Interview with Gene Muller, 2016 January 29

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  • Introduction and early life
    Partial Transcript: "My background is in, I grew up in Pine Hill, New Jersey..." "When I was a kid there were plenty of woods to go run and go in the back..." "Brewing allows you to use your creativity, interest in technology and science... which is awesome too."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about his ethnic background and growing up in Pine Hill, New Jersey. He discusses his childhood and about how he got the idea to open a brewery while driving through Arkansas.
    Keywords: brewing; Flying Fish Craft Brewing; gardening; Hadden Township, New Jersey; Pine Hill, New Jersey
  • Studying at Rutgers University
    Partial Transcript: "Let's see, the first semester was geology, the second was accounting... the big thing that really had an impact on me was I started writing for the student newspaper..." "I went to college when you could just go and figure it out... but it was a lot cheaper..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about his educational background. He earned his bachelor's degree at Rutger's University and his master's at Drexel University. He worked as a journalist while at both universities. He then got a job at an insurance company, which he disliked because there was no room for art or innovation. He then worked in the advertising department at Einstein Hospital.
    Keywords: construction; Drexel University; journalism; Rutgers University; The Daily Targum; The Drummer; work; writing
  • Apple computers at Drexel University
    Partial Transcript: "Every student would have a personal computer... at the time it was the Apple Lisa..." "...wow, you don't have to put punch cards in them..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about his time at Drexel University. He recalls when the university purchased an Apple Lisa computer for every student and began to incorporate personal computers in academic and campus life.
    Keywords: Apple Lisa; Computers; Drexel University
  • Home brewing beer in the late 1980s and early home brewing competitions and getting the idea to start a brew pub
    Partial Transcript: "I started home brewing... in the late 1980s..." "I was into food, I was into cooking, I was into different flavors..." "I've always been into... local beers, I never drank the national brands..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about home brewing beer in the late 1980s. He states that he won the first home brewing contest held in New Jersey after the state officially made home brewing legal in 1990. He recalls that he always preferred regional brands of beer as opposed to national brands. He says that when he saw the first wave of brew pubs opening in the 1990s he got the idea that opening his own brew pub might be a an enjoyable thing to do.
    Keywords: beer; competitions; hobbies; homebrewing; hops; New Jersey; Philadelphia Inquirer; Rolling Rock; Schmidt's; Yuengling
  • Working at a diner in high school and starting a brew pub
    Partial Transcript: "The cook called in drunk... so I stepped in and started cooking" "How about a production... I started writing business plans..." "I got the domain flyingfish.com" "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about his background in the restaurant industry and how he secured funding for Flying Fish. He says that he embraced the internet early and that interest in flyingfish.com, his "internet microbrewery" attracted the interest necessary to find investors and actually open his brewery in the real world in 1996. He talks about opening the brewery and signing on with, and their rocky relationship with, their first beer distributor.
    Keywords: Camden, New Jersey; craft brewing; diner; HTML; internet; New Jersey; technology; This Old House; working
  • The original brew house at Flying Fish
    Partial Transcript: "So, our original brew house was a twenty barrel system..." "Then we got a bottling line that came in 1996..."
    Synopsis: Muller discusses the first brew house at Flying Fish. He recalls that the company that made his first bottling line made every machine differently. He talks about the brewers in the Greater Philadelphia area. He talks about how his background as a writer helped him get started in the brewing field. He worked for a brewing trade magazine and made many contacts from his work there. He also talks about going to the Siebel Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
    Keywords: brew house; craft brewing; Flying Fish; Siebel Institute; SMB Technik
  • The craft brewing bubble in 1996 and 2016
    Partial Transcript: "We opened up in the fall of 1996 and late in the fall of 1996... the bubble burst and we were just literally coming online." "It took a good long time to start to get draft handles because no one believed in craft brewing."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about surviving the first craft brewing bubble bursting in 1996. He talks about how hard it was to stay in business following that. Now he says the industry is almost as difficult because there are so many craft brewers in business. He suggests that there is something of a bubble now, especially with seasonally produced beers and very small microbreweries, of which he thinks there are too many. Muller talks about the regulatory differences in the beer and restaurant industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
    Keywords: beer distribution; business; consumers; craft beer; craft brewing; economic bubbles; microbreweries; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; regulation; seasonal beers; selling beer
  • Buying beer brewing equipment and quality control
    Partial Transcript: "It's cheaper in the sense that the scale is lower..." "The issue is gonna be when people try to package the beer..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about the costs of beer brewing equipment. He says that the price of entry is low, but that it does not scale up. He says the cheapest most basic brewing systems do not include things like packaging and quality control and he feels that those two factors, especially the lack of quality control, will force many small breweries that do not or cannot have high quality control standards to close.
