Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ska in Texas: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part III

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

Soggy Coaster: So you brewed about 9,000 barrels last year? Is that about right?

Dave Thibodeau: I think that’s about right. I don’t know if we’ll hit 12,000 this year, but probably in the next 12 months we’ll hit 12,000.

Soggy: That’s good to hear.

Thibodeau: We’re pretty much operating at capacity and we’ve got a couple more tanks that we ordered coming in the next couple weeks. It’s weird. We got into the new building and we just filled it up immediately.

Soggy: That has a way of happening, I’d imagine.

Thibodeau: Which is good.

Soggy: How’s the new building working out? Any kinks, or is everything flowing pretty smoothly?

Thibodeau: There’s of course some kinks, and I have to give a lot of credit to my partner Matt (Vincent). Bill (Graham) down in the brewery, too. As many things as were possible to overlook, I can’t believe how few actually were overlooked. Matt basically designed it.

We did have an engineer and an architect to help him out, but Matt really kind of got into it. It’s amazing how well it’s all working. Overall, the way it functions and how much easier almost everybody’s job got is phenomenal. It’s great. And it’s just easier to make beer here, easier to distribute beer out of here, easier to just store stuff. The quality’s better. Everybody’s jobs are better. Everybody’s jobs are easier, more efficient. The building itself as far as energy use is so much more efficient. And it’s just much, much nicer.

Soggy: What’s your most important market besides Durango?

Thibodeau: I don’t know what I would say our most important market is. I mean, Colorado, being our backyard, we owe a lot to Colorado. Bill and I are Colorado natives from the Front Range. So if I had to rank importance, I would say Colorado is absolutely the most important.

Our other markets are all doing really well. We did just roll out in Texas. Texas is taking a lot of beer, and it’s pretty fun down there. Parts of it, between Dallas and Houston and Austin, of course, is a place where we’re selling a lot of craft beer – there’s a lot of craft beer in Austin, but there’s not a lot of breweries in Texas. So we only rolled out with a couple of our main products, Pinstripe (Red Ale) and (True Blonde Ale), and then now the Modus (Hoperandi IPA).

We’re the big distributor down there. They’re going through a lot of beer. It’s the hot summer months, they’ve got True Blonde and Pinstripe, fairly sessionable beers. They’re just ordering like crazy, and there’s so many people, you can almost accidentally sell more beer in Texas than in Colorado. There’s more people in those three cities, I think, than in the state of Colorado. So that’s important because there’s so many people, the market’s just taking off. It’s not all about the super high-end, huge beers. The weather’s warm.

We make a lot of traditional English-style ales because that’s what we like to drink. Don’t get me wrong, we like bigger, crazier and weirder beers. But we drink a lot of beer. I mean, up here at the brewery, when we sit down and drink a beer, we might drink 10 beers or whatever. It might be hot, and we’re on the edge of the desert. So we make the type of beer that we drink all the time. Texas is like that. And being an emerging market with so few breweries down there, it’s nice to get in there and establish a good ground level and grow with the rest of the state.

Soggy: When did you go into Texas?

Thibodeau: The first week of April. It went great. People are so cool that are into craft beer down there. It’s just taking off. Everybody was warmly welcoming us. Nobody was craft-beer snooty. You get some of the other markets where there’s ton of craft beer and you’re going to encounter the occasional craft beer snot. And I’m just too shy to deal with that person. I’d rather deal with somebody who wants to sit down and talk about it – talk about making it, drink it and not the snotty side but more of the partying, friendly side.

Soggy: Gotcha. Do you have any plans for any other new markets. Is there any roll-outs scheduled in the near future?

Thibodeau: We’re just wrapping up preparations for Kansas.

Soggy: You’ll have us more or less surrounded.

Thibodeau: Yeah, that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to get our states that are close to home and in our backyard. We’ll have Kansas and Nebraska, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. You know, Utah’s got its own issues to work out. We really want to concentrate there – or here, I’d like to say – and sell more beer here in those markets and put more effort into really supporting the product. I think it’s a more sustainable way to grow. You have more control over the quality. You keep your dollars more located around where you are. And you have more of an impact and I think you’re more part of that community. Not just brewing and selling great beer, but you can help in a lot of other levels as far as the community aspect goes. So we want to concentrate around here and keep slow, steady growth in our existing markets. So I don’t know what market we might hit next if any, or when that might happen.

Soggy: One step at a time. What’s your best-selling beer at the moment?

Thibodeau: Still Pinstripe. Blonde goes out pretty well – I don’t have the numbers, but Blonde does pretty well in the summer. Overall, Pinstripe, definitely, far and way. But Blonde gets pretty close in the summer.

Pinstripe’s kind of the flagship. It’s pretty easy drinking. We labeled it a red ale, but when we made it, that wasn’t even a category. There were amber ales, which eventually got lumped into that category, but we just called it red because it was red in color. We didn’t follow any guidelines to make a red ale. It actually came about because of an accident or a mistake. We ran out of ingredients on True Blonde – the second batch of beer we ever made – and we quickly formulated a recipe with what we had left and that’s what we came up with. I mean, while we were mashing in we ran out of ingredients.

It’s pretty easy drinking. It’s basically an ordinary bitter. It’s kind of a British mild-style ale. You know, medium-hopped, medium body, still a little bit on the lighter side. I’d hate to categorize us like that, but I’d almost say it’s our Fat Tire. The Ska version of whatever. So it’s our flagship. I love our other flagships, which are all traditional, English-style ales.

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