Friday, July 11, 2014

*NEW BREWERY ALERT* Q & A with Matt Stinchfield of Ploughshare Brewing Co.

Next week will mark the opening of Ploughshare Brewing Company in Lincoln. The highly anticipated brewery located at 1630 P St. will welcome folks through their doors on Friday, July 18th. Nebraska Beer Blog had the opportunity to catch up with founder Matt Stinchfield for an interview about the newest addition to our growing craft beer scene.

Matt, tell us about what we are in for with Ploughshare.

It's the first part of a three phase opening. Tap room now, followed by our food menu in a couple weeks, then our beers in the fall.

Where does the name come from?

We wanted to represent the Midwest's values pertaining to agriculture and self reliance. We didn't want something too local, like Salt Creek, that applied only to Lincoln. The ploughshare, which is actually the part of a plough that digs into the earth, was an essential tool for the homesteaders. There's also a line in a popular book that says "beat your swords into ploughshares and your spears into pruning hooks and learn not to know the ways of war." So for us, "ploughshare" is a symbol that reminds us of the region's fertile conditions, hard work, and peace and tolerance.

What styles of beer do you plan on featuring?

Ploughshare's core beers are average strength, food-friendly, traditional styles. Our brewing system is designed to be very versatile. We can do German and Belgian decoctions, cereal mashes, sour mashes, and certainly infusion brews. So our regular lineup includes a cream ale, an authentic witbier, a pre-Pro pils (with 6-row barley and local corn grits), our flagship Irish red ale, an dry-hopped English pale ale, a dry-hopped American IPA, and a hoppy oatmeal stout. You can expect some recurring seasonals and some whimsical beers, too.

That core lineup was hard to come up with. We wanted a range that could appeal to all types of beer drinkers, from those who generally opt for the light domestics, to those who want to try bolder hop, grain, and yeast flavors. We have beers that connect culturally to the ancestry of Midwesterners.

Beer isn't just a recipe. It is also process and story. One often hears craft brewers saying that they brew what they want to brew, or that they deplore styles and brew whatever they fancy. That's a cool view; it's what makes the craft beer evolution so awesome. But at Ploughshare, we are also brewing beers that have long traditions and ties with the beer cultures of the British Isles, Belgium, Bohemia, and the beers brewed by earlier immigrant brewers - like the cream ale and the pils. These are beers that people can relate to their ancestry and their community roots. With beer, people need a way to connect to it, to own it, to make it personal. The big breweries do it by tying brand loyalty to giant commercial ventures, like Nascar or pro football. At Ploughshare, we'll do that by connecting to the places where beer came from, where your people came from, where the grain and hops grew, and where you are rooted. It's personal and individual. You get to write your own story that is uniquely yours, and our beer has a place in that story.

What is your brewing background?

I've been brewing as an amateur brewer for close to 20 years. That doesn't count making dandelion wine in the cellar when I was, let's say, listening to In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. As a homebrewer I've won my fair share of big competitions at AHA events, state fairs and such. Starting in the late nineties I brewed commercially in Arizona and did guest gigs at breweries in New York and Nebraska. I have a trained palate and have judged beer since around '97. For the last eight or nine years I've been a judge at GABF and the World Beer Cup. I got my Certified Cicerone six years ago, when the program came out and I've held courses in Nebraska to prepare people for the Cicerone exam. I've got my eye on someday being awarded Master Cicerone. I also have been consulting on brewery safety for about 15 years and I'm the appointed chair of the Brewers Association's Brewery Safety Subcommittee.

How did you decide to make Lincoln home?

The short answer is that is was halfway between New England, where I'm from, and the West Coast, where my lady is from. But, in truth, we chose to live here because of the quality of life, the manageable city size, the work ethic, the closeness to food sources, and the wide seasonal changes. Before we actually moved here I looked into the homebrewing scene and saw that there was a really active scene, with people brewing award-winning beers. Some of the most welcoming people I became friends with in Lincoln were brewers.

What were some of the challenges with opening the brewery?

