Interview with Forrest "Al" Stewart, 2016 January 12

Hagley ID:
  • Introduction and background
    Partial Transcript: "I'm a Delaware native... been here pretty much my whole life." "I like Delaware... it's close to everything, has a little bit of everything..." "Chemistry helped me with all the basics..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about his background and education. He is a Delaware native and talks about how he likes living in the state of Delaware. He talks about his educational background, which is in chemistry and business. He credits his chemistry background for helping him master the art of brewing.
    Keywords: Artesian Water Co. Inc; Bear, Delaware; brewing; business; chemistry; Dickinson High school; lagers; Maine; Stewart's Brewing Company; University of Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Early work experiences
    Partial Transcript: "Before this... this all came out of a bar tending class when I was eighteen...once I got into the business I started to really pay attention to the nuts and bolts of it..." "I loved great beer, wanted to do the brew pub... it was great to have the backing of... Peter Austin and Partners... brewing system from England." "We thought all ales was fine and we'll stick to English ales... back then."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about how a bar tending class at age eighteen led him into the restaurant business. He says that back in college he was taking notes and drawing up business plans. He says that he only got into brewing when he bought his brewing system from a dealer in Maine based on the way it looked. He talks about buying his brewing equipment in Maine and learning how to brew beer. He talks about learning how to brew different kinds of ales.
    Keywords: ales; bartending; Kennebunkport, Maine; Peter Austin Brick Kettle Brewing System; Pugsley's Brewing Projects International; Shipyard Brewery; yeast
  • Learning and experimenting with brewing beer
    Partial Transcript: "Oh, there's nothing better than trying something new..." "German beers for the most part, especially lagers, you don't want that yeast profile"
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about brewing and experimentation in brewing beer. He talks about how beers change slightly over the years, and how he enjoys going through the process of trial and error and attempting new things when he brews beer.
    Keywords: brewing; experimentation; filtration; particles; yeast
  • Sourcing ingredients for beer in the 1990s
    Partial Transcript: "... it was easy, they came to you..." "Everybody that really needed to help us, kind of knew what we did, and they were soaring with the trend too..." "The more hops, the more bitter, the more crazy it is, the more they chew it up- it's nice." "It was a lot of hand holding, not just with the customers, but with the staff."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about sourcing ingredients when he first opened his brewpub. He said that then the suppliers came to him. The biggest issue that he had was selling people on his beer and the idea that beer could and should be flavorful. He relates how this was not only a struggle with his customers, but also his waitstaff who had to be trained that the beer they sold was not the type of beer that they were most familiar with. It was a high end product.
    Keywords: advertisements; ales; beer; beer education; brewpub; hops; ingredients; Keystone; sourcing; staffing; training
  • Opening the business
    Partial Transcript: "We looked with leasing agents at several different places, Delaware is different than most, it's like the strip mall capital of the nation." "I had worked in the area and I knew it was up and coming." "...the emphasis wasn't always on beer, it was on food too."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about finding his location. He knew Bear, Delaware was developing and chose to bet on the town continuing to grow. He says that his bet paid off. He explains his pub's approach to menus and says that they opened wanting to become the best pub that they could be. He also says that his goal is to make the food as important as the beer. He also discusses how one of the sticking points to his menu design was making sure that the pub served appetizers all day because they are some of his personal favorite foods.
    Keywords: appetizers; Bear, Delaware; beers; food; menus; pub fare; strip malls
  • Keeping up with changes in the restaurant industry
    Partial Transcript: "I think the biggest one (change) is access, back then food wasn't dynamic, everyone was selling kind of the same stuff, they weren't pushing the envelope, same as beer..." "We were one of the first places to say, hey, you want a better red meat... try ostrich..." "... we'll make an antelope cheesesteak..."
    Synopsis: Stewart discusses changes in the restaurant industry since he's been in business. He says that, as with beer, when he started everything was similar to each other and has diversified since then. He talks about how his pub was among the first to serve unusual game meats, like ostrich burgers and antelope cheesesteaks; and how game meat which changes on a weekly basis has become an important part of his menu.
