Oral History Interview with Mike Rollinson, 2017

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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0:00 - Opening credits / interview introduction

0:31 - Initial interest in brewing industry

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Partial Transcript: How did you first become interested in the brewing industry?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson describes how he first became involved in the brewing industry and discusses his time as a brewer at Natty Greene's Brewing Company (Greensboro, NC).

1:07 - Decision to join Joymongers

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Partial Transcript: Why did you choose to become involved in this brewery?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses his reasons for becoming involved in Joymongers, including the benefits of ownership.

1:23 - Creative Process

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit more about the kinds of creativity that this type of a brewery affords you?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson describes the creative aspects of brewing beer.

2:20 - The brewing process

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell us a little bit about the brewing process itself?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson gives a simple overview of the brewing process.

3:23 - Selection of downtown Greensboro as brewery location

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell us a little bit about the brewery's relationship to the Downtown Greenway?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson explains why Joymongers chose downtown Greensboro as the location of its brewery.

4:30 - Challenges faced when opening the brewery

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Partial Transcript: What challenges did you face while opening Joymongers?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson describes challenges faced while opening Joymongers, at both the state and local levels.

5:22 - Legislative issues

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Partial Transcript: Can you elaborate a little more about legislative issues that the craft brewing industry faces?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses his brewery's business model and explains how state laws do and do not impact business operations at Joymongers.

6:05 - Neighborhood business model

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Partial Transcript: How does the business model you have here impact the kind of customers that you have?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses the business model used for Joymongers, including the brewery's identity as a family-friendly neighborhood pub.

6:46 - Role in the community

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Partial Transcript: How do you view your role in the Lo-Fi community, in Lower Fisher Park?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson describes the role that Joymongers plays in its neighborhood, Lower Fisher Park (Lo-Fi).

7:14 - Relationship to downtown Greensboro

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Partial Transcript: And how do you view the brewery in relation to downtown Greensboro as a whole?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses the brewery's connection to downtown Greensboro, specifically its north end.

7:50 - Working in the craft brewing industry

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Partial Transcript: What is it like to work in the craft brewing industry?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses the camaraderie and creativity that comes with working in the brewing industry.

8:25 - Changes in brewing industry since business opened

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Partial Transcript: How has the brewing scene changed since you first went into business?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson describes changes in the brewing industry since he first entered the industry in 2006, noting a shift from wholesale operations to community-based breweries.

9:46 - Brewery partnerships

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit about partnerships you've had with other breweries in downtown?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses relationship between breweries downtown, including appearances at events and street festivals.

10:32 - The future of brewing

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Partial Transcript: Where do you see the brewing industry going in the next five years?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson shares predictions for where the brewing industry will go in the next five years, including continued growth for small breweries and hyper-localization.

11:39 - Brewery expansion

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell us a little bit more about your new place in Winston-Salem?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson discusses a future Joymongers barrel house in Winston-Salem, NC.

12:14 - Future plans

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Partial Transcript: Do you plan to extend beyond that in the future?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson explains why Joymongers will not expand beyond their Greensboro and Winston-Salem locations.

13:14 - Favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery

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Partial Transcript: What is your favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than your own?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson names some of his favorite North Carolina breweries and describes how his tastes have changed over time.

15:03 - Favorite beer from own brewery

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Partial Transcript: What is currently your favorite beer to drink here, at Joymongers?

Segment Synopsis: Rollinson names two of his favorite Joymongers beers and explains that his "favorites" change frequently.

15:36 - Interview conclusion / closing credits

0:00

BR: This is an interview for Well Crafted NC, as you know, and I would like to start by having you introduce yourself.

MR: My name is Mike Rollinson, I am the co-owner and head brewer at Joymongers.

BR: And how long have you lived in Greensboro?

MR: I'm from Greensboro.

BR: Wonderful. How did you first become interested in the brewing industry?

MR: I was a walk-on at Natty Greene's [Natty Greene's Brewing Company, downtown Greensboro] so I, I was always interested in craft beer, but I had—I was never a homebrewer, never did anything like that, I learned everything on a commercial scale, starting in 2006.