Wow. Where should I start? The first thing you have to do is figure out how you plug into the market. "Am I a brewpub, a microbrewery, a microbrewery with a fat taproom, a brewpub that bottles their product, a brewery in an abbey, an estate brewery, a brewery with a winery or distillery, a truckstop with growlers of beers?" You have to know who you are brewing beer for, and there's no right answer, just your answer. Ploughshare is a brewery with a pub-like taproom.

Once you figure that out, the main barriers to entry are location, financing, hiring, and ongoing management. Location was hard for us, because we wanted a site that was close to the people, but warehouse-affordable. It took 18 months to find the right property. We chased down the wrong path a few times. It's like buying a house... you won't get everything you want... so you bargain with yourself about what is truly essential. Every day we become more and more convinced that we have the right location, whether because of the observed foot traffic, the City's P Street improvement plan, or the opinions of people who walk through the door and tell us how congested the Haymarket and Railyard have become.

Financing was a huge challenge. We have relied on my own savings and sweat equity, local investors, and local bank financing. You have to have a well-thought plan and know the language of bankers and investors. Even though we have thought things out really well, the cost of our project will likely be twice what we thought was a fat budget in the early days. Being a somewhat recent immigrant to Nebraska, I needed to meet a lot of people in the right circles to find my investors. The Midwest personality is a lot like where I come from, in that you can find straight shooters that give you an honest answers. It's up to you on how well you listen to their advice. Sure there are trolls and opportunists out there, but this region is generally filled with authentic people who will let you into their conversations and actually tell you what they're thinking.

For sourcing, hiring, and managing staff you use traditional and novel means. For me, communication skills and work ethic are key. I have had other businesses and have learned about hiring, firing, developing administrative systems, and employee values - something I call the value equation. There are two sides to the relationship with your staff... you have to imagine yourself in the employee's place, and they need to understand what you expect from them. Ploughshare is blessed with a really awesome startup staff. One person will come up to me and say, "I really like working with" so-and-so, or "You put together an awesome team, we're behind you 100 percent." I expect that our turnover rate will be lower than the industry standard.

Do you have any plans for special events with the Lincoln community?

We are keen on participating in many events in Lincoln. These might be relating to the craft beer scene or charitable events that align with our core values. We are hosting the Sower's Cup at the brewery in September. The biggest regional homebrew contest is the High Plains Brewer of the Year. It's an 8-state event - Nebraska brewers participate - but a qualifying event hasn't been held in Nebraska for some years. The local club, the Lincoln Lagers, is bringing it back to Nebraska this fall. I'm sure it will be an annual event going forward. September also has the second annual Lincoln Beer Week. We'll be hosting fun events and rolling out our first seasonal beer dinner.

One of our big events that we hope becomes an annual "must do" is the Nebraska Cask Ale Festival. We will set up racks of cask ales for Nebraska and beyond in the brewery. We'll do proper stillage and serving. Everything will be served on gravity and we'll have juried and people's choice awards. We want to promote cask ales within the region. Proceeds go the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild.

If you could share one of your beers with anyone, alive or not, who would it be and why?

That is a tough question. My ancestors were Samuel and John Quincy Adams. But they were pretty stiff from what I gather from biographies. Thomas Jefferson was more of an enigma. I would liked to have hung out at Monticello with him, drinking porter and eating his favorite vegetable, salsify.

More than anything I'd like to have a beer with my Dad. He died early from an industrial disease, but back in the day he must have enjoyed a cold one or even some homebrew. Beer encourages conversation. I would have liked to have gotten a couple of good beers in front of him and listened to his experiences of the hurricane of '38 or canoeing along the Allagash before it was developed. There's so much you miss with people who die before their time. Not really a cheery note for this interview, but beer is like truth serum. That's probably why we like it so much - it cuts away pretenses and permits us to be our true selves. Brewing and drinking beer is essentially human.

Connect with Ploughshare:
Twitter: @ploughsharebrew

1 comment:

Phil said...

Nice interview Jason, looking forward to Matt's beers!