Talking craft beer with Brian Little of The Beer Apostle
1. How did you get interested in craft beer?
When you talk to most people in the craft beer community, there’s usually one beer, one experience that initially opened their eyes to craft beer. For me, that initial experience came in 2008, when I was teaching middle school in Houston, TX. I never really liked the common light beers that most people were drinking, and wanted something with more flavor and complexity. Wine was an option, but I liked what I had seen coming out of the “micro-breweries” that were starting to pop up around the country. My first craft beer was Saint Arnold Spring Bock. It was malty and sweet with a floral complexity that was different than any beer I had ever tried. That was my first sip of craft beer, and a step towards what would eventually become a favorite hobby of mine.
2. What led to your interest in starting a BLOG?
With my newfound love for beer, I wanted to be able to share it with others. I found that the craft beer community was one that really connected people. It’s almost like a lifestyle. People from all different backgrounds connect over craft beer. I wanted to help play a role in this growing community.
Writing is something I love. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and thought of starting a BLOG to help spread the message of craft beer. I assumed there were probably others out there like me—people who were looking for something more than what the American light lagers could offer.
I came up with the name Beer Apostle in 2010. The name is good description of who I am. The etymology of Apostle is a Middle English word meaning "one who is sent on a mission." The word has several religious contexts, and in this case, I am deliberately identifying with the Christian context of the word.
I am a Christian. I am also a person who enjoys tasting, sharing, and reviewing craft beer. I don't find that to be a bad blend. In fact, I find them to be quite compatible.
Beer has a rich history with Christianity - it was invented by Monks and later enjoyed by prominent Christian leaders. CS Lewis and Pope John Paul are just two that come to mind.
Beer brings people together in unique ways. It's a common bond among people with vast differences. Craft beer has given me the opportunity to share my story, my experiences, my passions with people with whom I otherwise might never have met.
This site is not religious by any means, and I don't mean it to be. However, just as I cannot separate who I am from my Christian beliefs, I also cannot separate this blog from its Christian author. Thus, the Beer Apostle is nothing more than a beer blog, written by a Christian, who believes these things - beer and Christianity - can coexist.
3. Do you have a favorite style of beer?
It’s hard to have a favorite style because beer is so diverse and what I choose to drink often depends on the time of year, context of my location, and so on. But I find myself searching for pale ales, reds, or imperial stouts more than other styles.
4. What distinguishes craft breweries from non-craft breweries?
The Brewers Association defines craft breweries as “small, independent, and traditional.” By small, the brewery must produce less than 6 million barrels of beer per year. The brewery must be independently owned, meaning at least 75% of the company is controlled by someone who is a craft brewer. And lastly, and most importantly to me, craft beer is traditional. A majority of their brews are made with the four traditional ingredients of malted barley, water, hops, and yeast. Craft brewers are allowed to be innovative with their recipes, but the flavors generally will come from just these four ingredients, as opposed to flavored beverages like malted liquors.
5. What's the main difference between a craft beer and a non-craft beer like Budweiser or Miller?
This is a great question and I could probably give a seminar on just this one topic. But to boil it down, Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are as far as it gets from craft beer. Craft breweries are often small and connected to their communities. These breweries are using ingredients that are often locally produced and connected to the context of that specific region. The “Big Three” that have controlled the beer market for the better part of the last century do everything they can to drive production and cut costs—often sacrificing the traditional elements of craft brewing. Budweiser uses corn and rice in its beer because it’s cheaper and easier to produce and manufacture.
Until recently, Bud, Miller, and Coors have owned and controlled the beer industry. But in the last few years, craft beer has exploded and has reported record growth in each of the last three of four years. This has forced the big breweries to respond by entering the craft beer market. They’ve started to imitate the craft market - Shock Top and Blue Moon are two examples of crafty marketing ploys to make consumers think they’re drinking craft beer. But, do me a favor and compare a Blue Moon to a beer like Bell’s Oberon or Left Coast’s Tangerine Wheat. The complex body and flavors of the craft beers far outperform those brewed by Miller and Bud. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I’m sticking to it!
6. Are there certain styles that are most popular today?
I think India Pale Ales are the one style that has helped propel craft beer to what it’s becoming today. An India Pale Ale - IPA - is an ale brewed with copious amounts of hops. While hops are in every beer, yes, even Bud Lite, the hops in an IPA are the main attraction of the beer. Hops can give off a wide range of flavors and aromas, but are often categorized as bitter, floral, and piney. While not all craft beer lovers are “hop heads,” I would say the IPA style is one that transformed the American beer landscape.
7. Are there certain individuals or breweries that are the most influential in popularizing new styles of beer here in Jacksonville?
