DRINK WITH THE WENCH PRESENTS:
The Beer Blogger Interview Series
Curious what goes on in the minds of your favorite beer bloggers? Well, The Beer Wench is and she has embarked upon a mission to interview as many beer bloggers that she can — from all over the world. Are you a beer blogger? Do you want to share your story? Send me an email!
INTRODUCING: GREG HELLER-LaBELLE
AUTHOR OF: POUR CURATOR
Beer Blogger Interview
1. Where did you grow up?
I started out in Pittsburgh and moved to the Lehigh Valley around middle school. Then I moved back to Pittsburgh, then back to the Lehigh Valley.
2. What sports if any did you play growing up, through college and beyond?
I was really big on lacrosse, and had a ton of fun playing that until college, when the student newspaper ate al l of my free time. There is no proof that I played intramural basketball in college.
3. How old were you when you had your first beer?
It was the summer after ninth grade, so… 15?
4. If you can recall, what is the story of your first beer? Where did you have it? What style and brand was it?
I was at a performing arts summer camp. I had no musical talent; I was just there to screw around. I made a couple of friends – one a counselor – who decided to get my drunk, so he smuggled in a bunch of booze, including a few Yuengling Black & Tans. Appropriate, in retrospect, given my PA roots.
5. Where, if applicable, did you go to college? What did you study? What additional activities, organizations, sports did you partake in during college?
I went to the University of Pittsburgh, where I studied a bunch of interesting but largely useless stuff like Art History and Religious Studies. Most of my time was spent at the daily student paper, The Pitt News, where I was the editor for a couple years.
Craft Beer Epiphany
Every craft beer enthusiast has at least one pinnacle craft beer experience that completely changes ones perspective on beer. I refer to this mind-blowing moment as a “craft beer epiphany.”
1. What was your first craft beer epiphany? Recall as many details about it as you can:
At Pitt, we had a class inventively called “The Pitt News” that was basically an excuse for us to get credit for working at the newspaper. We were somehow able to hold this class in a bar (!) called Fuel and Fuddle. Fuel is right near campus, and has a 100 beers club list, where you get your name on the wall for trying all 100 beers. Since we were there once a week anyway, I decided to join this club.
And, somewhere in the midst of Yuenglings and Guinesses (Guinni?), I had to order a Victory Hop Devil. I had never tasted anything like it, ever. It was spicy and different, and I was completely blown away. My life was never the same. I finished the 100 beers club 13 times by the time I moved away from Pittsburgh.
2. Have you have additional craft beer epiphanies since the first? Detail as many of them as you wish:
I consider just about every day I try something new a craft beer epiphany, but I’m a total nerd. There are some moments that stand out, like having a Geuze in Rene Magritte’s pub in Brussels, and the first time I noticed the art on a beer label (Troegs Troegenator). Most recently, at GABF 2009, I had five interesting and remarkable beers by Cambridge Brewing Company, and it really reinforced how much room there is left to experiment and find new flavors in beer.
Beer Blog Background
1. How long have you been writing your beer blog?
I’ve been writing this blog for just a few weeks, but I’ve been working with brewery art for three years.
2. What inspired you to start writing your blog?
I’ve been curating this exhibition, “Design, Drink and Be Merry” since 2008, so I’ve been interested in the idea of art and design of beer labels for a long time. It just took me a while to decide to write about it consistently.
3. Why did you chose the name of your blog?
It’s a pun, since art is a good field to be in if you hate money. My girlfriend came up with it and I loved it instantly (also, the domain was available).
4. What are you personal goals for your blog? What do you hope to achieve with it?
Well, for one, I think the artists and designers deserve more credit than they get, as do the breweries who are willing to pay for art. And it’s fun for me. But more selfishly, I do hope it will build a bit of a platform for the exhibition and pave the way for a book that I’d like to write about the art of the craft brew industry.
5. What is one of the coolest things that happened to you as a result of being a beer blogger?
In poking around other beer bloggers, I’ve really been thrilled with the depth and intelligence of the beer blogging community, and how cool and open they are.
“Design, Drink and Be Merry” has given me a bunch of awesome experiences, like getting to meet and drink some good beer with some awesome artists and brewery people. The whole Stoudt family, Matt and Jeremy at Shmaltz, Dave and Dorn at Ska, and Ed at Troegs have all been great supporters of the show. And of course, getting to meet other great artists like Nathan Arnone at Southern Tier and all the artists at River Horse has been awesome.
