainly met many brewers who are wonderful advocates and spokespeople for our industry. But the industry needs that. It’s part of that storytelling, and I think it is a waste if someone has that desire and that skill, but doesn’t either have the confidence or the opportunity to share some of that. Because that’s what me into beer was hearing people like, Garrett Oliver and Sam Calagione and Ken Grossman and other pioneers in the American craft industry speak, and hearing what they had to say, and telling their story. And yes, about the beer. The beer has to be good. I talk about this a lot. If the beer is not good, it doesn’t matter. But it’s not the only thing that matters. There’s a lot of beer available everywhere. And consumers have choices. And one aspect of what I do is helping them make a better choice, right? If I can help them understand what they will like and what they won’t like, then that’s great. Hopefully, what they like is something that we make, but not always. But I’d rather them buy something else that they like than have something of ours that they don’t enjoy. Because your palate changes, your favourites change, my favourites change. And if they just remember oh I didn’t like that IPA from Rhinegeist two years ago, but now I like it.

Markus Raupach: Yes. And also, the people will be ambassadors of you, even if they don’t drink the beers themselves. So they say, okay, the nice guy, he told us interesting things. With him, we found our beer and he had also interesting beers. And they will share that. And so I think you can always win, or only win if you do it. And so, and it’s very important to do all the storytelling things because at the end, beer is beer. And of course, you can make, let’s say, a Pilsner in some different ways, but at the end it’s an idea of a beer. But the label counts, the story counts, the people count, all these things and that’s also about education. So that’s very, very interesting. And very important. Yes. And let’s talk a little bit about the company you were first in. So it was a small company. Is it right that it was the Mystery Brewing Company?

Chris Shields: Yes, yes. Mystery Brewing Company in a small town of Hillsboro, North Carolina.

Markus Raupach: And it’s still existing?

Chris Shields: It is not. It’s gone now as with many, many breweries. It was I think, at the peak of production it was making maybe a thousand barrels a year. So relatively small. It was a lovely place to start in the industry. We made lots of different styles. We didn’t have any full-time year-round flagship beers. We were kind of always experimenting and changing. We made a lot of English and Belgian-influenced beers. So, a lot of kind of English ales and Belgian triples and saisons. And it was a great place to learn and play and experiment. And Eric, who was the founder was just generous with his time and his knowledge and his ability to let us collaborate. And we got to play and try new things and make mistakes and try to make the best of them.

Markus Raupach: And when you came there, you already had a lot of homebrewing experience and you knew all of these styles? Or did you also experience new worlds when you were there?

Chris Shields: Yes, I had a pretty good amount of homebrewing experience and I had read a bunch of books and had been studying for the certified Cicerone exam. I was home brewing in my free time. And you can make a lot more beer when it’s your day job. And honestly, one of the first things we did, because I joined Mystery before we even opened to the public. And some of the first things that we did was really just homebrew a lot. We had our basic ideas of what we wanted our recipes to be, but we spent tons of time just brewing and refining and practising. And well, what if we change this hop for this hop? And what if we let this ferment a little bit warmer or a little bit cooler? And I think that really allowed us to dial in some of those initial recipes and made it a little bit easier to jump up from five gallons to seven barrels. And I apologize for my silly, silly imperial units here.

Markus Raupach: It’s okay. It’s okay. We can convert.

Chris Shields: So from 20 litres to eight or nine hectolitres.

Markus Raupach: It’s a lot, yes.

Chris Shields: But even that was a relatively small brewing system compared to what we have at Rhinegeist.

Markus Raupach: Yes, but this brewery, how was it when you started? So at this time, it was in 2011 I think. How did the people react? Because at this time, I think it was quite a new thing to have this local brewery opening. How was it? How were the people with the beer? How did they … yes, when they came in and had the first IPA, how did they look? What was the reaction?

