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“Brew View” Justin Maynard, Q&A with Bob Benenson

Posted by on August 7, 2012

Justin Maynard, Executive Director, Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Chicago, Aug. 3, 2012


You can’t necessarily tell a book by its cover, or a person by his resume. Since February, Justin Maynard has been enthusiastically promoting the interests of local beer-makers as executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, which seems some distance from the degree in electrical engineering that he received from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2001.


In fact, Maynard worked in IT support for several years out of college. But the longtime punk rock fan then worked for a small, independent record label —  which stages concerts that have an eclectic mix but are heavy on punk rock and heavy metal — and in the course of that work developed promotional relationships with breweries that made him a familiar figure in the craft beer world.


The accelerating rise of craft brewing in Illinois prompted the 15-year-old Guild to recruit an executive director to better serve their growing membership. And Maynard, a burly, ultra-friendly evangelist for craft beer, fit the bill.


Maynard’s background also illustrates how the now-widespread

availability of craft beer to younger consumers, who are just developing their tastes, can have lasting benefits. Maynard says that, with the assistance of an older brother, he started sampling the wares of major craft beer pioneers such as northwest Indiana’s 3 Floyds. Maynard relates how, about a decade later, 3 Floyds was the first brewery that provided beer and swag for musicians that he booked at small venues.


Small world.


The following are excerpts of an interview with Maynard by veteran journalist Bob Benenson. The interview was conducted in the barrel-aging cellar of Haymarket Pub and Brewery, located in Chicago’s West Loop community; Peter L. Crowley, the brewer-owner of Haymarket, is a member of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG) board.



Q: How did you get acquainted with the craft beer movement?


Maynard: My brother was four years older than me so, he asked me to try craft beer. He brought over some 3 Floyds and it was amazing… Then eventually, as craft beer grew in the industry, just 3 Floyds, and Goose Island obviously too, were the only two options I knew about growing up in my early to mid 20s.


I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. A lot of the liquor stores, distributors and bars in my neighborhood, they probably never touched craft beer. It was all about Miller, Bud, Coors. Whatever the cheapest option was, that’s what we did. There was a lot of Mad Dog 20 20 [the nickname for Mogen David 20 20, an inexpensive sweet fortified wine] and pretty bad stuff. It was kind of cool at a younger age to have experienced it, figure out that you can actually use your taste buds and enjoy craft beer.


Q: How did you move in this direction? I saw your resume on LinkedIn and you were an electrical engineering major.


A: This was not going to be my final destination at all… I graduated in 2001, I went to work in the IT industry…. Back in 2005, a friend of mine approached me, I found out that he was interested in punk rock music, and that was my background growing up. I went into punk rock shows all the time, even before I was 21 I snuck into venues. We just talked about starting a label, and that’s what we did…


The cool thing about craft beer back then, which in 2005, an awesome step in the right direction, I approached a lot of craft breweries in the Chicagoland area, and the first one that actually responded to one of my requests was 3 Floyds. It kind of brings it back around. Lincoln Anderson, who’s their manager of distribution, he responded to one of my emails and said, “I can give you free product for your shows and I’ll give you some swag like t-shirts.” We had a show at the Metro on Clark Street, and he gave me like six cases of beer and it was for the bands and we promoted in online, we put it in the Red Eye, we put it in the Chicago Reader, and had their logo on all of our stuff. That made us look pretty special too, because a lot of indie punk rock labels didn’t have any backing from beer companies.


Q: I’ll bet a lot of the bands had never tasted anything like Three Floyds.


Maynard: They had no idea when they were drinking… It’s roots, and that’s how both industries are. 3 Floyds have been doing it for so long locally. Now that’s there are so many breweries popping up everywhere, they follow their model in terms of distribution, in terms of small concept. There are innovators. Pete Crowley was working at Rock Bottom [a national brewpub chain] for so many years, he’s seen everything. Josh Deth [of Chicago’s Revolution Brewing], he’s one of our board members for the guild, he started off with Goose Island, and he’s worked in different aspects with a lot of different breweries.


Q: Given that Goose Island had created a beachhead here in Chicago, why did it take so long for this boom to happen?


Maynard: After a while, people realized, there were a lot of brewers… from local brewpubs and breweries who said, “We can expand.” They were all artists, they had their own style, their own vision…


Today’s beer drinker wants honest-to-God good beer that’s made of sustainable ingredients, freshness. They don’t want bottled beer from St. Louis or Milwaukee that’s sitting on a shelf. Local beer is where it’s at. I think a lot of these brewers came in on that.


Q: There’s been a lot of experimentation in the food industry as well, so this kind of goes along with that.


Maynard: Beer and the food industry run hand in hand. It’s all about quality and fresh product. That’s what people want.


Q: And it speaks to a change in taste, part of it may be generational, people seem to be less willing to settle.


Maynard: These days, I think people are really thinking with their palate… I know that first-hand. I get tons of email every day, from our IMBIBE members, our Enthusiast members who join the Guild, and they say, “We want fresher beer, how can we obtain it? Is there a brewery in my area?” And that’s all of Illinois, Champaign, Normal, out in the suburbs, in Rockford. They just want to know where their local brewpub is. It’s awesome.


Q: And it’s not a little niche, cult thing anymore. It’s starting to get integrated into the fabric of America.


Maynard: Exactly. You know how people say ‘beer snob?’ That stuff is going away. There are so many people, men and women, who are educated on craft beer now.


Q: Some people suggest since the Great Recession, people have been looking for affordable luxuries.


