Have you ever talked about beer with your friends? What am I saying, of course you have. Have you ever wanted to record yourself and create a podcast out of your drunken arguments that stemmed from all that drinking? Well, maybe not, but that is exactly what a few local beer enthusiasts finally did.
Jeff Kissel is one of the founding members of Charlotte Beercast, a local podcast focused on craft beer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and nationwide. We met up with Jeff to talk about the beginnings of the podcast and to enjoy a craft beer (or two).
Charlotte Burger Blog: So, first of all, what are you drinking?
Jeff Kissel: This is a Death By Hops (Olde Hickory). I had the Ghost Hop (NoDa Brewing) a bit ago. It was pretty solid.
Charlotte Burger Blog: Tell us a little about yourself, a little background.
Jeff Kissel: I’m originally from Indiana. A town called Evansville. We’re in the toe of Indiana if you’re familiar with it. One of our few claims to fame is that the LST 427 was constructed there…
Charlotte Burger Blog: The what?
Jeff Kissel: It’s a war boat. A League of Their Own was shot there. I moved here for work about two years ago. I have a beautiful wife, and two kids. I’m a graduate from Indiana University, so I’m a big Hoosier.
Charlotte Burger Blog: Talk to us about the Charlotte Beer Cast. I’ve been a big fan of it ever since I started listening to it.
Jeff: A big fan? Of All three episodes!? (laughs) So Josh, the host, he and I work together. We got to talking one day, as you do with co-workers, and the topic of beer came up (as it does with co-workers). Then we started talking even more about beer. And then every now and then it became, “I’ve got to talk about beer with somebody” and you know, we’d kind of seek each other out. “Hey, I hear Total Wine’s got something,” and we’d run down to Total Wine or whatever just for something to do on a lunch hour. One day we got talking and he sent an email to a few of the people he knew and said, “Is anybody interested in doing this?” I was like, “Absolutely.” He and I had kind of thrown around some of the ideas, but he’s really the one who said, “I’m going to do it.” He was the one that made it a reality and jumped in to get it started. Our current lineup is Josh, Ryan Self from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Mark Iafrate (charlottebeerblog.com), and myself. I figured, what the hell, right?
Charlotte Burger Blog: So how did you connect with those other guys?
Jeff: So, there’s a lost episode that I don’t know will ever make the light of day. The very first time that we all met we actually had 7 or 8 people that had expressed interest in being part of the show, because, you know, who doesn’t want to sit around and talk about beer? Most of us are doing it anyway, right?. We decided that we would all get together and try to record this show. So we’re all in this room, recording off of little webcams. One guy has a Rock Band mic. It was pretty ghetto. But, you do what you can. We didn’t know if it would take off. We didn’t know what we were doing. We weren’t even sure if anything would be produced that would be worthwhile or interesting.
We had our first show and it was the first time that I actually had met anybody outside of Josh. Josh I knew, everyone else was complete strangers. It was kind of just a “jump into it cold and hope for the best” kind of thing, where you make up the chemistry as you go.
We got through that first show, thought it was really good. We were talking about Charlotte Beer Week, which was coming up in a week or two, a bunch of the related festivals and events, and Daniel Hartis was there to talk about his book and give his opinions. We had a whole bunch of different topics we were going through. We had 3 or 4 different laptops, and everybody was recording their mic into a separate feed, because we didn’t have a mixer or anything. We get done and everybody is exporting their files and uploading them to Josh. One of the Macbooks ended up with a toasted hard drive and we lost everything for one of the feeds. We gave the owner a lot of hell over that, but in the end, the first episode was lost because it was too hard to piece together the remaining audio streams when we lost Ryan’s mic in the middle of the room.
One of the takeaways from that experience was that Josh realized that we had a lot of voices that were all fighting for the same opportunity to talk, and so it’s his baby, he’s the producer, and he decided, “I’m going to shrink it up.”, and so he set the main rotation.
Five can sometimes feel like too many, but four works out just right. Otherwise, somebody just kind of sits on the side. That’s how we’re approaching it now. We’ll bring in a guest from time to time, and we just try to take more of a backseat to let the guest participate in the conversation. Our first couple of episodes are pretty rough, as we’ve kind of learned on the fly through trial and error how to make things sound better, how to make it work better. Josh has spent a lot of time sharing notes with others to make the show sound good, and through some teeth gnashing and some prodding, we now all have actual mics and a mixer now, which is resulting in a dramatic uptick in quality for episode 4, and I’m hopeful episode 5 comes out as strong, because it felt like one of our best recording sessions yet.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So how did you get into craft beer? How long have you been into it?
Jeff: I really haven’t been into craft beer as long as I would like. One of the downsides to being from a small town in Indiana is that there weren’t a whole lot of options. We’re about 3 hours east of St. Louis, which has Schlafly, 3 hours south of Indianapolis which has Upland and Sun King, and that’s about it. There has been a real explosion of craft breweries nearby, but for most of my time, AB-InBev or MillerCoors dominated our choice. Our options for “craft” are what most people would call “crafty” now 1. You could get Chimay, but most of the store bought stuff was Sam Adams. We started to get some beer from New Belgium in town towards the end of my time there.
But really, I met a guy that was into home-brewing and he brewed Belgian style, and at the time, I wasn’t so concerned with what I drank. He challenged me with what I was drinking, and when I told him that my favorite beer was “free beer”, he told me that he wanted to show me what was out there. He took me under his wing, and that was really opened my mind to what all was really out there. He turned me on to true Belgian beer, with character, and away from the “crafty” option like Blue Moon, Leinenkugel’s, etc.
