Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brew Insight: Q&A With Bob Gordash, Founder of Holy Mackerel Beers

Above: Bob Gordash of Holy Mackerel
stirs a batch of his award-winning brew.
Part of what makes local craft beer special is the stories -- the tales of spirit and passion that drive people to turn this obsession (read: beer!) into a career. So each week on the South Florida Beer Week Blog, we're going to try to give you a little glimpse into those stories by talking with the people behind the beer.

For this first Brew Insight column, we caught a big one: Bob Gordash, founder of Holy Mackerel Beers (née Gordash Brewing). Based in Fort Lauderdale, FL and brewed out of Greenville, South Carolina, Holy Mackerel is known for its compact but ultra-potent line up of Belgian-inspired ales. It's Special Golden Ale is highly drinkable, even at 8.5% alcohol by volume, while it's Mack in Black imperial stout is a beast of a beer with layers of tart pomegranate and chocolate malt. Holy Mackerel's latest brew doesn't relent either -- Panic Attack strong ale, released in 2010, clocks in at a whopping 10%. Talk about big boys.

Still thirsty? We wrangled Mr. Gordash into a little Q&A session to tell us more about his past as a brewer and the foundation of his company, and give us his thoughts on the Florida craft beer scene.

SFBW: Hey Bob! Tell us what Holy Mackerel Beers is all about.

Bob Gordash:
 I would say the idea behind Holy Mackerel is not only doing craft beer but big, bold-flavored craft beer. We’ve stuck to the Belgian styles and just made them bigger, bolder, stronger, and more flavorful. The other thing that’s always been important to me is making beers that tend to go well with food. Personally, I don’t really drink many regular strength beers; I get too filled up drinking them. So when I have a steak dinner or something else rich I want a really strong beer to go with it. And, of course, we also like to use a lot of different spices and ingredients in our beers.

Where did the name come from?

Well we chose Holy Mackerel because it’s obviously a Florida theme with all the fishing down here, but also because that’s the experience we want people to have when they taste the beer – to have them stop and say “Holy Mackerel!” In a good way, of course.

What got you started in brewing?

I got started home brewing in 1993. I had picked up a kit from Sharper Image, and even though my first batch wasn’t anything special, it made me realize I could do it. I think they called it “Canadian Export Ale” on the kit. But I brewed it up and had some friends over and we drank the container of beer just a few days later. The thing that stuck with me was the magic of the brewing process – the fact that just by adding yeast you could produce something as great as beer is really magical to me. It’s something I still find very exciting.

Holy Mackerel's Panic Attack clocks in at 10% ABV.
When did you realize you wanted to do this for a living?

Well pretty much from day one I had decided that it was what I wanted to do, but I was scared to death to do it for myself. I was too scared to take that leap so I put it off for a long time. But even back when I was just brewing at home I always presented it as if it was a business – so I was naming the beers, making labels, calling it Gordash Brewing, and so on. When I won the Sam Adams Longshot contest in 1997, I realized I could make it a reality -- even then it took me about 10 years to make the jump.

That must’ve been huge for you to win a contest like that after having only brewed for a few years.

It was. I mean, the year I won was actually my second entry. The first year I got a pretty good score, too.

What was the beer you won with?

It was an extra special bitter (ESB). Back then I was into doing all English-style ales, so it was just a very solid ESB. What’s great is the prize was actually a trip to England and Scotland, so I got to see those countries afterward.

Have you ever made that recipe again?

I still have the recipe but I haven’t really remade it. A lot of people have asked about doing it commercially, but I don’t think it’s a style that would go over well with the public right now. ESBs just aren’t that popular.

How has your attitude towards owning a brewery changed since you began?

It’s very competitive. There are a lot of beers out there to compete with now. And dealing with distributors in several states has been difficult – a lot harder than I thought it would be. It’s not so hard in Florida since [Holy Mackerel] is based down here. But in other areas it’s a challenge since we don’t have the same resources. Other than that, it’s enjoyable being able to sell something that you really love. And the nice thing about this business is the competition isn’t just competition – no matter what happens, it's easy to love and appreciate what other brewers are doing too.

You no longer have sole ownership in Holy Mackerel, correct?

Yep, I sold the brand in May this year, and we changed the name of the brewer from Gordash to Holy Mackerel Brewing. The name change was a no-brainer; it needed to be done any way. But nothing has really changed other than somebody else has gotten involved that appreciates the beer and wants to see it succeed. I’m still the brewer, founder, and promoter, 24-7! But you definitely need financial backing in this business.

Can you describe how you think the Florida craft beer scene has changed over the years?

Dramatically. It seems like everybody is getting into craft beer now. There’s certainly a long way to go until we’re on par with, say, Denver, but we’re on our way. There’s definitely nowhere to go but up. More and more restaurants are realizing that they need it on their menus, more breweries and are multi-tap bars are opening up every day. And even with all these new outlets for the beer, the demand is still there. It’s just now catching on fire.

Do you think Florida presents more or less opportunity for brewers than some of the more traditionally craft beer-centric states?

I think there’s much more opportunity in Florida. Personally, I would be afraid to be in Colorado. There are just so many good beers there already and so much competition. There’s a brewery in every town. Florida is lacking local breweries, but that’s changing recently. People are starting to appreciate locally made beers more than the typical big names like Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head. They want to drink things that are made and designed locally.

Which of the Holy Mackerel beers do you reach for when you’re thirsty?

Of all my recipes, it’s the Golden Ale that I've been into for years. But lately it’s all Panic Attack all the time.

Any plans on adding to the Holy Mackerel lineup?

Yeah we’re thinking about making Mack in Black a limited release that will be rotated with at least one other beer throughout the year. Those are our goals for 2012, anyway. We’re definitely not one of these breweries that come up with a different beer every month.

How are you celebrating South Florida Beer Week?

We’ve partnered up with Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza to do a beer pairing and dinner at their Coral Springs location on January 24. A lot of people might not realize that Anthony’s has come on board with craft beer, but they’ve really embraced it. They actually contacted us because they want to get their beer menu off the ground and get people excited.

Tell us more about the event.

Well, Anthony [Bruno, the owner] will be there talking about his restaurant and pizza. So it will be educational as far as that goes. And of course I’ll be there talking about Holy Mackerel and how it pairs with the different foods. Mack in Black bottles will also be out by then, so it will be a good chance to try this year's version if you haven't yet. We’ll have a full menu and pricing info out shortly, but it will start at 8 p.m.

Well thanks for taking the time, Bob.

You bet!

The Holy Mackerel Beer Pairing takes place at Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza Coral Springs on Tuesday, January 24 at 8 p.m. Call 954-340-2625 to reserve your spot.

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