    Keywords: beer; food; game meats; ingredients; menus
  • Raising capital to start Stewart's Brewing Company
    Partial Transcript: "I was fortunate enough to have inherited a bit of money, just enough to have a down payment..." "The track rate for brewpubs back then was ninety percent survived for five years." "We're all in it to kind of change the beer world... so we help each other, which is nice." "I like the feeling of brotherhood in the business..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about opening his brewpub. He says that he inherited enough money for a down payment and then he took out a loan for the rest of the cost. He says that, at the time, investing in a brewpub was a good idea because most of them stayed open for at least five years. He then talks about the brewing industry and how small brewers help each other out and cites lending others hops if they have them in short supply. He says that he likes the feeling of brotherhood within the business.
    Keywords: banking; brewery; brewpubs; Dogfish Head Brewery; financing; real estate; starting a business; Stewart's Brewing Company
  • Beer competitions
    Partial Transcript: "This little brewpub can step on a national stage and take away a medal from the big boys and not just us, the other brewpubs in the area have done very well- in competition." "A lot of times you have a beer people absolutely adore, you call it a pale ale, you call it a golden ale, but it doesn't fit the category..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about his experiences in beer competitions. He gives all the credit to his brewers. He talks about the challenges of developing recipes and beers that do not fit into any specific category and remarks how some of his house beers would be unfit for competition despite having a reputation of tasting good. He also discusses the challenges of having a small space and choosing between brewing and keeping their contest winning beers on tap or their favorite house beers on tap.
    Keywords: Brewer's Association; brewers; brewing beer; Delaware; Great American Beer Festival; innovation; recipes; Stewart's Brewing Company; World Bear Cup
  • Brewing equipment at Stewart's Brewing Company
    Partial Transcript: "We brew any where from 600 barrels to 700 barrels." "We do some fun things... barrel aging beer..." "..we got an English beer engine..." "The best thing about cask beer- its unfiltered..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about his brewpub's brewing technologies. He thinks he is at a good size for his restaurant because he can meet demand and have enough brewing capacity to experiment with new recipes and flavors. He talks about some of his barrel aged and cask conditioned beers. He talks at great length about cask conditioned beers and how his brewers will try new ingredients in them on a per-cask basis.
    Keywords: barrel ageing; beer; beer engines; brewing; cask beers; cask conditioning; fermentation; filtering; firkins; nitrogen beers; Stewart's Brewing Company
  • Design and selling beer at Stewart's Brewing Company
    Partial Transcript: "We wanted to match the brewery with that old pub feel."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about the style of his pub and brewery and talks about the suppliers who make bar and brewing equipment. He also talks about draft systems for serving beer. He also talks about getting customers onto a "beer ladder" and turning them into craft beer lovers.
    Keywords: brewing equipment; craft beer; design; draft equipment; selling beer
  • Definition of craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "There's been a lot of struggle to understand where micro meets macro..." "Guess what, I've been wanting to do this beer forever and guess what, people love it..." "We never say why, we say why not?"
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about his definition of craft brewing compared to the industry definition of craft brewing. He says that, to him, the most important part of craft brewing is constantly trying new things while maintaining quality.
    Keywords: beers; craft brewing; food; ingredients; innovation; seasonal beers
  • Changes in the Stewart's Brewing Company business plan
    Partial Transcript: "We wanted to survive a year, and then we wanted to survive five years, and I don't think we ever got out of that... which is a good thing." "Part of having a forty seat bar is, you can't move it..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about his evolving business plan and being caught up in short and mid term planning as opposed to long term planning. He thinks that has been a strength because it keeps them looking for the next big thing. He talks about their plans for the next ten years and how his expectations have changed over the years in light of their recent remodel. He talks about the various milestones that customers have marked at Stewart's, including gatherings on 9/11 and when the stock market crashed in 2008. He talks about people drinking beer and supporting each other in good times and bad.
