Interview with Taylor Smack, 2016 January 8

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  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: "I am from Lynchburg Virginia..." "I had gotten sick of a job in advertising writing..." "We opened Blue Mountain together in '07..."
    Synopsis: Smack gives a brief introduction to his life story. After graduating college and becoming disillusioned with his job at a dot com company he moved to Chicago to learn how to brew beer. He came back to Virginia after working at Goose Island in Chicago. He came back to Virginia and worked as South Street Brewery. After some time there he opened Blue Mountain Brewery and eventually had the chance to buy South Street. He did, and at the time of his interview he owned a company which employed 160 people.
    Keywords: Blue Mountain Brewery; Chicago, Illinois; Goose Island Brewery; Hampton Sydney College; Lynchburg Virginia; Midlothian Virginia; Siebel Institute; South Street Brewery
  • Training at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, Illinois
    Partial Transcript: "So in the year 2000 we had just gotten through a pretty awful bubble of failing micro breweries..." "It was like I was in a classroom from the 1940s..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about learning how to brew beer in 2000. He says that it was mostly textbook work, whereas now the program emphasizes hands on techniques.
    Keywords: Chicago Illinois; German; New Brewer Magazine; Siebel Institute; University of California, Davis
  • A brief history of brewing beer
    Partial Transcript: "I claim myself to be no expert on this... in the simplest terms man has fermented grains for at least 10,000 years..." "At some point people started using copper pots and boiling..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the history of brewing and fermented beverages from the Stone Age to the present and the impact that the Industrial Revolution had on the brewing industry. He says that in his opinion good craft brewers are using current brewing science and technology with old recipes and techniques in order to create the best beers that they can.
    Keywords: brewing technique; brewing technology; history; Industrial Revolution
  • Growing their own hops at Blue Mountain Brewery; connections to agriculture
    Partial Transcript: "My wife and I were inspired by the vineyard... we would come and enjoy... that side of the vineyards." "A really purposeful mission of Blue Mountain has been trying to reconnect people to the agricultural side of brewing."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about how Blue Mountain Brewery grows its own hops. He says that they took inspiration from the agricultural side of vineyards. Smack says he didn't like wine very much, but wished that someone would create a similar experience, but for beer. He says that at the start they did not have much know how or land to grow hops, but things have gotten better for them. He talks about the legal battle to allow farm breweries in Virginia. Smack also talks about the search for a good water source in order to ensure that Blue Mountain would have a consistent water supply. He says he founded his brewery with the intent to get back to the agricultural ties of brewing.
    Keywords: agriculture; brew farm; hops; land; water sources
  • The water supply at Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Well, fairly neutral pH, 7.2. at this location fairly hardish water... I don't attempt to do a Pilsner here... you need softish water for that." "We brew everything, everywhere." "South Street, our other location is in the city... we filter the chlorine out, fluoride too..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the water at his brewery locations. He explains that he prefers well water over city water for brewing beer. He goes into a description of the filtering process he uses to eliminate the tastes of chlorine and fluoride when he brews beer with city water.
    Keywords: beer; brewing; chlorine; filtration; fluoride; hard water; lager; pH; pilsner; soft water; water
  • Sourcing and growing hops and founding the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative
    Partial Transcript: "I guess the best way to say it is when I first started brewing Cascade hops, I was getting them for about 1.50 a pound at Goose Island and when we opened Blue Mountain it was the first and worst in many decades, hop shortage, and Cascade hops went up to 36 dollars a pound..." "It's an awful cycle..." "I co-founded with Stan, the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative..." "People made beer from the get-go here... from Jamestown..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about his personal history buying hops for brewing beer. He talks about extreme price hikes in hops due to years of poor harvests. Smack talks about contracting hops out several years ahead. He also talks about growing his own hops on site in Virginia. He talks about his involvement in founding the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, a group dedicated to sharing the best practice in hops growing in Virginia and surrounding states. He discusses the difficulty in harvesting large fields of hops. He discusses the history of hops growing and beer making in Virginia history.
    Keywords: beer; brewing; Cascade hops; contracts; farming; geography; history; hops; mountains; Old Dominion Hops Cooperative; sourcing hops; Virginia hops; Virginia wine
  • Blue Mountain Brewery and beer competitions
    Partial Transcript: "...a low of these were buy a medal competitions... the two big ones nationally for beer, and the one for our state are not like that..." "You try to send your best beer and its a roll of the dice..." "If you win in the Kolsch style in the world beer cup... you're competing against brewer's from Cologne Germany, who have been doing it for a while..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the difficulty of beer competitions. He criticizes wine contests that award medals for entry and says that the regional and national beer contests are not like that. He says that due to the growth in size of these contests they may only enter four beers for competition. He says that he enjoys winning medals but that the most important part of a competition for him is getting feedback from judges about how he can make his beer better.