Chris Shields: Yes, it was mixed, because it was relatively new. But it was also a very exciting time with a lot of breweries opening. So it wasn’t just us, right? It was really kind of catching fire and a lot of breweries were opening. And that was helpful, but also made it complex, because not everybody was doing things the same way, right? Somebody, if this pale ale down the street is really well done and kind of a classic example of a pale ale, then people understand what a pale ale is. But if their first pale ale is maybe one that’s not very good or not very true to style, then that takes a lot of education and training. So we spent a lot of time trying to say, people would come into our tasting room and they would say, okay, I live here in town. I keep hearing about this craft beer thing. But I don’t know. I don’t know what I want. People didn’t know what they liked or didn’t like. And so not only did we feel like we had a responsibility to have drier beers and sweeter beers and bitter beers and fruitier beers and classic styles from different parts of the world and also weird new experimental things, right? All these things because we wanted people to be able to find something that worked for them. And one of the things that we spent a lot of time doing was, okay, well, when you’re not drinking beer, what do you drink? Or are you a beer drinker? A lot of our big fans were people that maybe weren’t big beer drinkers because the beer that they had been exposed to was the big three, just very simple pale light lager and not a lot of complexity. Elegant, absolutely. But they were looking for something different. And some of those people, if they’re a wine drinker, okay, like, oh, do you like red wine or white wine? Like, oh, white wine, like, okay, well, maybe try this Saison. There’s some similar characteristics there. Or if they’re, I like coffee. I drink coffee all day. Well, okay, well, what about this oatmeal stout? Like, try that. That’s going to be a little bit similar. Oh, you don’t put cream in your coffee, and maybe try this Porter that’s a little bit roastier, right? And just playing around with that. And it was a great way for us to learn too. Because that’s one of the big challenges, I think, especially in a small group. Eric, the founder, and I, we liked a lot of the same things, but we’re not everyone. So, people would always say, somebody would come into the taproom, especially friends or family, and they would try a beer. And you could look on their face and they don’t like it, right? And I would have to say like, it’s okay if you don’t like it. You don’t have to like everything. I don’t like everything. I like a lot of things. But it’s about finding what you like. And that’s what I think is great about the modern brewing industry is there’s so much out there. There’s something for everyone that they can find, and they can enjoy. And while that may take some time, if you’re curious and you’re willing to ask questions. One of my favourite things is just talking to a bartender, right? Like if I’m in a place I’ve never been. I’m curious. What do they like? What do they recommend?

Markus Raupach: Yes, but not many people do that. I also like that to go to the staff and say, okay, what would you recommend? What are you drinking? And sometimes they really look and I think they never got this question for years. And they’re quite happy to say, okay, now I can give my personal recommendation. That’s always a nice way and immediately you enjoy something together. And it’s a fantastic start. Yes. Also, and the Mystery Brewery website is still online. So I had a look at all these beers and it’s very impressive to have that huge list of what beers were done there. And one I was really interested in, I don’t know if it was in your time, but I saw that there is a historic North Carolina beer called Cassville. Did you have something to do with that?

Chris Shields: Yes, I was around for that. That was, so we were always interested, both Eric and I, and as we grew the rest of the team, Andrew and Jess and everybody, we loved to find these kind of historic or obscure things and try them. And there was a … I forget the details, but there was some event happening that was like celebrating the history of the town or the county or something like this. And we found an old recipe from a farmer, a brewer in North Carolina from long ago. But it used different grains and it was of course, written in units that, it was all just like odd units, and it was just the language was very different. So, we had to kind of make our best guess and we tried to talk to some people that had some experience in brewing, or not in brewing, but in farming. Okay, well, what would be around? What would they have? What would they have had access to? And I wish I remembered more of the details of the beer, but it was just a fun experiment and it was kind of, we used molasses in there and just for a different source of sugar. And then some of the other grains in a lot of ways it was, we didn’t use a Belgian style yeast, but it was very much a farmhouse type beer, but fermented with a cleaner ale strain. And I think that that was something that it was a really fun way to bring in people who hadn’t visited us before. Very lightly hopped, but just something fun. And those were the kinds of experiments we really enjoyed. We made actually, the first beer that Mystery won a Great American Beer Fest medal with was a safe beer. Which, as far as I know, there’s really only one at least in the US that you can ever see.

Markus Raupach: Yes, there’s one in Unterifts, but that’s quite new. So yes.

Chris Shields: Yes, and it was funny because we called it safe beer because we didn’t know what else to name it. And they sent us a letter and said, please don’t call it that. So of course, we were like, look, we made this honouring what you’ve done. We certainly don’t want to make you upset. We were, for us, that was basically the style name, but we understood that to them, that was their trademark. So we had to not use that name anymore. But it was always kind of, the first Grodziskie, the first Gratzer that I ever had was one that we made, right. Now, I loved it, but it was a bit challenging for some of the folks in the small town. Yes. But that was really I developed a love for smoked beers and we had, we used both some more traditional Beech smoked malt, but we also found, we use some cherry smoke and various other things that we could get our hands on. And it’s interesting now, because there’s so much more available than there was 12 years ago from the speciality malt side, with craft monsters and things like that.

