Interview with Hugh Sisson, 2016 February 3

Share/Save:
  • Introduction and biographical information
    Partial Transcript: "I am here at Heavy Seas Beer, I am being joined by founder Hugh Sisson." "Grew up in Baltimore city.. my family has been here since 1810..." It's an interesting place.. it goes through fits and starts of renaissance and retraction..." "I started drinking beer in England."
    Synopsis: Sisson discusses his personal and academic background. He currently runs Heavy Seas brewing based in Baltimore Maryland. Previously he studied theater at the University of Virginia. He started drinking beer while studying abroad in England and noted that he found English beer tasted better than American beer. He had no idea at the time he would run a brewery someday, but looks back on his beer drinking in England as a formative experience.
    Keywords: Baltimore, Maryland; Charlottesville, Virginia; England; theater; University of Virginia; Washington and Lee University
  • Running Sisson's bar in Baltimore, MD
    Partial Transcript: "So fast forward to the end- late 1980, I'm leaving grad school." "I got to the bar, my father happened to be there... he tossed me the keys..." "there were eight other bars on the block...""..we decided to run the place into a beer joint...'
    Synopsis: Sissons talks about running a bar upon leaving grad school. In order to differentiate his bar from others in the area he specialized in imported beer and served around 150 different types of beer. In 1987 he and Maryland state senator George Della were involved with legislature that made brew pubs legal in Maryland and in 1989 he began to brew his on beer.
    Keywords: Baltimore, Maryland; bar; beer; brew pub; brewer; brewing; Charlottesvile, Virginia; England; George Della; imported beer; laws; legislature; New York City, New York; running a business; Scotland; Sissons
  • Learning how to brew beer properly
    Partial Transcript: "In August of 1989 we became the first brew pub in Maryland." "I left Sissons at the end of 94 and opened Clipper City Brewing Company..." "I never thought I would end up being a manufacturer, marketing type."
    Synopsis: Sisson's talks about leaving his family's brew pub in order to start a company focused only on beer. He said it was a fun and interesting thing to do that made good business sense at the time. He says that when he started brewing in the 1980s the world was much more forgiving for a brewer who had not yet mastered the trade compared to what it is now.
    Keywords: Clipper City Brewing Company; craft brewing; Heavy Seas Beer; hospitality industry; Sisson's
  • Working with the Maryland state legislature for the brewing industry
    Partial Transcript: "You also mentioned learning how to work with a legislature." "George Della was a Maryland state senator who marshalled and sponsored the brew pub bill..." "When we were working on this stuff... in the beginning, nobody knew..."
    Synopsis: Sisson discusses learning to work with a legislature in order to get bills passed that are important to his industry. He explains that dealing with most issues opponents have with legislation and making a law region wide as opposed to statewide increase the chances of a bill being passed.
    Keywords: brewing industry; craft beer; excise tax; George Della; Maryland State Legislature; prohibition; sin tax
  • Business regulation in the state of Maryland
    Partial Transcript: "What about the regulatory structure in the state of Maryland?" "It's not great, it's not bad." "Now its the devil I know... I'd rather it not change."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about government regulation in the brewing industry on the city state and federal level. He describes it as neither good nor bad. He describes regulation as being the devil he knows now, and would rather it not change radically. He says that he prefers an industry that generates as little waste as possible, staffed by safe workers and that his ideas on how to achieve that goal sometimes differ from the government's ideas on the same subject.
    Keywords: business; government; labor; Maryland; pollution; regulation
  • Early career as a brewer
    Partial Transcript: "Id like to get back to your early career as a brewer." "There was the start of the idea of buying a brewery off the shelf..." "I have to admit, I was having a blast brewing beer."
    Synopsis: Sisson discusses craft brewing in the 1980s. He says that in the early days there were very limited resources for people interested in brewing beer to learn how to brew. He says that he brewed beer at Sisson's, but never brewed beer for his own company, because he did not feel he was a good enough brewer and needed to run the company. He says that in the early days of his own company he was involved with recipe formulation and new product development, but no longer is.
