Sometime in the fall of 2008, I was sitting around with a couple of buddies of mine ( Travis & Devon ), drinking beer and watching some crappy movie. I was likely drinking a Stone Smoked Porter, or if I was really looking for a buzz, an Arrogant Bastard ( those were my go to beers at the time ), and my buddy was drinking Coors Light. Of course, I was feeling all superior about my choice in beers and started giving him a hard time about what he was drinking. He was a die-hard Coors Light drinker. Finally tired of me mocking him, we got up and went to the Liquor store and bought a bottle of something he’d never had before. In my head, I want to say it was a Westmalle Dubbel. I thought that would be a great flavorful beer, without too much bitterness, to get him started. Before long, we had a rousing tradition going of trying out new beers on Thursday nights … by January, we started taking that tradition to Flickr, starting with the collection of “New Brews” that we had been collecting over the previous couple of months.
Flickr became our spot for sharing the beers each week, and several of my friends started following along and commenting about the beers and suggesting new ones for the next week .. and eventually, it just was logical that we move to Twitter.. and in May of 2009, “New Brew Thursday” became an actual thing that we did, and we “tweeted” about it.
It was fun, and we had a good time sharing our experience with the 10 or 15 people that followed us back then, but we wanted to be able to share the concept even more .. so we decided to get a camera, and film ourselves drinking a beer for the first time, and sharing our reactions to it.
Our very first beer was a Duvel. My friend, Andrew Bayroff, had recently been in Belgium and brought me back a bottle from Belgium. I mean, yeah, even then, you could find Duvel anywhere, but this bottle came all the way from Belgium, and for me it was a fantastic beer to showcase initially since I thought it was the perfect introduction for your average BMC drinker to great quality craft beer. Initially, it was just going to be me and Travis, since it was kind of our thing, but Devon had such energy and I knew he’d make the show so much more fun than Travis & I droning on about the beer. After many stops and starts we finally got our first episode done .. I don’t think I had ever had more fun than I did that night.
Things were destined to fail with the three of us though. We were all members of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, and being the type of judgie bible thumpers they are, several people in the congregation had huge issues with us doing the show. So it was a constant battle, having to explain to the elders what we were doing, and why it wasn’t a big deal, and BLAH BLAH BLAH. Eventually that drama took it’s toll, and around September 2009, we filmed our tenth and final episode, which included our very first guest, and first woman on the show. Eventually, I would escape that religion, which would cost me these friends, since they were now required to see me as “spiritually dead” and they are not even allowed to say hello to me.
At that point, we had developed a small but pretty loyal following for the show, despite how crappy it was with our little webbie cam, no mics and only the available lighting, and we had all been talking about going to GABF. I had been the year before, and LOVED it, and thought it only made sense to go. After the band broke up, I ended up going alone. While I was there, wandering around trying different beers from the Midwest, someone came up to me and asked if I was Stephen Johnson. I was a bit startled, wondering where I knew this person from, but they proceeded to tell me all about how they found the show, and had been watching. They, like Travis, were avid BMC only drinkers, but liked the idea of trying something new, and would follow along with us each week. They were now at their first GABF and had sworn off BMC for craft & just wanted to thank me for introducing them to good beer. I was shell shocked. Not only were people watching the show, but it was having the intended effect. I had always told Travis that I didn’t care if he liked Coors Light, but if he was going to drink it, at least know what else what out there. Explore. Now I was helping random people I had never met “explore” this new world of Craft Beer. That set my mind back to focus. I was still a JW ( and would be for another year ), but I didn’t care that it bugged them I was doing this show. It was the first thing I had ever felt passionately enough about to “break the rules” and dammit, I was gonna keep doing it. I realized my problem was having other JW’s involved, so I set to twitter to find replacements.
Enter John Holzer.
I met/followed John on twitter, thanks to Aric Mellot ( @phatemokid ) and at the time he was the lead guitarist for a punk band called Better Luck Next Time. I loved his band, and, as it turned out, he loved our show and had been watching for sometime. So when I contacted him and asked him if he wanted to be apart of the show, he was very excited, and I was excited. John had the same kind of passion that I had for beer, and was into podcasting already, so there wouldn’t be such a learning curve. As it turns out, he was also a major videophile. So he had HD cameras, mics, and proper lighting already in place. It was like our show got picked up by a TV station and was being professionally produced.
I really liked the three-man dynamic that had been a hallmark of the show ( and one of the key differences from other beer podcasts out there at the time ). It allowed a better ebb and flow in the chemistry. So I knew I needed a third person.
Enter Brad Kohlenberg.
I knew Brad cause we worked together. I was a freelance software developer and Brad and I had a client in common. One day while we were talking about some aspect of the project we were working on, he mentioned he had to go get a new keg for his kegerator. I asked him what he was gonna get, and he said Bayhawk Honey Blond. Now, I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of Bayhawk beer, but at least it wasn’t BMC. Also, Brad had a history doing improv and some acting ( Brad even has an IMDB page here ). He, unlike John, had no idea I did a beer show, or that something like that even existed .. but was still stoked to join us, and a few weeks later, we filmed our first show. Stone Brewing Co’s Juxtaposition, provided to us by Taylor Shaw ( @theartofbeer ).