Markus Raupach: Do you sometimes miss these times?

Chris Shields: I do. I miss those times. I even miss, I don’t even get the opportunity to brew at Rhinegeist hardly at all. And I miss that. Do I miss today, it’s really warm in the brewery and very sweaty, I probably don’t miss that. But I do miss getting my hands dirty and my boots soaked and being a part of that. And it’s interesting. So one of the other brewers, actually, his name’s Luke, he’s been at Rhinegeist since we opened. Him and Jim were the first two brewers that we had and they’re both still with the company. But Luke and I were talking about getting together and brewing a batch. And our philosophy was basically we’ve both been here long enough that they’re probably not going to stop us. We just have to find a place to put it on the schedule and make sure we make something that we can sell.

Markus Raupach: So that’s good to hear that you still are able to try out and to be also a little bit crazy sometimes. And when I was looking at the Rhinegeist variety, I saw this, there’s one very famous beer is the IPA, it’s called Truth. And it was nominated as one of the 100 best beers in the world. So that’s in fact, curious, that’s interesting. So because normally you expect all these West Coast stuff and yes, definitely Cincinnati is not on the west coast. So yes, what about that beer? And what about these recommendations?

Chris Shields: Yes. The truth is, it’s a lovely beer. It has been part of Rhinegeist longer than I have. It is one of the four beers that we started with when we opened and we still make it today. Which I think is pretty impressive. I mean, even just for at least in the US for a beer to last ten years, I think is saying something. But yes, it’s our flagship, it’s our number one seller. In any given year we probably brew around 150 different beers. Different batch sizes, some are small, some are big. But that’s a lot of different beers. But about half of our volume is Truth. Not quite. And that’s amazing to me. It is the beer that built our brewery. It’s the beer that people love here in the Midwest, and it is designed after a West Coast-style IPA. But if you go out to California, Washington, Oregon, it’s not quite exactly the same. There’s a little bit, there’s a touch of Vienna malt in Truth, there’s just a little bit of red malt, a touch of flake dry. And I like to explain it to people by saying yes, it’s bitter, right? It’s modelled after a West Coast IPA, but it’s not just a bitter. And it’s dry, but it has some malt character. And that seems to really fit with the palate and the preference of people in the Midwest and I think that while it may not be the most overwhelming beer, it’s not the most bitter, it’s not the biggest and most impactful beer you’ve ever had. But that makes it more drinkable, I think. And I think people can enjoy it that way. We get a lot of people.

Markus Raupach: When I read the description or the recipe, which is on the website, I thought it’s maybe a little bit like, let’s say an Irish version of a Sierra Nevada torpedo like beer or something like that. Because it’s about that strength and it also has the crystal malt and there’s the original IPA character. But it also has this Vienna malt, this reddish character and so I can imagine that there is some also red fruits and this typical caramelly toffeeish aroma also in it. And so it sounds really good. So I really have to try it one day.

Chris Shields: Yes, yes, you’ll have to come visit and we’ll drink some Truth. But yes. No, it’s a really, it’s a beautiful I think balanced beer. One of the things we talk about at Rhinegeist a lot is approachable complexity. And it actually came from, actually from Luke, the same brewer I was talking about, he now manages our barrel-aged and wild and sour program. And that’s his strategy for having and making these beers. But really, it translates to all the beers we make. We want these beers to be something that the biggest craft beer fan, other brewers, beer judges, anybody who comes to visit will be impressed and enjoy and find something interesting to drink. But also, if you bring your neighbour who isn’t a beer drinker, they can also find something that they enjoy. And nothing is going to be, so well, I say that, but we do have some pretty wacky things. But there’s always going to be something that you can, something that you can enjoy and find. And we want our beers to be approachable. If we want craft to continue to grow and thrive, we have to bring new people into beer. And by making lots of different things, and having a welcoming and inclusive environment, I think that’s how you do that. And we’re not perfect at it. But it’s something that we try to do and we hope for. We want, whether you’re coming here to watch a baseball game, or you’ve had Rhinegeist on your map as a destination for years, we want both of those people to have a good time. And that’s a tough balance. It means that the taproom has to be a lot of things to a lot of people.

