By Carlos Arellano and Daniel Reifsnider
This Sunday, April 26th the fine folks at WhichCraft Beer Store are celebrating their store’s one year existence by throwing a killer party at Hops & Grain Brewery. You can snag a ticket here, but in the meantime, to celebrate this momentous achievement Carlos decided to sit down with owner and founder of WhichCraft Jody Reyes, along with some of the other crew members and talk about beer, people, and a lot of stuff in-between.
SH: What do you vision for the store in the future?
Jody Reyes: So we’re currently actively scouting for a second location, and we’d love to be open in 2015. We’d love to get to future locations where they have an on premise model as well, because really crucial for us and the niche we’ve filled is to be able to do customer education events, as well as unique tastings. So I think when we get to a future location, we’ll do more sensory experiences, more hands-on stuff for customers, more events where we explore particular styles. I could also see us doing more events with breweries, more tours, and other things like that.
So ultimately, it’s a combo of more locations, plus developing deeper relationships with breweries that will allow us to provide unique customer experiences that you can’t get if you were to just walk into a brewery off the street. We essentially really want to be that kind of middle ground between the gigantic swath of consumers that are out there and this group of knowledgeable brewers who are trying to reach more and more consumers.
SH: What gets you guys most excited about coming into work?
Zach Flaten: For me, it’s pairing a beer up with someone and having that pairing basically change their lives in the way they drink beer, and seeing the look on their face when they realize that. When customers come back to me and they’re like “oh man I had this and it was awesome,” and they end up buying six-packs of it left and right, just knowing that you were a part of that and that you helped them into an experience is really enjoyable for me.
When customers come back to me and they’re like “oh man I had this and it was awesome…”
Nick De La Rosa: I wake up for this man; it’s not exactly work for me. People come in here and they already know what they want: they want beer. And it’s my responsibility to send them in the direction where it’s going to expand their horizons, and also give them a brand new experience for something that they’ve never had. You know, people use their disposable income that they could be using on anything else, but they came here to get great beer and I like blowing people minds with the beer that exists here. I really enjoy selling people the most ridiculous thing that they’re going to taste until the next time they come back and see me again.
It’s also amazing going out to places, and people recognizing me and talking to me about the beer I sold them and how incredible the beer was. I mean, I had someone come in here who never had a beer before and I sold them a (Hops & Grain The One They Call) Zoe, and now they love Zoe! I mean that’s really awesome that I’m able to do that and have that kind of trust from someone.
Sahara Smith: It’s interesting because being the only female employee at the shop, people don’t necessarily trust that I have the most educated opinion on beer…
SH: And you could argue that you probably have the best education on beer here…
JR: Yeah, I don’t think that could be argued!
SS: Yeah, so I like it when people come in and they’re not sure about my level of familiarity with beers, and just being able to communicate with them on whatever level they’re at in terms of beer is really enjoyable for me.
SH: So speaking about the beer scene, you guys must have a different perspective about the scene. What kind of differences do you see from the perspective of a bottle shop?
ZF: Well we’re actually in a pretty unique position where, we’re liked enough by our peers and brewers that they come in here and this is sort of their place to buy beer as well. So the brewers and our peers are just as much our customers as the rest of our customer base, so it puts us in a unique position where we’re able to get a lot of insight on that more direct connection to the customer, because we’re sort of the bridge between the brewers and the beer drinking customer.
We get people that stumble in in any stage of their craft beer journey, and so we interact with so many different people across the spectrum, from people who just had a Blue Moon for the first time versus people who only drink Cantillon.
JR: To piggyback on what Zach’s saying, we fill this niche because we interface with so many consumers every day and every week, and so we hear about what people are looking for, what they want, and what they like and don’t like. So we gain a lot of insight that’s helpful for especially breweries. We get people that stumble in in any stage of their craft beer journey, and so we interact with so many different people across the spectrum, from people who just had a Blue Moon for the first time versus people who only drink Cantillon. So because of this, we’re able to provide a lot of insight and information back to breweries.