That first show, was awkward, but we had so much fun, and I remember watching it the first time just blown away by how professional it all looked. You can revisit it here.
After that first show, it all seemed like a whirlwind. We did our first “on location” episode at the now closed Barley-n-Hops in Temecula, and then we did an on location episode at Stone Brewery. That was quite an experience, and also where we met Dr. Bill. A few months later, while we were in San Francisco shooting episodes, Bill contacted us and wanted to help us with the content, and from there was created Master Pairings with Dr. Bill.
Since that first “comeback” episode we ended up doing shows all over San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even sat with Sam Calagione in the Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We even did an international episode in Japan, when we went and filmed at Craftheads while John was on tour over there.
One of my personal favorite episodes happened on a Sunday morning in San Diego on the patio of Stone Brewing Co CEO Greg Koch’s house. James Watts from BrewDog joined us, and at 10 AM we drank Tactical Nuclear Penguin paired with homemade Coffee Cake ( thanks Yvonne ) and then followed that up with an 11 year old bottle of Lee’s Mild from Stone. That was quite the Sunday morning.
By far, my favorite thing that New Brew Thursday ever put together was the nearly viral video, I am a Craft Beer Drinker. We received a mix bag of response to this video, but it sparked a ton of debate. Some people hated it and thought it was a overly sappy marketing ploy put together by the industry as a whole, others saw it for what it was, an expression of the passion that John, Brad and I had for Craft Beer. We flew all over the country and filmed with every day people who loved beer, well known industry folks, and some of the pioneers of the craft beer revolution. Watching the final product for the first time, I literally started crying and it remains to this day one of my proudest accomplishments. If you have never watched it, check it out here : I am a Craft Beer Drinker.
Enter Matt Becker.
Eventually we said goodbye to Brad, who went off to pursue a career in San Francisco and said hello to Matt Becker. We met Matt during our first home brew competition. We had homebrewers from all over the country who sent us their beers, and we went through 3 rounds of judging until we chose the winner, Andrew Bell, who then got to go up to the bay area and brew his beer commercially with Bison Brewing Co. Andrew now works as the pilot brewer at The Bruery. I am not saying that is all due to us.
Anyhow, Matt had entered his beers as well, and we started hanging out with him and eventually invited him to join us on the show. Matt brought a whole different angle the show, as an avid and experienced home brewer, he brought a lot more of that component to the discussions. I think this helped solidify John’s love of homebrewing, and if you know anything about John, it’s that he has a pretty impressive nano brewery set up in his house. Matt, during his tenure with us, moved from home brewing, to becoming the head brewer at Packinghouse Brewing Co. Eventually, realizing he still had much he wanted to learn about professional brewing, took a position as a brewer at The Bruery, as well.
Matt “officially” joined the show with the #IPADay episode in 2011 .. A fun episode were we drank 12+ beers .. it was a bit of a hot mess. Check it out here: #IPADay2011
For the last few years, Matt, John, and I, have brought you all a new beer every week, and, almost every week, Bill has brought a new Master Pairing for you to drool over, and it’s been the time of our lives.
Since we started NBT, every year we have tried to say thank you to the audience by hosting a massive bottle share. We started out with our first in 2010 at Churchill’s Pub. In 2011 and 2012 we invaded Beachwood BBQ. This last year we partied in our home pub, Killarney’s.
More than anything above, though, we have met and become friends with some of the coolest people in the world through this show. We’ve partied with industry giants, hung out in some of the most amazing craft beer bars and breweries, and have watched and helped hundreds of new breweries get their start and produce amazing craft beer.
But .. as the saying goes. All good things must come to an end, and for us, that time has come. After 5 years of introducing, exploring, and raving about craft beer, it’s time to let you all take the reins of that exploration and continue on. Of course, we’ll all be around the interwebs, and at all the local, and not so local, craft beer events exploring right along side of you. There is TONS AND TONS of craft beer yet to be experienced.
Why now? We’ve always said that we’d do the show as long as it was fun, and while it’s still fun, all of us have gone in divergent directions in our lives and it’s becoming harder and harder to schedule shooting, and to make it a priority, so many weeks, rather than the fun hangout with our friends and drink and shoot an episode, it was, let’s hurry up and shoot so I can get out here. None of us felt like that was fair to the fans, and honestly, it wasn’t fair to John, who spent hours and hours every week editing the show, to have to try and edit around that stuff. So rather than wait until the show suffered, and the fans were disappointed, it’s a good thing for us to hang up our NBT podcasting hats, and move on to bigger and better adventures.
So what’s in store now? Well, New Brew Thursday will still be a place were we’ll talk beer. Especially our Facebook & Twitter pages. Pictures of beer will be plentiful on our Instagram account, and of course, you’ll still see plenty of all three of us roaming around the San Diego, Los Angeles, OC, and IE beer scenes, and who knows .. we all love podcasting, so you never know what might pop up in the future.
I think I speak for John, Matt, Bill and Brad when I say a HUGE thanks to each and every one of you that tuned in each week and made this show what it is. Hearing your stories about exploring craft beer have always been what this is about, and I hope you’ll all continue in the tradition of trying a new brew on Thursdays!
Stay Safe and drink Beer!