Friday, May 29, 2009

Modus gone Belgian: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part IV

This is Part IV of Soggy Coaster's interview with Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. Previous installments are posted below. The remainder of the interview will be published in installments over the next several days:

Soggy: So, how has the economy affected Ska? Have you noticed any slowdown at all?

Thibodeau: Not really, but I don’t know how much of that you could attribute to new markets and new products. You know, Texas and Modus (Hoperandi IPA) and then (True) Blonde in cans. And we’re just about to come out with an assorted 12-pack of cans. So it’s really kind of hard to tell. Durango’s still chugging along. We’ve lost a little bit of sales. I mean the growth is still up there, we’re still growing. But growth in the off-premise (sales), which are the liquor stores, is higher than the on-premise, which are the bars and restaurants. So my guess would be that people are buying more beer at the liquor store to drink at home, instead of going out and drinking that beer.

The thing that always comes out of people’s mouths is, ‘that’s the great thing about beer, is nobody quits drinking during a recession.’ But the thing is, when you’re talking about beer at this level, high-end craft beer, I think we might lose some people to some cheaper craft beers or maybe some cheaper beer overall. They might trade down a little bit. But at the same time, we’re also maybe getting some wine drinkers that are trading across. Because people can get more value out of a six-pack than a bottle of wine.

What’s cool about that is craft beer has grown so much and there’s so many great and diverse styles of beer out there and people are starting to realize how well it pairs with food and how much there is going on within some of these beers that I think we’re converting a lot of wine drinkers. And it’s cool because we’re doing it without the snotty wine side. I mean, it’s obvious that craft beer is the biggest growth segment within the beer category. You have to be wearing a blindfold to not notice what’s going on with craft beer now. It’s everywhere. You see it in the news and you see it in the paper and you see it on the Internet. You see the growth that we’re all going through and it’s because, I think, that craft beer really is that good.

Soggy: So Modus Hoperandi was your first new year-round release in many years. How has it been received?

Thibodeau: It’s overwhelming. We can’t keep up with it. (Asking co-worker): Justin, are we out of Modus right now?

Justin: Out of cans.

Thibodeau: I mean, it wouldn’t matter when I asked him, we’d be out. So it’s cool. We didn’t immediately release it in every market. We tried to kind of make some steps there. It’s just doing really well. And the cans are doing particularly well, so that’s kind of exciting. It’s getting great reviews on all the online review sites, and around town, and all of our distributors are growing with it quickly. That was the perfect beer for us to come out with.

Plus, we’re all drinking the crap out of it. It’s definitely what I’m drinking right now. I mean, right now, I’m drinking Mexican Logger, but when I go home, I’m probably going to drink some Modus.

Soggy: As a fan of big, experimental beers, I appreciated your effort with Strong Scotch Ale. Do you have any plans to make any other real high-end beers like that?

Thibodeau: We do, actually. We have a fairly crazy batch of beer aging in a bunch of bourbon barrels right now – some Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. It’s basically a blend of the Modus. This isn’t the best way to explain it, but it’s a blend of a couple beers with a little bit of a Belgian yeast. It’s got multiple yeast strains involved in it.

It’s been in 10-year Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for a number of months now. I think within the month, we’re going to blend them and transfer them into a tank and bottle that off. So that’ll be another one that’s kind of crazy. We were just tasting them all yesterday to see how they were going to blend. It’s kind of exciting. It’s just got a little hint of a spicy, Belgian characteristic. But it’s hoppy, and you still get some of the barrel out of it. So slight bourbon, slight oak, hops and a little bit of the Belgian character. It’s awesome. We haven’t really figured out what it’s called yet. It was kind of an experiment gone right.

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