Overwhelmed by the varieties of craft beer to choose from? You’re not alone. And you have an unlikely ally in Alan Newman.
Newman co-founded Magic Hat Brewing Company in 1994 and grew it into the ninth largest craft brewery in America before selling the company in 2010. He now leads a Vermont based organization called Alchemy & Science whose mission is to grow the market share of craft beer. The group recently launched The Just Beer Project – a movement toward simpler, session beers. Their first beer – Just IPA – recently began distribution in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
You’ve described The Just Beer Project as “a response to an industry out-hopping, out-ingredienting and out-doing everyone else.” Are you dissatisfied with the state of craft beer?
Alan Newman: I wouldn’t say I’m dissatisfied, I’d say I saw an opportunity. The goal of Alchemy & Science is to bring more people into craft beer and not just keep selling to the same 6-7% of the beer-buying population that buys craft beer now. But craft beer culture has started to lose that customer – he’s now confused and overwhelmed by extreme beers. I like drinking beer, hanging in bars and the social lubricant that beer provides. But I can’t do that when a beer has 7-8% ABV (alcohol by volume) or high BU’s (a measure of hop
bitterness). I like those beers, but I can only drink one – they suit my flavor side, but not my social side. The Just Beer Project aims to make sociable, drinkable beers… a beer with great flavor, but doesn’t blow you away.
But if you “simplify” beer, is it still “craft”? What makes a beer a craft beer? Well, the industry definition is a brewery that’s independently operated. To me, it has more to do with the ingredients used and the intention behind them. Others will use adjuncts to stretch the effciencies of brewing. We use all natural ingredients in small batch sizes that ensure every bottle gets a human touch. But everybody has a different point of view on this.
Why start with an IPA?
Actually we didn’t… at first, we had an amber ale called Just Beer. But that confused people, since it could mean a broad range of things. We wanted to convey a simple message and IPA is a recognizable style… we launched Just IPA and people then knew what we were talking about. IPA is also the single hottest category in the beer market, and it’s where our message resonates best. Few brands are under 6% ABV and most are in the 6.5-7.0% range. We’re at 4.8% and trying to move it down, but we still have that great aroma and flavor.
You have an interesting, fun “mascot” in your logo – what does he represent? Ahhh, “The Emperor.” It’s a symbol of the march toward simplicity. He is leading the parade back to simple, great tasting beer. He has unabashed, naked beliefs about beer, so much so that he’s not even worried about his clothes.
Any parting thoughts?
When I first started in the early ‘90s, Americans were not known for making good beer and it was hard to buy something with consistent, good taste. We then did a 180 and turned into what I think is the best beer country – ahead of England, Germany and Belgium. America did what it does best – it takes tradition and innovates – which propelled the craft category to new places. Now there are things people didn’t believe could be done that are pushing the limits of what people think is beer. However, for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. I’m a fan of all the innovation, but sometimes I just want a beer.