People in Jacksonville are extremely fortunate. In the last five to six years, Jacksonville went from having no craft breweries to almost a dozen, if you consider the chain brewpubs like BJ’s and Seven Bridges, as well as the breweries that are set to open this year. In Jacksonville, you can’t tell the story of craft beer without giving credit to the one that opened the door for everyone, Bold City. They were the trend-setters in Jacksonville and paved the way for Intuition Ale Works, Pinglehead, Aardwolf, Veterans United Brewing, and even the breweries at the Beaches.
Tampa has been the leader in the Florida beer market, but Jacksonville’s growth is unprecedented. I don’t think it’ll be long before this city becomes the epicenter of the craft beer movement in Florida.
8. Can you tell us about some of the local Jacksonville craft beers?
Jacksonville residents really are spoiled. There are over a dozen beer-serving breweries and brewpubs in the greater Jacksonville area, which I use to include the Beaches and St. Augustine. And, as I have already mentioned, there are more in the planning stages!
This city has something for everyone when it comes to craft beer. Bold City does a really nice job of serving consistent brews that I like to label as “gateway beers.” Killer Whale, for example, is the beer I usually recommend to folks who come to me and say, “I drink Bud Lite. What craft beer do you recommend I drink?” Killer Whale has way more flavor than Bud, but it’s light and very approachable to someone who has never had craft beer.
Intuition, I think, has been the leader in innovation, though every brewery in Jacksonville does a nice job of offering special brews and one-time releases. Intuition taps a new and often experimental beer every Wednesday. That’s a great time to go and check them out. Plus, their “regular” tap list is extensive and impressive. Intuition is a solid all-around brewery. They have something for everyone and there’s always something new on tap.
Aardwolf is very exciting. They are specializing in Belgian beers, a style that wasn’t covered much in Jacksonville before they opened. They are showing great ability and brewing skills in offering several varieties of beer that contain a Belgian yeast strand. Aside from the Belgians, they recently released what has quickly become my favorite beer in Jacksonville: Early Bird Special. This is their breakfast stout that they brewed to commemorate their one year anniversary. Rumor has it they will be releasing this beer again, possibly after aging it in barrels. YUM!
And then there’s Pinglehead. Pinglehead represents so much of what I love about craft beer! The brewery is located in a small strip mall in Orange Park. It’s easy to pass by and overlook. Pinglehead beer can be found inside Brewer’s Pizza. They rarely bottle their beer and focus on local distribution. While I would love to be able to stock my fridge with cans of their Imperial Red, I do appreciate their commitment to providing locals with beer that’s always fresh. Once, while talking to Steve Halford, Chief Beer Officer at Pinglehead, he surmised that any keg of Pinglehead Red that is anywhere in the city is probably no more than 2 weeks old. That’s just incredible!
And of course you have Engine 15 and Green Room, both located at the Beach. It’s worth noting, too, that Green Room will soon be opening a second location in Jacksonville.
I’ve left off all of the brewpubs and breweries in planning. But I hope this shows that there really is something for everyone in Jax!
9. Can you tell us about some of the local venues in Jacksonville that excel as places to enjoy a beer?
I try to share the love and visit as many of the beer venues as I can, but I definitely have some favorites. I suppose if I were going to list a “Beer Apostle’s Top 10,” it would be something like this:
1. Kickbacks – Soon to have the largest tap selection in the country. And they are cellaring their own beer. It’s practically beer nerd heaven!
2. Silver Cow – It’s small and cozy with a ton of charm. There are always great beers on tap, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the city. And owner, Regina, is probably the nicest person in Jacksonville.
3. Brewer’s Pizza - Brewer's Pizza is also home to their daughter company, Pinglehead Brewing Co. Since 2011, Pinglehead has been serving Brewer's Pizza customers handcrafted beers with complex flavors and a variety of ingredients. It's "Beer with Attitude" as their slogan goes. According to Chief Beer Officer, Steve Halford, "Pinglehead beers are brewed for beer-lovers seeking aggressive beer flavors and styles."
4. Dahlia’s Pour House – Amazing tap selection and just a fun environment to be around. It’s also walking distance from numbers 1 and 2 on my list.
5. Grape and Grain Exchange. There’s a speakeasy in the back behind a moving bookshelf. Enough said.
6. Pele’s Wood Fire Grill. Upscale pizza and craft beer. Not much to complain about here.
7. Mellow Mushroom. I am partial to the Avondale location. But they are all great and prove that a chain really can provide a great selection of local and national craft beer!
8. European Street Café, where I'm partial to the Park St. location.
9. Grass Roots – OK, I know what you’re thinking. This is a grocery store. True! But they have a great variety of craft beer on their shelves and devoted a few aisles of their store to craft beer before it was really all that popular!
10. Blind Rabbit—Truth be told, I probably visit Blind Rabbit more for the burgers and whiskey, but they do have local beer on tap, too!
It’s no surprise that many of my favorite beer venues are located in Riverside’s “Beer District.”