My first real job involved beta testing video games for Compact Disc Interactive, otherwise known as the Philips CD-i. This understated black box – an all-in-one movie, internet, and gaming machine – predated the PS3 and XBox 360 by 15 years. It failed, commercially, due to some management kerfuffles, a stupidly high price tag, and a consumer base who wasn’t ready for one device to take over every TV-related function. But it set some solid paving stones into the unrefined dirt that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft would all step on years later as they built their flagship consoles.
I had this awesome experience (which for better or worse fueled my lifelong video game obsession) because my Dad, John Gray, was the president of Philips Media Professional. He was responsible for the development of new titles, sourcing of hardware, and myriad other fancy corporate executive things that I never fully understood. I just knew that I got to play video games before anyone else did, because my dad had a kickass job. The archived NewsWire article about his original appointment can be found here, for anyone interested.
I have a soft spot for family business. I wouldn’t have gotten into IT or homebrewing (and I guess in turn, never started this blog) if my dad hadn’t taken his vocational machete to the thicket long before I got to the jungle. He taught me to appreciate work and fun in the same way he always did, and I owe much of my success to his mentoring.
Caroline Sisson is the daughter of Hugh Sisson, the founder and owner of Heavy Seas Beer. She’s just like me, really; given a chance to see into (and appreciate) a world that those on the outside find fascinating, because of her ties to her father. I know there exist a sort of jealousy and disdain for that kind of inborn nepotism, but Caroline seems to echo her father’s love of the business and the beer.
I asked her some questions.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your role at Heavy Seas.
My name is Caroline Sisson and I’ve been working in the marketing department at Heavy Seas for just a little over a year. I got into the beer business mainly because my father, Hugh Sisson, is the founder of Heavy Seas Beer and I grew up learning about/exposed to the craft beer culture.
I’m a graduate of Susquehanna University with a business marketing degree. I do a lot of different things within the company, which keeps my job exciting:
- I handle our social media
- I write & publish our monthly email newsletter
- I post & promote our beer events and work events
How did growing up with a Dad who owned a brew pub/brewery affect your opinion of beer? Where you predisposed to good beer? Did you have a “bad phase” in college that maybe your dad wouldn’t have been so proud of?
Growing up, I thought it was really cool that my dad made beer for a living, but I don’t think I really “appreciated” or realized how cool it was until college. While I was still in college, I would work brewery tours and some events during my breaks, so I was exposed to craft beer at a younger age than many of my friends. But I definitely was just like everyone else; a broke college kid who could only afford Natty Light on the weekends for $12 bucks a case or whatever it was at the dingy little beer store in the small town where I went to college (and my dad knows about this phase). After I graduated and started working for the brewery, that’s when I really started learning and experiencing the wonders of craft beer. I’ve learned a lot in my time, and have been fortunate enough to attend national beer events like the Great American Beer Festival and SAVOR, where I’ve tasted some amazing beers. I love craft beer now, and have realized that “once you go craft… you never go back”.
Give us a day in the life of a social media manager at a brewery.
I usually start off by looking over our events calendar and reviewing what’s coming up, so that I can plan tweets, FB posts, etc., accordingly. I spend time looking over each tweet or post to see if it was effective. For example, how many retweets or favorites did I get on Twitter, or how many people liked or shared a FB post. Our ultimate goal is to reach as many people we can. I also spend some time monitoring others breweries on social media to see what works for them.
Do you have a specific strategic plan, or do you have a more organic approach?
Overall, we try to make every tweet, post or anything shared on social media unique to Heavy Seas. By that I mean, it reflects our personality, our interests, our goals, things that we are excited about, etc.
Do you think social media is important for a brewery beyond promoting events and appearances? If you had to rank the importance of the social media platforms, which would be at the top, and which would be at the bottom?
Absolutely – I think social media is a great way of connecting and interacting with our consumers; the people who drink and appreciate our beer. I’d say that Facebook & Twitter are tied for first. Although I tweet on a daily basis, and post on Facebook on a weekly basis, both are strong tools that we use to communicate to our followers and share information. Instagram is another area where we want to grow.
I know a lot of craft enthusiasts use Instagram. How do you feel about #beertography? Do you like to see shots of your beer out there in the wild?
Definitely! I can’t always retweet or share every photo taken of our beer, but it’s flattering to see people enjoying our product so much that they want to take a picture and share it with the social media world.
What’s your favorite thing about interacting with the beer community?
Making friends with people who love craft beer & share a passion for it.
Is there anything specific you’d like to tell the beer drinking world?
Life is too short to drink shitty beer.
Caroline often attends Heavy Seas events, and I’m sure you’ll run into her if you’re planning to attend any of the upcoming shindigs connected to Baltimore Beer Week. Caroline has also kindly offered to answer any questions you guys might have, so ask away in the comments. I’ll compile them and send them to her for follow-up.
