A Q&A With Lisa Zimmer of Tenth & Blake on Craft, Brewer’s Unleashed and Michael Chabon
It’s an honest treat that working in the industry we get to meet a bunch of amazing and fun people toiling on something they really care about. We had a unique opportunity to sit down with Lisa Zimmer of Tenth & Blake Co., a few weeks ago for a Q&A. She’s the innovative maven behind Tenth & Blake’s “Brewer’s Unleashed” and a shoe-in for one of the nicest people we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing?
What’s your role at Tenth & Blake?
My official title is “Digital and Consumer Outreach Specialist” which is a mouthful. I run our Brewers Unleashed program (a monthly gathering where we tap some special one-time-only beers) and hang out online with beer bloggers and Twitter folks. I try to keep up with what’s happening in the craft and import beer worlds and build relationships with people who play in those spaces. And like any good start-up, I get tossed a wide variety of tasks…my most notable to date was rinsing and filling 1200 nips with barrel-aged Big Eddy RIS. Which is how I got my self-appointed new title: Beer and Cider Wrangler / Chief Bottle Washer.
Tell me about beer school, what’s the best part?
In Beer 101, we learn about beer, soup to nuts. History, ingredients, styles, how to really taste beer and talk about it-plenty of knowledge to pass our Beer Server Cicerone exam (a requirement for all Tenth and Blake employees). Beer 201 focuses on beer and food pairing. We eat and drink and then eat and drink some more. I don’t know how you pick a “best part” of that, but I’d say on the first day of 201, when you eat a little bit of Parmesan Reggiano and wash it down with Peroni and have this sort of “Ah-ha moment” about food and beer and why they are so awesome together….that opened up a whole new world for me in beer appreciation.
What’s Brewers Unleashed?
Brewers Unleashed is an event we hold in our company bar roughly once a month where I’ve gathered together “side projects” our Tenth and Blake brewers have created. We do it to celebrate beer, something we talk about a lot at Tenth and Blake, and a chance for our employees and friends to try something different and special. In many cases, we may literally have one keg of the beer being enjoyed, so we’ve got “never before and nowhere else” vibe going. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. In coming months we’ll be bringing in some homebrews that brewers from our MillerCoors breweries have created. We’ve also started inviting guest brewers each month, including Haymarket, Rock Bottom and Paw Paw Brewing.
How did you get the idea for it?
Jeff White, our Senior Director of Operations and Strategy, had the idea. He was in Milwaukee for a meeting (months before Tenth and Blake existed) and went to the company bar, expecting to have the normal MillerCoors selection available to him. What he found was a generic tap handle with a little sign that said “Wild Ting” (named Brewing research Pat Ting, who was instrumental in the development of the Citra hop) and the beer that followed was so unexpected…he thought “Why doesn’t everyone in the company know we make beers like this?” He wrote up what I like to call his Brewers Unleashed Manifesto about how and why Brewers Unleashed would exist. He emailed it to a few of us…I printed it out and carried it around with me for weeks, showing it to a few friends to see what they thought. When we got Tenth and Blake rolling, Brewers Unleashed followed shortly after.
How many breweries have you visited?
Dozens. I won’t bore you with the list, but some highlights for me:
Lakefront in Milwaukee was the first brewery tour I ever went on, almost a decade before I worked at MillerCoors/Tenth and Blake. Since it was the first, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was surprised at how small it was (and how little space you need to make awesome beer). I actually used most of my wooden nickels for root beer and cream soda because I thought I didn’t like beer!
Birreria at Eataly in New York—really more a brewpub, it’s a collaboration space with Dogfish Head, Baladin and Del Borgo. They were still installing the brewing equipment when I went last summer, but some of the Del Borgo beers I tried were amazing. And the food is perfection. Definitely on my list to go back to.
What’s your favorite beer?
I love sour and fruity beers. I tend to steer clear of anything too hoppy (and until I started digging into a wider range of styles, I assume all craft beer was bitter and hoppy.) Duchesse De Bourgogne, a Flanders Red, and Blushing Monk from Founders rank very high for me. I also love a Summer Shandy from Leinenkugel as soon as that first nice day hits, and our new Blue Moon Farmhouse Red is poised to become my regular beer.
I’m also a cider nut. The day we acquired Crispin, I might as well have won the lottery. I mean, probably not the Powerball, but at least the state lottery.
How do you define craft beer?
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the word “craft”. I love what it stands for; beer made with care, with quality ingredients, by people who are masters at what they do. But by Brewers Association definitions (6 million barrels is the cutoff), none of our beer is technically “craft beer” since the whole of MillerCoors produces much, much more than that. I’ve spent time in Sandlot and AC Golden and Tenth Street in Milwaukee…you can’t tell me those beers are not made with care and quality ingredients by people who are truly world-class brewers. You only need to look at the piles GABF medals hanging from the rafters at the Sandlot or the hidden barrel room at AC Golden to know our brewers are just as crafty as the tiniest breweries in the country.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about the beer industry?
At the end of the day, it’s just beer. Delicious, glorious, complex beer. I spend a lot of time reading blogs and talking about beer, and sometimes I get too wrapped up in the politics and definitions and who is slamming who online. When I start getting all fired when someone takes a swipe at Tenth and Blake, I remind myself that I know the people and the brewers I work with, how educated our team is, and that we make great beer that millions of people enjoy. And that it’s beer. It’s for celebrations, relaxing in your yard with friends, pairing with an awesome meal. I love that the culture around it is so strong, but there are other things I’d rather put my energy towards then picking fights online.
What’s in Tenth & Blake’s future for craft beers?
Beer and more beer. I think you’ll continue to see our existing brands expand their offerings. We’ve got some new imports coming online in the next few months and the Big Eddy IIPA will be rolling out. Henry Weinhard’s is going national. We’ve got a lot of big stuff churning! We’ll also continue to explore more partnership opportunities like we have with Terrapin and Crispin.
If you got to do a Q&A with someone, who would it be and why?
My answer always changes for questions like this, but I’d have to pick someone really creative, like Dr. Seuss or Andrew Bird or Michal Chabon. Someone who thinks about the world in a very different way than I do and has managed to commit those thoughts to paper or music or some other medium. I have the most to learn from someone like that.