Markus Raupach: But that’s also the key for success or for survival also, because of if you meet that spot, then the brewery has a long-term perspective. And that is, in my eyes, really very important. And we have only a few breweries which are the size of Rhinegeist here in Germany and have the same portfolio, let’s say, like this, and these examples. So I don’t know if you know them, but we have the Maisel Brewery, it’s close to Bamberg. Or we have Riegele, it’s in Augsburg and they’re about your size. And they also try to have this balance between beer for just normal people, still interesting, but easy drinking and also a bunch of interesting stuff for the others, but still always the focus on drinkability. So it can be crazy, but it still is drinkable. And so that’s a very important thing and also the idea. I saw you also have a beer which is just called Beer for Humans, which I think it’s a very nice idea. But do you also have beers for other things like humans?

Chris Shields: Yes. No, Beer for Humans is fun because I don’t know if you noticed, we also call it an easy hop ale, which is basically a made-up style because it doesn’t really fit anywhere. To describe it briefly, it’s blonde coloured but it has a lot of hop aroma, but almost no bitterness. So it’s not quite a blonde ale because it has all this hop aroma. But it’s not a pale ale or a session IPA, because it doesn’t have any bitterness. And it’s really meant to be a beer that you can take some to a party and whether someone is just a pale lager drinker, or an IPA drinker, or a fruit beer drinker, they can all enjoy it. And that’s the idea of Beer for Humans. It’s just, it’s meant to be extremely approachable, and have enough interest and have enough character that it’s still fun and interesting to drink if you’re a craft beer fan. It’s probably my wife’s favourite beer that we make. And it’s also lower in alcohol. So you can have one when you have something to do later that day. And the other thing that it does, which I think is really exciting for us, is we highlight the community partners that we work with. So we sell Beer for Humans in a 15-pack and right on that package is images of some of the charitable organizations that we work with, with a QR code that people can scan and donate directly to those charities or get involved or volunteer. So that’s, it’s both Beer for Humans in the sense that everyone can enjoy it, but also Beer for Humans in that, a reminder that we’re all part of this community and this place, and let’s be kind to each other and help each other and give what we can. And that’s something that everyone needs a little nudge every once in a while.

Markus Raupach: A very important message nowadays that humans should be human to each other. That’s a very important thing. What I also saw that you not only do beers, you also do other alcoholic beverages. So like a hard tea or I don’t know if it’s hard seltzer, but also hard craft beverages, some things like that. What is that about? How long do you do that? And what is the part of your whole output of it?

Chris Shields: Yes, so it actually started, we also make cider and we started making cider in 2016. So the brewery was only a few years old and it came from, we have a pretty big entrepreneurial mentality. Basically, if we want to do something, we want to try to do it ourselves. So we knew that we wanted to offer cider in our taproom. And we’re able in Ohio to get a in Ohio, we need to get a wine permit to make cider and so we’re able to do that. So we make cider. And we make it in the beer style. And what I mean is, it’s relatively straightforward. We sell it in six packs and it’s about 5% alcohol. And we started making cider. And we’ve made cider for many years now. And the reason was if somebody wants a cider, let’s have a cider for them. And then it got to the point where we were seeing all this growth in the beyond beer space, whether it’s seltzer, whether it’s ready-to-drink cocktails, canned cocktails, things like that. And we thought about what do we want to do and what are we good at. And we think that we’re good at flavour. And we think that there’s basically no production or packaging challenge that our team can’t figure out. It takes some experiment and new processes, but that’s where these Rhinegeist beverages came from. So there’s sugar fermentations. But they’re more closely like flavoured malt beverage than seltzer. So they have fruit juice in them that’s fermented out. They have some fruit juice added that is added for flavouring. So they’re relatively dry for those types of beverages, but they’re sweet compared to a seltzer. Seltzer is extremely dry and has some aroma basically of whatever fruit. So these actually have real juice added and some natural flavours as well to really make those aromas pop. But that’s where we make a mango and blood orange one, and we make a hard lemonade and we make a hard tea. And their different flavours are different amounts of successful, popular as it were, but it’s been fun to play around in that space and to offer something for people that don’t like beer. So it really just goes back to that having things for other people. And it’s a way to provide new challenges for our team. We make these all in-house, we developed the process. It’s not, we didn’t invent it, right? I mean, it’s the same process that everyone else is using for the most part, but our team engineered and built a filtration system for us to be able to run the carbon filtration for these. We have our own process for batching them and putting them together. And it’s been fun. And it’s funny, because a lot of us that came from the beer brewing side, we looked at it as like, okay, well, it’s fun to play around with flavours and it’ll be a fun challenge to figure out how to do this. But I don’t think I’m going to be drinking these. I’m a beer guy. I tell you, I drink these. I mix them into my beer drinking way more than I ever thought I would. And it’s funny, because it’s a good reminder to, it’s what got me into beers, trying new things, and not being afraid to say like, oh, well, that’s not technically a beer. So, if you like it, drink it, if you don’t like it, don’t drink it. I tried to keep it as simple as that.

