They call him Dr. Bill. He was a medic in the Army National Guard. But to legions of craft beer devotees, he's the Doctor of Everything Beer.
Big, bald, and bearded, Bill Sysak, featured in our Stone Brewing Company episode, is one of the world's foremost authorities on beer. In the last 37 years, he has visited more than 1,500 breweries worldwide and has tasted more than 40,000 different beers. His personal beer cellar contains more than 2,500 bottles - one of the world’s greatest collections. And he was one of the first people to become a certified cicerone (the beer world equivalent of a wine sommelier). For more than five years, he's worked for Stone Brewing Company as their craft beer ambassador, which among other things puts him in charge of the company’s restaurant beverage philosophy, special beer events, and beer and food pairings.
When we visited Stone, we got to spend time with Dr. Bill at an event he was running – “12 Brewers, 12 Casks, 12 Mallets,” in which a dozen Stone brewers created their own twists on Stone beers. And he made the pairings for our pairings dinner, which were extraordinary. As was the opportunity to hang out with one of the foremost figures in the entire world of craft beer. And since not everything could be packed into the episode, here are some additional thoughts from the good doctor:
Dr. Bill says times have certainly changed in the craft beer world and Stone has had a lot to do with the changes. In its infancy, Stone was primarily known for their heavily hopped IPAs and Arrogant Bastard Ale. The label on the back of the Arrogant Bastard bottle told would-be drinkers you're probably not discerning enough for this stuff: “It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth…Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.”But plenty of folks got with the program.
Dr. Bill says, “Arrogant Bastard started the American Strong Ale category. Now, it’s mainstream great craft beer." He isn't saying it's an average beer - in fact, it remains superb. But he is saying that what was radical when Stone started it, is now a widely accepted style.
And Bill says Stone’s co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner and their team "make the beer we like. Not to be arrogant about it, but we don’t make a gateway beer for the Miller Lite and Bud fans. No pilsner to drag them in with.” Of course, time has proven that what the folks at Stone like will end up pleasing a lot of people.
And just as Stone has been one of the stylistic pioneers in American craft brewing, Dr. Bill says America is now the craft beer leader internationally, being emulated by breweries all over the world. He says of the American craft beer community, “We have the most creative brewers, we make the most distinctive beer styles, and we make the most beer styles. If you go to Belgium, you find American style IPAs. In London, you see microbreweries producing aggressive American style beers. You can go to Munich and see breweries producing IPAs and Pale Ales, which would have been unheard of years ago. All have been influenced by the west coast style of hops and big aggressive American beers.”
And he says the American craft beer industry still has a lot of growth ahead of it. He says more and more Americans are treating beer the same way they are treating food, seeking out handmade, often-local products, and willing to pay a little more for the extra taste and quality. As a result, Dr. Bill predicts, the number of breweries will grow from 3,200 today to five or six thousand in the next few years.
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