BR: What was it like working for a more commercial brewery?

MR: Well, I was at the pub, so for me it wasn't more commercial because it was similar to what I do here. You know, I got to create a lot of cool stuff and it wasn't big scale, you 1:00know, it was all seven-barrel systems, so, it worked out really well. I had a good time there.

BR: Why did you choose to become involved in this brewery?

MR: Well, it's always better to be an owner. That's where the money's at. So, a little bit more freedom, a little bit more creativity, and a whole lot more opportunity.

BR: Can you talk a little more about the kinds of creativity that this type of a brewery affords you?

MR: Well, here, see—because we're not doing the same beers over and over and over, we can do whatever we want, you know. So we have the freedom to do just about anything—I mean, as long as we're putting out good product, you know, and are being really creative, everybody's happy. So, we're not—we're not trying to do the same beer over and over and over again. In fact, we've never even duplicated an IPA. You know, we're 18 months in, every time we make an IPA we make a different one, so.

BR: So, with that process, is there a certain type of beer that you particularly enjoy brewing 2:00here?

MR: I mean—I like brewing all styles, but, I mean, I'm really getting to where I really enjoy farmhouse style beers, saisons especially, so we do quite a few saisons, we do a lot of oak aging and stuff like that, so. That's really the most interesting part of it for me, at least right now.

BR: a tell us a little about the brewing process itself?

MR: Well, I mean, how [laughs]—how much do you want to know about the brewing process? I mean, are we talking about—I mean, basically, what we do is we take seeds and we turn them into liquids. So, we start with malted barley and we crush it, and we add water to it, and we strain that water out, and that becomes wort, which is sweet, and then we ferment that on yeast and add hops and anything else we want to add, and chill it and carbonate it and serve it. And that's the simple—that's a very, very, very simple definition. I can go as 3:00long as you'd like.

BR: What's your favorite part of that process?

MR: [sighs] I don't know. I kind of like all of it, a little bit. I really like the—you know, we're really just starting to get into a lot of barrel aging and oak stuff, so, I'm really—I'm concentrating heavily on oak right now, so.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about the brewery's relationship to the downtown greenway?

MR: Well, I mean, we, you know—we started looking for a—you know, we had the business plan, we started looking for a location. And I told Jim that I wasn't—Jim's my other partner—and I was not—I really didn't want to create a destination brewery. A destination brewery was not at all what I wanted; I wanted traffic count, you know. I wanted to be somewhere where there were a lot of people all the time. So, I gave him a very specific area of where I would be willing to locate to, and it was very difficult to find a space, and we got lucky enough to find an empty lot right here, that just happened 4:00to be next to the greenway. There wasn't, aside from the empty lot being here, there was no planning on trying to be on the greenway, that was never, like, initially an important thing for us, I think it's going to be a great thing for us, especially once it gets finished, and, you know, we start, you know, seeing a lot more traffic on the actual greenway, but yeah, the greenway was never part of the original plan, so, it was just an added bonus for us.

BR: What challenges did you face while opening Joymongers?

MR: [sighs] Well, you know, brewing in North Carolina is still kind of new, so there's still a lot of challenges on the state level with people understanding what we're trying to do, and which offices we're supposed to talk to, and stuff like that; and then, on the really local level, the Greensboro level, we built this building and the biggest challenges were definitely inspectors. Nobody seems to talk to each other. Downtown really needs a liaison to help people go through the process of building, because the plumbing inspector 5:00doesn't talk to the electrical inspector, the electrical inspector doesn't talk to the engineering inspector; nobody talks, you're jumping around in circles, it takes forever to get your c.o. [change order?], it was difficult, you know. They did not make it easy. I can understand why more people don't do that. [chuckles]

BR: Can you elaborate a little more about legislative issues that the craft brewing industry faces?

