Erik Myers leads the brewing and packaging department. Prior to Fullsteam, he founded and led Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, N.C. He's the author of three books, including two books on North Carolina breweries.
F: You bring a ton of experience, from running a brewery to leading the state guild. How has the NC craft beer industry changed in the past ten or so years?
EM: Oh, just entirely. When I first got into the beer industry in NC there were 28 breweries in the state, and now there are well over 10 times more than that. People were interested in exploring classic styles, and new flavors, and really still trying to figure out where to go. These days it's considerably more competitive and it's a lot more formulaic for draft line ups. Back in the day, there was a lot of pride to be had in being able craft something new, or re-work a historic style. These days, that pride has shifted into leaning into efficient operations and being able to nail the same style over and over again with slight variations to keep the drinker interested. It's been a wild ride, and I'm sure it will continue to be for another decade, too.
F: Do you have a work routine? How often are you on the brew deck these days? Do you wish you did it more, less?
EM: I don't. One of the things that I like the most about brewery work is that it's not very routine heavy. There are certainly tasks that I do every day; I try to do ingredient ordering at the beginning of the week, toward the end of the week I'm shifting into tasting notes for releases and planning the following week, but for the most part it's a variety game of whatever needs attention today and that keeps it interesting ... sometimes too interesting. I don't really brew unless we're short on brewing staff because of sickness or vacations. I do wish I had a little more time on the brew deck, because I find the routine of brewing very calming and cathartic, but we have such a great team of brewers I'm happy to live vicariously through them.
F: How do you cheer yourself up during COVID-19? Any new hobbies you've picked up?
I have been spending most of COVID times rebuilding the yard outside my
house into an outdoor relaxation space with a new patio, trellis, water
garden, cactus garden, and even a mini-orchard with hardy oranges,
peaches and paw paws. So I guess you could say that my new hobby has
been gardening; I've always liked it - I've really leaned into it this
F: What style of beer is underrated or underappreciated?
I really miss English-style beers: rich tapestries of malt supported by
subtle, floral hops for really incredibly balanced beers - especially
English Milds, and English-style IPAs. They're the one reason that I've
considered homebrewing again - they're just incredibly difficult to find
out and about in the world.
F. In contrast, what beer style or trend do you personally wish would go away?
EM: I'm not the biggest fan of the sour fruit smoothie beer craze. I understand how it fits into the market, but I don't really feel like they're every "balanced" or "well-crafted". I feel like every can is a cannon shot of fruit flavor aimed at your face, and that's not really what I look for in a beer. I feel like it really cheapens our industry.
F: How important is "diversification" for today's craft brewers? Is the industry innovating, or making too many fractured products?
I think the answer for how important diversification is changes per
brewery and per marketplace. Diversification in a brewery is often a
solution in search of a problem or, worse, a hail mary to try to
generate sales where beer is dragging. Not to say that there isn't a
place for it, but I think it's very market-dependent. I don't
know that I see much innovation in the brewing industry these days. I
see a lot of mimicry.
Our industry has never really been one of innovation, but one of nostalgia. The most innovative beers in the past decade have either been rebuilds of lost historical styles or beers that are engineered to taste exactly like something that isn't beer. For marketing purposes that nostalgia is important: it sells. It's not always fun or cool from a brewer's perspective.
Innovation in our
space has largely been based around efficiency, use of ingredients, or
how those ingredients are processed - particularly hops - and in that I
think that the craft industry is still incredibly innovative and
frankly, that's the most fun part of the beer industry in the past
couple of years.
F: Favorite Fullsteam beer these days?
EM: Paycheck. It's my go-to. It's easy drinking and crisp with a clean malt character and a bright hop-derived fruitiness. I've always been a fan of the idea of judging a brewery by its lightest beer - there's no place to hide a flaw. There aren't hops, or alcohol, or fruits, or Snickers Bars, in which you can hide poor brewing technique. This is a great classic American pils that, to me, shows that we make exceptionally clean, consistent, and delicious beer, and I delight in drinking it every time. (F: Paycheck won Gold at the 2019 U.S. Beer Open in the International Pilsner category.)
F: You have a background in theater. What role or performance that you were involved in was the most memorable or challenging?
EM: When I was in college, I spent a year as the Managing Director of Friday Night Live. It was essentially a knock-off of Saturday Night Live: A sketch comedy show that we put on about once a month in very much the same format as SNL: a host monologue, short skits with a certain amount of improv, a few videos, some fake commercials, live music performance. Building those shows each month for the rush of performing it in front of a live audience and having to nail it on that one night - that was a whole lot of fun. I've always like doing comedy over other forms of theater - it's a lot harder than people give it credit for, but it's also incredibly rewarding to have an audience laugh with you. It feels like being the center of the universe.
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