    Keywords: brew pub; brewer training; Brewing Lager Beer; Gregory Noonan; home brewing; recipe; University of California, Davis
  • Funding Clipper City Brewing Company
    Partial Transcript: "You mentioned when you first started Clipper City... you had perhaps underestimated the importance of having retail..." "Sisson's was a well established brand, Clipper City was out of nowhere..." "Without that extra retail margin, it was tough going for a couple of years."
    Synopsis: Sisson discusses what it took for him to found Clipper City Brewing Company. He left Sisson's brew pub and spent all of the money he had on starting his own company. He says that it was somewhat easy to get the funding to start his company due to his good reputation in the city of Baltimore. However, he made very little money during his first several years of owning a brewing company and had to brew beer for other brewers to keep his doors open.
    Keywords: Baltimore Maryland; brew pub; business; Clipper City Brewing Company; contract brewing; debt; Delaware; equity; investment; Pennsylvania; Sisson's; Virginia
  • The retail side of Heavy Seas Beers
    Partial Transcript: "Where was the original location?" "We only went from 15,00 to 40,00 square feet three and a half years ago."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about the brewing capacity of his brewery and how it has grown in recent years, but still does not fill up the building it is presently located in. He also discusses the retail side of the beer business. He says that there are two franchised Heavy Seas Beers tap houses in Baltimore, Maryland and Arlington, Virginia. He goes on to express some regret at having these franchises as the location in Arlington made them lose a profitable account and he now runs his own taproom at the brewery in Baltimore, Maryland.
    Keywords: Arlington, Virginia; Baltimore Maryland; brewery; expansion; Heavy Seas Beer; taproom
  • Clipper City Brewing Company, contract brewing and the creation of the Heavy Seas Beer brand
    Partial Transcript: "What is involved in contract brewing?"
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about the economic side of running a brewery. He explains contract brewing and how it is difficult for his company to earn money on it, but it keeps the doors open. He discusses his choice to focus only on the Heavy Seas brand, despite having three different labels
    Keywords: Blue Point Brewing Company; Clipper City Brewing Company; contract brewing; Heavy Seas Beer; organic beer; Oxford Brewing Company; wheat fruit beer
  • Selling Heavy Seas Beer
    Partial Transcript: "How did you develop and define the Heavy Seas brand?" "One thing I've learned about branding is you have to be willing to tweak..." "... We make really good beer... it could look a little more mature..."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about repacking Heavy Seas Beers into more mature looking package. He says that operating a brewery at capacity can be hazardous because to him, it means that they are more likely to miss meeting orders. He also says that number of breweries makes it hard to distribute his product and that he focuses on selling beer in a 250 mile radius and in states that border Maryland. He also explains the beer distribution system.
    Keywords: branding; brewing capacity; distribution; Heavy Seas Beer; marketing; packaging; pirate
  • The nautical branding of Heavy Seas Beer
    Partial Transcript: "I would like to get back to the branding... there are historical ties between beer and maritime culture, was that a factor?" "Baltimore is where the clipper ship was first designed and built, I thought naming a brewery Clipper City would be apparent...I discovered fairly quickly..most of the residents of Baltimore have no idea this is where the clipper ship was designed and built."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about the reasoning behind his branding. He initially chose the name "Clipper City" because he thought it was common knowledge in Baltimore, Maryland that the clipper ship had its origins there. He was wrong. He chose the name "Heavy Seas" for his current beer offerings because they are heavier beers, with higher ABV. He says that since then the nautical and sometimes pirate themed branding has just been what worked best for his company.
    Keywords: ABV; Annheuser-Busch; Baltimore, Maryland; Clipper City Brewing; heavy beer; Heavy Seas Beer; Miller; National Bohemian Beer; Pabst; Partner Ships
  • Heavy Seas Beers cask program
    Partial Transcript: "Tell me bout your cask program." "if its properly handled you have... soft round draft beer." "We have 1200 firkins..."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about cask conditioned beer versus regular kegged beer. He said that the former has a unique flavor and taste compared to the latter, but is much more difficult for unskilled distributors to keep fresh and is highly perishable. Hey also says that his brewery owns 1200 casks for conditioning beer as he thinks it will be beneficial for them to become experts at cask conditioning beer.
