The Boelter Wire is an episodic podcast that focuses on conversations with industry experts and established partners, and is designed to help listeners evolve their business, stay competitive and pursue their passions. Recorded earlier in 2020, Lance Taylor, field sales manager with Boelter’s Beverage Division, speaks with Nick Reistad, co-owner of Raised Grain Brewing Company in Waukesha, Wisconsin to discuss some of the brewery’s more infamous beer naming conventions and their new taproom.
An Origin Story
Lance Taylor (LT): This is a great opportunity to dive into the brewing industry, which is one of the major industries that we serve, and what better brewery to work with than the one just down the road from us. So, thank you. How did you guys start? If you don’t mind sharing the origin story?
Nick Reistad (NR): Raised Grain started probably in the back of my mind when I was a professional cyclist in a past life. I got to travel around the world racing bicycles, doing races over in Europe. I was on the national team for three years. That was based out of a tiny house in a small village in Belgium, and the only thing to do at the end of the day was to head down to the square and have a nice Belgium beer.
That was in 2005 or 2006. Then I raced stateside for a year as well. And that was right when the craft scene was just starting to take off. I started to notice that there were other really delicious, very different beers that were all over the U.S. I would travel out to California or somewhere in the Northeast and try all of these different beers from breweries that, in some cases, had been around for a long time and other cases were just starting up and getting things figured out.
Then, in 2009, I ended up having a career change when I was 27. I got into advertising and I guess the excitement that I had become accustomed to wasn’t really there, even though I really like advertising and marketing. So, I started thinking, what am I going to do with my life, and wrote a business plan for a brewery because it seemed like it would be fun to do and it entertained me. And what I really liked about beer is that it’s something that brings people together. I started working on a business plan and connected with a neighbor of mine from when I was growing up and he knew two guys that are still doctors to this day, but they’re also brewers. So, he brought us together on September 19th, 2014.
(LT): That’s definitely a unique story. Do any breweries in particular inspire you?
(NR): It’s hard to say. I think they each have their own little impact. I mean, you’re drinking west coast IPAs when you’re out in California. And I spent the better portion of the beginning of the year out in California. That’s where the races were. That’s where the scene was.
(LT): And that lends itself to a lot of the styles that you guys brew now. I’m curious, when you first sat down with the doctors and you guys were having some of those beers, are any of those the flagships of today still, like the Naked Threesome or Paradocs Red?
(NR): Naked Threesome didn’t come around until later and I don’t think that style had even been invented yet in 2014, the hazy IPA, maybe it had. But, Paradocs Red was one that we were drinking that night and they named it after themselves, a pair of doctors. Scott and Jimmy started brewing, I think it was about five years before I came along. They started brewing together and Paradocs was the, I think it was the third beer that they brewed together, and it was the first all-grain recipe that they brewed on the system that was in Scott’s basement.
And then fast forward a couple of years, that won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. And we’ve just been in growth mode ever since we opened our doors in 2015. I think it was 2016 we won that, and we were building out a food truck. I was heading off to an Octoberfest then. So, we had about five minutes to high five each other and celebrate and then it was back to work.
(LT): People take pride in their city’s brewery quite a bit, especially when people come into town.
(NR): Yeah, when we first opened up, just this tiny little brewery out in the burbs outside of Milwaukee, we had so many people come in and say, thank you for choosing Waukesha. We want to have something like this out here and your beer is awesome and you guys are nice people, so thank you so much.
The Intricacies of Naming Your Beer
(LT): When I go to a bar, it’s fun ordering a Naked Threesome and it always raises an eyebrow, that’s for sure. I’m talking about some of the naming conventions, how did you come up with some of them? What’s that like with your team? When somebody comes up with it, do you let the brewer come up with the name? Is it more on your end with the marketing side?
(NR): Throwing a lot out there that have either been taken already, which is most likely the case, and then something that conveys the experience that you want the customer to have when they’re drinking that beer.
Naked Threesome is a little bit of a unique story because that one came out of a series we were doing when we wanted to play around with a single hops. We started a series off that we brewed three single hop beers and then we wanted to combine those three hops at the end into the culmination of the series. We started calling it the Naked Hop series, a really clean malt beer, showcasing the hops that we were using.
And then, we’re kind of a ready, fire, aim type group, or at least we were in the beginning, when we rolled out the series. We didn’t really think what the final beer was going to be. I wasn’t really coming up with any good ideas. And our bar manager at the time came up with a name and said, what if we called it the Naked Threesome?
We both looked at each other and said, well, we’ll need to check with our wives on that one. And they laughed and said, sure, do whatever you want to.
We ran that series for a couple of years and then we brewed the series or the beer that it is now. It was a huge hit. People loved it. They couldn’t get enough of it and we couldn’t brew it fast enough. So, we ended up killing the series that it evolved out of and just kept the Naked Threesome as it is today.
A Social Experience
(LT): What are some of the ways that you bring people into the tap room? What kind of activities or events do you host?
(NR): We designed the space so that we can host any number of events, whether it’s just a Friday night and we’re busy and we want to make a comfortable environment for the people. We specifically sized our beer hall so you can set up bags, sets of cornhole, whatever you want to call it, so that you have enough length to have an official court. When we got the plans back from our architect, we had her elongate the room a little bit so we could fit in bags.
It’s everything from corporate events to birthday parties, all sorts of events that are coming in to use the space we have. But, then we wanted to create different experiences within the tap room. So, if you come in and you want more of a traditional dining opportunity, we have that. If you want super casual at the bar, we’ve got that. And then we’re sitting in the brewer’s lounge right now.
(LT): It’s like a speakeasy.
(NR): It’s very casual. You can sit back and have some private conversations with your friends or coworkers and just feel really comfortable. So, whatever you want. You could come in on different nights and have different experiences all within the same tap room. And that was something that we wanted to create because it isn’t a relatively new building. And when we first walked in, it was just wide open. So, we didn’t want to have people walk into a warehouse and feel like there’s just gusting wind. That was something we wanted to avoid. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of breaking up the space and making a cool spot for people to come and hang out.
(LT): One thing that Boelter talks about is the concept of premiumization. What steps do you take to make sure your customers have a premium experience and is that something that crosses your mind?
(NR): I would say it’s the only thing that crosses our mind. We have expensive-to-produce beers, so you have to charge what you need to charge to make it work on the backend, on the production side. But, then outside of the beer, you’ve got to have a premium experience when you come in.
We have an awesome staff behind the bar. A lot of our bartenders are just really well educated on beer and they work here because they want to work here and they have fun working here. So, that really shines through when a customer walks in, they have an awesome experience because the person on the other side of the bar wants to tell them about the beer that they’re drinking and wants to make sure that they’re just having an awesome time.
I think that really helps beyond the physical side of things because we just have awesome people shining through and every time you come in you’re going to have that interaction that elevates what you’re doing, and it provides a fun time.
(LT): Just knowing from my experience and being able to label some of the glassware that we’ve been able to do for you guys, obviously you have very specific glassware chosen, which on my end, being a glass geek, it makes a huge difference. If you’re drinking out of a stemmed glass and it’s a higher ABV, then you’re sitting in this brewers’ lounge, you can swirl it around and really enjoy it. I would say that absolutely adds to it as well.
(NR): We’re just excited to be in craft beer when it’s growing and it’s fun and exciting for not only us but for our customers as well. It’s a cool time and it’s been a cool project to work on and we’re looking forward to five more years, and five beyond that.
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