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Knowledge on Tap

Spreading the Good Word of Beer, These Craft Connoisseurs Tell Us Their Journey From Fans to Experts

WRITTEN BY: JAKE PALUMBO | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: MATT DOHENY

THE EXPERTS: Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune,  Authors, Beer Sommeliers, Consultants & Beer Chicks

Christina’s Favorite Beer: A spicy and effervescent Saison Dupont

Hallie’s Favorite Beer: An earthy and complex Orval

Although it was I who was preparing to interview Hallie Beaune and fellow “Beer Chick” Christina Perozzi as we all sat down at her lovely kitchen table, it was Hallie who asked the first question of the morning. “Do you want a beer?” She smiled as she swung open her stainless-steel refrigerator door, bending over slightly to squint inquisitively into the white light. “It’s never too early for a beer, especially when you’re with the Beer Chicks.” Her eyes widened suddenly as they lit upon something in the fridge, and after diving in behind the door, she emerged with a mocha-colored bottle in hand. “Here, this one’s a nice coffee beer, ” she said, now reaching for a glass into which she smoothly poured the dark, sweet stout.

To be perfectly honest, I expected nothing less of the highly renowned Beer Chicks and in looking forward to sitting down with these impressive ladies, my personal hopes were high that I might enjoy the privilege of a well-crafted pint or two in their company.

But the road to amber carbonated recognition wasn’t always paved with hops and barley. Before they were The Beer Chicks, Hallie and Christina arrived in Los Angeles on the wings of very different dreams, respectively the screen and stage for Hallie and music for Christina. However, within the alembic of a fast friendship that grew while the two worked at the famous Father’s Office in Santa Monica and a cultural tipping point that opportunely began to tilt under the escalating popularity of the craft brew community, a new and rather unexpected passion began to ferment. What started as the occupational need to quickly serve a nightly heard of patrons that was becoming increasingly more interested in the craft beers they were consuming, blossomed into a love affair with and encyclopedic knowledge of craft beer that set the saison-slinging duo on a mission to educate the rising tide of beer lovers in a manner that was both accessible and concise.

In addition to their ongoing Beer Chicks endeavors and between teaching seminars and hosting food pairing dinners, Hallie works as the Southern California Sales Rep for Allagash Brewing Company and Christina works as a Beer Educator for Goose Island Beer Company. Although they are constantly on the road spreading the good word of beer, the two still call Los Angeles home.

With the instigating jolt of Stumptown Coffee—the distinguishing ingredient in my aromatic stout—acting as the catalyst, I set in motion a conversation with The Beer Chicks. The conversation began with Christina explaining to me that the beer I was drinking was the product of collaboration with Sierra Nevada and the Oregon-based microbrewery Ninkasi Brewing Company as part of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp project.

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Q: Sierra Nevada started as a homebrewer right?

Christina Perozzi: Yes, they did. Ken Grossman’s first photo is just of a dude making beer in shorts.

Q: What’s the community’s opinion of something like that? Because in music, when you start out as an indie musician, some people say, “Oh you sold out, ” when you make it big. How do you keep the integrity?

CP: That’s actually kind of what we compare it to, kind of like Coldplay. They started out really cool and creative and now not so much. Not to say they aren’t creative anymore, but you know craft beer drinkers like that new kind of discovery. They like finding that small band or finding that small beer. Once you do get big, you can get that stink eye a little bit.

Hallie Beaune: I think they still have a pretty good reputation. They’re still owned by Ken, the guy who started it. It’s all family run.

Q: Where did they start?

CP: Chico. They’re still there. They just opened a second brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, which is huge when someone decides to open a second brewery. Also up until very recently, up until these very respected craft breweries started doing it, opening another brewery was no longer considered craft. You had to only brew from one. But the definition of craft is changing as the craft world is changing.

Q: Do any of these places make a big deal about where they get their ingredient as far as local, organic hops and everything?

HB: Not really organic and not local, but aside from that, yes. It’s pretty hard to make beer with all local ingredients, but they’ll add something local when they can. For example, I know Allagash will add cherries from a local farmer. But most people use malt from Germany,  and most of the hops are grown in the Northwest. It has to do with climate, and you need a lot of hops. You can’t just grow a small patch of hops.

Q: So do you see a ton of breweries opening up around Portland and Seattle?

HB: Oh yes, tons. Oregon had the most breweries per capita than any other state. Although now I think California is catching up.

Q: Forgive me, but what is a sour beer?

CP: Sour beers are a very old style of beer. They originated in Belgium, but as the craft beer world has evolved, that has become a pretty popular style. You see people start with pale ales or pilsners and you kind of go from there to Belgian beers and then on to the super hoppy beers and we say at the end of that long beer journey are these sour beers, which are beers that have been wild fermented. Originally, they were just fermented, and yeast existed in the air in a certain valley in Belgium, but now we have duplicated that yeast and people use it in their breweries to “sour” their beers. So there’s a bug yeast called Brettanomyces along with a couple bacteria and stuff that you can add to the beer to make them sour.

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Q: So how did you guys meet each other and how did your interest in beer start?

HB: We were working at a bar, at Father’s Office in Santa Monica, the original Father’s Office, slinging beers. We were working together and back then there was no limit on the amount of people who could be in the bar, so it was packed all the time and it was one of the only places in LA to be able to get a craft beer. There were very few.

Q: Was there a more limited interest back then?

