Julia Herz is Publisher of CraftBeer.com and the Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association. She joins the show to discuss an array of topics dealing with beer. The fourth quarter been the biggest annual sales period for the craft beer market over the last five years, largely because of the holidays. Herz explains the correlation.
Herz also discusses some of the best “hometown” beers available, how people can go about getting access to these beers, and pairing tips to make the beers taste delicious. She thinks people should switch to craft beer ASAP!
There are several international beer events that Herz is involved with. She describes each one’s features.
As publisher of CraftBeer.com, Herz talks about her strategy in running and marketing the site.
Find out more about the Brewers Association at www.brewersassociation.org.
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Start of Interview with Julia Herz
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Julia Herz to the show. She is the publisher of CraftBeer.com and craft beer program director at the Brewer’s Association. Julia, welcome. How are you?
Julia Herz: Hi Jason. I’m doing good.
Jason Hartman: Maybe I should say cheers, actually.
Julia Herz: We say that a lot in my business.
Jason Hartman: I bet you do. Where are you located?
Julia Herz: I’m talking to you today from Boulder, Colorado which is where the national association offices are.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, you’re there in the Rocky Mountains so it sounds like a Coors commercial almost, right?
Julia Herz: Yeah, we’re at the foothills of the Rockies. Colorado’s front range is beer booming. There’s over 230 breweries in Colorado and the list goes on and on. We could talk about any state and how the beer culture is advancing quickly.
Jason Hartman: Wow. 230 in Colorado; that’s amazing. I want to get some numbers for you on that. So we’ll talk a little bit about beer and have a little fun with this interview, but maybe we’ll start off a little bit serious as we drink our beer and talk about your content strategy. You’re a publisher, and tell us about some of the great strategies you have for running and marketing CraftBeer.com.
Julia Herz: Sure. And the website is CraftBeer.com. It’s 4 years old essentially, and it’s an interesting approach we’ve taken. When you have a website, you get something out of nothing. Meaning where there was no information, no content flow, no furthering of the conversation because of that content, you then advanced doing just that. And in four years’ time we’ve evolved quickly, we reach over a million people a year. It’s kind of just been exciting to see our foot in the ring of furthering the conversation of what’s going on with small and independent craft brewers in the US just by putting CraftBeer.com on the map.
Jason Hartman: So how old is the website then?
Julia Herz: About four years old.
Jason Hartman: So it is about four years old only. Wow, that’s pretty new in internet terms. Explain exactly what craft beer is. And is there a distinction between craft beer and microbrew?
Julia Herz: Sure. Great question. It comes up a lot. We at the brewer’s association who publish CraftBeer.com and also put on the Great American Beer Festival, we do not define what craft beer is. That’s something that the beer drinker is going to discern. That’s like defining local or defining organic. We all have different views of those words and what they mean to us. But we do define what a craft brewer is. A craft brewer is smaller producing, less than 6 million barrels of beer a year and they’re independently owned, meaning no more than 25% ownership by a non-craft brewing entity. So they’re the small and indie brewers of today.
And frankly, today we have 2700 breweries in the US and 98% of those 2700 breweries are small independent and traditionally producing breweries. So it’s quite an inclusive definition to help differentiate between the smaller indie guys and the larger global brewing companies, where other breweries had a different approach to market.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, and what defines small or large? What’s the difference between Anheuser Busch and a craft brewery? I know it’s different, but is there a certain cut off point?
Julia Herz: Sure, In production of barrels. One barrel is 31 US gallons of beer. That would be anything over 6 million barrels of beer a year, we would consider large.
Jason Hartman: So, anything over 6 million barrels per year is large?
Julia Herz: Yeah, and you have Anheuser Busch in the US is producing 100 some odd million barrels of beer a year, where somebody like Sam Adams Boston Lager producers make a little over 2 million barrels of beer a year. So quite a difference there.
Jason Hartman: Okay good. And back to the strategy question. I got off on a little tangent there. I apologize. But a four year old website craft beer is a big and growing phenomenon. Talk to us a little bit about your marketing.
Julia Herz: Sure. So, CraftBeer.com, any website… there really isn’t a road map. It’s like building a house. You can have different architecture that’s going to highlight different features of the home and it’s going to realy be up to you, what you want to highlight and where you want people to navigate through that home, or that website in that analogy. So CraftBeer.com, we call them buckets of information. And what’s become very important to us is to discern what those buckets should be.
We’re in a phase two of the website in that we are in the back end word press when we were originally were in red press, which is very common today in the back end architecture of CraftBeer.com. and the buckets of information that are housed in there include general information on the beverage, a big section on styles, beer styles. There’s 50 plus beer styles in CraftBeer.com documented in the style finder. A focus on breweries is a big bucket of information and that’s absolutely a good thing for us to be doing. And then a bucket on food, food and beer pairing with craft beer on the scene, is very important.