    Keywords: Brewer's Association; contests; feedback; Great American Beer Festival; Virginia Beer Competition; World Beer Cup
  • The growth of the craft beer industry
    Partial Transcript: "American Brewing tradition has Western European roots... we once had a diverse landscape of beer..." "We used six row barley... we used adjuncts like corn, things that America can grow better than Europe, but it changes the beer..." "I think it was 2011 or 2012, we still didn't have as many breweries in America as they had before prohibition..." "Double digit growth since 2000..." "People are interested in craft beer... I don't have to sell it anymore..."
    Synopsis: Smack discusses the history of brewing in the United States since colonial times. He focuses on the state of brewing since prohibition. He says that the craft beer industry is growing rapidly and that he's noticed at his own business that almost no people in their early twenties prefer large beer brands, like Budwesier, over craft beers. He thinks that if young beer drinkers beer preferences are like that in the South, they must be like that nation wide as well.
    Keywords: America; barley; beer; brewing; corn; culture; Europe; heritage; history; industrialization; lager; porter; Prohibition; Sierra Nevada; stout; tradition
  • The history of Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "We opened in 2007... people thought we were crazy... people in rural areas didn't really understand craft beer..." "We fought being a restaurant..." "...unlike a city, if you don't make a customer happy where they just go to the next restaurant - out here, they would keep coming here and yelling at us... so we put pizzas back on..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about starting his farm brewery. Initially, the laws in the state of Virginia made operating his business very difficult. They have since changed. His business has grown several times over the years and as he adds on to his facilities they quickly reach their capacity. He says that whenever a competitor opens nearby he is worried, but so far all that's done has been to increase his business as it further cements Nelson county as a popular destination for craft beer fans.
    Keywords: banks; Blue Mountain Brewery; breweries; brewery; business; cideries; competition; distilleries; farm brewery; Nelson County, Virginia; restaurant; Senate Bill 604; spirits; Virginia Craft Brewer's Guild; wineries
  • Starting the Virginia Brewer's Guild
    Partial Transcript: "I really haven't met a brewer I haven't liked." "There were at least three attempts at (forming a guild) to the point when this one started a lot of people just didn't take it seriously..." "Its been very, very serious..." "They got a contract brewing bill passed."
    Synopsis: Smack discusses the Virginia Brewer's Guild. He says that the current guild is the result of several previous failed attempts at starting a guild. He says that the guild aligned itself with the Virginia Manufacturer's Association due to its political and economic power. He believes this is a good alliance and credits their backing for helping to get many of the bills passed through Virginia's General Assembly.
    Keywords: beer; craft beer industry; government; legislation; Virginia; Virginia General Assembly; Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association; Virginia Manufacturer's Association
  • Branding and identity of Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "... someone asked what's your thing, what's your angle..." "South Street could not mean more to me..." "If I had to peg our identity... its extremely family friendly..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about branding and creating an identity for Blue Mountain Brewery and South Street Brewery, which he also owns. He says that to his mind, their identity was making good beer. His vice president of marketing told him that was not enough. He says that over time his company's thing became that they were a family friendly brewery.
    Keywords: Blue Mountain Brewery; branding; South Street Brewery; Virginia Brewer's Cup; World Beer Cup
  • Starting a family while running Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "We built our house, our brewery and my wife became pregnant all at the same time..." "Well oh, I get it now, those poor parents, they needed a place to come... so we're kid tolerant and kid loving now." "Our thing is making great beer."
    Synopsis: Smack goes into greater detail about how his business became a family friendly brew farm. He says that the evolution was natural. Smack says he did not like children coming to his restaurant, but after having a child of his own his opinion changed. Between being a parent and appreciating the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside he understands why families want to come to his business.
    Keywords: Appalachian Trail; children; Shenandoah National Park; Skyline Drive; Wintergreen Resort
  • Distributing Blue Mountain's beer and legal troubles with their distributor
    Partial Transcript: "Distribution is extremely important... and it should be a great relationship" "...we're a brew pub..." "...distribution is hard, you need trucks, people..." "I can divorce my wife, I can't divorce my distributor."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the beer distribution system in the state of Virginia. He says that distributors have lifetime contracts with breweries and talks at great length about the pitfalls of this system which helps independent distributors stay in business. He discusses his own brewery's legal battle with a distributor they feel has not lived up to their side of the contract they signed with Blue Mountain.
