Erica Shea loves beer. But truth be told, she didn’t actually fall in love with it until she starting making it. In fact, she describes her first batch as really old school. She used huge equipment, made a huge mess and she was hooked. So, in 2009 she started Brooklyn Brew Shop to help others in their beer-making adventures (with less of the mess). And guess what? Erica is here to teach YOU all everything you need to know about brewing your first bottle of beer in our brand new online class: Beer Brewing 101! Best of all, you can learn the whole thing in under 60 minutes.
So now that you’re set on the weekend project front, it’s time for you to learn all about Erica. What inspired her to become a brewer? How does she come up with new flavors? And how did a film degree turn into a beer company? :) Read on!
What is the story of how you got to where you are today?
I tend to get a bit obsessed with the things I like and figure out ways to have them take over my life. Growing up it was acting and running, which led to a film degree and competing on a division-one team. I had always loved cooking, so when I found my dad’s old brewing equipment I thought it was a great weekend project (even though I didn’t like beer). It turns out I had just never had good beer! So what was supposed to be a one day activity turned into a 6-year-old international company that allows me to keep making, collaborating and drinking delicious things.
On that note, tell us more about why you started Brooklyn Brew Shop.
My husband and I started the Brooklyn Brew Shop out of the Brooklyn Flea in the summer of 2009 to get space-strapped New Yorkers brewing. With the idea that making beer (real beer from real ingredients) can be simple, tasty and most importantly, fun, we created stylish, easy-to-use Beer Making Kits designed especially for stove-top brewing and ingredient mixes for seasonally inspired beers. Our goal is to get everyone brewing by simplifying the beer making process without dumbing it down.
What inspires you? Why do you love to design, create and make?
Farmers markets, spice stores and restaurant menus are constant sources of inspiration. We’ll try a great flavor combination in a chocolate bar or cocktail and immediately start trying to build a beer that plays off those flavors — or we’ll come across a new ingredient and spice and want to work that into our next batch.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
People might not understand what you’re doing, but it’s okay. Even some beer-lovers and brewers laughed at us when we first created a scaled-down Beer Making Kit that used grain instead of extract powders. They’ll come around, and if they don’t — screw ’em. The world’s big enough that if you’re making something really special, you’ll find your people.
What is the weirdest, most unusual or worst job you’ve ever had?
I’m kind of face blind, so recognizing and seating celebrities at movie premieres would definitely be the weirdest job I’ve had.
How do you get into the creative flow? How does it feel?
Creating feels great! I love when ideas are clicking and spawning the next creation. It really helps having a partner that you trust to throw ideas back and forth. You end up building on the good stuff and tossing out the bad.
What do you love about teaching people to make? And inspiring people who don’t think they are traditionally creative?
As I mentioned, we started Brooklyn Brew Shop out of the Brooklyn Flea and had the opportunity to meet hundreds of people a day. Most people we spoke with had no idea they wanted to make beer or that they even could make beer. All of a sudden, our customers became makers. They’d brew their first batch of beer and instantly get hooked, returning week after week telling us about all the fun, new spices they were adding to their beers and asking if we heard of some new local brewery. They discovered us, and we helped them discover beer.
Tell us how technology has changed and supported what you do.
As sad as it sounds, I don’t know how some businesses existed before the Internet. Stephen and I started BBS with absolutely no business education. Technology makes information accessible. Everything from learning how to design and print a box to sourcing vendors or finding customers down the block or around the world becomes possible with technology. Plus we get to spend more time brewing and less time hand-writing paperwork.
What’s on your studio playlist?
I grew up in a record shop, so I’ve never been far from great music. Everyone in our space gets to play the role of rotating DJ. People get really into it, so it’s like I’m still in the record shop. My absolute favorites are Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and Elvis Costello.
What other things do you love to make?
I used to be really into birthdays, namely my own. I love themes, creating fun invitations, and cooking a ton of food around it. We now get to brew beer for parties too, which is always a hit.
Be sure to check out Erica’s Beer Brewing 101 Class. Cheers!
What exotic beer flavors can you come up with? Lay it on us in the comments below.