"Most people are reluctant to give up drinking good beer once they've had it."
Shane Welch founded Sixpoint Craft Ales in 2004 and has been brewing some of our favorite beers ever since. We chatted with Welch about his sources of inspiration, the beers he loves, his place in the craft brewing scene, and the ups and downs of running a small brewery in New York City.
Name: Shane Welch
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Founder and brewmaster of Sixpoint Craft Ales
How did you develop your taste for interesting, flavorful beers? By sampling thousands of beers myself, homebrewing my arse off, and trying to maintain an open mind when it comes to flavor!
At what point did you realize that you wanted to move beyond homebrewing to running a brewery of your own? When the first brewmaster I apprenticed under—Dean Coffey (from Ale Asylum in Madison, Wisconsin)—told me it was time for me to "open my own brewery." I knew then that I was ready.
How many kegs do you produce each month? Currently, about 1800.
What beers are you brewing right now? Sweet Action, Bengali Tiger, Brownstone, Righteous Ale make up the core flavors....then we rotate in the Otis, specialty seasonals, and of course a few one-offs every now and then.
How do you get inspired to create new beer recipes? Different pathways....sometimes through experimentation as a homebrewer, and in this sense, it is a little random, and a little intuitive. Sometimes it is when I travel and I try some amazing flavor combination in foods or beverages that I consume during my journeys, I think to myself, "Hey....I should try something like that." Or sometimes I'm just kicking back a beer with my girlfriend while watching a movie, and the thought just pops into my head. The best, however, is when the ideas arrive collaboratively, when I'm throwing ideas out with my staff—ideas born collectively are THE BEST.
Have you ever used any really unusual ingredients in a beer? Yes, we've used lots of unusual ingredients—carob and chili peppers to name a few.
How would you describe the American craft/artisan brewing scene today? How does Sixpoint fit into it? It is very dynamic and in total chaos, but before you can understand it, you have to understand the other portion of it. You have the big three (Bud, MIller, Coors) which are scrambling for a new identity, and all of them are now owned by foreign conglomerates! So the big three, which represent the vast majority of all US beer sales, are really just part of massive international holding companies. Then there is the craft brewing scene—the remaining fraction—which is setting all of the new trends and innovations. I expect solid growth for some time, as most people are reluctant to give up drinking good beer once they've had it.
Has an East Coast craft brewing style developed to rival the West Coast? It seems no real distinct East Coast flavor has emerged to rival the West Coast, although I'm not sure its intention or design was to produce a counterpart to the West Coast flavor. The homebrewing scene is simply not as established or entrenched on the East Coast as it is in the West Coast or Midwest, and as a result, I do not believe you will see the grassroots gravitation or affinity for generating eclectic and cult-like styles in anything more than a consumer following without critical mass. All craft brewing starts with the homebrewers.
How does being in NY affect your brewing? Well, we have access to the finest brewing water on earth for one! Then, we have New Yorkers, who are stubbornly critical in their tastes for all things—true epicureans with high standards. So we're given a good canvas, but we're expected to produce masterpieces. It's a bittersweet tango.
Do you plan to increase your distribution geographically? For now, no. We need to catch up with the demand in NYC before we can even dream of doing something like that!
Any hint on when we might see Sixpoint beers in bottles? When the time is right...stay tuned.
Do you have a favorite Sixpoint offering? I love them all like my children unconditionally....although the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Do you have any favorite food pairings for Sixpoint beers? Varies day by day. Sweet Action with fish tacos has been a real winner lately.
What are your top five beers from other breweries? Oh man, that is an impossibly hard question. Off the top of my head and in no particular order here: Abbaye Des Rocs Grand Cru, Alesmith IPA, Westvleteren 12, Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, and Dale's Pale Ale (from Oskar Blues) in a can while I'm fishing on a serene lake with my girlfriend in autumn...
What are some of the challenges you've faced at Sixpoint? The triumphs? Too many to list, but I'd say overcoming the daily struggle of simply operating in an environment like NYC is the biggest "fixed" challenge we have—above and beyond that, everything else is like a walk in the park! I'd say the biggest triumph is building a team and providing a livelihood for a wonderful group of people who have all become great friends of mine.
How can serious beer drinkers influence the beers available on restaurant and bar tap lists? They have a ton of control—they can simply refuse to drink a bar or restaurant's offerings if they don't offer good beer. Ask to speak to the manager and insist on drinking water if they only serve crappy beer. Tell them its a disgrace to have such a fine establishment and offer the customer such a poor product. Once the manager sees you represent the silent majority, the menu will change rather quickly.
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