MR: Well, I mean, honestly, for me, and where we're at, we're really lucky. You know, we're not trying to be a giant brewery. We don't have to worry about the cap. We're able to sell one hundred percent retail in the state of North Carolina, which is what our business model is. It's a different business model than most any other brewery has. We can have a tasting room, any size we want it to be; I think we've got great laws. If anything, I would love to see the per-barrel tax come down, because we have a pretty high per-barrel tax, 6:00but other than that, you know, I don't really have any issues at the state level.

BR: How does the business model you have here impact the kind of customers that you have?

MR: Well, our business model is neighborhood. So, we're a neighborhood brewery, we want to position ourselves near a neighborhood, we want people walking, you know, families, dogs; we're not, you know—we're not a two-a.m. bar, you know, we close at midnight on the latest nights. During the day, on the weekend, we're pretty family oriented. It's a—It's just, well you, know, it's definitely different, you know. We're not a production brewery. We're kind of going back to the old style of just being a neighborhood pub, you know?

BR: How do you view your role in the LoFi community, the lower Fisher Park?

MR: Well, I mean, we like to think that we're helping draw attention down here for sure, and help, you know, energize the corner for sure. There's a lot happening down here. You 7:00know, I'm from Greensboro, and we've never seen this kind of building before, so, you know, when these extra apartments went up and the Hyatt gets open and the Aloft gets open and this nine-story building gets open, LoFi's going to be on fire down here. I mean, we've got a lot of stuff happening, so.

BR: And how you view the brewery in relation to downtown Greensboro as a whole?

MR: Well, I mean, we're definitely part of the downtown community. I think for us, we've sort of carved our niche on the north end. I worked on the south end for a long time, I prefer being on the north end. I just prefer the neighborhoods up here. And that's, you know, I mean—like I said, we're on the corner here, that's all we're trying to [chuckles] capitalize on, so.

BR: What is it like to work in the craft brewing industry?

MR: Well it's great. It's a lot of fun. I mean you get to create, which is really cool, That's a— 8:00that's my favorite part of it. And, there's a lot of camaraderie, you know. Most of the time we don't run into a whole lot of people feeling like it's competition. For the most part, everybody gets along. The more breweries the better. And, you know, making them walkable from one to the other is better, you know, it's definitely good for us to have more breweries, so.

BR: How has the brewing scene changed when you first went into business?

MR: Well, like I said, I started in '06, the dream was completely different in '06. In '06 North Carolina didn't have that many breweries. The goal of all the breweries in '06 was to get as big as you possibly could, capitalize grocery stores, you know, fill as many shelves as you can—that dream has sailed. That dream doesn't exist anymore. There's never going to be another Sierra Nevada, there's never going be another Founders, it's not ever going to happen, don't waste your money. So, it's all about community right now. I mean, it's 9:00like—trying to compete at the wholesale level in the grocery store is just cutthroat right now, because not only do you have all the breweries that are trying to be there for North Carolina, you've got all these other breweries from all the other—every state's blowing up with breweries right now, so they're coming from everywhere, and it's just like, we just got Deschutes in. Deschutes is a fantastic brewery, and, mean, you don't want to compete with Deschutes at the grocery store. I mean, I know I wouldn't want to. So, I mean, it's completely changed. I mean, and luckily for us, the laws in North Carolina allow for us to have, like I said, a big tasting room and we can sell everything retail, which is, when we open in Winston [Winston-Salem, NC] that's the same thing, we'll be—we'll probably be the biggest retail-only brewery in the state at that point, because we will have zero wholesale.

BR: Can you talk a little bit about partnerships you've had with other breweries in downtown?

MR: In downtown. We have not partnered—well, I mean, we had Preyer [Preyer Brewing, Greensboro, NC] at our party a few weeks ago, I mean we get along with everybody. We 10:00haven't done any collaborations with anybody in downtown. I know everyone in down—I know all the brewers in North Carolina, pretty much, but definitely in downtown. I mean, it's—I guess, you know, we've done a few little street festivals and stuff with Gibb's [Gibb’s Hundred Brewing, Greensboro, NC] and we've only done a couple of collaborations. I mean, we really stick to our self over here so, that's kind of our plan, so.

BR: Where do you see the brewing industry going in the next five years?

