Heavy Seas Founder Hugh Sisson is a renaissance man and one of the busiest people in this biz. Widely known as the founder and face of Baltimore-based Heavy Seas Beer, he’s a tireless advocate for the industry and involved in all kinds of things. But in spite of everything he has going on, let alone the 24/7 demands of helming a brewery as ambitious as Heavy Seas Beer, Mr. Sisson kindly made time for us.
And we repaid his graciousness by wasting his time with…5 STUPID QUESTIONS.
1) Heavy Seas Beer is one of the most reputable and accomplished craft breweries on the East Coast. And as its founder you could be talking with any number of “credible” journalists. So, why in the world did you ever agree to be profiled by us? You’re a smart man…What were you thinking?
HS: I guess you guys just hit me at the right time – after about four Loose Cannons! Smart play on your part. Otherwise I’m sure I would have continued waiting for the right song to come up for me on the karaoke list!
2) We’ve heard that you started as an actor – that you’d graduated from University of Virginia with a master’s degree in theater – and planned to move to New York to pursue a professional career… So how did you get from “there” to the brewing industry? And were your parents pissed or relieved?
HS: I never quite finished the master’s at UVA (story of my life!), but truth to tell, my father – a small business entrepreneur – was less than thrilled with my chosen occupation. He enlisted me to come back home to Baltimore to “help” him run a small bar he had just opened. I showed up and within 10 minutes he tossed me the keys to the front door – told me “Don’t fuck up!” – and walked out the door. That is how my father saved me from a career as a starving artist (the romance of poverty was wearing thin anyway!) and launched me into small business. The beer thing just became a development in the bar business. I was very lucky.
3) You’ve a reputation for multi-tasking. Not only are you a champion for craft beer and the laws that enable the industry to grow and prosper – you’re also a radio personality who for two decades has co-hosted a weekly NPR radio show reviewing wines, beers, and spirits. Plus you’ve hosted an amazing 500+ beer dinners and garnered a huge rep for your beer and pairing expertise. Did we miss anything? And how do you find time to fit all of this in, in addition to building and growing the Heavy Seas Brand?
HS: I really enjoy what I do most of the time, so while I am juggling a lot, it’s really pretty fun. Did I say I am lucky! And also, the key is to surround yourself with talented and dedicated people. I have no illusion that I would have been able to achieve what I have done were it not for the support of both my co-workers and my family.
4) Tell us about Heavy Seas Beer – what’s your business and brewing philosophy? Is there an essential characteristic that you think defines what you do and the beers that you produce?
HS: If there is a defining thought, we believe that beer needs to be well balanced and display a certain level of finesse. Don’t misunderstand me. Our brand is about risk taking and rising to a challenge, but to be successful in most endeavors you need to temper the reckless impulse to just plunge in with a certain measure of patient consideration. We want the beers to have bold flavors, but also enough balance so that the consumer orders a second beer. Having said that – we believe all things in moderation, including moderation!
5) How many year-round and seasonal beers do you currently brew? And what’s your take on collaborations and special releases?
HS: We currently make 7 year rounds, 5 seasonals, 6 limited release barrel aged beers, and 6 one off special drafts. In addition we are probably the largest producers of cask beers in the country (a definite labor of love!) We are also doing a collaboration with Yards of Philadelphia for the SAVOR event in DC this year – and working on a few other collaborations for the coming months. We have just recently competed a pretty significant capacity expansion, so for the first time in years we can begin doing some collaborations and developing some new products. We are all pretty pumped about where things are heading!
Everyone has a “house beer”- a beer that’s a staple at home – What’s yours?