    Keywords: beer distribution; brew pub; loopholes; Virginia
  • Beer distribution continued
    Partial Transcript: "He drove the beer around in a pick up truck in the 40s and 50s..." "I do believe... Anheuser-Busch, InBev, I believe, in my mind, absolutley want to dismantle the craft-brewing world."
    Synopsis: Smack continues to talk about distributing his beers. He says that he believes Anheuser-Busch wants to dismantle the craft brewing world. He says that distributors are aware of the trend toward craft brewing. He suggests that at some point in the future craft beer might represent fifty percent of the beer consumed in the United States. He talks about how big breweries, like Coors and Anheuser-Busch are buying up craft breweries in order to maintain their market control. He says that he respects Budweiser for making a totally consistent product, albeit a product he does not enjoy very much.
    Keywords: beer; Blue Mountain Brewery; Budweiser; Coors; distribution; InBev: Anheuser-Busch; Siebel Institute; South Street Brewery
  • Definitions of craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "do you like the beer you're drinking, then who cares who makes it..." The Brewer's Association... they've come up with definitions...but they have to wiggle it a little bit every year." "I believe its about mass consumption... it's not craft beer."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the meaning of craft beer. His main goal is to make flavorful beer. He says he is not a fan of craft brew labels owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev and Miller-Coors. He believes that time is on his side and that the number of beer drinkers who prefer small, flavorful craft brewed beers will grow.
    Keywords: Anheuser-Busch; Blue Moon; Brewer's Association; craft beer; Goose Island; InBev; Miller-Coors; Shock Top
  • Favorite beers to brew, new recipes and hop usage
    Partial Transcript: "I still brew occassionally..." "I've had to let the younger brewers try new methods that make me uncomfortable." "We're doing soft serve- an ice cream porter..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about his favorite beers to brew. He also talks about trying new recipes and letting his breweries innovate. He also describes how his company uses hops and their innovation and experimentation in hop usage and beer brewing.
    Keywords: adjuncts; flavor; hops; ingredients; innovation; kolsch; lager; malt; pellet hops; sour beers; taste; whole grain hops; wort
  • The business side of brewing beer
    Partial Transcript: "Ales have greater diversity..." "Yeast does ferment everywhere..." "Craft brewers... they did ales, because they're more interesting, honestly..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about the business of brewing beer and how he picks which beers get brewed. He says that they have a core group of beers that they always make but now that they have that group he allows his brewers to get creative as often as possible. He says that his goal is to maintain creativity and add more types of beers to his company's portfolio.
    Keywords: ale yeast; Belgian ale; cost; distribution; English ale; fermentation; hops; imperial stout; lager; lager yeast; malt; shandy
  • Feedback on beer
    Partial Transcript: "They're what made us all cool, to a degree..." "The greatest development has been Untapped..." "They sent out a batch of our Evil 8 that was flat..." "You gotta be thinking about the customer..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about getting feedback on beer. He says that reviews from beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com are valuable but tend to be very technical. He says that they get the best quality feedback from a beer rating app called Untapped.
    Keywords: beeradvocate.com; kolsch; ratebeer.com; Untapped
  • Blue Mountain Brewery's manufacturing facilities
    Partial Transcript: "The way we used to fill our cans was not the best..." "Every time we grow and make more money we're upgrading equipment..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about bottling and canning his beer. He says that whenever he can afford it he upgrades and improves his bottling and canning systems. He says that upgrades for this year are currently on hold due to negative growth. He blames his ongoing legal struggles with his distributor for this negative growth.
    Keywords: Blue Mountain Brewery; bottling; canning; distribution; draft beer; litigation; South Street Brewery
  • The future of Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "...I'm just hoping this dream doesn't die in Nelson County..." "I'm about to get on my soapbox..." "..you can't fight Dominion..." "None of the legislators will stand up to them... none of them..." "You hope that...doesn't ruin the beauty of the mountains..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about his hopes for the future of his brewery. He hopes to continue operating and growing and that his legal troubles with his distributor come to an end so that Blue Mountains beers have a better chance in the market. He also talks about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and his opposition to it. The ACP is a pipeline that would cut through the Blue Ridge Mountains, wetlands, and many historic sites and potentially destroy the natural beauty and environment of Nelson County, Virginia.
