Brew Biz: Werts and All- Troubles Brewing


Written by Ken Carman

This edition’s topic: losing a talented Brewer.

As always Mr. McGuire’s fictional cousin; whose exploits are told throughout both McGuires restaurants, met me at the door…

“Nathan McGuire! Good to see you! I see you’re still wearing the same old lampshade.”

“Aye. And still ask-in da ladies for der bras so aye may add dem them to my collection.”

“So still the life of the party?”

“That I is. But der ave been some troubles here…”

You walk into your favorite brewpub and find the beer just isn’t what it used to be. Something has changed; for the good… or not. Then you notice the professional brewer you have been getting yeast from; sharing brewing secrets with, maybe even learned more about the art of brewing from, is gone. The brewer at your local brewpub is often the first, and foremost, professional brewer that you have direct; personal, access too as a homebrewer. So you ask around and maybe people are oddly quiet; or you hear a lot of conflicting reasons. But you also find out he has simply stopped brewing. What happened? Well, could be many reasons. This edition of Brew Biz started as a rave re-review, but wound up explaining one reason “why.”

Lady quaffers and gentledrinkers! We will get to that reason in a few paras. But first, for those less in the know about the amazing McGuires phenomenon…

Anyone who goes to McGuires and isn’t entertained, says they weren’t over fed and claims they don’t have fresh beer brewed on the premise, either went to the wrong damn place or is lying.

There are two McGuires, one in Destin, Florida, one in Pensacola. The Pensacola is the oldest, and hence has more stuff hanging from the ceilings and the walls. Where do they put it all; seems to be a physical impossibility. Dollar bills: everywhere: signed by patrons. Bras collected by “Nathan,” the fictional cousin of Mr. McGuire: owner. His fictional exploits are mentioned many places throughout the restaurant. Signed pictures of stars everywhere. Collectibles. Always at least one moose you’re supposed to kiss before you leave. A sea hag with tap handles lovingly attached to her breasts. In Pensacola alone I counted at least ten serving rooms: each with their own intriguing motif… a souvenir section, an elevated bar… The bathrooms have in large letters “Men’s Room”/”Women’s Room” with an arrow pointing the other way and in small letters telling the patron that the other bathroom is the one they really want. There’s been at least one lawsuit regarding this joke.

Most of this is similar to, but not the same as, in Destin. So no need to worry; even if you could possibly read and see everything in Pensacola in one day, drive over to Destin. Each location is that unique.

Millie and I have so many fond memories of McGuires. One year when I was on tour she came to see me Christmas time. There was an ice storm so, for a while, I didn’t know what had happened. Steve invited me over to his home for Christmas Eve until I found out she was OK. As big eaters, for the first time ever we both had to bring the rest of our nacho order home. Imagine a plate the size of a big hubcap piled at least a hand and a half high with a tasty mix of chips cheese, meat… you know: NACHOS. Later that week we planned on going to a movie but after one too many we continued to plot like teenagers in love who had just found each other. Eventually we agreed; rather than possibly attracting the attention of Pensacola’s finest, we’d stay and continue to plot ways to annoy Nathan.

Like Maxwell Smart attempting to eliminate Chaos, we failed.

He’s so damn hard to annoy.

That’s his job.

I have a few special memories all my own. Let’s just say that If after you walk up to the bar you and you don’t get into a few fascinating conversations you must be so introverted you’re walking around inside out.

YUCK. Tuck that liver back in please. Bad liver. Must punish.

But like all stories they tend to take a life of their own. Their first and long time brewer who started in 1988; Steve Fried, left a few years ago… came back… and left again. This cloud has, thankfully, not continue to hang too heavily or dark over McGuire’s. Their beer is still good and the “new” brewers in Pensacola: Mike Helf, Jeff Lampley; Tom Anderson and ex-Buckhead brewer Gary Essex in Destin, have done a great job bringing unique, and pleasing, changes to their standard on tap ales… plus some different one offs and seasonals into both breweries that weren’t there before. Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Bean Imperial Stout anyone? Damn! I had to leave before it came on tap.

Things are still booming. The breweries are pretty small even for the brewpub biz. Destin’s brewery was designed for 700 barrels, but did 800 last year: probably more this year. The same is true of Pensacola, only both figures are larger: 1,000 barrels produced was mentioned. Still, despite the brewer’s ability to go beyond designs; they do have limited capacity and demand is constant: high. This limits what they can brew and still have on tap on a regular basis.