Here’s a picture of me and her at my visit to the brewery (just so you can recognize her if you see her in person):
I already gave a pretty thorough Oliver-centric roundup of Maryland beers in Bryan D. Roth’s Six-Pack Project. Those six were what I think the general beer drinking public should try for the sake of variation and exploration when they find themselves stranded, voluntarily or otherwise, near the Chesapeake.
But to honor of my fellow Marylanders out in the weird, highly-elevated wilderness of Denver, Colorado at the GABF, I put together a list of what I think are objectively the best beers from each of the breweries repping the Old Line State. Not just those few that I subjectively like, but those I think have been brewed with care and quality, that practically leap off the shelf and into your mouth, that stand a real chance of snatching a shiny medal.
Note: I am totally jealous and wish I could be there and this post is my poor attempt to participate from very far away.
1. Full Tilt Baltimore Pale Ale
This is the newest of the bunch for me, probably because it’s from one of the newest breweries in Maryland. Owned by cousins Nick Fertig and Dan Baumiller, Full Tilt brews its beer as part of a brewing co-op at Peabody Heights Brewing, which is only few flaps of a raven’s wings away from Johns Hopkins University.
Baltimore Pale Ale is impressive given that these guys (who graduated high school one year before me in 2002) only took up homebrewing in 2008, and released the beer to the public in December, 2012. For a mere five years of practice, it’s impressively balanced, harnessing Nugget, Columbus, Summit, and Crystal hops to create a piney aroma that entices, but doesn’t dominate the nose. At 6.3% ABV it’s a bit stronger than you’d expect from the incredibly clear amber ale, but any minor alcohol taste is covered by some well placed bittering hops and a puckeringly dry finish.
This american pale falls closer to an IPA in taste and hoppage than a traditional pale, but it’s still a damn fine beer. If Nick and Dan can keep up the quality, I expect great things from these guys in the future.
2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgia-Style IPA
Flying Dog must have to overcome some nostalgia every time they head to GABF, as their original 50-gallon setup was located in Denver before they moved to the foothills of the Appalachians in Frederick, Maryland, in 2008. Even though the headquarters is still based in Colorado, all of the brewing is done in Maryland, and they’ve built quite a following with their local events and brewpubs. They have a long GABF history, first winning “The Best Pale Ale in America” for their Doggie Style Pale Ale in 1991.
Raging Bitch, including the PG-13 name, is a different breed of IPA. In a sea of hyper-bitter, hyper-hopped IPAs that lean heavily on the alpha acids and lupulin for taste, this “Belgian-style” IPA brings in a stronger bread and yeasty profile while still paying homage to the aggressive hopping of a true IPA.
It has that distinctive Belgian funk to it, partly medicinal, partly herbaceous. At 8.3% ABV I think “Belgian-influnced” may be slightly more appropriate than “Belgian-Style” as it’s missing the spicy sour of something I’d truly equate with a Brusselian masterpiece. Either way, it’s different and proud, which is sort of the modus operandi of Flying Dog at large.
3. Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA
I’m sort of a Heavy Seas fanboy. This pirate-themed brand is brewed by Clipper City Brewing, adding another name to the fine line-up of Charm City born beer. I live only a few miles from the brewery, have met the owner, Hugh Sisson (and a lot of his wonderful brewing staff), and by ratio, drink more beer from Heavy Seas than any other brewery (thanks to on-tap availability and the joys of Davy Jones Lager). I’ll try to remain as partial as possible.
Loose Cannon is the first Heavy Seas that ever bounced around that space between tongue and palate, back when I first found its regal purple label peeking out from the shelves of my local bottle shop. The official name is “Heavy Seas Loose Cannon – American Hop3 Ale” because they use a three pound mixture of Simcoe, Palisade, and Centennial hops per batch. The result is bitter, hoppy monster, that is delightfully complex and refreshing.
At 7.25% ABV it’s right where you’d expect a full-flavored IPA to fall, and any phenols from the extra alcohol are masked by the resinous pine of the hop triad. It’s a very dry, very drinkable beer that I often recommend to people who are looking for something approachable and still decidedly different from the boring, ABInBev gruel.
4. Evolution Brewing Lot No.3 IPA
I love Loose Cannon, but think No.3 has dug it claws into my little heart, firmly latching on like a hop-coated symbiote. The brewery – a transplant from Delmar, Delaware to the hometown of my undergrad alma mater, Salisbury, Maryland – is attached to a full service restaurant and cask-lined tasting room. In an interesting twist, Evolution produces no commercial lagers, instead focusing on various ales like their Rise Up Stout and this beautiful, buttery IPA.