It’s really important that the employees here are beer fans and want other people to be beer fans too.
SS: And just to add, I think because of the varying levels of customers we get it’s really important that our employees are able to speak to someone on their level of knowledge. So it’s important to not go into the super technical stuff with people that don’t want to go there, but you can if the person really wants to get technical with you. Also, because we carry 700-800 different beers, we have to be familiar to some degree with each beer that we carry. It’s really important that the employees here are beer fans and want other people to be beer fans too.
SH: What do you think has been the best idea ya’ll have come up with for the store? We’re really big fans of the personal selections.
JR: Oh, the staff picks?
Nick: Dude, that’s what sold me when I first applied. When I first came in, and I honestly already wanted the job, Jody was like “well we’re going to do…”
JR: Yeah, that’s when I was building up the store last year, and I opened up the fridge…
Nick: He opened up the fridge and pulled out some Zoe and I was like “hell yeah, this dude’s talking my language.” After the Zoes, Jody then said that we get to create our own staff picks and that was like the final nail in the coffin for me. I was thinking “finally, my opinion’s going to matter to somebody.” The way I share my staff pick is to usually just take a picture and then post it on social media.
He…pulled out some Zoe and I was like “hell yeah, this dude’s talking my language.”
ZF: For me, I’d have to say the mystery bags.
Nick: Oh also the singles wall. I can’t believe that everywhere doesn’t have a humongous singles wall.
SS: Yeah, singles by far are our best seller.
JR: Another thing on the singles wall is that we commit to a style and we commit to keeping that style stocked. I think that at some of the other stores around town, the singles wall is an afterthought and there’s not really any attention to keeping it well stocked. It’s a definite top-priority for us to keep it well stocked, because as soon as it’s not well stocked it loses its allure.
SH: Yeah, we’re glad you guys have cans in the singles wall too. That’s very cool.
JR: I also think it’s awesome that we check the dates on everything, especially on Pale Ales and IPAs, to make sure it’s all fresh. That’s what Zach’s currently doing with the delivery people right now.
I think that at some of the other stores around town, the singles wall is an afterthought…It’s a definite top-priority for us to keep it well stocked…
Nick: Yeah, it’s surprising to find year old IPAs that are sitting out on the shelf at some of the stores around town. At first I was thinking it was going to be an extremely tough decision to check the dates on everything, but ultimately it turned out to be a really easy decision.
JH: Yeah, I would’ve made that same decision 100 times over.
Nick: Me too, because now people can come in here and they don’t have to worry. It can be tough to find the date on a bottle, especially if the date is in a code or a crazy number. But we look all that up so the customer doesn’t have to. Thank you to all the breweries that put the date on the bottle, because ya’ll actually care.
SH: You guys have any interesting/funny/crazy customer stories you wish to share?
SS: Haha, yeah we had a customer propose in here…
ZF: Oh yeah, we definitely had someone propose to his future wife in here. It was their first time in the store, and he just felt like it was the perfect place to do it.
…The guy looked at me and said, “hey man, I’m going to do something crazy,” and I’m thinking to myself, “oh shit, this guy’s going to pull a knife on us…”
JR: Yeah that was like last August on a Friday or Saturday during a tasting, and the guy kind of had crazy eyes. I was standing at the end of the bar kind of interacting with them, because they were definitely unique people, and the guy looked at me and said, “hey man, I’m going to do something crazy,” and I’m thinking to myself, “oh shit, this guy’s going to pull a knife on us,” and so I literally start walking to the other end of the bar thinking I’m going to have to tackle this guy so he doesn’t tackle my customers or my employees.
And the guy asks me, “is it cool if I do something crazy?” and I’m like “no, you really shouldn’t do that.” The guy says, “too late, I’m going to do it,” and I’m literally going through the movements of tackling this guy in my head, because I’m thinking he’s going to pull a knife. Thankfully, he just got down on one knee and proposed to his now wife. That story certainly tops the list for me.
SH: Has anyone had a baby here yet?
JR: Haha, no, no one’s had a baby yet.
