Meet the Brewer – An Interview with Rob Haag
Rob Haag [ facebook ]
12 Gates Brewing Company
What is your position, or role, at 12 Gates Brewing Company?
I am the Production, Distribution and Sales Manager. I oversee all production side operations, sales management, and distribution management. And… help with brewing, cellaring, mopping, sweeping, building tables, fixing broken parts, etc.
How long have you been doing that?
I went full time in this position on June 1, 2015, so about a year and a half.
Do you have any type of formal training? If not, how did you learn the craft?
No formal training in brewing other than a few seminars, and self-studies, plus being a self-taught home-brewer for about 6 years. The rest was reading, reading and more reading. I read every book out there on commercial brewery startups, Brewery management, and general manufacturing.
Can you give us a brief history of that brewing experience?
I caught the home-brew bug when my mom bought me a Mr. Beer kit about 10 years ago. I made an awful oktoberfest beer that was more champagne than beer, but it didn’t matter, I went to the home-brew store and bought another kit and kept going. After a few more duds, then a couple decent brews with the kits, I bought the pots, cooler, and burners for an all-grain setup. I drilled my own holes for valves and thermometers and kept at it. I joined a club and kept experimenting, entered a few competitions, and ended up winning a couple gold medals and a couple silver medals. Unfortunately, my setup has been sitting with dust on it since the spring of 2015, which is sort of sad when I walk past it in my basement. I also attended National Home-brew Conference in Grand Rapids in 2015, and made a point to attend all of the seminars on going pro. My management side comes from SUNY Buffalo, and my previous work experience in sales, sales management, and operations.
We learned a lot about 12 Gates from talking to Scott, let’s focus on your side…
Given the fact that the brewhouse and fermenters are so large here, how does this affect your grain/hop ordering?
Never being in the commercial brewing side prior to 12 Gates, it has been a bit of a learning process for the past year. It was a bit difficult in the beginning without knowing exactly what the market would tell us. But, I think I have made the right adjustments and have done a pretty good job at forecasting our schedule, and ingredient needs so far. I just signed contracts for the next 5 years for our #1 hop, Citra, that we use exclusively in our West Coast style IPA. That brand is almost 70% of our total sales, and we’ll need 25,000 lbs of only that hop variety over the next 5 years. It made me sweat a bit as I was signing those contracts.
Does the fact that so many breweries are popping up in the area make this more difficult for you?
Not so far. We have a lot of room to have more breweries and see expansion of the ones that are already here. Buffalo is not only a beer drinking town, but a pretty young one as well. Not young in age, but the pallet of beer drinkers. Except for a couple of attempts in the 90s, we haven’t had that explosion of craft like other cities until just the past half dozen years. The macros are still the dominant brands here, and it will be years and many more brewery openings before we have a large market share compared to the macro brews.
Staying on the subject of local industry growth, I have to ask… When you hear of another brewery opening, do you get excited or think “well here’s another one…”?
First gut feeling is excitement. The more craft beer that is available, the more converts from macro beer we get trying our stuff for the first time. And I’m sure most of those will stick with craft.
If you had to pick a favorite beer from 12 gates and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why?
That’s like asking which of my 3 sons is my favorite. This is a hard one with the addition of our Buffalo Tripel. It’s a Belgian Tripel with a wide variety of American hops. It’s so smooth and I love me some Belgian beers. I guess if I had to pick one, it’s got to be our West Coast style IPA. It’s our #1 brand, but I’m not picking it for that reason. It is the next step for those who have had all the gateway craft beers and are ready for more. Yes, it is pretty bitter, but the grapefruit/citrus and tropical flavor and aromas are very approachable to most first-time IPA drinkers.
*** Let’s Get Personal ***
If you could sit down with anyone (living or dead) and have a beer, who would it be and why?
My grandfather, Ben Haag. He passed about 6 months before I was born, and I’ve only heard stories about who he was. I’d also like him to meet my family, especially my son, who is named after him.
What would be the first question you would ask him?
Where did that old unopened bottle of O’Keefe’s Double Stout come from? I was told it was his, then my dad had it for years, and now I own this green bottle, still capped, with a dark liquid in it, and I cannot find any info on where it came from – I assume it’s from Canada during prohibition, maybe?
Staying personal what is your favorite beer and food pairing?
I’m a Buffalonian. Wings with a good Pale Ale.
In the kitchen I make a mean:
German feast – Saurbraten, Spaetzle, Schnitzle, and other German words that start with “S”
What’s your favorite movie and why?
Ugh, again asking me which of my kids is my favorite. I love movies, and especially epic stories. Godfather II, Private Ryan, Dances with Wolves, Star Wars, Shawshank Redemption, Good Bad and the Ugly. I can keep this up for a while. I guess Shawshank – “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”
What’s your favorite song and why?
Pearl Jam – Release. It’s the one that hits me in the heart every time. I’ve seen them do that one live a half dozen times, and it’s still #1
If you had $1 million and could not spend it on yourself, what would you do with it?
I would get the Barenaked Ladies back together. Or, I would put it away for my boys with the stipulation that they do something great with it when they’re grown.
What is your favorite beer style to drink?
A Bavarian Hefeweizen. It’s the style that I was introduced to at 18 while stationed in Germany, and what I’ve had the most of since. If I could pick a 2nd, anything Belgian especially if aged in a barrel.
What is your favorite beer in the world (brewery and name of beer)? And you cannot select a 12 Gates beer.
Kitzmann – Bergkirchweih. This is the fest beer that the small local brewery in Erlangen, Germany brews for the town’s springtime festival of the same name. I drank gallons and gallons of this over the 2 weeks of the fest. Someday I will return.
What is your “desert island beer”? (if you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be)
If they made it again, special just for me on my island, Stone Vertical Epic 07.07.07 – Plus it would have to be the version I had at Stone that was aged in red wine barrels. I would be living out my days as a happy monk with that one.
What do you like to do in your time away from the 12 Gates Brewing?
I don’t get out much other than when I am working work at 12 Gates events. Wife, 3 sons, soccer, band, lacrosse, … you do the math. We love to just hang out with each other, go to dinner, movies etc. We are a very close nit squad, so mostly it’s just spending time with each other, going on adventures and vacations.
Any advice for those aspiring to be involved in brewery management or production?
Find a mentor. I’m sort of a “I’ll figure it out myself” kind of person, so I wish I had found myself a mentor in the local industry when we were getting started. Also, don’t just learn about brewing. Read and seek knowledge about general manufacturing, forecasting, business, and supply chain. It’s super glamorous from the outside, but in the end, brewing is a manufacturing job. However, it’s the best one!
Any final comments for the readers?
As the old saying goes, find what you love, and do that for a career!