Brewer Magazine Q&A: Ability Bradshaw, Pike Brewing

Pike Brewing Company's 29th Canniversary party. Photo by Marcus R. Donner © 2018

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Ability Bradshaw, Tours & Merchandise Manager, Pike Brewing — Seattle

​BREWER: ​How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
BRADSHAW: ​The beer market has become more competitive with new breweries opening each year. Likewise, new styles of beer are being added to competitions faster than ever, and beer-drinkers are more knowledgeable and have more sophisticated palates than ever before. I work to stay aware of the changing landscape of beer, breweries, and brewing techniques so I can speak knowledgeably to guests about beer on my tours. Regarding the merchandise aspect of my position at The Pike: The fashion industry rarely dovetails with brewery-merchandise, but tastes, colors, and textures do move along year to year. Lucky for me I get to collaborate with a branding genius, Pike founding co-owner Charles Finkel, to help create and market our merchandise.

​BREWER: ​Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
BRADSHAW: My mentor in the beer industry is Charles Finkel. He is a beer pioneer of the craft beer scene in America. As a young drinker in Texas in the 1970s, I had very little access or exposure to craft beer. I somehow got hold of a Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and realized that I had wasted years of my drinking life on mass-produced, American ​L​agers. If this was beer​ …​ where had it been, and how could I get more like it? This beer started me on a long journey of discovery until years later​ —​ in Seattle in the 1990​ — I got a job with Pike Brewing Company. I soon realized that my employer, Charles Finkel, was the fellow responsible for bringing Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale into the US. I remember crying just a little as I confessed my story of deep respect for his efforts to bring European craft beer to the states. People who love craft beer and were around in the early, dusty days of post-prohibition, mass-produced ​Lagers, will understand how important this meeting and confession was. Charles Finkel taught me to never compromise flavor and integrity for availability and price.​BREWER: ​Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
BRADSHAW: One of my biggest successes is that I turned a Master’s of Nutrition-Research into a fun, educational, and socially relevant position at one of the most iconic breweries in America. After I got my degree, I found very few jobs available for a research nutritionist in Seattle. I had worked in the production side of Pike Brewing Company for many years prior to pursuing my degree, so I applied to Pike again when I couldn’t find meaningful work after university. They were happy to have me back, but this time I would not be in the brewery, but in the front-of-house. I managed the host desk, the merchandise, and began giving a few tours through the brewery. In order to give better tours, I research​ed​ more about beer. After a few years reading everything I could find on each ingredient, the brewing process, the history of beer, and learning about the history of our company, I had developed a unique tour based on real information and science. I have been researching beer for ten years, and am proud to say my tours evoke comments like, ​’​I have been on many brewery tours, but I have never learned as much as I have on this tour.​’​ I get comments like this hundreds of times a year. I am very proud to educate the beer-drinking public about the basics of the history of and process of brewing beer. I believe every nutritionist should study beer: it is the single, most important and transformative food in the history of humanity.

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Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
BRADSHAW: I recently added seven new times to our existing tour program. These additions have already brought in more guests, even in the slower season of winter, who are learning about our company, and craft beer in general. With the addition of a later tour at 6​ p.m.​, we are welcoming locals who are getting off work, or visitors who have had a full day of sightseeing and are ready to relax. Our tours move guests who previously had no knowledge of beer, to become beer-appreciators, and our guests who are already beer lovers, become Pike beer lovers. In this way, we’re making loyal customers.

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If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
BRADSHAW: Never, ever, treat women as though they don’t have a true love of beer; a unique, nuanced vision and capability of brewing; or money.

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