    Keywords: bottling; brewing systems; canning; draft beer; packaging; quality control; scale
  • Changes in attitudes toward craft beer and environmentalism
    Partial Transcript: "... in my theory, I think that is kids.. would steal a beer from their parents.. and they develop a taste for it." "The thing about craft beer or better coffee.. is once you realize what these things can taste like its really hard to go back to basic, bad supermarket coffee.... they're affordable luxuries..." "If we don't have clean land and clean water and plenty of it we're screwed as brewers..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about why he thinks attitudes about craft brewing have changed. He sees craft beer as an affordable luxury. He also talks about environmentalism and sustainability concerning water supplies. He says that he supports environmentalism because he thinks it is good for his business, which is reliant on clean water and clean land.
    Keywords: Budweiser; environmentalism; Flying Fish Brewery; Heineken; local movement; Miller-Coors; Rate Beer; sustainability; taste; Untapped
  • Flying Fish's water source
    Partial Transcript: "We have, well no, it's actually New Jersey American Water... so there's wells and then they have an allotment of water..." "We have some of the purest water in the country because of the sand... it acts like a giant filter..."
    Synopsis: Muller briefly discusses water sourcing. He says that water sourcing no longer matters as much as it used to due to water chemistry. He says that they can manipulate water to make it suitable for whatever they need to use it for.
    Keywords: brewing salts; gypsum; hard water; New Jersey American Water; soft water; water; water chemistry
  • The early days of Flying Fish Brewing Company
    Partial Transcript: "What we were looking for in a distributor, I really don't know... we learned pretty quickly if they deliver the beer and pay you, that's a good thing." "It's pretty much harder to get out of a beer distributorship than a marriage."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about the beer distribution system in New Jersey. He talks about how many of the distributors have consolidated over the years. He notes that unlike some surrounding states New Jersey allows self-distribution, but that the costs of doing so do not remain economical as a brewery grows in size. He says that their distribution philosophy is to stay local and deeply invest in the market. Muller says that the farther away from New Jersey his beer travels, the more important good quality control is. He says that he would rather brew fewer beers and concentrate on dominating the local market than brewing many types of beers and selling it in as many states as he could. As an example he cites a similar sized brewery that distributes beer to twenty five state in comparison to Flying Fish's' three and a half.
    Keywords: consolidation; distribution; franchise laws; market access; self-distribution; selling beer
  • Choosing what styles of beer get brewed at Flying Fish and the importance of tasting beer for quality control
    Partial Transcript: "We have always been about pairing beer with food." "Right now, every brewery in the country does at least one Belgian style beer." "We look for niches that other people aren't doing."
    Synopsis: Muller explains how he chooses what beers to brew and that he likes to brew beers that pair well with food and fill an unfilled niche. He moves into beer tasting and the role that serves in quality control because by the time beer reaches consumers it may be two to three months old. With that idea in mind, he says he tries to brew beer that will maintain a high quality taste for around five months.
    Keywords: beer food pairings; Belgian beer; brewing beer; flavor; India Pale Ale; IPA; quality control; selling beer; taste
  • How beer spoils
    Partial Transcript: "What ages beer is light, temperature, and oxygen." "As it oxidizes what you get is a smell of either wet cardboard or cooked vegetable..." "You get a bad pump seal and you can go from ten parts per million to 400 in a few seconds..."
    Synopsis: Muller explains the way in which beer can spoil. He also talks about quality control in the context of stopping spoilage.