Charlotte Burger Blog: That’s what a lot of people think craft beer at first is, like, a Blue Moon. At least, that’s how I got started. I drank Blue Moon and I drank Guinness and then I got more experimental over time. You eventually learn what is actually good, and you get loyal to the small, local companies , especially since there has been a great craft beer explosion here in Charlotte.
Jeff: One of the toughest parts is that I may have this beer that I cut my teeth on, and I really like, but the knowledge I have now tells me that the beer is not good beer. Blue Moon is a great example. We talk about it on episode four. That is wholly owned Miller, it was never its own brand that got bought out, which is what they want you to think. It was always Miller. A lot of people don’t necessarily know that. I drank tons of Blue Moon. I still have a soft spot in my heart for getting one on tap. But we try to focus on what’s local and what’s really craft and not just what’s passing itself off as craft, and as such, I’ve had to make some unpopular decisions in my fridge. It’s one thing to embrace this lifestyle; it’s another to get your wife on board.
There are a lot of different opinions out there, and degrees of what is or isn’t ok. Mine is that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re drinking. Try to drink local, try to drink craft as much as you can, but don’t give up the hunt for something that will work for you and support a local company.
I think for a lot of people it’s a comfort issue. They go with what they know. At some point in their lives, somebody pushed a hop-heavy beer like a Death By Hops or Stone Ruination on them when they’re used to Bud Light and it totally freaked them out. What’s difficult is trying to bridge the gap and open people’s eyes.
I’ve got to hand it to them. AB InBev and Miller/Coor’s are consistent as hell. That’s what people like. They know what they’re getting, even if the quality is sub-par. What I get out of a bottle of Highland’s Kashmir may be different from the next bottle. What I get in this batch of NoDa’s Hop Drop and Roll may be different from the next one. We’re okay with that because we’re used it, but I think for a lot of people it’s tough, and some of the flavor profiles are so aggressive that it’s not always easy to find a non-intimidating pathway into the craft beer world.
Charlotte Burger Blog: The good news is that it’s so much easier that it was even five years ago. Around here there are so many great breweries. But, it’s one thing to get into craft beer, it’s another thing to have a refined palate. I would say that I love craft beer, but my palate isn’t that discerning. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, but if you blind-folded me I couldn’t tell a lot apart. Yet.
Jeff: I’ll tell you, whether it’s a good thing or it’s a bad thing, I think that some of what my role is on the show is to speak for those of us that are still building into this world, this lifestyle. We can compare Untapped Check-In lists, and the other guys on that show have ten times as much as I do (not that it’s a contest). There is something to a point that either you have a developed and discerning palate or you don’t. You can taste things or you can’t taste things. The more you get into it the more you learn. Some of the stuff I taste, I say, “This tastes good.” Some of the stuff, I say, “This tastes bad.” Sometimes, I listen to what the guys are picking out of their samples and I agree. Some times, I don’t know where they’re coming from. So I’m always learning and experiencing, looking to appreciate it more.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So, you guys discuss a lot of Charlotte beers and you discuss a lot of national beers, but I don’t think there’s been a lot of discussion of other North Carolina beers. Are there any other NC brewers that impress you?
Jeff: I’ve heard a lot of great things about Wicked Weed on Asheville. I will say, I hit the Old Hickory tap room/restaurant and I thought it was really good. Their fish and chips was one of the better fish and chips I’ve had in a long time, and their beer was really strong on tap. Maybe not having the discerning, experienced palate that some others have, I look at Old Hickory and I like a lot of what they have. I enjoy their Death by Hops. The Redeemer can be good and bad sometimes, but I get it. When I go back to Evansville, I usually take a case of Death by Hops because I’ve got people back there who are excited by it, and again, there just aren’t as many craft options there.
I really like Foothills. I’ve had the Sexual Chocolate once, I know that’s the big thing that everybody likes, but I really like their Hoppyum and their Seeing Double. I’ve had some of the Mother Earth Weeping Willow Wit, and it actually got my wife super-excited, as it’s a local option to Blue Moon and Goose Island 312 that she really liked. One of the things we’re trying to find a way to make a segment in our show going forward is “What’s a good alternative to ______.”, where we can talk about craft alternatives to crafty options, or possibly even local options to non-local options. That actually popped up when I had to have “the talk” with my wife about Blue Moon. And then she’s like, “That’s fine, because I still like 312.” So I’m like, “Okay, so here’s the thing about Goose Island.”, to which I get an eye roll, and exasperated look, and a question as to what “is” going to be ok to keep in the fridge.
Charlotte Burger Blog: I liked it too until a couple of weeks ago. I found out about Goose Island and AB InBev from listening to your podcast. Now I don’t want it. I don’t like anything so much that I feel that I’ve got to give money to the big companies. Like you’re talking about, there are a ton of alternatives that I am more than happy with, and I would rather spend my money with the small guys.
Jeff: Yeah. Blue Moon is one of those that everybody says, “I love this beer. But it’s not craft beer, so what are my options?” Allagash White is a good option, but it isn’t quite the same. Recently, I had a day off, the kids were in school, and my wife and I went to Total Wine and just hit the wheat/witbier section and just started grabbing bottles off the shelf to try. Some of them were absolute nos, but the Weeping Willow was really good, and now is consistently in our fridge. I prefer to pick it up from a small bottle shop, but my point is that it’s a good exercise to spend a little extra on individual bottles, get a bunch from the style you’re trying to replace, and just experience what the craft beer world has to offer.
We would like to thank Jeff Kissel for taking the time to talk with us. Make sure you check out the Charlotte Beercast iTunes page for all the latest podcasts that they have to offer.
- For more information regarding the “craft” versus “crafty” debate, see the Charlotte Beer Cast’s 4th episode: “Sometimes You Feel Like a Little Mexican”. ↩