Markus Raupach: Yes. And that’s the most important message. So people very often have just prejudice. But at the end, you have to try it, you have to have your own opinion, you like it or not, and that’s it. But I think it’s really great that it’s all based on fermentation because that is a really big difference to the very cheap stuff you get everywhere. So that’s a fantastic thing. But it’s all hard things. Do you also have something on the soft or very soft side? So like non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic stuff?

Chris Shields: Yes, we don’t make anything that is no or low alcohol mostly because we don’t have a pasteurizer and we don’t want to play in that space and not be responsible. We do sell non-alcoholic beer in our taproom. It’s beer that we get from another brewery that we trust. So it’s a good way to again, offer. I mean, we have some of our staff doesn’t consume alcohol and so having things we have, we have some local sodas and soft drinks that we sell and things like that, but none that we make on our own.

Markus Raupach: Yes, and also you have a barrel-aged project or barrel-aging project, let’s say it like this. Is that also in the location?

Chris Shields: Yes, yes, we have in our basement actually, we have our barrel ageing and we have four fooders as well. So we do some mixed culture, sort of sour beer brewing and both of those are very small percentages of our volume. But they’re fun ways for us to showcase flavour and showcase what we can do and get that out into the world. And it’s fun for us to play around with. We use a lot of spirits barrels from, there’s a whiskey distillery just a couple miles from here just over the river. So we have a good partnership with them, with New Riff. So doing our bourbon barrel-aged stouts or on one hand and then doing, we do a creek-style mixed culture sour with cherries from Michigan we go up and get from King Orchards. And so it’s a big mix. We try to play around a little bit of everything.

Markus Raupach: Yes, it’s a lot of things, a huge variety, a lot of different beers and drinks. And now I really understand why there is a need of an educational director.

Chris Shields: Yes, I can hardly overview.

Markus Raupach: What is your perspective if you look in the near future? What will be the beer market, especially in America look like in a few years?

Chris Shields: Yes. I mean, I wish I knew for sure. That I’ll say. I think we’re seeing it a little bit. I think that there’s going to be less of a division between people that are beer drinkers or wine drinkers or spirits drinkers. And this isn’t news. I mean, this is happening. But I think people are just learning to drink what they like. And sometimes that’s going to be local, but not all the time. I think local doesn’t necessarily mean good or my favourite. Now, it’s a nice thing to do, right? If I’m a big fan of my community, I like to support businesses in my community. But I’m not going to do that at the detriment of quality and flavour. But I also, like I said, I drink beer, I drink wine, I drink coffee, I drink gin, I like Amari, right? Like pretty much I’m interested in flavour, and I think that’s where we’re going. I think that’s a little bit of why, I don’t want to say seltzer is struggling because I don’t think it’s going to go away. But I think people are realizing that there’s not much to it. And sometimes that’s nice. If you’re outside and it’s hot, and you’re by the pool or at the game and you want to have a seltzer, absolutely. But when you’re having a meal or spending time with friends, you want something a little bit more. And whether that’s a nice bottle of wine or a beer, I think that that’s just going to be driven by occasion. And I think breweries, wineries, distilleries, everybody needs to understand that they need to have offerings that are high quality, interesting, and fit with people’s lives. Because we all spent so much time at our houses being safe and I think that allowed people to really think about what was important. And I think that people are more interested in enjoying what they’re doing. I think you’re seeing a lot more people that are ready to have two beers that they really love instead of ten beers that are okay.

Markus Raupach: Definitely, this is a huge change and I see it the same. And also, this was a perfect statement for the end of a very good talk. So thanks a lot for the time and for the information and for your passion. That’s really great. And I think it won’t be the last time we will be talking together. So there’s a lot of more things to explore and I’m very much looking forward to visit you in Cincinnati. That will be an interesting time and also you’re always welcome in Bamberg if you come across. That will be fantastic.

Chris Shields: Yes, I would love to. I’ve never been so I need to come for a visit.

Markus Raupach: Yes, you have to. We also have now from our oldest brewery, a new beer, which is made with cherry-smoked wood. So it’s also a little bit like a journey back to your old days. I’m curious what you will say. So okay, fantastic. So thanks again. And yes, have a nice day today and thanks.

Chris Shields: Yes, thank you, Markus.

BierTalk – der Podcast rund ums Bier. Alle Folgen unter www.biertalk.de

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