MR: Well, it will continue to grow, for sure, but it will grow on the bottom. It's going to implode in the middle. A lot of these regional guys will go out of business, there's just no where for their product anymore. You know, by design, they got too big in a market that was way too competitive, and what'll happen is if they don't have—like, if you look at the new Ballast Point—you know, Ballast Point's from San Diego—they just built a new one 11:00north of Roanoke [Virginia]. They put a huge brew pub in there, at their facility. So, I mean, they know. They know the retail dollar is really important to your brewery. So, if you're not really focused on the retail dollar you're not going to be in business very long. I mean, you just can't compete at a wholesale level. It just doesn't happen, you know. And you've got all these really big breweries that have been around for a long time, such has Sierra, who can price war you right out of the grocery store. So, I mean, with great beer—I mean, Sierra makes fantastic beer. So, I mean, you know, the future of the industry is local. It's hyperlocal, it's neighborhood breweries.

BR: Can you tell us a little more about your new place in Winston-Salem?

MR: The new place in Winston will be a barrel house. So, we will do, all the brewing will happen in Greensboro. We will be doing oak aging in whiskey and wine barrels in Winston, and then we also have a really big tasting room going into Winston. So, it'll 12:00probably be a little bit bigger than this on the inside, but we don't have the outside seating. So, real excited, down at Historic West End so, an old, historic building we're going into, so it's going to be really neat.

BR: Do you plan to extend beyond that in the future?

MR: Nope, that's it. That maximizes our capacity here, we'll actually bring a few tanks in here to increase just a little bit, but that's it, you know. We're look for a hundred percent. You know, when we can completely brew as much as possible and sell at one hundred percent retail, we are done, so that was always our goal, so.

BR: Is there at type of beer that you're not brewing right now that you would be interested in trying?

MR: We brew almost every style; I mean, luckily, we have enough tanks that we can lager, we can do lots of different things, and we've done lots of different styles. We don't do sour beers; I'm not real interested in doing sour beers. We do Brett beers, which is along the 13:00same lines, kind of, but not really. And, you know, anything we want to do we are already doing. So, there's not really anything out there that we're . . . [trails off]

BR: What is your favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than your own?

MR: Oh, boy. I don't know of a favorite beer. I'll throw out some great breweries. Wooden Robot in Charlotte, fantastic beer. Fonta Flora in Morganton, fantastic beer. Haw River, down in Saxapahaw, really fantastic beer. Some of my favorite breweries there, for sure. Burial out of Asheville—I'm a huge Wicked Weed [Asheville, NC] fan, I know that people are going to beat me up for that, but I've got a lot of friends there, and they make really good beer, so. I don't really have a favorite. I mean, I drink all kinds of styles, and that's kind of the whole things with craft, is there's no brand loyalty in craft, there's no style loyalty in craft, everybody wants something new all the time, so, the days—the 14:00Budweiser drinker may always be the Budweiser drinker, but if they turn to craft they're never going to be "I only drink this beer," they're going to be drinking everything, so. You know, it used to be—you know, I grew up, when I first started drinking craft, I drank Sierra Pale Ale. And that was my go to, I was a Sierra Pale Ale guy and if they didn't have Sierra Pale Ale I was probably drinking Bud Heavy. So, but that changed, you know, probably, I don't know, early thousands? You know, sometime around the late nineties, early two thousands, you know, the market definitely changed, and there was a lot more opportunity to try a lot of different stuff, and the beers got significantly better. And, I mean, the industry struggled at first, because the beer quality was not good. The beer quality right now in craft is fantastic across the board, I mean, you don't find too many bad breweries out there anymore. And it's not good for us—we don't want bad breweries. You know, if we see somebody struggle, we always try to help them because the last thing we want—we don't want somebody's first experience to be at somebody 15:00who has bad beer, so.

BR: What is currently your favorite beer to drink here at Joymongers?

MR: Trying to think. I've been drinking a lot of the Moo Juice, which is our lactose IPA, and also, we have a Ekuanot Saison on, it's like a single-hop saison on the drink line. Those two are great. I mean, I switch around a lot, so I don't really have a favorite.