Hoppin' Frog Brewery in Akron celebrated its fifth anniversary last year. The production brewery, known for its frog logo and 22-ounce bottles, has quickly earned a major following for producing bold, flavorful beers. Brewer and owner Fred Karm is fond of saying he makes beers that he likes -- and it's great that others enjoy them, too.
Question: Why did you become a brewer?
Answer: I absolutely love to brew! I first started brewing at home in small batches, first just making good beer from recipes, then eventually got interested in testing various flavors and processes. I love taking the design of a beer from conception to completion. Designing beers and then making them and analyzing the flavors created and how they mature is a life-fulfilling experience. I say its kinda like having children -- you "conceive" them, do the best to bring them into the world and raise them under the best conditions, and then once your influence has shaped them the best you can, they go out into the world to hopefully make a positive impression in their lifetime. It's such a great experience.
Q: Hoppin’ Frog has become a darling of the critics. For example, Ratebeer.com has ranked you as the 17th best brewery in the world and you’ve won numerous medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Not a bad feat for a little production brewery that sells only in 22-ounce bottles. How do you explain the appeal?
A: Explain the appeal of Hoppin' Frog -- we make really good beer! Beer lovers know good beer when they taste it. I've always wanted to make good beer -- really, really good beer. That's what I've loved to drink when I first discovered it in 1991, and now I've figured out how to make it. Better living through science! I don't always drink beer, but when I do, it's usually Hoppin' Frog.(!) I think that's why it comes out so good too -- I design the recipes and processes to satisfy myself, so my focus is on my own tastes! I AM MY OWN FOCUS GROUP!
Ratings aren't everything for sure, but it’s important to note that when people rate Hoppin' Frog beer, they aren't motivated by helping us get higher ratings. We now sell in 16 states and around the world in nine foreign countries! So we get all kinds of ratings from all kinds of people. It's really cool, when we stop and think about it. They are rating the Hoppin' Frog beer that was made available to them in their market -- next to all the others on the shelf. Everything is considered.
Q: What advice would you give someone who’s interested in opening a brewery?
A: These days it seems everybody wants to start a brewery. It is understandable. I'd say DON'T DO IT -- IT’S TOO RISKY, and oh, yeah, not to mention it's really hard work. Sure, everybody wants to start a brewery these days, but I've seen this before. Reminds me of the American craft beer boom-and-bust of the late 1990s. These lessons of the recent past can teach us that the availability of craft beer grew way too fast compared to the customers. It appears that is the case again, with American craft beer sales being so predictable -- they have been increasing at steady rate of about 11 percent over the last eight years. That rate of growth has been matched in the last decade with many existing breweries increasing their production. But in the last year many new American breweries have started up, and along with the growth of existing breweries, production recently has grown faster than the market can bear. And a lot more are already registering for 2012. That is too fast of a growth for the customer base. Back in the late 1990s, many newer breweries that weren't as ingrained into the fiber of the community found themselves unable to make enough sales to stay in business. It is possible that this will happen again, as history does tend to repeat itself.
Q: What’s your favorite beer that you brew and why?
A: These are all like my children -- I simply can't pick a favorite. That would be unfair to the rest of the children.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: De Molen's Hel & Verrmation, or however they spell it (Blogger's note: Hel & Verdoemenis), but I love the one "Aged in Misto barrels." It means Hell & Damnation -- an ominous name for a huge-flavored, ominous beer. This is one version that they made that was 17.8 % ABV, which gives it the best, richest, most satisfying flavors in an imperial stout I can remember.