Maynard: These days, it’s quality over quantity. Nobody wants to buy a 12-pack or 24-pack and sit in somebody’s basement. People want to go to brewpubs, they want to go to breweries, they want to do tours. They want to get more involved.


Q: Chicago was a brewing center from the get-go, and it had clearly defined ethnic neighborhoods with their own styles. It’s now not so clearly ethnically defined, but you’ve got people with a bunch of different approaches.


Maynard: I always look at the breweries that work with the local farmers market. When you go to a neighborhood like Portage north of here, they have a Portage farmers market. A lot of the breweries contact these guys and they want to collaboration projects with a lot of these farmers markets. That’s awesome.


Q: I’ve never met a brewer who made good craft brew who didn’t run up against capacity problems pretty quickly.


Maynard: The ones that are involved with the Guild, they can’t make it fast enough, which is a great problem to have. Pete’s got the system here at Haymarket and he’s constantly evolving his ingredients and rotating his product. That means business is good.


Q: And brewers with a reputation are gravitating to Chicago.


Maynard: Brewers from out of state are finding a lot more opportunities here. Looking at Tony Magee from Lagunitas [a fast-growing California craft beer that is building a big production facility on Chicago’s South Side]…  At the annual meeting, we have an opportunity for all of the new breweries to introduce themselves. Tony grabbed the floor for a couple of minutes, he was pretty much accepted with open arms and rousing applause. He was ecstatic. His face lit up.


Q: So the general impression is that this is a profile raiser rather than some bigfoot competitor moving in.


Maynard: Everybody is trying to strive to do their own thing. Brewers are artists… They make great beer and they distribute it, and I talk about it and promote it. I run the social media stuff, I do the event planning with Pete Crowley. We’ve got the Oak Park Micro Brew Review coming up on Aug. 18.


Q: There’s a lot of appeal to the idea that I get my beer from somewhere up the block instead of a massive factory somewhere.


Maynard: It’s local. It’s sustainable, it’s fresh. Every neighborhood knows its brewer, which is awesome. I sit up at the bar here at Haymarket and everybody knows Pete. Everybody knows Pete’s brewing assistants. Everybody comes in, talks to the staff like they’re best friends. That’s appealing from a consumer point of view.


Q: Are there signs that people in towns all around Illinois are saying, “This would be a great addition?”


Maynard: The other night I was talking to one of the co-owners of Pig Minds brewery near Rockford, and they are also the only vegan brewpub in the country. They’re actually going to host our January Brewers Guild meeting. We were talking about the menu, I’m a big meat lover… He’s right outside Rockford and also by the Wisconsin border, what’s the vibe of your brewery? The business finds itself. People come because they want to try something different, and that’s the reason they run their kitchen that way too… I do want to try a vegan hot dog with vegan chili. Craft beer drinkers are pretty much open to a lot of different things.


Q: But there’s still an educational process to get people to understand the hidden costs. You pay a little more and maybe you consume a little less and it’s probably better for you anyway. Outside Chicago, what’s great going on in the rest of Illinois?


Maynard: I had the chance to go to Champaign for one of our meetings. I went to DESTIHL. Matt Potts runs an excellent brewery. It’s a brewpub, they have great food, great beer. When you move around the state… it’s the same concept. Every brewer has the same mindset, they want to create the best possible-tasting beer for their customers… We also have Blind Pig brewery down there too, from what I’ve heard everybody loves the local craft beer scene down there too.


Q: Because this is such a big state geographically, you have great potential for different regional styles.


Maynard: We experiment with a lot more different flavors and the Midwest types of ingredients. One of our associate members, Hop Head Farms, they just opened the farm in western Michigan, they are offering a local flavor, and that’s very appealing to local breweries in Illinois…


I may be considered a homer because I represent Illinois, but I think we’re doing great. We’ve got a lot more breweries coming up. This year, we had 18 breweries join the Guild in one year.


Q: What do participating members want from the Guild, and what are your goals for the Guild?


Maynard: We have regular members, associate members and then we have IMBIBE, our enthusiastic program. What regular members focus on are Illinois state law, distribution rights… If you come together and show your support and we take it down to Springfield and we have lobbyists, we can make a change… This year we had 22 associate members in a couple of months. When I first got hired, I was just looking for people who were as enthused as I was about the industry…   Enthusiast members, it’s kind of fallen off the map a little bit, but we’re going to bring it back in. There are a lot of people out there who have had past memberships and we want to at least by the end of the year double it.


Q: Given that this is such a local and in some cases micro-local phenomenon, is that a big priority for brewers, to have access to local hops, local product?


Maynard:  Most breweries that I talk to, the brewers, the assistant brewers, they always look to local first. That’s Midwest pride, and that’s Illinois, that’s what we do. If they don’t have what they need, the next thing is to ask if they can trade with someone else. We try to keep everything local… People like Hop Head Farms, they’re doing the right thing for the Midwest, it’s not just a Michigan thing…


We have this program called Replicale. Everybody uses the same ingredients and yeast strain, and they brew it in their barrel system, and it’s going to be different from a 15 to a 30 to a 6. We actually bring something of a laboratory into a festival… it’s a chemistry experiment. It’s a science, it’s a business.


Q: Are we looking at formal regional beer associations?


Maynard: To solidify this as a Midwest regional kind of thing, from my own perspective, awesome. The Midwest has a lot to offer, we brew a lot of good beers… Right now, everyone is worried internally how they are going to run theirs. Once everyone gets to the same level, maybe we can come together and do fabulous things.

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