Lot No. 3 throws a two pound mix of Columbus, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo at your face, resulting in an incredible citrus burst that somehow, despite the overwhelming eau de hop, does not destroy your tongue. The Centennials and Cascades steal the show when it comes to smell, but the Chinooks bring in the rear with a piney, spicy taste as soon as the mouth takes over for the nose.
There is something about this particular combination of hops and 2-row malts, sitting at a very drinkable 5.9% ABV, that sets my senses ablaze. Maybe it’s that local East Coast water. Maybe it’s Geoff DeBisschop’s master touch. Either way, this beer deserves recognition outside of the Delmarva scene.
5. Union Brewing Duckpin Pale Ale
The only canned exclusive on my list does not disappoint, squat aluminum be damned. This came at the recommendation of Doug at Baltimore Bistros and Beer during the Six Pack Project, and I’m so pleased he turned me onto this traditional pale ale from the third (and final) Baltimore-based brewery at the GABF. I’d been drinking their Balt Altbier, but have now seen the light, and know the real prize of Jones Falls hides inside the red and silver can.
Duckpin Pale Ale (brewed by Union Craft Brewing) is named after the oddly popular duckpin bowling – a variation on traditional bowling with smaller pins and a ball with no finger holes – which is popular up and down the East coast. There are very few (if any) duckpin bowling centers located West of the Mississippi. Weird.
This orange and amber colored ale, while not a “session beer” by purist standards, is incredibly drinkable. A righteous smoothness rides on the back of citrusy hops and a steady malt, while clocking in at a “let’s throw balls at pins all day” 5.5% ABV. I keep this in my fridge for when I have “non-beer” friends over (the list of who is dwindling, dramatically). I’ve converted more than one Miller Lite fan armed only with some bratwurst and a few cans of Duckpin.
So good luck to all my Maryland brewers out there! Bring home some gold!
Maryland. The seventh state. That tommy gun shaped piece of land stuck between Virginia and Pennsylvania and Delaware. The state that gives the Chesapeake Bay a big, perpetual hug. The land of a million blue crabs and powdery mountains of Old Bay. Neither North nor South. Rural, urban, disturbingly suburban. My home.
Bryan over at This Is Why I’m Drunk tasked me with creating a collection of Maryland beer to be part of his Six-Pack Project. Most who intimately know Maryland summers think of Corona for their crab or Natty Boh for their, um, masochistic self-loathing rituals, but I have taken it upon myself to show you, visitors of our City by the Ocean, lore-seekers to our myriad Civil War ruins, what beer you should drink when you’re adventuring around the Old Line State.
I also had to beer-spar with Doug at Baltimore Bistros and Beer, in a Maryland, no-holds-barred, beer choosing free-for-all. I’m pretty sure he won, but I did OK. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand sports, especially not football. Check out his post for a full(er) description of the Fantasy-Beer draft process.
The other bloggers (who you should definitely go check out, because they are awesome) in this round are:
Lacey @ Once Upon a Stein – New York
Tom @ Queen City Drinks – Ohio
Douglas @ Baltimore Bistros and Beer – Maryland
Grant @ Hop Brained – Illinois
Tom and Carla @ Hoperatives – Kentucky
Max @ The Beginners Brew – California
1. Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber – Frederick, MD
Do you like Yeungling? Do you wish it was something more? Something bold and flavorful and confident in its grain bill? Have no fear, Flying Dog Brewing of Frederick, Maryland has you covered. Old Scratch Amber is everything Yuengs is – amber, light, easy to drink – while also being so many things it’s not – deliciously malty, slightly citrusy in its hoppage, mellow with no sour aftertaste.
Old Scratch isn’t going to send your socks flying from your feet with its taste or hops, but at 5.5% ABV, this is a smooth, refreshing lager, that you should definitely have around for those wild, humid Eastern Shore nights. It’s a perfect BBQ or lounge-on-your-neighbor’s-porch-on-a-perfect-summer-evening beer.
This amber has packed all its crap into boxes and moved full time into my fridge. You can find it pretty much anywhere in MD that carries Flying Dog. Definitely a go-to beer for me. Shit, I’m drinking one while I type this!
2. DuClaw Bare Ass Blonde – Bel Air, MD
No list of Maryland beer would be worth anything without a DuClaw bubbler gracing its bulleted numbers. DuClaw, of Bel Air, just northeast of Baltimore, has a pretty impressive line up that includes some pretty unorthodox beers. A spiced Belgian. A toffee nut brown. The infamous Peanut Butter porter. And then there is this little gem, hiding behind a cheeky name and an understated appearance.
Duclaw is not shy with the malt. Bare Ass blonde is bare in color only; it carries an incredibly decadent malt flavor that comes through in the nose and taste of the beer. Seriously, so grainy. It’s like walking, mouth open, through a field of barley during harvest as a thresher hacks it all up.
