26 January 2010

The Hoosier Beer Geek Six Pack: Stacey McGinnis, Front Operations Manager, Tyranena Brewing Company

In helping put together the brewery list for Saturday's Brewers of Indiana Guild Winterfest, we reached out to a number of Indiana sister state breweries. Because of past experience, we thought it might also make sense to look to Missouri and Wisconsin and see if we could find any interest from breweries there.

We were quite happy when the folks at Tyranena responded. We reviewed Tyranena's The Devil Made Me Do It! Imperial Porter back in March of 2009, giving it a very solid 4.3 mug score - so we know that the brewery is very capable.

We look forward to seeing Tyranena's beer in bars and liquor stores in Indiana, and we thank Stacey for taking the time to contribute to our Six Pack series.

1) Who are you and where do you work?

My name is Stacey McGinnis, aka the "Devourer of Men's Souls", and I’m the Front Operations Manager for Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I’m a Scorpio, my favorite color is currently Lucite's 54D-5 'Silent Night' (and incidentally that is also the same color blue of my living room walls), I’m a big fan of ellipses (…) and I prefer sans serif fonts to serif (especially Times New Roman… ick). :-)

Before we get too far… let me answer a few other frequently asked questions.

How do you pronounce Tyranena?
Tie•rah•nee•nah… just like it looks. Or, if it’s easier to remember, like two women’s first names: “Tyra” Banks, “Nina” Simone.

And what does it mean? Tyranena is the indigenous name for Rock Lake, the body of water for which Lake Mills takes its name. (Yes, our founding fathers were incredibly creative… the lake had a rocky shore – hence Rock Lake – and there were two mills on that lake – presto, Lake Mills.) Our brewery is located just a stone’s throw from the oldest known civilization in Wisconsin at Aztalan. Tyranena is believed to be a name passed down from that ancient culture to the Native Americans that inhabited this area prior to the settlers arriving in the early 1800’s.

So where is Lake Mills? Lake Mills is located between Madison and Milwaukee on I-94; about 25 minutes from the east side of Wisconsin’s capitol city and 45 minutes west of its largest metropolitan area.

What does a Front Operations Manager do? When I accepted my position at Tyranena, I was the only full-time employee other than Rob Larson, our founder and brewer. It took a while for Rob to come up with my title; I think it was nearly a year before I had business cards! Basically, it boils down to a bit of a joke… There are glass doors that divide our lobby, Tasting Room and offices from the brewhaus, bottling line and warehouse. Rob says I’m in charge of everything going on in “front” of those glass doors… but basically I have my hands in everything except for brewing beer. I also try, with limited success, to stay off the bottling line, though occasionally I have to fill in or help out with special packaging.

I’ve been with the brewery in various capacities for 7 years now. My servitude entails working closely with Rob (a full-time job in and of itself) as well as with our many events, staff, customers, vendors, beer geeks, distributors and the general public at-large.

And since Jessie will be pouring with me at Winterfest, it’s only fair for me to out her here as well... Jessie Nimm, Tyranena’s Beer Ambassador (aka salesperson), has been slaving for the brewery for about 3-1/2 years. Her responsibilities include working with our network of distributors on pricing, promotional programs, and brand placement at the retail level. With a very strong sales and relationship-building background, Jessie has helped the brewery grow significantly. Oh and she’s a Capricorn, her favorite color is blue and her favorite style of beer is either an IPA or Porter.

2) How did you get into craft beer? Were you a craft beer drinker before you took a job working for the brewery?

Actually, I was not only NOT a craft beer drinker 7 years ago when I began working at the brewery… I wasn’t even a BEER drinker. I was THAT GIRL… you know the one that says, with a wrinkled-up nose, “I don’t drink beer.” Funny how things turn out! Fact is I simply didn’t like what I knew as “beer” back then. I’d grown up thinking beer consisted of just light-bodied lagers; I had no idea of the myriad of flavors that just a few simple ingredients could create.

So with that in mind, it’s fairly ironic that I started bartending part-time at Tyranena, which has a tasting room that serves nothing but beer, in January of 2003. My first day walking into the Tasting Room for training was the first time I’d ever set foot in this or any other brewery! But it was nearly love at first sight. And as such I started working every Wednesday and nearly every other day I could get behind that bar… So when it came time for Rob to hire a full-time helper, well, it was me. I’m sure that this is something Rob regrets at least five days a week but he just can’t seem to get rid of me now!

Truth be told, Tyranena has a certain something about it… I felt it right away. There’s a warm kind of comfort (regardless of Rob’s personality) when you walk through our doors that you just don’t get at every “bar”. Not to mention that we are incredibly lucky to have a great group of regulars and fans, amazing customers and a great staff to boot! If ever you get a chance to swing through Lake Mills, I highly recommend it stopping by the brewery!

3) Right now you're distributing in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois - what is it about Indiana that got the brewery's interest as a possible candidate for expansion? And are you looking anywhere else? If you are looking somewhere else, is it an Indiana vs wherever else situation?

Hmm… Honestly, Indiana seemed like a natural progression… We moved into Chicago last spring; it seems only fitting to creep on over toward the Hoosier state next! But really there are a lot of pieces to the decision-making puzzle. First, there should be some interest… both from consumers and from potential distributors. And, of course, we have to become amateur-experts on each state’s liquor law when we decide to make the leap across another state line. As it turns out, Indiana has reasonably uncomplicated regulations and also does not require exorbitant annual permits or fees from a brewery to distribute there. So that’s a huge plus for IN!