I’d like to say that craft beer has helped beer reclaim itself at the dinner table. That’s a topic that’s close to my heart and pairing is something that’s really a little nebulous and complex. Perception is personal, pairing is personal. So we’ve got a lot of great resources on that. We have an education section, as well as our blogs. Craft beer muses, which is my blog, we really do have cutting edge content from myself for beer minded writers that include craft brewers as well that try to further the conversation on craft beer. And other little areas too that cover news and events and the like.
Jason Hartman: So, I’ve got to say, and pardon me if I sound a little like a party pooper here, a little skeptical…
Julia Herz: Lay it on me.
Jason Hartman: Julia, look. I drink beer. Okay? But I can’t imagine actually going to a beer website. Because I can’t drink it there. I drink coffee but I never go to Starbucks’s website either unless I want to log into the internet at one of the locations.
Julia Herz: Sure.
Jason Hartman: Who is interested in that? How do you make something that interesting, where you leap across from bits and bytes to something that’s usually dealt with in atoms and matter?
Julia Herz: It’s a busy world, too. So any website, whether you’re talking about craft beer like us, and US craft brewers or foodie site or a business oriented site, whatever. You have to create a need for people to go to you. So we do have things that touch out virally amongst the beer world. Some of our muses in the blogs, in the craft beer muses blog. Or in our brewers banter blog, literally create a poll from the outside world based on social media chatter on what we’re talking about.
And the whole site, by the way, is geared towards beer beginners. We don’t want to talk anything but up to people. Wine kind of lost its way and got very unobtainable by price point and information. We make everything accessible for the beer beginner. So basically, Jason, if you want to enhance your appreciation, you might find us because you’ve caught some chatter from one of your Facebook influencers that you are tied to or on Twitter, and that might trigger your interest, oh yeah that’s the brewery down the street from me. I’m going to go check it out.
We also have the most extensive recipe database on the internet for cooking with craft beer. So if you want a recipe, it’s all sitting right there for you for maybe the handful of times during the year that you might sit down and Google beer in food or cooking with beer. We have the most extensive database on the internet for the breweries in the US, so if you want to know how to contact a brewery, it’s sitting there free in your database.
So I think you have to do multiple things: create content that furthers the conversation that goes a little bit viral, is one key component and then on top of that create landing points that are most static pages, maybe updated dynamically but they’re static in what they offer. And those areas of need are evergreen and referenced throughout the year by people that would use them.
Jason Hartman: And why does, I was sort of curious, it’s great that you provide an easy way for someone to contact a brewery, but what would be some of the reasons someone would contact a brewery?
Julia Herz: Touring. We are the most diverse destination for beer in the world, the United States is now, and so brewery tourism is bringing economic contributions nobody imagined just from the segment that I represent as independent craft brewers, is 38 billion dollar economic impact in 2012 in our country.
Jason Hartman: Interesting. Okay, I didn’t even think of it like going on a wine tasting tour. That’s funny. I thought, oh there’s something wrong with my beer so I need to contact the brewery. Good point. So very interesting. Where are some of the best beer touring places? We know where kind of wine countries are, most people do at least. And I want to ask you about some of your events because you do a great job at that. But is Colorado kind of like a prime location? You mentioned some of the brewers there.
Julia Herz: Yeah. There are advanced beer culture pockets in many areas of the US and there’s also breweries in all 50 states. Wherever you have breweries you have tourism going. People traveling from right down the street, to outside the region into that area to visit those breweries. Most breweries do give tours. It’s not like restaurants where you can’t raise your hand to the waiter or waitress and say, “hey can I go back and check that kitchen out while you guys are cooking?” but that’s what breweries do. They walk people through their facilities and 2700 of them are basically doing that. So any pocket of the area where you have multiple breweries, those tend to be polls for bigger tourism. And so, the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a brewery by the way. And with that, you’ve got multiple breweries in one area creating tourist central locations. California, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Michigan… tourism is going on all over.
Jason Hartman: It’s just all over. Wow. I was thinking you could name a couple areas. Like, if I were to ask that question about wine you would say Napa Valley in Northern California for example. But beer, it’s kind of nice that it’s more accessible, not just because of the cost being lower, and maybe the snootiness element isn’t there so much. But also just geography. Is it that beer, they can brew it anywhere because it’s just not as picky of a thing as grapes for wine?
Julia Herz: Well,. they’re brewing wine anywhere. You can transport grapes anywhere. Harvest time just happens to be in the fall with grapes, just like harvest time happens to be only in the fall with hops, which are a key component with beer. So beer is definitely as much of an agricultural product, and frankly I would argue for those out there to say a more complex product than wine.