This pale blonde ale is like Old Scratch in that it won’t come at you with any aggressive hopping; its Fuggle and Goldings are barely there. But it’s amazingly refreshing for a beer that rocks so much cereal flavor, making it a great beach brew. At 5% ABV you can drink a few and not be worried about being caught with your pants down.
3. Evolution #3 IPA – Salisbury, MD
I went to Salisbury University for my undergrad (SU English majors, holla!), but graduated well before Evolution set up shop a few miles from campus. It’s probably a good thing. A craft brewery basically in my back yard would not have been good for my GPA.
Would have been great for my IPA, though. I first bought Lot #3 on a whim; the green label caught my eye and I like things that are green. Imagine my surprise when I was hit with rapturous wafts of Columbus, Centenial, Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo that are so well balanced in the heart of this golden IPA.
This brew is so well done, I’m loathe to describe it, as I’m worried I won’t do it justice. The smell is one that will haunt you in the best way, like the perfume of your date hanging in the air long after she’s gone home. The luxurious head sticks around even after a calm pour, adding a smooth, opulent texture that I can only compare to a freshly buttered croissant. In Paris. While sitting across from a very attractive French person. Who is saying very sexy sounding things you don’t understand.
It’s very good and you should drink it.
4. Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils – Baltimore, MD
Everyone – aside from those punk-ass ninjas – loves pirates. Everyone. They’re jolly and rambunctious and constantly living life to the fullest, even if it means they getting shot by a cannon or eaten by a massive, ornery octopus.
It’s appropriate that Heavy Seas (brewed by Clipper City brewing) is from Baltimore, a city sunken in nautical lore. All of their beers are a play off some sort of pirate theme (like Peg Leg Imperial Stout and Loose Cannon IPA), playful cartoon label art included.
But pirates take their booze seriously. It wards off scurvy and instills confidence where perhaps discretion is a better idea. They go all out. Small Craft Uber Pils is the embodiment of that cannon-balls to the wall mentality. Unlike its pale-golden Czech and German brethren, all content with sort of tasting the same except for a few minor tweaks, Small Craft unfurls its flavors like three sheets in the wind of a coming hurricane. It’s bold and hoppy, but appropriate for the style, reminding me a lot of Victory Prima Pils and Sam Adams Noble pils, just decidedly more…piratical.
Remember, it’s not the size of the pilser in in the glass, it’s the motion of the flavor ocean.
5. Pub Dog Hoppy Dog Ale – Columbia, MD
There is some magical voodoo surrounding pizza and beer. When the spell of salt hits the potion of pale ale, fireballs fly across the room at random and things turn into frogs. That’s science. You can’t argue against science.
Pub Dog is part brewery, part pizzeria. As a result, we can agree that these people know a lot about human psychology, and are fully invested in the business of making people happy. They not only brew and serve their own beer (with plenty of options, to boot!) but they bake and serve hot cheese on top of tomato sauce on top of bread, with additional toppings available as requested. Brilliancy.
Hoppy dog, is as it says, hoppy. It’s bitter and angry about life, vexed that at times it has to be a mere sidekick to a pizza-pie. Don’t be mean to the Hoppy Dog though, he just wants to be a happy dog. He is aggressively full of hop flavor, appropriate for those with heads built and aimed towards enjoying hops. This beer can be hard to find outside of the Federal Hill and Columbia brew pubs, but do you really need another excuse to eat a good pizza and drink good beer?
6. Baying Hound Lord Wimsey Mild Ale – Rockville, MD
I had to include a rookie Maryland brewery. These guys seem to get a bad rap on BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer, but I have yet to be turned off by one of their beers. Sure, they’re not perfect when compared to some of the masters out there, but they are doing some interesting stuff (like not force carbonating and bottle conditioning), are brewing out of Rockville (a place in dire need of a brewery), and have only been brewing since 2010. We all have to start somewhere, right?
I first had Wimsey Mild Ale at an event for the Potomac Riverkeeper, and was pleased at the complexity of the flavors for a pretty standard pale ale. It’s named after the adorable brewery mascot, Wimsey the Bloodhound, who was named after the detective in Dorothy L. Sayer’s mystery lit. I’m a sucker for some anachronistic literature-to-beer allusions.
It tastes like your best friend’s really good homebrew. You know he’s getting good, and you always want to try what he’s brewing next. It’s a caramel colored ale, a little rough round the edges, but strong and exploding with flavor. Despite four types of hops (Nugget, Columbus, Willamette, and Cascade) it’s not too in your face with the alpha acid, and worth a try, if you find yourself stranded and needing refreshment in Montgomery County.