These days, you can’t go two minutes without somebody mentioning a podcast. Whether it’s your coworker asking if you’ve heard the latest This American Life or your buddy berating you for not yet getting hooked on Marc Maron, the recent outpouring of on demand audio seems to be taking our country by storm. Here in New York City, we have more podcasts than hours in the day, with major networks like WNYC, Panoply and Gimlet heading up the pack. These tiny nuggets of quality audio have the power to ease a frustrating commute by transporting the listener from an over-stuffed Q train into the compelling world of TV recaps, politics, human interest storytelling, true crime, quirky documentary and yes, even craft beer.
I’ll be chatting with a couple of Brooklyn beer geeks who have channeled their undying love for the good drink into successful podcasts. First up is Justin Kennedy, a food and drinks writer who produces New York City beer guru Jimmy Carbone’s popular Heritage Radio Network show, Beer Sessions Radio, as well as his own independent venture, Steal This Beer, co-hosted by Augie Carton of New Jersey’s Carton Brewing Company and John Holl, editor of All About Beer magazine. While the two shows are fairly different in format, they both gravitate around the ins and outs of the craft beer boom–and they both feature plenty of on-air imbibing.
Meredith Heil: I know Beer Sessions is a group interview show focusing on all aspects of the craft beer industry, both locally and internationally, but I’m less familiar with Steal This Beer, since it’s newer. Can you give me a quick elevator pitch for both?
Justin Kennedy: That’d be hard to do for Beer Sessions–it just covers so much ground that it’s hard to pin down.
Steal This Beer is a weekly discussion about beer with a bunch of guys that are way too into beer for our own good. We also do blind tastings on-air, which is a unique aspect of the show. Our guests bring the beer and Augie and John will taste it without knowing what’s in the glass. It’s somewhat of an educational show–you can learn how to taste beer by listening to us describe them.
MH: How did you get into the wild world of podcasting?
JK: I knew Jimmy [Carbone] through the beer scene and had been a fan of Beer Sessions. his Heritage Radio Network radio show, since the beginning. I learned that his producer was looking for a replacement, so I started helping out and booking shows. A couple months after that, Bree, the producer, left for good, so I stepped in full time. That was about two years ago. Beer Sessions is at roughly 300 episodes now, and I’ve produced just under half of those.
In terms of Steal This Beer, I knew Augie through his brewery and we share many similar interests, like music, food, wine and, of course, beer. He told me about this idea he had for a podcast about a year ago and asked if I would help produce it. We’ve been doing it for seven months now and just reached our 30th episode.
MH: What makes Beer Sessions and Steal This Beer stand out from the multitude of beer and brewing-themed podcasts? What’s special about them?
JK: Beer Sessions tries to keep a pulse on the local NYC beer community, which I don’t think any other beer podcasts do, other than maybe [Fuhmentaboudit’s] Mary & Chris, but they really focus on different topics like homebrewing, the technical aspects of brewing and so on. We also have support from Heritage Radio Network, which has a great reputation nationally and internationally, especially since it’s affiliated with Roberta’s and Heritage Meats–that reputation puts the show in a bigger spotlight for guests and listeners from around the world. Also, anyone who’s been on the show knows, Jimmy likes to have a full studio, so every week we have a variety of guests, which means we cover many topics instead of just sticking to a single focus.
Contrast that to Steal This Beer, which is independently produced and published and features just one guest per episode. We’re more of a DIY podcast, hosted by Augie Carton and John Holl. John is the editor of All About Beer magazine, so he obviously has a lot of contacts that we pull from to book guests. We’re also fully mobile–we don’t record in a studio–so we can travel anywhere to record shows. Earlier this year, we did a series of shows at the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon, as well as some in Philly during Philly Beer Week. I’m not sure that that sets us apart from the rest, but we’re all coming at this with a deep love for beer and we also each have our own individual interests and roles in the industry outside of podcasting. We’re a brewmaster, an editor, and a writer who come together once a week to produce and host a show–that’s probably what makes us unique.
MH: Did you have a background in audio engineering before you got into beer?
JK: None. I loved food and then found good beer and then stumbled into podcasting. I love podcasts, but I have little interest in audio engineering or anything like that.
MH: What have been some of your favorite topics or guests so far?
JK: God, there are so many… Beer Sessions did a memorable show with Larry Bell on the eve of Bell’s launch in NYC. Larry is a character, and we had a great time talking to him on-air and having dinner afterwards. That’s one of the coolest things about doing a show at Heritage Radio Network–we record at Roberta’s, so we get to share a meal with our guests right there after each show. (I often wish we could record the conversations at the table after the episode; after a few drinks and some pizzas, people really start to open up.) Tony Magee from Lagunitas was another memorable guest. Now we’re working to get him back on, post-Heineken.
Steal This Beer has had some great guests, too. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that some of our best, most entertaining episodes have been with some of the more low-key folks. A Big Name does not necessarily translate to compelling conversation. This applies to both shows, but probably sticks out more on STB because we only have one guest per episode.
MH: Why do you think beer and brewing are popular topics to cover for podcasts? Why do you think audiences gravitate towards those kind of shows?
JK: Podcasts are becoming extremely popular as is artisanal, small-production beer. Because they seem to be rising in popularity together, it only makes sense for beer to be a popular subject to cover. I think it’s also a way for fans of certain breweries to connect, albeit indirectly, with the brewers behind the beers they admire–you get to hear firsthand what makes them tick. That’s exciting for us producers because we love connecting with them, too, but it also makes for entertaining podcasts. I love hearing brewers share their stories and I’m sure our listeners do too.
MH: Can you name some of your favorite or most inspirational podcasts, beer-themed or otherwise?
JK: I don’t listen to many beer podcasts, actually. You’re more like to find me listening to Serial or KCRW’s Good Food. But I do like what my pal Mike Kiser is doing at Good Beer Hunting. He covers the Chicagoland beer scene really well, which I would know little about if I didn’t tune in to his show. He also gets great guests from around the country–recently Khris Johnson from Green Bench in Florida and the guys from Almanac in San Francisco were on. He’s also done shows with [Brooklyn Brewery’s] Garrett and [Dogfish Head’s] Sam and all those firstname guys we all love and adore her in Brooklyn.
MH: Do you think we’ll be seeing more and more beer and brewing podcasts pop up in the coming years?
JK: For sure. I’m not sure there’s a need for any more, really, but putting out a podcast seems to be a trendy thing these days and the barrier for entry is pretty low–all you need is a way to record it and somewhere to post it. Getting on iTunes ain’t hard.
I will say that I have little interest in listening to the Guy-Reviewing-Beers-in-His-Basement-Alone type of shows–that kind of shit just isn’t appealing to me. I do kind of wish Don’t Drink Beer would start a podcast, though. That guy’s hilarious. We’ve been meaning to get him on Steal This Beer for a while now, but he’s out in LA so it’s hard. He knows about us though, so hopefully we’ll get him on sometime soon.