Taproom Man: Telling the Stories of Craft Beer

Taproom Man: Telling the Stories of Craft Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

As a wise man once said, no great story ever started with, “So I was halfway through my salad….” Making beer, selling beer, or drinking beer lend themselves to having good stories. Thy might include history, or something funny, or perhaps something disgusting, but most stories around beer are interesting.

Everyone can learn something about beer or about the people in beer; no one knows all the stories and therefore couldn’t benefit from a good story teller. The stories can come from drinkers, brewers, distributors, or even people outside beer; the key is having someone there to bring those stories to us. Knowing the right questions to ask and letting someone talk isn’t the easiest thing; you have to be able to listen to ask good questions.

Luckily, there’s Matt Sharp and his new video series called Taproom Man. Matt has worked in and out of beer, he has brewed his own beer, and he is a genuine fan. Add in a sense of curiosity about other people and an enthusiasm for finding the good stories, and Matt is just the person you want bringing you great beer focused videos.

I sat down with Matt and asked him a few questions about his new video series and how it came to be. I think you’ll agree that he’s on to something here – Taproom Man is not a subjective beer review video or a commercial for a brewery, it’s an attempt to find the most interesting stories in beer and let you in on them.

Indiana On Tap (IOT): Tell me about your history in and out of beer.
Taproom Man (TM): When I started working in my late teens I had no aim. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted out of life, let alone what I wanted out of a career, so I started working in restaurants. It was an easy job to get and I like food.

I became a manager at Pizza Hut and then Applebee’s. I got tired of the food industry and became the distribution manager at the newspaper in Frankfort, IN, and then followed that up with cleaning floors in grocery stores for awhile.

At some point while I was working at Applebee’s I found an ad on the internet that said “Make your own beer at home!” I don’t usually look twice at internet ads, but this one caught my eye. I remember stopping in amazement and thinking “Wait… You can do that?!?”

When I clicked on the ad it took me to Midwest Supplies. There was an extract brewing kit for $50.00 that included everything you need to make the first beer. My first beer was a red ale. It turned out really good, and so did my next two beers. I remember thinking, “I’m amazing at this!”…. how little I knew. I had so much to learn. But that got me started.

Fast forward a few years a homebrewer friend of mine was starting a brewery. That brewery is Creatures of Habit Brewing in Anderson. They hired me and I was there when

the tanks and equipment were delivered. I helped set up their equipment and was there to assist on the first 6 months of batches.

Unfortunately, Anderson is an hour and half commute for me. As much as I loved that job, it was just too much driving. I found a job at Teays River Brewery & Public House which is much closer to home. And I love it there – best job I’ve ever had. I’ve done many different things there, from beer training with the servers to being a cellarman, but mostly I just hang out in the taproom and talk about beer with the customers. My goal is to give the customer the best beer experience possible. A it turns out, I have the uncanny power to predict and find the perfect beer for any guest.

IOT: What sparked the interest in doing the video series?
TM: It’s just such a fun idea. I call them the “Did You Know Stories” People are always telling stories in the taproom about things that happened around beer. And especially around breweries or brewers. They become hearsay. As far as I can tell there is no collection of these types of stories anywhere. Let alone straight from the people that experienced the story. I also tell really fun beer stories that I’ve found over the year to my brother Jason. I hate to give those stories away, but they are very fun. So far we’ve talked about a beer flood, a Coors crime, and the mythical king of beer.

IOT: What do you wish to achieve with your series? Who is it for, the brewer, the drinkers, brewery employees, other?
TM: Hopefully all of the above. Even maybe those who don’t have an interest in beer. Everyone loves a good story. Although some time soon I will start releasing some shorter videos that will be more focused at your average beer geek, what I have up now is meant to have a universal appeal.

IOT: How has your time in brewing/working in breweries helped you with the series?
TM: It has helped immensely. I only know anything about three subjects. One of those subjects is beer. That means a third of my life (probably a little less if I’m being honest) is focused on beer. This includes my career. Making beer my job has increased my focus. I don’t see myself as an expert, but that’s the way I want the guests at Teays to see me. That means I have to know my stuff. Also I know a few people because of Teays and Creatures. That means I have a few people that will talk to me.

IOT: Has your experience ever hindered your videos, ie. have you ever understood something a person was talking about because of your experience, and forgot to explain it to the audience or something similar?
TM: Yes, that’s already happened. It was surprising to me. I thought I was being very user friendly with the audience, but when talking about how a cold IPA is made with Cory Patterson I never explained the difference between an ale and a lager – something that simple and some people couldn’t follow the conversation. I’m trying hard to keep things simple, but that can be a challenge.

IOT: Do you have experience in videography, or is this a new medium for you?

TM: No. This is new. I mean doing a little editing for fun over the years, but the learning curve has been steep. I’ve already had to re-record an interview because the sound came out garbage. Very often I feel like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXfEDkoy0Y4

IOT: Who are some of the people you’ve interviewed so far and who would be the guest you would most like to get?
TM: I’ve done three beer stories with my brother Jason, ranging from history to tasting methods. I’ve also sat down and talked to Cory Patterson (Teays River), David Thieme (Thieme & Wagner), and Tom and Michelle Burlington (Crasian Brewing), amongst others.

As far as a dream guest – I’d love to sit down with Randy Mosher author of Tasting Beer and many others. I’ve read Tasting Beer so many times at this point. I still use it as a reference constantly. Maybe Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Although his story has been told pretty thoroughly. He even wrote a really good book about it “Brewing Up a Business.” But I really appreciate the creativity that he put into his beer. It’s something that I feel is really lacking in today’s beer scene. I’d want to talk about what it would take to get back to a more creative beer scene.

IOT: Without giving away too much, what has been the best beer story you’ve heard so far?

TM: I learn something interesting every time I interview someone, but the interview with David Thieme really stands out to me. Talk about beer history! That was the story of beer history in Lafayette. The Thieme family has been in the beer industry one way or another for 5 or 6 generations now. And David finding the old recipes is truly amazing. It’s also a story I’d heard in the taproom at Teays all the time, but never really got the full story till we did that video.

IOT: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about doing these videos so far?

TM: Actually, just how hard it is to get eyes on what I’m doing. The people that watch my channel seem to enjoy it. But just getting someone to take a look is very hard. It seems like people just hear some guy telling them he has a YouTube channel. The reaction can be very “Yea whatever.” But my hope is that if I’m patient and keep putting out good stories the people will come.

Think of the stories Sam Calagione could tell. image credit: Dogfish Head Brewing

IOT: How do you see the series growing and what do you want it to become?
TM: I’m new to this and don’t really know what to expect as far as growth. I’m doing this for 2 reasons. One, it’s fun. Two, I hope that enough people watch to drive some business my way in the taproom. I want to beer geek out with more people. Also, Teays has gotten better every year and I really want people to experience what we’re doing now.

IOT: Has anyone said no? Do you anticipate this happening (brewers often tend to be introverts). Do you find yourself needing to pull answers out of them or do they talk freely?

TM: I had a couple of blow offs by vendors at a recent festival, and of course I anticipate this. Talking on camera is not for everyone. So far my three interviews have been some pretty talkative people. No need to pull anything out of them, but talking is mostly what I do for a job, so it’s not a giant leap to do an interview.

IOT: What haven’t I asked you about that you want people to know?
TM: Somehow this is the hardest question. I can’t think of anything, but I know I’ll be driving to work today or laying in bed tonight and suddenly go “I forgot that thing!” So I think you covered it all, but I’ll get back to you if I think of something.

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