Blogger beer
Ska helps bloggers brew batches of bubbly

Head brewmaster Thomas Larsen, left, and beer blogger Jeff Hammett, right, sample beers in the tasting room at Ska World Headquaters on Tuesday. Hammet recently went behind the scenes to brew a batch of beer. If all goes well, a small keg of his creation, “Beer N Bikes Belgian American IPA,” which he describes as, “hoppy with a hint of plum,” will be on tap starting Saturday at the brewery./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Kinsee Morlan

Ska Brewing Co. head brewer Thomas Larsen is showing Chuck Slothower the ropes – or the tubes as the case may be.

“We need to shut that filter bed so everything runs nice and easily and doesn’t get stuck and doesn’t compact,” explains Larsen. He goes on in a language that can only be understood by fellow brewers and beer geeks.

Good thing Slothower, a tall, thin man who makes his way through life as a journalist by day and a beer blogger by night, falls into the second category. He’s an admitted beer addict who shares his love of craft brews online at beerat6512.blogspot.com. The “6,512” number, by the way, is the approximate elevation of Durango, which is indicative of his blog’s goal – “Local but not provincial, so I try to cover all the local beers that come out, but I’ll also write about beers in the Front Range, Oregon, California and whatever else is interesting,” he says.

Slothower started his beer blog a year ago, simply because at the time, nobody else in town was doing it.

“I like beer, and I’m a professional writer, why not start it?” says Slothower, clad in rubber boots so as not to drench himself in one of the many liquids pouring into floor drains around him. The sounds of the brewery pounding out gallons of True Blonde, Pinstripe and the rest of Ska’s signature craft beers nearly drown out his every word.

This is the first time the young beer blogger has ever had the chance to actually brew beer, either at home or in a brewery setting. He’s excited and enjoying the process, but he’s a little surprised by the science-fair atmosphere and all the scrubbing that seems to be involved.

“There are lots of tubes, thermometers, hoses, clamps and cleaning,” says Slothower. “It seems like brewers spend a lot of time cleaning.”

At the mention of sanitation, Larsen chimes in. “That’s what I was telling him,” he laughs. “We’re basically glorified dishwashers with bigger dishes because most of our time is spent cleaning. We’re just trying to make sure everything’s right to let the yeast do their thing.”

The beer-blogger-becomes-guest-brewer project also includes blogger Jeff Hammett and is the first of its kind for Ska, and maybe even the world. Google it; go ahead, get online and do some online research on beer and bloggers. Ska president Dave Thibodeau hopes you do. The collaboration is not only a fun experiment in beer making, it’s also an experiment in social-media marketing.

“It definitely helps us that they’re both active with social media,” explains Thibodeau. “With everything going on, it’s hard for me, 4 the one-man marketing department, to keep up with everything. So, when there are people doing fun stuff, and when you’re getting into the social media stuff, it was just a cool way to tie them in. They’re both obviously into good beer. And this is not just to help us, but somebody who is that into beer, it helps them gain a little more knowledge and understanding of what they’re writing about.”

Thibodeau says he has definitely started to embrace the social media thing – this little project is a testament to that – but he warns people that not all beer blogs are worth reading.

Thomas Larsen, left, and Jeff Hammett, right, toast in front of the 10-gallon pilot system used to brew Hammett’s Belgian American IPA, which took an entire day./Photo by Stephen Eginoire.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “I don’t know how many beer blogs have popped up this last year, but some of them are ridiculous, and it’s upsetting to read them. It’s like anyone with a computer and a finger can start one, you know? It’s cool down here in Durango though, and when people like Chuck and Jeff are that into beer, and they’re spending a chunk of their life being all about it, I think it only helps us to engage them even more.”

Hammett started his site, www.beernbikes.com, almost a year ago when he moved to Durango.

“Those are my two hobbies: beer and bikes,” says Jeff when asked for his motives. “There was a great beer blog already, Beer at 6512, but I wanted to start a blog to write about things I like and to learn more about the internet. And most cyclists drink beer, so it makes sense.”

Hammett started homebrewing around the same time he started the blog, but he says the experience at Ska is teaching him a lot more about the art, craft and science of brewing.

After Hammett’s first day at the brewery, he blogged about his experience; “The whole process went smoothly and I learned a lot. Not only from our brew, but also just hanging out and watching Thomas do his regular routine in the brew house. It was nearly a full day of brewing; we started around 9:30 a.m. and finished right around 5 p.m."

If all goes well, the both bloggers’ beers will be ready Sat., Feb. 13, and five-gallon kegs of each will be on tap at Ska while the batches last. Slothower’s creation is called “Soggy Coaster Red,” and it’s an imperial red ale or “Pinstripe with a kick,” if you ask Ska’s head brewer.

“Three countries are represented in my beer title,” jokes Hammett, who’s calling his batch “Beer • Bikes Belgian American IPA” and describes the flavor as, “Hoppy with a hint of plum.”

Both bloggers say they learned a lot through the process, and both have photos and multiple posts about the Ska collaboration on their blogs, which means Thibodeau has achieved both his goals of educating bloggers and getting more involved in new-media guerilla marketing tactics.

And although Hammett and Slothower’s blogs are currently labors of love (meaning, they don’t get paid), there may be more cool invitations and blogging benefits coming their way.

Slothower says he’s seen a rise in site visits since he started the collaboration with Ska. “It has been growing a lot lately, partly because of this project, it’s gotten a lot of interest because the homebrewers are interested, people who drink Ska are interested, so, yeah, my blog on a good day will get 100 hits, which isn’t a huge number but it’s enough to keep me interested in doing it.”

Hammett was recently contacted by the Wisconsin Cheese Board, which ended up sending him a box of expensive cheeses with the hopes of getting him to blog about Wisconsin Cheese Cupid, an iPhone application and website that helps visitors pair cheeses with drinks. He hasn’t gotten around to blogging about the cheese just yet, but he says he certainly did enjoy the free food. •

 

 

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