Alan Newman is the Magic Hat Founder, and current mastermind of The Just Beer Project. The self-proclaimed opportunity junkie with more than 20 years in the beer business thought he was done with the beer world until a few short years ago opportunity came knocking. We sat down with Alan and discussed a long life in beer and where inspiration lies for the Vermont resident.
The Brewery: The beer world needs no introduction to your work, but for those just learning of your existence, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Alan: I was born on Long Island. I had a newspaper route. I worked my way through high school. I went to college. I got older… I learned to sell beer.
The Brewery: You’re a modest man.
Alan: Well, you know, I am modest. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and they keep leading me down interesting paths in life. I’m never disappointed.
The Brewery: Modesty seems to be an important component of The Just Beer Project.
Alan: It is! And you know you’re probably more right than you intended to be.
The Brewery: So tell us, how did The Just Beer Project start?
Alan: The Just Beer Project started probably 2 and a half years ago. As you know, I’ve been in the beer world for 20 years now. I’ve watched massive change as Americans have discovered beer with flavor and how the taste profiles have changed. Craft beer as a brand continues to evolve through product lifecycle. I was sitting in a bar in Portland Oregon, about 2 and a half years ago. I was meeting a friend of mine. We were just going to shoot the shit over a couple of beers. It’s something I do with remarkable frequency. We went to one of those beer bars with 35 draft handles, and I ordered something that looked interesting and it turned out to be 70 BU’s 8.2% alcohol. I finished that one and I was starting to feel the effects of the beer, I was getting full you know? I just started the conversation and I was going to be shooting the shit for the next two hours. I looked at the bartender and he asked me “do you want something else?” I said “yeah, what do you have that’s lower in alcohol?” And he said “well, we don’t have anything under 5%, everything we have starts at 6.5% and goes up from there.” So I said, “I’ll just have a club soda with lime.” And then it hit me that the segment of the market that’s getting all the attention right now has just turned a dyed-in-the-wool beer drinker into a club soda drinker. It hit me there’s got to be an opportunity here and I’m an opportunity junkie. I see opportunities then I try to figure out how to get to them. So, all I thought about in that moment in time was “shit, there’s an opportunity here if I’m drinking club soda because, I’m a beer guy.” Flash forward, and I’m in a situation where my job is to come up with interesting beer concepts. So I’ve had this thing growing in the back of my head for 2 and a half years now. I’m a bit contrarian, but, Magic Hat was really built on “everyone’s going in one direction, so I’ll just go the opposite direction.” I still kind of believe opportunities are where the crowd is not. I look around the market and see everybody is going to these big alcohol, big IBU beers and their getting all the play. But if you’re a social beer guy and you’re somebody who likes hanging out in neighborhood bars and you like the social aspect of bars, which is what got me into this business to begin with, you need beer you can drink all night without getting full, without getting stupid. My goal is not to get drunk, my goal is to be social, and so, that’s really where The Just Beer Project came from.
The Brewery: You make coming up with a new brand seem so simple.
Alan: I bet you, if I’m feeling like this, there has to be other people out there and so I started talking about session beers. We started playing around and doing some samples and we put it out into a handful of bars in Burlington last year. What I found out was, I wasn’t alone. I started hearing from the bartenders and the waitstaff, “It’s about time somebody gave us an IPA that we can actually sit and drink all night.” So I thought, “Maybe this is really an opportunity here.” And that’s really where The Just Beer Project came from. I wanted to go back to what beer used to be, create a beer that people can hang around with their buddies, spend a night in a bar, they can be social, shoot the shit about politics, they can talk about sports. And at the end of the night they don’t feel like they’ve been drugged with alcohol.
The Brewery: Well said.
Alan: Long winded, but… sorry.
The Brewery: Your JUST IPA is described as a drinkable IPA and it boasts not changing attitudes. Is this the IPA you want to order if you are first trying an IPA?
Alan: I think anytime you want a drinkable IPA, this is the drink to order. What we’ve done that makes us special is, it’s under 5% alcohol, it’s drinkable, and when you pop the bottle the first thing that you’re struck with is this fabulous aroma. I’m an aroma guy. I wanted an IPA that I love drinking. So it needed to have a big, BIG aroma. A great hoppy aroma fills the space, and then you drink it and you’ll get a real big hit of fresh hop that will then dissipate. As it dissipates your mouth doesn’t feel like it’s coated. You’re drinking a full-bodied IPA. The malt hop balance to me is really the key. My ex-partner in Magic Hat used to beat this into my head all the time. “We’re gonna do balanced beers, and when you get the balance right, you don’t get that spike in the head, you don’t get your mouth coated with bitterness so you don’t taste anything.” I think what really impresses me about Just IPA is you get all of the good things about an IPA, you get the aroma, you get the malt hop balance, and when you’re done, you can still taste food. You can still taste your next beer. And more importantly you’re dealing with a beer that’s under 5% alcohol. You can drink 3, 4, 5 of them over the course of an evening, and you don’t feel bloated, and you don’t feel blitzed. Those are the things that I like about the Just IPA.
The Brewery: That sounds great, you definitely made me thirsty.
Alan: Me too!
Be sure to swing by next Wednesday for part 2 of our interview with Alan Newman.