HB: Yes, well, more limited knowledge. People got excited about it very quickly, but they didn’t know anything about it at all. So you have all these people staring at you and they really need a beer, but they don’t know any of the beers and they don’t know anything about beer. They have everything confused.No one knew what you meant if you said, “Do you like a hoppy beer?” It was all about, “Do you like something bitter or chocolaty or something that tastes like cherry?” Anyone can answer that question. Even now I think that’s the best way to approach it.

CP: And sometimes the only beer related question we’d ask is, “What’s your favorite beer?” Because even if it was mass-produced, we could still tell what their experience was with beer and what they were used to tasting. We knew what all of these beers tasted like, so we were able to take them on that beer journey.

Q: So at what point did you guys realize you were beginning your own journey as beer experts and that this was going to become a big part of your lives?

CP: I think I had an idea we were onto something. I saw that there was such a need for what we had to offer and originally, the book that we wrote was going to be for women, because when we were working at Father’s Office a lot of women we’d talk to about beer would come back to us and say, “Oh my god my boyfriend thought I was so cool, ” or “The table thinks I’m awesome, tell me more about it.” We realized that it was empowering, and that women weren’t generally given that knowledge. You don’t grow up knowing about that stuff. So we started off in that direction but then we realized that we wouldn’t want to buy the book for women. We’d want to buy the real book.

HB: And we realized that men were totally clueless also. It’s like asking for directions. They’d pretend they knew what they wanted, and when we gave it to them you could tell they didn’t like it, but they didn’t want to ask us questions. Everybody needed equal help. So we had our blog The Beer Chicks and from that we started writing a book and then we were able to get in touch with an agent who was interested in women writing about beer.

Q: How was the process of writing the book?

HB: Hard!

CP: Yeah, it’s hard to write a book.

HB: The first thing you have to do when you write a book is to have all the chapters laid out, which is actually really great. So we knew what everything was going to be and what we wanted to talk about. We’d tackle each chapter one at a time and split up the sections of the chapters and then we’d switch and allow each other to edit each other’s sections.

CP: Anything that made us both laugh would stay in.

Q: So the book is very much both of your voices blended together.

CP: Yes, we definitely ended up developing one voice together. I’m a little bit more crass, and Hallie is kind of my buffer for that. She is also a little bit more cerebral, so I think we balanced each other out really well.

HB: We wanted it to be fun. There are a lot more women reading and writing about beer now, but at the time, there wasn’t, and all the books were by dudes and were pretty dry. We like to have fun, so we just wanted to write something that was fun and accessible for the average person.

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Q: So what does it mean to you guys to be women experts in a field that is traditionally pretty male dominated?

CP: I think the most important thing is probably not that we’re writing to women, it’s that we’re writing from a woman’s perspective. We make it less intimidating I think to both men and women. That was the whole idea. That it was supposed to be accessible, and beer is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be the drink of the people.

Q: How was the experience of writing your second book on homebrewing?

HB: Homebrewing is time-consuming, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot easier than people think. That was really what we were trying to get across in this second book.

CP: We wanted to tackle the issue from more of an urban setting to make home brewing accessible for someone like us—single and living in a small apartment. We also wanted to show that you don’t need a one thousand dollar brew kit. You can just have a big pot and a spoon, a strainer and a plastic bucket, and you can make beer.

Q: What was the most exotic beer you came up with?

HB: We made a honey chamomile blond that was really tasty. They actually ended up brewing that with New Belgium. They were doing a series of brewing and collaborating with people that had you out to brew with them, and we ended up brewing our honey chamomile recipe with them on a large scale, which was really fun. But we definitely got crazy with some interesting ingredients and different recipes.

Q: What would be the ideal meal for the beer we’re drinking right now?

HB: I just had it with some jambalaya that was really good. It was a nice combo. It’s a hoppy beer, but it’s not super bitter. Hoppy beers can be great with certain dishes and totally overpower other ones, but because this is a Belgian IPA, it’s not so bitter that it’s going to overpower something, but it’s big enough to still be a nice complement. Jambalaya is a great dish.

Q: What does the craft beer community mean to you personally?

CP: For me, it’s always been a little bit about rebellion. I’m not very good with authority. But we were both in the food world and kind of knew the rules, and it was just before craft beer started catching on. LA caught on later than other areas of the country, but I thought it was just so cool and rebellious to be pairing beer and drinking beer in a restaurant with a white tablecloth. It felt like bucking the system a little bit. And also just the artisanal aspect of it. I love the process and the people. They’re all so creative and fun and irreverent and weird. And I think we found our place.

HB: I would agree that I think it’s sort of always been an alternative to the norm, and you meet a lot of brewers who say things like, “I used to be a lawyer, then I opened my own brewery.” I never really was one for a regular nine to five job. Not to say that it doesn’t take a lot of work, because it obviously does, but I feel like you are stepping outside the mainstream of things. I’ve always liked wine and learning the history behind each glass, but beer has always been a little more causal and fun. It’s about telling stories in the pub and I like that aspect of that. I like that at the end of the day, it’s something you’re supposed to be sharing with people over conversation and jokes. It’s very social, and I really like being with people and sharing something I’ve made with people I love. It’s something that’s so consistent through time. Beer certainly is. They call it the people’s drink. And it’s cool that is what this is ultimately about. The people in the business that I like are really grounded that way. It’s also really innovative.

 

THE BEER CHICKS | www.thebeerchicks.com