Guest Contributor Liz Crowe
We’re here today, talking with Liz Crowe. Liz has an intriguing background as both a pioneer in the craft beer industry and author. Her passions run deep and are as diverse as soccer to well …… craft beer.
SommBeer: Tell me about your beer background
Liz Crowe: Let’s see…long about 2008 I was selling real estate (check your historical records, it was a shite year for it but I was doing well. I’ve been told I could sell ice to an Eskimo or a bacon sandwich to…never mind). I was approached by two men looking for someone to help manage marketing for a new brewery. I knew nothing about beer but was (perhaps mistakenly) intrigued. I’m a Big Italian Red wine enjoyer and bourbon drinker (still am, but I digress.)
I took it upon myself to immerse my life in craft beer. I traveled the state on my own dime, seeking out information and background. Along the way I made some amazing friends at New Holland, Arcadia, Grizzly Peak, Shorts, Redwood and lots of other.
I helped find and procure space, painted walls, and worked the bar all hours for many months until we could afford to hire people. I used my experience promoting myself as author online to build an “Ann Arbor Beer Wench” persona and dragged a fair number of folks kicking and screaming into the newly renovated former appliance mart warehouse. My Michigan home game Saturdays started at 7 a.m. for keg pick ups and lasted well past the games as I tried to get around and spread the word to as many tailgaters as possible. I befriended every Michigan brewery owner or brewer I could find, and had a blast working at all the major fests around the state.
Our sales did nothing but grow. I got the beer placed in a major motion picture (albeit a shitty one but still), had one of the at that time “new beers” (an IPL) featured in Draft Magazine and it was later named one of the top beers of 2013. A professional bar manager was hired in 2013 and he quickly got the staff and procedures whipped into shape. A full food menu was added in December of 2013 and the tap room was packed most nights once the word got out about the beer quality (something I will never deny) and the general awesomeness of the environment.
This past May it was determined that I would be pursuing other opportunities, but I still drink craft beer, of course, as I consider the craft beer industry in this state (plus several others) my adopted family.
Sommbeer: What do you like and dislike the most about the current craft beer scene?
Liz Crowe: The bandwagoning is getting a little ridiculous and by that I mean everyone and their brother’s cousin’s mechanic are opening breweries. But hey, it’s cool because by the time the dust settles the well run (and I sincerely hope the ones with real heart, on a sort of karmic level) will succeed for the long term.
I agree wholeheartedly that this is a business that was, at a point in time, 99% asshole free. It can no longer make that claim.
My personal experience aside, more and more somewhat sterile breweries are popping up in areas known to support it (read: Grand Rapids). Many of these places are owned by giant groups of wealthy people and can set up their breweries and pubs and whatever else, using bottomless pockets of owners’ money. I am not against a brewery making money. Far from it. But there is “Making money because you love what you make and the people who drink it” and “Making money because you think selling overpriced, copycat, boring beer labeled “craft” is like shooting fish in a barrel.”
My favorites are the closely held ones, the family businesses like Arbor Brewing/ABC Microbrewery. Matt and Rene Greff, to me personify what is wholly right about this business. They are the first to support new breweries, to offer advice and lend a hand. I’m also fond of Fenton Winery and Brewery another husband/wife team (Matt & Ginny Sherrow) who have recently moved into new digs in Fenton that incorporate THE most beautiful natural setting beer garden in the state, I daresay. Another great team that has a national reach with their unique Kombucha products is Unity Vibration (Ypsilanti) owned and run by Rachel and Tarek Kanan.
There are others that are bigger that are still down to earth that have proven to me that the business is, at the end of the day, about making a product that brings people together and makes them happy. Most particularly New Holland Brewing, whose “Beervangelist” and part owner Fred Bueltman as recently as Summer Beer Fest this year provided me with the sort of reality check crossed with propping up that I needed.
I also love that now I can travel almost anywhere in the nation and find a great, hand crafted brew. I had a great time recently in St. Louis trying out several of their wonderful micros.
Sommbeer: Helping to establish a craftbeer organization to authoring novels, seems to be a gigantic jump. Was it?
Liz Crowe: I have been writing for a while but the “getting published” bit dovetailed for me in a wholly coincidental way. What I was able to cross pollinate was my learning curve with social networks. It is an ever changing thing, of course, but once you sort out the best way to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, Instagram and all the rest, you really have a lot of tools in your marketing toolbox but they are the sort that require daily attention.
In the brave new worlds of both craft beer and book writing/publishing it’s crucial to:
1. have a thick skin
2. be reluctant to give up
3. be willing to be criticized by internet trolls
4. have a high alcohol tolerance.
I’m pretty solid on all of these fronts thanks to my many experiences in the past 5 years. I use them all in both of my “worlds.”
And of course, I have a bunch of novels set in the craft beer biz which has been fun. Introducing readers to that world, making it interesting and at times, sexy is something that many breweries, brewery owners and others really value about me. Not all of them, of course, but many.
Sommbeer: Tell us some inside tales about craftbeer
Liz Crowe: Uh, let’s see….it’s cool as hell to me that there are so many women brewers around. We have our own group that, ironically, formed itself about the time I was experiencing my troubles. There are some amazing women in this state making beer, period. The “Fermenta” group is open to any woman in any aspect of any craft beverage (wine and spirits included) but its nucleus is organized around the craft beer biz.
I’m sort of in a weird place with regard to any stories I might tell, but suffice it to say that it is still, in many ways, a boy’s club. For the most part, I love being part of it, and can give back as good as I get. But sometimes it does put you on the outside looking in when the folks (read: men) on the inside would rather you be there…on the outside. I am not and never have been (and don’t plan to ever be) the woman who whines about “they hate me ‘cause I’m a girl.” So I’m not going there now.
Perhaps making it a husband/wife endeavor is best, in terms of having the respect of your co-workers. And who knows, Mr. Wench and I may use what we learned and try something new Personally, I’m envisioning a bar of our own, with a limited food menu, chock full of Michigan beers, wines and spirits, but away from downtown, still in a populated but underserved area to remain nameless at this time. Then again, once I hit the New York Times Best Seller list I’ll be too busy with appearances on Conan and The Daily Show while holding off Bill Maher until he agrees to let me co-host. See above Item Number 2: Being reluctant to give up.
I love your blog Dave! Thanks for letting me hang out a while with ya.
OH and by the way, I’m lately putting the full force of my support and effort behind a group of folks working on bringing semi-pro soccer to Ann Arbor.
Sommbeer – thanks so much Liz for taking the time to tell us about yourself and the craft beer industry. The more I learn about this industry, the more I want to learn! My seems curiosity seems never to be abated.