Q & A With Paige Reilly of Mohawk Bend: Mohawk Bend's Role in L.A. Craft Beer, Back to School Beer Classes + Paying It Forward
When someone's business card says "Beer Champion," it's hard to know what to expect. But Paige Reilly -- who is in charge of keg ordering, education and events at Mohawk Bend, Tony's Darts Away and the Golden Road Brewpub -- just might define the term by her fast-talking love of beer and passion to bring it to the larger community.
In addition to playing a major role in what beer people in Los Angeles are drinking (nearly 150 taps throughout the city are under her direction), Reilly hopes that she can also help teach people about what's inside that glass. Through server education programs and training Golden Road Brewing's event reps, she has perfected the art of explaining the beverage's many intricacies in a way that's accessible.
Enter, Mohawk Bend's "Back to School" Beer Class series, the first beer crash course of its kind in L.A. Reilly has organized three classes that will go over many things, from beer basics (ingredients, ales vs. lagers, etc.) to California's important place in the craft beer world. Part history lesson, part Cicerone Beer Server Certification study guide, Reilly's classes are tailored to the craft beer geek and Blue Moon-seeker alike.
We met up with Reilly at Mohawk Bend -- shortly before the Echo Park Rising music festival took over Sunset Blvd. -- to talk about beer, education and more beer.
Squid Ink: What was your first experience teaching others about beer?
Paige Reilly: When we built Tony's Darts Away, everyone there knew everything. It was such a small staff -- six bartenders plus myself -- so we were able to hire all these beer geeks. It was so cool. But then we opened Mohawk and it was the first time I was in charge of training of these people, many of whom knew nothing. I had no idea what to do; I had to learn how to present all the information and still make it exciting and not sound like we're talking down to them. They loved it and almost all our staff is super into beer now. We do beer field trips all the time.
SI: What's your training program like for staff?
PR: We have a pretty rigorous training program in general. We have seven days of training and each day is different beer. We start off with the basics -- we do ingredients first. We move onto ales versus lagers, and then we get into a lot of stylistic differences. Every day there's a specific beer quiz and then a big final test that goes into a little bit more detail. You have to score a 90 or higher or else you can't start. I'm teaching everything they need to know -- not for life, but for here.
SI: So are the beer classes you're going to offer similar to what the employee training will be?
PR: They'll be similar, but a lot more compacted because there's only three sessions and one of them is a really fun beer dinner. In that first session, we'll focus on ingredients, what it means to be an ale, what it means to be a lager. Just some common misconceptions of beer in general, which I think people are always really excited to learn about. People say, "Oh I hate hoppy beers -- they're too strong." But I bet I have a hoppy beer for them.
From there, we'll go through styles people normally see in California. We're such a new place. San Franciso's been doing it for 15 years, San Diego's been doing it for 10 and we've been doing it for five and that's it. And there's all this history that came before us, but we're Americans and so we like to bastardize things, so we put our own spin on it. So we're going to talk about what that means and do comparisons between old and the new. We don't really focus on our server training, but we are for these classes because I think it's really exciting for people to see those comparisons. And for people who we're not going to test on the information later, it's a really fun topic.
SI: What kind of people do you hope come to the classes?
PR: I would love to have a couple of people in the class who think they don't like any beer because those are the most fun people to get hold of. And also I'd love some people who think they know about craft beer, because maybe there's something they can teach everyone else. That's such a major part of the craft beer community -- everyone teaches everyone.
The way I got started is that I used to sit at Blue Palms Brewhouse and talk to people. I did that for a year. My mom thought I was a drunk, but I talked to whoever I could and that's how I started to learn stuff. Anything that we can get interactive-wise, we're looking for.
SI: What role to you think Tony [Yanow, owner of Mohawk Bend, Tony's Darts Away and Golden Road Brewery and Brewpub] and his establishments have had in the L.A. beer scene?
PR: I think that it was kind of an inorganic growth for craft beer in L.A. -- because I think L.A. is the type of place where a trend happens and everyone picks up on it. But after five or six years, the people who don't actually care move onto a new trend and the people who do care stick around. I've been here for nine years now; I've seen it in music, in food and now in craft beer. I've seen a lot of people come and a lot of people go and I've seen a few people stay. And I think up until Mohawk Bend was built, everything that was staying was small. And I don't mean small in stature, but small in space.
When we built Mohawk, it was a chance for more people to have a leisure experience with craft beer at their own pace. I kind of feel like Golden Road is the same, but on a brewery level. That Golden Road starting so big allowed more people to get into it at their own place without having to worry about beers running out, or having to search for it. Beer is coming to them. And I think that that makes more people want to be involved in craft beer -- because you don't have to search for it. You can make it a part of your life when you go to Whole Foods or when you go to your local liquor store. That's what Golden Road has been able to do -- make it an everyday thing instead of a special thing.
SI: Is that a goal of the company? To make craft beer more accessible?
PR: When Tony and I first met, he asked me what was my goal in life. And I said I wanted to make craft beer a totally normal thing. I want to walk into any restaurant and store in the universe and not even think about the fact that you're about to buy a Stone IPA or whatever it may be. I do not care about being special; I don't care about hierarchy. I just want it to be super normal -- same thing as buying a bag of carrots. And I think that's what we're doing -- making it normal.
SI: How much is education a part of that?
PR: Having the product there is half of it; and having the people serving the beer know what they're talking about is the other half. That's why Golden Road doesn't have a big sales team, but we have a big education team and we're big on making sure that we have someone at every event we go to so that we can represent ourselves.
We just started having people called Beer Ambassadors who help us with marketing. So we make sure they have the right education and information. I'll also go to other bars and educate all their staff. We take them through the brewery and they spend a half-day with us. By bringing them into our zone, we educate the staff so they can educate customer after customer after customer even after we leave. It makes so much sense.
SI: Do you guys feel responsible for educating people because you are so big and have three locations?
PR: Maybe that's part of it, but anyone who is in craft beer should feel that responsibility too. I think that it doesn't matter if you are a bartender educating a customer or a brewery educating your staff -- if you are in craft beer and you know something, it has just become your responsibility to educate people.
We happen to have some backing behind us so that we can educate more people than others, and we take that very seriously and we want to give back all the education that someone gave to us. Everyone has those people who took that responsibility on and helped them learn about beer in the first place, so we feel like we need to pay it forward. We're paying it forward in a huge capacity.
Mohawk Bend's "Back to School" Beer Classes are on September 10 and September 17 with a final beer dinner on September 24. To reserve your spot, please call Mohawk Bend at (213) 483-2337.
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