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Interview with Brewmaster Fred Karm
January 10, 2008
Written by Dogbrick
Ohio Brewmasters: 10 Questions with Fred Karm of Hoppin’ Frog
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1. First of all, what is your assessment of the beer scene in Akron right now?
a. My take on the scene is that it is getting better and better. Three years ago, the brewpubs where I was corporate brewmaster for 8 years closed, so then there were no breweries in Akron. Almost 2 years later (in September 2006) we opened Hoppin’ Frog, and more breweries will follow, to make Akron a substantial beer-producing city.
2. Tell me about the brewing process at Hoppin’ Frog.
a. The brewing process for Hoppin’ Frog involves the finest ingredient selection and an uncompromising focus on detail. My math background as a former electrical engineer has allowed me to develop very flavorful and easy-to-duplicate recipes, to keep our beer flavors on target and tasting great.
3. Can you give some details on your current (and future) brewing capacity?
a. I’d like to respond to this question by saying that my capacity is to brew the best beer possible - quality is the name of the game for us right now. The future’s open wide......
4. What is your brewing background?
a. My history in brewing dates back to February 1994 when I took up home brewing, and it quickly grew to be a major interest of my life. I and the other home brewers in the area formed a home-brewing club called SAAZ - The Society Of Akron Area Zymurgists (or brewing scientists), where we met and shared ideas and advice.
Then it went beyond a hobby. After 3 years of honing my skill at home, with hopes of starting a brewery someday, I was approached to be the brewmaster for a local brewpub under development. In November 1996 I started brewing and developing beers for them and in the course of 8 years started 3 breweries at our brewpubs, and created 30 beer types. Starting in 2000, we started winning medals, and now I/we have won more medals at the GABF and WBC than any other brewer/brewery in Ohio since 2000, and that record still stands as of January 2008. These are the 2 biggest contests that can be entered by an American brewery, so I am very proud of this record.
5. The company you mentioned above is Thirsty Dog. All 3 former brewpub locations (Akron, Canton, and Dayton) are now closed. Some of their beers are still being produced but are being contract-brewed outside of the state, and there is word that another brewpub may be opening. In your opinion, what led to the demise of the brewpubs, and if they give it another go what do they need to do to be more successful this time?
a. I decline to comment on what caused this. I know it was not the quality of the beer, as demonstrated by our winnings - I attribute that to the freedom I had as a brewmaster, in what I call is the never-ending quest for the perfect pint.
6. There may be other current home brewers reading this interview and dreaming of following a similar path of starting their own brewery some day. Any advice you would like to share?
a. This varies greatly for each individual, and would take many pages to summarize properly. Two words stand out as universal - very & risky. You can use these words alone or together.
7. There are currently 9 Hoppin’ Frog beers listed on RateBeer.com: Bodacious Black & Tan, B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout, Silk Porter, Hoppin’ To Heaven I.P.A., Mean Manalishi Double I.P.A., Gulden Fraug - Belgian Strong Ale, Wild Frog Wheat - Hefeweizen, and Smashin’ Berry Ale and Smashin’ Berry Dark. Are there any new beers on the horizon, and do you hope to equal the 30 beers you created at your prior company?
a. Yes, new beers are inevitable. And, who knows! Reaching 30 would be a bit much for Hoppin’ Frog to say the least, because we are a production brewery. Unless we added other sections to the business, like a brewpub - no plans for that risky proposition yet, or ever(?) (there’s that pesky word again!) But thanks for asking!! Maybe someday, if we partner-up with a restaurateur. I have visions of the perfect combination of beer, food and fun, getting all 5 aspects of the business fine-tuned. Been there, in my own mind and business plan anyway.
8. Your current setup is as a brewery only. Any plans for expansion in the future to include a bar and/or food?
a. No, not in the near future. Hard to say beyond that.
9. On that note, your beers are available in 22-ounce bottles around Ohio and Pennsylvania, with some growler-only offerings (Silk Porter, Smashin’ Berry Ale) in the Akron area. Are you looking to cast your distribution net wider both for your bottled and kegged beers?
a. We are wider than that - our distribution network has grown from 3 states in the Spring 2007 - Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, to 5 states adding Pennsylvania and Massachusetts in the Fall 2007. Keep tuned - many more to come, because now they are starting to call us. Our main business is 22-ounce bottles. We may elect to release growlers into our local market for a brief period before offering them for distribution, as we did with the aforementioned beers. Occasional keg sales are possible, with ½ barrel kegs really the only option as of Winter 2008. But kegs of all sizes are constantly requested, so change in inevitable.
10. Lastly, if we were to take a look in your refrigerator what non-Hoppin’ Frog beers might we find?
a. Miller, Bud and Coors - JUST KIDDING - Man is that funny or what!? No, besides the Hoppin’ Frog bottles, what you’d find is some really eclectic stuff - 7 year-old Karmbrau’s including Karminator DoppleBock, Apple-Butter Cyser and Christmas Porter from the beginning of time (my old homebrews!), various rare beers from the Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club, a couple Symposium Ales from Great Lakes, Serial Killer from Liberty Brewing Company, 12-year-old King & Barnes Porter and Christmas Ale, and a Belgian Framboise I made from, get this, a what-I-thought-was spoiled CIDER! It became pretty Lactic while fermenting with its own natural yeast, so I added some high-grade Raspberry juice, and entered it at the Beer & Sweat homebrew contest in Cincinnati about 5 years ago - the judges’ comments were awesome - no one figured out that it wasn’t beer! Too funny!! You can tell I don’t drink alot, if I can keep these around that long!
There are other slightly more common beers, too, like 2007 Ommegedon from Ommegang, 1999 Big Foot Barley Wine, 2006 New Glarus’ Raspberry Tart, various years of Anchor Our Christmas Ale, 120-minute I.P.A. from Dogfish Head, Siberian Night and Old Leghumper, 2005 Winter Solstice from Anderson Valley, St. Bernardinus Abt 12 Abby Ale - these are more common, right! Also corni kegs of 2002 ’Bout Time Barley Wine from my days at Thirsty Dog - the sweetness HAS tamed-down, and test batches of my IPA and Double IPA from pre-Hoppin’ Frog visionary days. Man, I have to drink some of these! Cheers!!
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our distribution network has grown from 3 states...to 5 states adding Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Keep tuned - many more to come, because now they are starting to call us.
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