    Keywords: beer; bottling; carbon dioxide; hops; malt; oxidation; packaging; quality control; spoilage
  • Moving from their first location to their current location
    Partial Transcript: "We bought this building in October of 2012 and started construction..." "We went from 10,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet..." "You can go from sheer boredom to sheer terror in about fifteen seconds..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about the trials of moving his brewery to his current location. They are much larger, but the move was stressful, and he says if he'd known how bad it could get he never would have moved. Due to delays in construction his brewery lost out on some major sales in 2013 but now that the current brewery is built and running he can make and sell much more beer. He says that things run quickly and smoothly, but that any machine breaking down can become a terrifying experience.
    Keywords: automation; brewing technology; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; construction; expansion; packaging; solar energy; sustainability
  • Brewing technology at Flying Fish
    Partial Transcript: "BrauKon... so yeah, they're kind of a newer company and there's several of them now in the area." "Now with the automation we can just email them or text them... and they can troubleshoot the issue." "It's easier when you're starting, you can build all of these efficiency and sustainability features in there..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about the brew house technology at Flying Fish. He talks about how much effort and energy his automated systems save in the brew house and how much less energy and raw materials he uses now.
    Keywords: BrauKon; customer support; efficiency; energy usage; hops; mash; technology; water
  • Gene Muller's experiences with government regulation of the alcohol industry
    Partial Transcript: "Our industry, the alcohol industry, is the only industry in the United States that has two constitutional amendments attached to it." "Each state has its own kind of strange laws.." "You could be off by a hundredth of a barrel and spend hours.. trying to figure out where that mistake is."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about regulation of the alcohol industry. He talks about how the laws are different from state to state and different on the state and national levels. He talks about how hard managing those taxes and regulations can be difficult without a dedicated accounting department. He also talks about New Jersey's state laws and how they limit the amount of liquor licenses in the state of New Jersey. He talks about how the industry and regulation is changing in New Jersey as state legislators become younger. He compares the changing situation to how the New York City taxi industry and the ride sharing service, Uber. He talks about his industry attempts to work with the New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control and the strained control system in New Jersey. He talks about regulation of brewing ingredients on the state and national levels.
    Keywords: accounting; Camden, New Jersey; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Delaware; ingredients; liquor licenses; Maryland; national regulations; New Jersey; New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control; New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Prohibition; regulation; state regulations; taxation; taxes; taxis; Uber
  • Definitions of craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "Craft brewing is... you know the old saying, ask twelve brewers, get thirteen answers."
    Synopsis: Muller defines craft brewing. He says that a craft brewer is a brewer who uses pure, high quality ingredients and follows generally accepted brewing practices. He says that the quality of the beer is the most important part of the craft brewing process.
    Keywords: adjuncts; beer; corn; craft brewing; independent businesses; ingredients; purity; rice rice syrup; six row barley; two row barley
  • Craft brewing trade associations and their role in the industry
    Partial Transcript: "There are things that can be done that effect your livelihood, it's important to have a voice..." "You may not always get your way, but you have to have these relationships..."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about the importance of having relationships with government. He says that they are absolutely necessary to do business in an industry that is so heavily regulated by state and national governments. He notes that they don't always get their way, but says that brewers must sit at the table.
    Keywords: All About Beer Magazine; breweries; Daniel Bradford; government relationships; legislation; petitions; tin rationing; Trenton, New Jersey
  • American craft beers in Europe and the future of craft beer and craft spirits
    Partial Transcript: "I was in Italy about eight years ago with a group of brewers... now there's craft brewers everywhere in Italy." "Where as we went from our parents drinking ice cold American beer to us drinking flavorful beer, and we were inspired by England and Europe, its now the people who inspired us, their children are going back to the people we were betting against." "There's a lot of blurring of lines in (in making alcohol) it can be something different."
    Synopsis: Muller talks about American craft beer in Europe and the world. He talks about how American beer might now be the best in the world and how craft beer has spread throughout the world. He talks about how he would like all craft spirit makers to work together as an organization. He also offers some final thoughts on the state of the craft brewing bubble and notes that at the end of the day successful breweries are hobbies and not businesses.
    Keywords: beer; Brooklyn Brewing; Budweiser; cider makers; craft beer; craft brewers; craft distilling; England; Germany; Guinness; Italy; Jose Cuervo; meaderies; Poland; Reinheitsgebot; Tequila; vinyards