But our decision will mainly be based on finding the right fit with a distributor in the Indiana market. Most states have laws making it a real headache to transfer brands from one distributor to another. In all honesty, WE don’t want to cause that kind of upheaval in changing brands anyway. It’s better for all parties concerned that we make the right choice from the onset. We’re a small brewery. We don’t have a huge salesforce or fleet; we have a decrepit van, a burgundy toaster (aka a Honda Element) and one salesperson that currently flits between highways and airports in three states. We rely heavily on our distributors to be an extension of our business, to BE our eyes, ears, arms and legs in a market. So it’s very important that we find a connection with a distributor. We simply have to be on the same page on a variety of levels. So we do a lot of research before making any promises. And that’s where we are right now… researching. Hopefully, it’ll all work out!

As far as opening distribution in other states, we have also been contemplating heading into Missouri, however, it’s not really an either-or kind of situation. When the time is right, we will take Tyranena where we feel it will be sold, consumed, marketed and appreciated appropriately!

4) You have what appears to be a very nice facility - did the brewery start there? What's the history of Tyranena Brewing? Who's behind the founding of the brewery?

Yup. She’s a beaut! The brewery is exactly where it has always been… same city, same location since established in 1999. Tyranena was built from the ground up to be a brewery while many of our colleagues in Wisconsin have had to retrofit their breweries into existing buildings. Not that that necessarily impedes their ability to make great beer, but it can make things more difficult to grow. We are situated on over 7-acres… plenty of room to make beer, throw a Frisbee and walk the dogs. In regards to our equipment, our brewhaus and bottling line originally came from Ambleside Brewing in Minnesota; the equipment was only about a year-old when Rob purchased and moved it to Lake Mills to start Tyranena. I guess it’s not quite as modern as it used to be… but it does the trick!

As I briefly mentioned before, Rob is our founder and brewer… he is the man behind the brewery. Tyranena is his brainchild. But you can’t forget the women, dogs and new guy that work diligently for the man behind Tyranena Brewing Company… We’re pretty proud of our team. (More of a slightly dysfunctional family than a team… but…) We have just four full-time employees, including Rob. Six if you count the dogs… We all do our part to make the brewery what it is today, for better or worse!

Why did Rob start the brewery, you might ask? One day back in ’97 or ’98, Rob found himself with a love of drinking good beer, passion for his homebrewing kit and, miraculously, unemployed with a chunk of capital. What to do, what to do? So in addition to earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the UW Madison, he went on to pursue a brewer’s certificate from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and to study abroad at Brewlab in Sunderland, England. And soon after, Tyranena was born!

5) What is it about Tyranena's beers that sets them apart from other beer?

What’s special about Tyranena? Other than we produce high quality beers that are thought-provoking, creative and unique in a variety of flavors to suit diverse palates… Wait. You need more? J

Well, we believe our beers have fantastic flavor profiles, but each year-round and seasonal beer brewed at Tyranena also has a unique name specific to the history and folklore of the surrounding area or refers to something quintessentially “Wisconsin”. These legendary labels have become a trademark of our establishment and are part of the distinctive charm of our beers.

And then there’s our Brewers Gone Wild! Series… full of beers that are big, bold and ballsy. They are incredible; each with amazing flavor, body and charisma. We’ve had a lot of people ask where the names for THESE beers come from… certainly not from folklore. The names come from somewhere deep in Rob’s brain. (Scary, I know.)

Our Brewers Gone Wild! Series beers are big and geared towards aficionados. They have crazy, in-your-face flavors to match their bold and sometimes daring names. Obviously, the names also grab your attention but, in case you are wondering, they are not meant to be offensive… The first printer we worked with on these labels didn’t agree. The company actually ended up declining our business because of the names of the beers! (They really frowned upon printing “HopWhore” even though the Federal government had no problem approving the label.) We know the names are definitely out there and more extreme than anything else we've ever done. But... that's exactly the point. So are the beers.

6) Which Tyranena beer is your favorite? And does the brewery generally roll out the whole lineup (6 regular, 4 seasonal, and the Brewers Gone Wild series) when moving into a state? And what sort of timeline are you looking at?

I really enjoy our porters, especially the imperial barrel-aged ones! (I’m also looking forward to the release of our new Spring seasonal, Down ‘n Dirty Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.) Who’s Your Daddy?, which was our very first Brewers Gone Wild! release, was pure magic. I have just one lonely bottle in the back of my refrigerator that I am saving for a special occasion… like when I get married… or upon the birth of my first child. That’s how great this beer is.

We hope that a new distributor will take on our full lineup, including our year-round flavors, new seasonal lineup (there are now 6 flavors) and the Brewers Gone Wild beers. But that decision is ultimately made by the distributor. I imagine that they take into consideration the demand and interest for the brands when ordering so… speak up Hoosier Beer Geeks! Be sure to let your favorite liquor store and watering hole know what flavors YOU want to see in your market. It makes a difference!

And lastly, in regards to a timeline for our brands hitting Indiana taps and shelves… well, all I can say is we hope sometime soon? (With a question mark, of course.) The appropriate “time” decision will ultimately be arrived at by the brewery and whoever our distributor turns out to be… assuming, of course, all parties come to terms. Then it will be a matter of when we can schedule releases, transit, marketing, product availability, license approval and a whole slew of other things.

1 comment:

  1. That is awesome. I am a northern Wisconsin transplant to the circle city a year ago, and I am very excited about Tyranena coming to Indiana.

    Looking forward to meeting everyone on Saturday.