SH: So Zach, you’re from Wisconsin right? How exactly did you find out about WhichCraft?
ZF: Haha yeah, so I first heard about WhichCraft on Reddit. About six months prior to working at WhichCraft, I had already come down to Austin on a road trip, and just like everybody else I fell in love with it. At the time, I was working at a brewery up in Wisconsin and it was slowing down, and wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. Also, the craft beer scene up in Milwaukee isn’t really that big, contrary to popular belief, so there weren’t really a lot of immediate openings for me. I knew the craft beer scene was pretty big in Austin, and so I started looking for work online. Andrew Schwab saw my post about looking for work, and he put me in touch with Jody who was simultaneously hiring for WhichCraft. So it was really kind of being in the right place at the right time sort of thing.
JR: Yeah, we actually found most of our employees through the Austin Beer SubReddit.
SH: So we’ve heard a little about the interview process, and something about a blind taste test. Can you talk about the interview process?
JR: So the first thing we do is to basically get to know the person. First and foremost we want to know if they can interact with people. Not only do they have to recite beer knowledge, and have a fairly deep well of beer knowledge, but be able to use successful wording and adjectives to communicate that knowledge. That’s really key. We also pick three or five different beers and do blind tastings with them. With the tastings, it’s really less about getting things right or wrong, and it’s more about hearing someone talk about a beer. I want to hear the words they use and how comfortable they are with the words to describe the smell and flavor. Of course, we let people take a swing at guessing what beer it is and rarely do people get it right, but that’s not really important for me.
SH: Is there anything about the 1 Year Anniversary Party you want people to get excited about?
JR: I’m actually excited that Sahara and her band, Girl Pilot, are playing.
SS: This is going to be the full band too.
JR: Yeah, I’m really excited. The other band that’s playing is made up of regular customers called The Last Humans. They’re super good friends with Nick.
ZF: They shred too. They do some really heavy rock ’n’ roll. I’m excited for the music, but I’m also excited for the glassware. We’re going to have some awesome glassware.
JR: I only made 144 of these things, and we’ve already sold 127 presale tickets, so there’s really only about a dozen tickets left. If you don’t get a ticket, you can still come of course, but you won’t get the glassware.
ZF: Oh yeah, it’s a collector’s item to say the least. For me, I’m honestly excited about seeing so many people I know in an out-of-work context with my top-button undone so to speak. Yeah, I’m excited to break down that barrier a little bit and party with people that aren’t clientele during that afternoon.
SH: So what was the decision for hosting the party at Hops & Grain Brewery?
ZF: They know how to throw a party.
SS: Yeah, those guys really do.
JR: Haha, yeah that’s pretty much it. We knew they have great beers. Also, the timing with them moving to a 7day/week schedule with coffee service is pretty cool. Yeah, we’re just pretty cool with them.
SH: It’s definitely going to be interesting to see a cross pollination of people who may never have been to Hops & Grain who are big WhichCraft fans, and people who are big Hops & Grain fans who may never have been to WhichCraft.
ZF: Absolutely, it’s going to be very beneficial to the both of us.
JR: Also, just to drop a bit about our anniversary, we’re working on a collaboration beer as well to commemorate our first anniversary. We’re hoping to release in the next four to six weeks, so it’s not going to be on our actual anniversary, but we are working on a collaboration with a couple of local breweries. It’s going to be available both on draft here in town, as well as in bottles.
So that’s it folks! From crazy stories about in-store proposals, to a hopeful and possible second location, to the bombshell about an anniversary collaboration beer, WhichCraft Beer Store should definitely be on everyone’s map. Seriously, if you haven’t been already, stop fooling yourself and go down and see Jody, Zach, Nick, Saraha, and all the other awesome people that make WhichCraft happen as soon as humanly possible. There are a plethora of stores that sell craft beer in this town now, but there’s really only one store that’s truly dedicated to the craft.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, buy your ticket to the 1st Year Anniversary Party happening this Sunday, April 26th at Hops & Grain. Tickets can be found here, and you heard it from Jody and Zach that the glasses aren’t to miss.