McGuire’s “real” name is William Martin, but you may notice I just refer to him as “McGuire.” That’s more than common practice here. It’s considered a sign of respect for a great marketeer who obviously has the ability to bring people together to operate one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. Scratch that. Two of the best… I’m adding Destin.

If only Steve Fried had left under better circumstances. The problem: butting heads with the owner. McGuire wanted a Bud clone; or perhaps more accurately close to clone. McGuires really doesn’t have the tank capacity to do a lager as a regular brew: takes up too much space and time. Demand is that high. Plus, the owner himself demands “no fillers.” A good thing, but that more than messes up an actual lager-based Bud clone ever being poured on a regular basis.

The first time Steve left he had brewed a light beer, but Mr. McGuire was never totally happy with it. It was an off and on discussion and disagreement. Nothing he did seemed to resolve the situation so eventually they mutually agreed he would leave. He came back when McGuires had been through a few brewers in a short time and they realized: oh damn… no brewer, St Patty’s Day coming up fast. Not enough beer? Double damn. We’re a Irish brewpub! HELP!”

Yes, I just made those quotes up, but I’m sure the angst must have been similar.

After that the issue seemed to be settled: Steve came back, they finally had an approved recipe for McGuires Lite. Steve was told several times by managers and such that it was just right. But nothing was really “settled.”

If you have ever judged beer, consider it this way. Managers and such tell you, “It’s fine.” These are the closest to BJCP judges you have deciding whether it was close enough to the profile; which doesn’t assure it’s “close” at all. And the main: most important judge, was McGuire himself who is no judge at all: BJCP-wise. But this was a business decision… not beer judging.

Then, once again, Mr. McGuire told Steve it wasn’t quite enough like Bud. And, according to Steve, he was accused of changing the recipe. In reality Destin had changed the recipe. 9 Plato, 9 IBU, according to the brewers in Destin the major difference is the use of Casco Glucose Solvent, and Gary said when McGuire tasted it he said, “Oh, hell, yeah!” To my palate it was a bit more “bubbly” and even a tad “corny.” Seems to suit the profile somewhat; just a little bit closer than Steve’s Light, except I can still tell it’s an ale. But… not bad; if that’s what you like.

Finally Steve had had enough. McGuire had had enough. All those years. Steve was the first brewer: 1988. He resigned December 2000 when the Bud clone controversy came to a head. He was asked to come back in March 2003. He finally left again in April 2006 for much the same reason. The formerly light beer cloud he had left under the first time had turned darker and far more stormy, to the point of him deciding be didn’t want to brew at all anymore.

The good news is since the fledgling days of McGuires being the only brewery until Jacksonville to the east, and Abita Springs to the west: hence a lack of professional brewers; Steve had trained many, many brewers. And more brewers were attracted to the Emerald Coast. McGuires, in large part due to Steve, had acquired a great reputation, and many awards, that made attracting talented brewers easier. How to meet goals, have some level of consistency and use the equipment in the best ways to supply a thriving, always growing business… the way to achieve all this as it specifically applies to McGuires: all pioneered by Steve Fried.

To be honest, Steve admits his own stubbornness contributed to losing the job…

“It was a case of the irresistible force (him) against an immovable object (me).”

To be honest again: it’s McGuire’s business. He can hire, fire whomever, and demand whatever, he wishes. But since that we’re doing “honesty,” it’s obvious that the restaurant owner, McGuire should count himself damn lucky that he found Steve and he stayed there so long. That’s not that frequent in the brew biz/brewpub scene.

Look at it another way: as a homebrewer people judge you for your beer who don’t have the credentials or the experience to judge; and really don’t know much about beer. Imagine for a moment that your very livelihood is reliant on these “judges.” As much as it can annoy some, it makes one thankful that there are experienced judges who rely on more on style guidelines than less informed opinions.

I left the Emerald Coast at the mid-January with a McGuires glass, still savoring both the lamb stew and their slightly Belgian-ish Millennium Ale that Steve first created, but Tom, Mike, Jeff and Gary have continued with class.

“Well Ken, how did we do?”

“Loved it as always Nathan.”

“Come back when you can: we always have extra lampshades.”

“I know Nathan, I’ve worn one too many myself.”
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Brew Biz is a column by Ken Carman that covers all aspects of the beer, and beer related, business. Portions of this column may be reproduced for the purposes of quotes or to publish the column, but only if credited to Ken Carman as the sole author.

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Ken Carman and Cartentual Productions
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