Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homebrew in a Bucket: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part II

This is Part II of Soggy Coaster's interview with Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. Part I is posted below. I'll publish the remainder of the interview in installments over the next several days.

Soggy Coaster: So what did you homebrew as a youth?

Dave Thibodeau: The one that we saved that I have a bottle of around here somewhere was a black lager made with spruce tips. Honestly, that was the first beer that we made that was really good. We made a lot of crappy homebrew.

I was talking to my parents yesterday. I moved out of there I don’t know how many years ago. But they were just cleaning out my old brewing space in the basement and I think they found a batch that I never even bottled. It was still sitting in a bucket.

Yeah, black lager made with spruce tips. We actually went around and picked new growth off the spruce trees. That was kind of cool because nobody had heard of anything like that.

The other beer, I want to say it was an alt beer that we brought to Matt’s homebrew party. The first few were just recipes out of Charlie Papazian’s “Joy of Homebrewing” book. We started getting a little crazier after a couple of years. We realized you didn’t really have to stick to all these rules. It took a while, though.

Soggy: Was there a moment when you knew that Ska had made it?

Thibodeau: I’m hoping there will be. (laughs). It’s definitely bigger than we ever imagined it would be. It’s still manageable. I don’t think it’s changed anything we do.

The only thing that makes you think about it differently is there’s other people who work for us whose lives depend on the decisions we make, in a way. I don’t know if you’d say we made it, but that was a big realization along the path is that, ‘Wow there’s other people that depend on us now - We pretty ought to take it a little more seriously.’ At least behind the scenes.

Soggy: Speaking of which, how many employees do you have now?

Thibodeau: I think we have 30, 31.

Soggy: Awesome. It’s pretty amazing how Ska has become kind of an economic driver in Durango.

Thibodeau: That was the interesting thing, building this building, all the contractors and subcontractors – there was a few million dollars that was moving around Durango. That’s kind of interesting, having that many people work here. The other thing is you have to factor in that we export outside of Durango and Colorado, so you’re bringing in money that is coming into from someplace else.

Soggy: So what are your day-to-day responsibilities at Ska?

Thibodeau: I’m the marketing and distribution and sales guy, so I get a lot of the e-mails, just general inquiries. And I deal with the customers. I get a lot of the inquiries about, “Can we buy beer here? Can we buy beer there?” I deal with a lot of the Internet stuff. I deal with all of our marketing stuff and then we do have a head sales person who is taking a bigger role in managing that side of things. Ultimately, I work at getting our new markets and making those relationships work. And then I also deal with anything kind of on the promotional side and on the philanthropic side, too, so people who are looking for donations or setting up special events. I do a lot of special events and different ideas. And then I deal with everything from whether it’s Web site design to package design, to an ad in the Telegraph. And that’s all my side. I don’t actually brew beer so much anymore.

Soggy: The website looks really good. So what’s your favorite part of your job?

Thibodeau: It used to be brewing beer. (laughs) But I didn’t brew as good of beer as our brewers do now. But you know I love the marketing side. Coming up with the Modus Hoperandi (IPA), I struggled trying to figure out a name for it and I didn’t really know what to do with the graphics and I’d just lie awake at night thinking about it. And then I finally got it all. I actually came up with the name. The name could come from any of us, and same with the design. But I’m the one who kind of thinks about, tries to talk to people about it. I love when parts come together and create something that I don’t think anybody could have done any better. That particular package is a good example of that. That’s what I like.

I like dealing with the distributors and people who are really into craft beer, too. So I really like selling it. I’m kind of shy, but once I’m in there I really like talking about it and of course, the best thing is drinking beer.

Soggy: Sure. So what’s your least favorite? What’s a grind?

Thibodeau: Honestly, it’s any sales person is sent to me. Sometimes there’s somebody that I do want to deal with, but every single – whether it’s a phone book or a magazine or online stuff, whatever it is goes to me. And we don’t do a ton advertising, and I don’t like taking up my time explaining it to somebody where they’re really pushing the sale. I don’t like being rude, because it’s their job and it’s their life, but I really hate having to spend so much of my time dealing with that, honestly. But there are not a lot of bad things to being in the craft beer business at this point in time. I really love it.

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