    Keywords: cask conditioned beer; casked beer; conditioning; draft beer; fermentation; firkin; keg
  • Heavy Seas Beers mission statement
    Partial Transcript: "you mentioned your missions statement earlier.. could you say the whole phrase?""Our mission statement is to sail to new brewing horizons guided by the winds of tradition and driven by the quest for adventure. "A lot of what we're doing is taking the old and making it new again.""History is always a source of- it should always be the way that you inform the future."
    Synopsis: Sisson explains his brewery's mission statement and how he seeks to live up to it. he explains that his commitment to old beer brewing methods, like cask conditioning with modern twists- using never before used woods to age beer or adding extra flavors- embodies his mission statement. Sissons says that he believes that history should inform the future and his company's methods attempt to live up to that ideal.
    Keywords: cask conditioned beer; Geoffrey Chaucer; Heavy Seas Beer; history; innovation; Plank; Uncharted Waters
  • Growing Heavy Seas Beer
    Partial Transcript: "Could you talk a little bit more about how you've grown the business over time?" "We opened the doors and had a collective "oh shit," hmm..." "I needed to figure out a way to make the bills work."
    Synopsis: Sisson's relates that when he opened his doors, the craft beer industry was down and he relied on contract brewing in order to keep his doors open. When he created the Heavy Seas brand he had to let go of his contract brewing jobs, and grew so quickly that he was unable to keep up with demand for his product because he had to upgrade and rebuild and retool his facility
    Keywords: Blue Point Brewing Company; brewing; brewing capacity; contract brewing; Du Claw Brewing Company; Ipswich Ale Brewery; Oxford Brewing Company; risk; Sisson's; Weeping Radish Farm Brewery
  • Brewing and packing Heavy Seas Beer
    Partial Transcript: "What vendors did you go with for sourcing your equipment?" "Brew house... Bottling line... you buy larger and grow in..." "fermenters you grow incrementally..."
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about the brewing equipment used to make Heavy Seas Beer and the economics of purchasing new equipment. He says that companies should buy larger brew houses and bottling and canning lines than what they need and grow into it, but that it is economical to buy fermentation tanks as needed.
    Keywords: brewing; brewing capacity; Germany; KHS USA; Newlands Systems Incorporated; Vancouver, Canada
  • Heavy Seas Beer and trade associations
    Partial Transcript: "What about trade associations?" " I started the Maryland Brewer's Association." "In the late 90s it was an uphill battle... bars and restaurants, they didn't need us..." "We now have 50 businesses..."
    Synopsis: Sisson discusses his involvement in trade organizations.He is not very involved on the national level, but was a founding member of the Maryland Brewer's association and remains active within that organization. He also talks about his desire to keep his company at less than fifty employees.
    Keywords: festivals; Maryland Brewer's Association; National Brewer's Association; trade organizations
  • Attitudes about beer
    Partial Transcript: "Attitudes about beer have changed so much..." "15 years ago I had to explain to people what in IPA was..." "In the beginning there was microbrewery..." "Now the challenge is... you have all these other folks that are buying some of my peers, does that mean these are not craft brewers anymore?" "Do you know who made the beer?"
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about how his customer's taste in beer has changed since he has been in the brewing industry. He also talks about what craft beer means for him. For him it means that the consumer knows who actually made the beer as opposed to ti being made by a larger brewer who he says present themselves as anonymous to the consumer.
    Keywords: craft beer; India Pale Ale; IPA
  • The future of the craft brewing industry and final thoughts
    Partial Transcript: "2015 really was a banner year for acquisitions." "I think we're looking at a lot of turmoil in the next couple of years." "It's gonna be crazy, its deifnitley gonna be crazy.
    Synopsis: Sisson talks about the future of the craft brewing industry. He thinks that bigger breweries are going to continue to buy smaller breweries and that competition for retail shelf space will become incredibly fierce. He also remarks on how hard the industry is to break into and thinks that eventually the craft brewing bubble will burst. He remakrs on how hard of an industry craft brewing is for a new brewery to break into.
    Keywords: acquisitions; Annheuser-Busch; chain stores; craft brewing; liquor stores; markets; Miller- Coors; private equity companies