    Keywords: ACP; Atlantic Coast Pipeline; Blue Mountain Brewery; Blue Ridge Mountains; Dominion Power; environment; future; natural gas; Nelson County, Virginia; North Carolina; solar energy; West Virginia
  • The craft brewing bubble and Blue Mountain Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Is there a craft brewing bubble?" "I don't know, I don't wanna be a doomsayer, but I don't wanna be naive..." "I think smaller breweries are gonna be hit hardest... I think consolidation is gonna continue..."
    Synopsis: Smack offers his thoughts on whether or not there is a craft brewing bubble. He says he is not certain, because he expects the craft beer industry to continue to grow but he also expects consolidation to continue as the big brewers purchase smaller brewers. He briefly talks about Blue Mountain's revenue and says the gross is around ten million dollars per year.
    Keywords: consolidation; craft brewing; economic bubble; revenue
  • The relationship between Blue Mountain Brewery and the surrounding community
    Partial Transcript: "We know our very immediate neighbors, business and residential..." "... on our menu everywhere, Nelson's original brewery..." "I don't know what else to say about our relationship to the community, except to say its good..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about his business's relationship with the local community of Nelson County, Virginia and the towns and counties surrounding it. He says that its a good relationship. He talks about how his brewery has become a destination brewery and says that most of his customers who come from far away come from the eastern seaboard and points north of Nelson County, Virginia.
    Keywords: Charlottesville, Virginia; community; destination brewery; Nelson County, Virginia; relationships
  • Thoughts on California breweries moving to Virginia
    Partial Transcript: "It's been a fun ride, I hope it keeps going..." "I am scared of the California breweries..." "I had to beg every way to open this brewery... they got 31 million dollars given to them to build a brewery...economic development incentive..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about California based breweries coming to Virginia. He says he does not like how large they are and that the state of Virginia is giving them money to build breweries. He understands the state government's desires to boost Virginia's economy, but does not think that should potentially come at the cost of Virginia's home grown breweries.
    Keywords: advantage; Blue Mountain Brewery; brew pub; business; California breweries; craft brewing; economic development; identity; location; Virginia
  • Marketing Blue Mountain's beer
    Partial Transcript: "Yeah, marketing outside of labels we've bought radio ads.. looking at a billboard, print ad placements... sponsor festivals..." "We've had a great time with many new labels we do at South Street..."
    Synopsis: Smack discusses marketing his beers. He talks about the different types of advertising he has used. He focuses on the importance of labels in designing his beer labels. He says that he likes to keep it fun and that Blue Mountain is locked into a specific look, while Smack and his team can be more creative with South Street Brewery's labels.
    Keywords: advertisements; billboards; Blue Mountain Brewery; branding; graphic design; marketing; radio; South Street Brewery; sponsorship; state grants; Virginia; Watermark Design, Charlottesville
  • Running a business as a husband and wife
    Partial Transcript: "My wife is my business partner... she's the CFO..." "Most days, even if we're in the same room we do not talk to each other..." "We live and breathe Blue Mountain, it is us..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about being married to his business partner. He says that even if he and his wife work together in the same room they rarely talk to each other because of how different their daily work is. He says that being married to your business partner is an option for the bold.
    Keywords: accounting; advertising; business; marketing; marriage; sales
  • Recruiting and training a brewing staff
    Partial Transcript: "People have come and gone... brewing is not as glorious as it sounds..." "I try to brew every Monday... to keep the weight off, because its so physical..." "We've tended to hire military people... we got army and marines, basically..."
    Synopsis: Smack discusses the hiring and training process at Blue Mountain Brewery. He notes that their brew house location has a large number of military veterans compared to other parts of his business. He briefly describes the other parts of his business and notes that it employs 160 people and is difficult to keep track of.
    Keywords: accounting; automation; brewing; cooking; hiring; labor; restaurant; staff; training; United States Army; United States Marine Corps
  • Collaboration between Blue Mountain Brewery and other firms
    Partial Transcript: "Charities for festivals... worked with them on a beer festival last year." "We try to not just be isolated out here..."
    Synopsis: Smack talks about working with charities and brewing special beers for special events. He says that they work with the surrounding communities to not feel isolated, give back to the community and to boost sales. He briefly touches on sales and distribution again and says that his sales people can go out and convince bar owners and stores to stock their beers, but that it is up to the bar or store owner to go to Blue Mountain's distributor to actually purchase the beer.
    Keywords: beer; Blue Ridge Trail; charity; Charlottesville, Virginia; Harrisonburg, Virginia; Red Shoe; Ronald McDonald House; South Street Brewery; WNRN