Wow, that looks like I was name dropping. When you run a fundraiser for a nonprofit, you get really scared of leaving people out. Again, I’m such a geek about this. I still get star struck talking to Lew Bryson or Don Russell or Randy Mosher. I mean, the Wench is interviewing me! How cool is that? Okay, I’ll stop.
6. What are you top 3 favorite beer blogs/beer websites?
I’ll do three other than the Wench, just to level the playing field.
1) Joe Sixpack – Don Russell’s blog at the Philly Daily News
2) I really love what Hop Press is doing by bringing beer writers together; it’s become a must-read for me every day
3) Without BeerNews.Org, I flatly could not do my blog
1. What are your top 3 favorite beer styles?
Sour, IPA, Kolsch
2. What are your top 3 favorite breweries?
Oh man, that is hard. Favorite in terms of beer, art or community involvement? Can I be a homer?
1) Shmaltz – They have so much fun, Matt is an unbelievable artist, they make great beer, and they’re really invested in their community with the Coney Island efforts. Plus, I’m a member of the Tribe and appreciate the Brooklyn/Jew humor.
2) Stoudts – An awesome huge family, and they all love beer and art. And not enough of a deal is made about Carol Stoudt, who has been a titan in the industry and has to be an inspiration for young women trying to break into the dude-filled craft beer industry
3) East End – I love Pittsburgh, and these guys are the new face of the green, sustainable city that Pittsburgh has become. They support great causes. They bring kegs out on bikes. Wayno, their artist, is awesome. And their beer is great.
3. If you could work with or for any one brewery, which one would it be and why?
Ska – Dave Thibodeau is totally, completely insane. In a good way. I think.
4. Are you a homebrewer? If yes, what is the most unique and interesting beer recipes you’ve brewed as a homebrewer?
I have homebrewed twice, and neither recipe was particularly interesting, but the porter I made was a lot bigger than I intended.
5. Do you have any beer certifications (BJCP, Cicerone, Siebel, American Brewers Guild)?? If so, what are they?
6. What is your favorite beer and food pairing?
Any sour and a good cheese. I understand it can affect food flavor, but cheese is awesome.
The Personal Side
1. What is your current day job?
I’m finishing up my MBA in a month. In my spare time, I work with a small business buying group in Reading, PA.
2. If you could change your career at this very moment, without any restrictions on what you could do, what would you want to do and why?
I honestly love curating the show and writing about brewery art. If that could ever be a full-time job, I’d be one happy, drunk camper.
3. Are you married? Children?
4. Outside of beer and writing, what are some of your other hobbies?
I love cooking. I tend to work my way through cuisine styles at a clip of one per year. Most recently I tried to get good at Spanish food. I make a decent tortilla classica and a passable paella.
Off The Beaten Path
1. If you were a style of beer, what style would be an why?
Wow. Tough question. I think I’d be one of those big, East Coast IPAs (like a Dogfish 90 minute). I try to stay balanced, and I think I achieve that, but I’m definitely intense and not for everybody.
2. You were caught smuggling beer illegally, which has now been made punishable by death. Right before you are sent to the executioner, you are offered one last beer. What beer would you chose and why?
Victory Hop Devil. It got me into craft beer, it cost me lots of money over the course of my life, and it has now apparently gotten me killed. It may as well see me off the mortal coil.
3. If I contracted you to brew a beer (or design a beer recipe) called “The Beer Wench” — what style would you chose and what, if any, extra ingredients would you add?
All right, I’m going with a saison, which is easy to enjoy and pleasant, because of the writing style. I’m adding some pepper (for some kick, obviously), and I feel like some heather would add a depth of flavor to reflect your many interests.
4. If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
Teleportation. I love travel, and I only enjoy walking as recreation, not transportation. Plus, can you imagine how awesome seeing breweries would be? You could have an interstate brewery crawl!
5. What is one of the craziest things you have ever done and lived to tell the story?
I was once partying with some guys who had this 400-acre plot of hunting land somewhere in Ohio, and I guess they really liked to get tanked and drive these dilapidated Jeeps around deer paths at night with no lights or brakes. I am still not sure why that wasn’t fatal.
6. What are your thoughts on bacon?
I don’t eat pork, so mostly I’m mystified as to why this country seems to think bacon is appropriate anywhere and everywhere. It’s like a meat, but also a condiment? Why is a default position on food to just add bacon to it? I get that it’s delicious, but so is, say, cheese, or beer, or butter, and we don’t add those to everything. Or should we? Maybe we should treat bacon’s ubiquity as inspiration for other items of scrumptiousness.
SPECIAL THANKS TO GREG FOR AN AWESOME INTERVIEW!