Brewer Bytes With Heavy Seas Beer
An Interview With Hugh Sisson, Founder
Posted on 4/6/2013 by Chops
It's easy to forget that there are still people alive today that lived through Prohibition. Before 1988, it was illegal to own and operate a brewpub in Maryland. My how times have changed. This is what makes the story behind Heavy Seas Beer so remarkable. Founder Hugh Sisson lobbied for a bill that would legalize brewpubs in Maryland. That bill was signed into law in 1988 and Sisson's became the state's first legitimate brewpub in 1989. Many twists and turns later, Heavy Seas Beer is now an East Coast staple. We recently caught up with Hugh who was more than happy to offer up some Brewer Bytes.

What inspired you to get into brewing?

I got started in the bar business in 1980 and decided to make the bar into a first rate beer joint. I think we were MD's first draft Guinness account. Anyway, we eventually developed the bar into MD's first brewpub after getting the legislation passed that legalized brewpubs in MD. Brewing started in 1989. I left the bar in 1994 to start what is now Heavy Seas Beer.

Do you have a not-so-fond memory about building your brewery?

Everything ends up taking twice as long and costs twice as much!

How do you feel about your overall success today?

Extremely blessed and grateful. We have worked really hard, but there is always an element of luck. At this stage, we are mainly trying not to screw it up!

Where do you see your brewery in the future?

We are growing at a nice clip. The goal is to be a strong regional brewery -- we have no aspirations of being a national presence at this time.

What do you feel sets you apart from other brewers?

We do a really broad portfolio that I think we execute well. We are also very focused on cask conditioned beer -- I think we are among the largest producers of cask ale in the country. We also are doing a lot of experimenting with wood aging of beer and our Plank project -- which focuses on wood treatments that have never been done before -- certainly helps us differentiate.

What is your favorite beer or style to brew?

I tend to lean toward the hoppy styles.

What is something surprising you learned about brewing?

I love the craft -- there is always so much more to learn. After doing this for 24 years I am still a student of the craft and always will be. I think that is what keeps a lot of us in the trenches.

Where is your favorite place to enjoy a cold pint?

I love a good pub where the loudest sound is the noise of conversation, and the bar keep has a personality!

How does it feel to have your beers reviewed on sites like BrewChief?

As long as the reviewer knows what he/she is talking about, and as long as they understand that it is all very subjective, I think it is fine. I prefer reviews where people focus more on sharing their enthusiasm rather than trying to be too technical. Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about beer -- not life and death. Keep it focused on the fun!

What would you say to a beer snob who is hating on your brews?

I have very little time for beer snobs, so I try not to let it bother me. You know if someone wants to give me a hard time about a beer that I know is really good, you just have to let it go. And because it is so subjective, I need to give them room to have their opinion, too. What I really don't like though is when they try to make it personal and get rude, or when they are obviously trying to show people "how smart they are" by putting us down.

What would you say to a beer novice who is trying your brews?

Experiment as much as you can -- drink what you like, and remember, every couple months something new will come along that may pique your interest. And as everyone's tastes change over time, don't be afraid to retry something that didn't initially catch your fancy, as you may be presently surprised next time around.

What advice would you give to a new home brewer?

First and foremost have fun. Secondly, join a homebrew club.

What advice would you give to a new craft beer fan?

The water's fine, come on in and bring a friend or two.

What is the best thing about being part of the beer industry?

For the most part it is a very congenial industry. I hope it stays that way.

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Hugh Sisson, Founder of Heavy Seas Beer
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