Justin Crossley’s rise to beer-media stardom at the Brewing Network began almost two decades ago with a gift from a girlfriend: a homebrewing kit he didn’t know how to use.
“Living in the Bay Area, I realized I was surrounded by brewers,” he recalls. “And if I could ask them all my dumb questions and record the answers, I’d be helping homebrewers out.”
Having studied broadcasting in college, Crossley set up an online-streaming station in his Pacheco garage. He staffed it with beer-loving buds – a dentist who knew the science of brewing, a funny-sidekick homebrewer, his girlfriend who had the “added advantage of being German” – and started taking calls.
“On our first show in June 2005, we had so many listeners tuning in live that we crashed my servers,” he says.
Today, the Brewing Network is a titan in the beer-broadcasting world. From its studio inside Concord’s Hop Grenade taproom, the network produces podcasts, live-streaming radio and video content about home and professional brewing, with names like the “Sour Hour” and “Bikes + Beer.” It’s amassed sponsors such as Heretic Brewing and the Beer Law Center and is the official webcast of the Great American Beer Festival. On the team is a who’s-who of NorCal brewing, including Jay Goodwin, cofounder of the Rare Barrel, and Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder and brewmaster at 21st Amendment Brewery.
Crossley recently took time to chat about homebrewing, cutting-edge hops and the perils of a job that requires you to ingest massive amounts of beer. (This interview was edited for brevity.)
Q: Is the Brewing Network the first-ever podcast about homebrewing?
A: There was somebody in Australia doing it on an AM radio station, but I don’t know if there was another podcast before us.
Q: What makes beer a fascinating – and financially successful – topic to chat about?
A: I think (it’s) because it’s such a social beverage. I was drawn to it, because people do a lot of talking about beer. Then when I met homebrewers, I found they really do a lot of talking about beer. As a hobby, it can be as simple as you want it to be, or if you’re a more science-minded person, it can be quite intricate.
Q: What’s your audience like?
A: We get almost a million downloads a year. Over time, we’ve probably reached every country. Australia is usually our second-largest listenership, and we definitely have listeners all over Europe. The first time I went to Oktoberfest in Germany around 2008, I was in one of the beer tents and saw my logo on a T-shirt walking toward me. It was the craziest experience, being on the other side of the earth and seeing that.
Q: That’s the second mention of Australia. They must really love their beer there…
A: I’m told that the Australian brewing scene is almost solely based on the cost of good beer there. A single pint of craft beer in Australia can cost $20, so it’s very cost prohibitive to enjoy good beer. Hence the rise of the homebrewing hobby.
Q: What’s the first beer you ever brewed?
A: I’m pretty sure it was an IPA and, incredibly, it turned out good. But it might be the last good beer I ever brewed. My second batch of beer exploded in my closet. Then I jumped into kegging and kegged a beautiful porter. I went to bed, and the next morning, the whole thing had leaked out onto my carpet. My listeners now fondly refer to it as “Justin’s Carpet Porter.”
Q: How did you rope in all these industry names to participate on the Network?
A: Most of them were fans of the show before they became professional brewers. There are tons of professional craft brewers all over the U.S. who learned to brew from the Brewing Network. So some of them reached out to me, and we became friends, and I said, “Hey, you’d be great on the show!”
Q: And how did you end up establishing a studio inside the Hop Grenade?
A: Years ago, after my listeners’ main complaint about the show was that we are tasting all this great beer, and they can’t try it, I joked on an episode that I would love to live above a bar one day and do the show inside the bar, so everyone could join in and taste it. Well, believe it or not, nobody ever offered me that bar. So I built it myself with a few partners and have since become the sole owner.
Q: How much beer do you have to drink for this job and what does that do to you, physically?
A: Let’s see. Over my career, I must’ve had 5,000 beers — and that’s the low number. We’ve now reduced that (intake). Instead of drinking pints during the show, we drink samples of what the brewers bring. But yeah, it takes its toll. I’m now what’s known as a “skinny guy with a beer belly.”
A: There are so many new hop varieties coming out, and brewers are in the golden age of figuring out how to use them. There are now Cryo Hops – that’s just like the “shake” you used to find on the cousin of hops, marijuana, where all the good lupulin glands are taken off the plant instead of whole plant and flower. You just get the resinous, ganky, beautiful hops matter from the lupulin glands.
Q: Any other trends to look out for?
A: I think inclusivity is an important topic right now. There’s been a stigma in craft beer known as “large, bearded males at every event and bar and opening.” I think that’s something the industry is working really hard to shake. It’s also happening naturally – beer is just really interesting, and it’s interesting to everybody.
Q: If there’s one beer that should be sent to hell, what is it?
A: There’s this stereotype of beer nerds saying, we can’t respect something as beautifully simple as a Coors Light or a Modelo. That’s just not true. All beers and beer styles have a place, as long as they’re brewed well. So no beer should go to hell. Well, my beer maybe – my beer should go to hell.
Position: Founder and president of the Brewing Network
Education: B.A. San Francisco State University
Family: Has a girlfriend and lives happily alone.
Five things about Justin
1. He grew up in the SoCal desert in Hesperia.
2. The first beer he ever tasted was probably his dad’s Miller Lite at a family barbecue.
3. He enjoys camping and off-roading in the deserts of California and Utah.
4. One of his favorite Bay Area breweries is Oakland’s Ghost Town Brewing.
5. When not drinking beer, he’s usually sipping red wine or downing a “ton of water.”
Details: Beer lovers can visit the Hop Grenade taproom at 2151 Salvio St., Suite J, Concord. Tune in to the podcast at www.thebrewingnetwork.com. Note that many shows on the Brewing Network include adult content and may contain profanity.
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