The ingredients of barley that’s been malted is a very complex process, where grapes you basically just have a sugar source with a very less broad flavor profile amongst the grape varietals compared to what you can do with kilning and roasting with malt. And then you throw hops in the mix which are an absolute agricultural product that are affected by KOR and location and region, and then the yeast profiles and any extra fermentables like fruit or herbs and spices, and oaking and the like. You’ve got a lot to play with.
Jason Hartman: Talk to us about some of your events and the marketing of them.
Julia Herz: Sure. The Brewer’s Association puts on The Great American Beer Festival, which is what we’re known for on the broader sense, the 49 thousand event festival that’s more than 30 years old. I actually started at the association as a volunteer at that festival. And being a beer enthusiast, many people often want to take it further and volunteer at events or steward at competitions and become a beer judge, and the like. So our Great American Beer Festival is a public tasting of hundreds of breweries, as well as a private competition of hundreds of breweries. So if brewers won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival it means they make the best example of that beer style on that year, deemed by the judges.
So that’s super important, breweries getting on the map getting any one of those medals that are very rare to get. In fact, it’s interesting in wine competitions, most of the wine competitions out there you get a certain point level in a competition, you are automatically awarded a medal. We do it differently in the beer world, where there’s only one gold, one silver, one bronze. And sometimes the judges don’t even award one of those if they didn’t feel that there was an example in that style. So few and hard to come by for those GABF awards for sure.
Jason Hartman: Did you mention attendance at those events on average?
Julia Herz: 49 thousand people.
Jason Hartman: 49 thousand people. And any sort of clever marketing ideas for an event like that? Of course you have your Email list that you’re collecting at the website and so forth. Just anything on the marketing of the event, anything else you want to mention.
Julia Herz: Sure. We’re part of a very enthusiastic community. Beer lovers are very enthusiastic and beer beginners often continue beyond Light American Lager and then the journey from there is very broad. We tap into those beer enthusiasts. We’re one of the largest volunteer efforts in the country literally to put on this festival. About 3,000 volunteers help us put it on. So I would say in any event that you put on, tap into the enthusiasts behind that topic and get them involved in that event. And give them rewards for doing so, so they can in turn add to the education and garner from the education that happens at those specific events.
Jason Hartman: Okay good. Well you’ve been very helpful in sharing all of this stuff. Is there anything you want to mention about beer itself in terms of pairing and things like that? I bet a lot of listeners haven’t thought much about beer pairing. Of course, we’ve heard about that when it comes to wine, but not beer. Anything you want to mention there, in terms of pairing?
Julia Herz: Sure. Beer pairing is huge. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. And what works with wine, is wine has acidity and that calms down salt in food and that allows us to taste more of the flavors that actually are in existence, on top of beer being able to do that. Because beer also has acid components. beer also harmonizes and complements with a lot of flavors. Grilled, roasted, smoked meats have many complementary flavors with what’s going on in the molt in the beers.
And then if you can find flavors to harmonize with the hops of herbal notes, woodsy notes, citrusy notes, tropical notes, beer to foods, you’re going to have a lot of harmonies. And when you pair, when you find harmonies, you often have that one plus one equals five, where things get a lot more delightful quickly. So you want it just to be a beverage next to your food and not strategic, awesome, have at it. But when you strategically pair, you’re often very rewarded and it makes the food be the more impressive.
Jason Hartman: So any particular types of beer that you want to mention for pairing with those? Or is that sort of too complex maybe?
Julia Herz: it’s a hard nut to crack in knowing how to approach pairing. We document, the Brewer’s Association, 142 beer styles. So that is something that’s a challenge. I would recommend, you want to pair, go to any better beer provider that’s a larger liquor store or a super market that has a big /selection, is what I’m getting at, and has knowledgeable people selling those brands, and ask them for some US centric, the least traveled amount is what I always try for, beers from my backyard are going to be fresher frankly, than ones that have across country or been imported in.
So I want fresh beers, I also want base beers that are going to go with the food. If you’re open minded, then CraftBeer.com has amazing pairing suggestions, or if you already have a food item that you want to pair to, then you can talk to that person at that establishment, tell them what you’re cooking, and ask them what beer style or brand they think would pair best with it. And again, look for harmony, don’t overwhelm with impact, you don’t want something too big in alcohol to go with something too light in weight for the food. And if you just pay attention to those two things, you’ll be on your way.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Great advice. Well, Julia this has been a lot of fun. Julia Herz, and the websites are CraftBeer.com and brewersassociation.org. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Julia Herz: Alright, thank you Jason. Have a great day.
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Transcribed by Ralph
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