Brewer Magazine Q&A: Tom Kiely, Thorn Brewing

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.

Tom Kiely, General Manager, Thorn Brewing​ — San Diego​

​BREWER: ​How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
​KIELY: ​I’m still fairly new to position, but it appears as though this role used to be more about capitalizing on the demand of craft beer, now it’s more about creating the demand for your own brewery. ​[It] used to be more about making great beer, now it’s about marketing it.


​BREWER: ​Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
KIELY: Hard to pick just one, because ​I ​owe much to many, but two people in particular have taught me the most since I moved to California in 2012.  One has been Kyle Sartanowicz of Craft Beer Guild California, who taught me the industry equivalent of ‘Santa isn’t real.’ Beer distribution is nasty, a far cry from the collaboration and camaraderie you see at the consumer or brewer level. Kyle’s understanding, acceptance and navigation of this reality heavily influenced my perspective on the business. My other notable mentor has been Thorn co-founder, Dennis O’Connor. Dennis is a creative, big-picture thinker who is very efficient with his time and energy, and has a ‘bias for ​action‘ which has challenged my tendency to over-think/constipate. For example, I just checked to see if there was a more professional word than constipate (‘stultify’, but never heard that one before), Dennis would have just went w​ith​ constipate and used the time he saved to laugh at it. Dennis is also a few steps ahead of every emerging marketing concept and thrives on taking chances. He has a nose for business rivaled by very​,​ very few people ​I‘ve met in this industry, and ​I​ appreciate how his energy and ideas challenges my own. I’d also like to give an Honorable ​Mention to Thorn Brewing Board of Director, Andy Ballester, who has a Confucius-like ability to explain complex, management-related concepts in an easily digestible manner.


​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?
KIELY: A few years back​,​ I had an exchange with another member of the San Diego beer community which ultimately devolved into less-than-fruitful back and forth, culminating in a threat of legal intervention against my company. When ​I ​called the co-owner of my brewery to inform him of this exchange, ​I ​did so regretting the potential implications my actions could have on Thorn, even though ​I ​didn’t feel that ​I​ did anything wrong. The co-owner not only supported my position, he vaulted himself into the scrap. I greatly appreciated that he had my back like that, it was a real life example of a promise which a great, non-beer industry boss I once made to me and my coworkers; ​’​so long as you try to do the right thing, ​I​‘ll always have your back.​’​ I’ve since tried to emulate that, and make sure that I always support the members of our team in having their own voice.


​BREWER: 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)?
KIELY: We are a month out from opening our first satellite tasting room in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego​ (Editor’s Note: Mission Hills location officially opened July 19, 2019). It’s our first satellite tasting room, and the first one ​I‘ve had a hand in developing, so ​I‘m extra excited for it. Opening this tasting room marks our concerted effort to re-focus our attention on areas of the business we have more control over​.​


​BREWER: ​If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
KIELY: Further leverage the interest consumers have in our industry to drive more radical, non-partisan, positive change in our communities. One good example of this would be TRU Colors out of North Carolina; they’re a brewery aiming to use their business as a means of employing and training gang members in an attempt to offer alternatives to gang life. Another example would be the Hopworks Urban Brewery collaboration with Patagonia, which brewed a beer using a perennial grain promoting regenerative agriculture practices. Sierra Nevada’s relentless commitment to sustainability and New Belgium’s adherence to B-Corporation standards are also honorable, admirable and inspiring examples of what ​I ​hope to be the motivations of our greatest breweries in the future, so that the rest of the brewing community strives for similar.

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