Brewer Magazine Q&A: Andrew Johnston, Iron Hill Brewery

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.
Andrew Johnston, Regional Brewer​,​ Iron Hill Brewery​ — Newark, Delaware​

How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
​JOHNSTON: ​If there is one thing I’ve learned over the course of my eight years in the brewing industry it is to be flexible and able to adapt at a moment’s notice. I oversee 16 Iron Hill Brewery brewpubs, and in one day any number of them could have an issue arise. It could be related to beer, personnel, equipment … you name it. I have to be able to help the brewer onsite work through the problem towards a solution because at the end of the day it’s all about putting quality beer on tap for our guests to enjoy.

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Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
JOHNSTON: My industry mentor is Larry Horwitz, former Regional Brewer at Iron Hill Brewery who moved on to open Four String Brewing Company. I’ve learned a great deal from Larry, and I won’t list everything but here is a short list. First and most important of all, Larry took on the daunting task of cultivating me into the professional brewer I am today. Second would be the importance of paying close attention to every little detail of the brewing process. From recipe formulation, to brew day, to the first day a beer went on tap, Larry taught me that every step of the process was crucial and would have a direct influence, not only on the taste of the beer but also the guest’s perception of your skill as a brewer. Larry guided me through all aspects of the brewing process and grew my brewing science knowledge base. He introduced me to many of fellow brewing colleagues and kick started my involvement in the Master Brewers Association of Americas District Philadelphia. Even though he has moved on from Iron Hill Brewery and is no longer my boss he will answer my calls and texts without hesitation. I owe him a lot.

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?
JOHNSTON: In 2018, we opened four new brewpubs (Greenville, South Carolina; Rehoboth, Delaware; Philadelphia and Hershey, Pennsylvania). These were my first glimpses into building a brewpub from the ground up. I was fortunate enough to be involved in almost every aspect of the start-up, from the brewery equipment installation, to planning the opening tap list, to the inaugural brews to watching the first pint being poured from the newly installed draft system. It was a beautiful thing.

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)?
JOHNSTON: We recently had two awesome individuals join the Iron Hill Brewery team, Kim Boerema and Joe Kopke. Both gentlemen joined our team, coming in with years of experience from other restaurants. They are very dedicated to growing Iron Hill Brewery and wave the “beer” flag daily. Even though they aren’t brewers, their passion for our beer impresses me everyday and I look forward to seeing where they can take us as a brewery.

​BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
JOHNSTON: Before I do anything at Iron Hill Brewery I always try to make sure it aligns with one of the four core initiatives.

  • Community Connections: Will it help the brewery better connect with the community around us, impact the surrounding community in a positive manner or add value to the community?
  • Loyalty Leadership: At Iron Hill Brewery we have a King of the Hill program. It can be likened to a “Mug Club.” Our King of the Hill group is primarily comprised of regular guests who drink and eat frequently at one of the 16 brewpubs. I will usually ask if myself, ‘Will this upcoming release or event create excite among the King of the Hill members and create a sense of loyalty to the local brewer and the restaurant?’
  • Off-Premise Opportunity: In just the past few years we started canning some of our seasonal beer offerings. It always comes back to the question of, ‘Is this brand the right beer to can? Are we ensuring that we are putting the highest quality product into the can?’ In just the past few months think back to this initiative helped us make the leap to adding crowlers in some of our newer locations and hopefully in the next few months all of our original locations.
  • Beer Sales: Because in the end, we’re a business it is all about, ‘Are we brewing the right quality beers to ensure that we generate revenue?’

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