    Keywords: 2008 recession; 9/11; beer gardens; business planning; debt; finances; innovation; money
  • Changes in the craft brewing industry
    Partial Transcript: "We had the original kind of fad, peak... we were trying to sell some beer to restaurants and other venues and the difficulty was you had a bar with ten taps, one was semi-dedicated to craft beer."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about changes in the craft brewing industry. He talks about how the 1990s and 2000s were difficult due to a lack of interest and knowledge in the craft brewing industry. He says that he saw a lot of brewers go out of business due to the tight competition and economies of scale.
    Keywords: baseball; competition; craft beer; craft brewing; economic bubbles; economies of scale; markets; selling beer; venues; Wilmington Blue Rocks
  • Weathering agricultural and economic disasters
    Partial Transcript: "When things go up 500% you can't charge them 500% more..." "First we had the world wide drought... and then the U.S. economy collapsed." "We got used to earning less... surviving."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about running his business through a pair of disasters. He talks about a drought that forced the cost of hops and grains to rapidly increase in price. After the drought, fewer farmers returned to growing hops, but those that did became more open to experimentation with hop crops. He also talks about the 2008 recession and how the focus of the business had to change from growing to surviving and how in 2016 he was just starting to see increasing profits from pre-recession and pre-drought levels.
    Keywords: 2008 Recession; agriculture; breeding; brewing; business costs; drought; genetic engineering; grain; hops; ingredients
  • Varieties of hops
    Partial Transcript: "We used a lot of English hops way back in the day..." "We probably use thirty different hops."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about varieties of hops and their changing availability.Stewart tells a story about brewing a specialty beer with hops grown in New Zealand. He also talks about heavily hopped beers like India Pale Ale. He talks about his personal preference for seasonal beers.
    Keywords: Cascade hops; hops; India Pale Ale; IPA; Kent Goldings hops; New Zealand; noble hops
  • The craft brewing bubble
    Partial Transcript: "The original bubble was- everyone was opening because they thought they could make money out of it..." "It's gotta be someone that wants to work in the business, that knows it..." "...the bubble's gonna come from not enough raw materials..."
    Synopsis: Stewart offers his thoughts on the craft brewing bubble. He suggests that there is room for anyone who wants to open up a brewery or a brew pub provided they meet some basic criteria. He says they must know the industry and recognize that opening a brewery is not a get rich quick scheme, and they must be willing to work. In his opinion the bubble will not come from an excess of breweries or lack of consumer interest, but rather raw materials shortages as he discusses how certain types of hops have gotten more difficult to get.
    Keywords: craft brewing; economic bubbles; hops; ingredients; raw materials
  • Thoughts on conglomerates buying out craft brewers
    Partial Transcript: "I get calls every week.... am I for sale..." "You can grow by growing or grow by acquisition and its a lot easier to buy someone whose already networked"
    Synopsis: Stewart discusses larger breweries buying out smaller breweries. He is concerned that they are too large as some major breweries now control markets on a continental scale. He was worried that the big breweries could lower their prices in an attempt to force smaller breweries out of business because they cannot afford to sell their products for as little money as a big brewery can sell theirs.
    Keywords: acquisitions; beer; growth; pricing; profits
  • What makes a brewpub better than an ordinary restaurant
    Partial Transcript: "The look of a brewpub...the food of a brewpub is supposed to be better than an average restaurant." "We don't want to be better than everybody else, we have to be better than everybody else."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about the special challenges of running a brew pub. He says that they are working under extraordinary pressure to always wow customers with the high quality of their food and beer. He gives credit to his staff for their continued success. Stewart says that the greatest difference between opening in 1995 and 2016 is that he no longer has to sell beer- people come looking for it.
    Keywords: brewing; brewpub; cooking; ingredients; menus; Miller-Coors; reviews; staffing
  • Changing attitudes about beer
    Partial Transcript: "Flavor, people finally got it that pale tasteless beer that's only ice cold... people got it through their heads that they were brainwashed and they can drink flavorful beer." "Craft beer is cool- and it always was- just too many people were saying it wasn't..."
    Synopsis: Stewart talks about how people came to enjoy craft beer. He also talks about taxes and local economies and how the craft brewing industry keeps American money in the United States. He suggest that regulating vices rather than outlawing them can help keep money in the United States and local economies alive.
    Keywords: beer; breweries; craft brewing; local economies; taxes; vice

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