Oral history interview with Todd Isbell, 2019

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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0:15 - Interview introduction

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Partial Transcript: Ok. So if we start, can you please say and spell your name?

0:36 - Biographical information

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Partial Transcript: To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses his early life and his time at UC Davis.

8:25 - Interest in the brewing industry

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Partial Transcript: We've been dancing around this one a good bit now. My second question is how did you first become interested in the brewing industry?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses what got him interested in the brewing industry.

17:14 - History of Liberty Brewery and Grill

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell us a little about the history of Liberty?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the history of Liberty Brewery and Grill.

21:06 - Joining Liberty in 2007

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Partial Transcript: What led you here in 2007?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses what brought him to join Liberty Brewery and Grill in 2007.

Keywords: Pop the Cap Movement

24:56 - Role at Liberty

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Partial Transcript: What is your role here as brewmaster?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses his role as Liberty Brewery and Grill's brewmaster.

26:19 - Instigating changes and food pairing

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Partial Transcript: When you got here in 2007 the place had been running for seven years. Where there any changes that you felt you needed to instigate to make it more reflect you?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the changes he made after joining Liberty in 2007 and food pairing.

31:50 - High Point in 2007

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Partial Transcript: Cast your mind back to 2007. What was High Point like then?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses what High Point, North Carolina was like in 2007.

34:55 - Location, space, and describing Liberty

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned you were running a 10-barrel system. How would you actually describe your location and your space?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the location, space, and what Liberty is.

38:25 - Mission of Liberty and resources

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Partial Transcript: What would you say is the mission or theme of Liberty?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the mission of Liberty and the resources he drew upon to grow as a brewer.

Keywords: Master Brewers Association of the Americas

40:41 - Community engagement

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Partial Transcript: Does Liberty engage with any type of community engagement work or fundraising?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses Liberty's community engagement.

Keywords: Arc of High Point; community; community outreach; Salvation Army

43:12 - Growth in the future

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Partial Transcript: Are there any ways that you see Liberty growing in the future, or would like Liberty to grow in the future?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses growth for Liberty in the future.

47:10 - Average week

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Partial Transcript: Speaking of that, how would you describe your average week?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses his average week.

49:19 - Brewing approaches, interests, and philosophies

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Partial Transcript: How would you say Liberty reflects your personal brewing approaches, interests, or philosophies?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses how his work at Liberty reflects his personal brewing approaches, interests, and philosophy.

50:24 - Proudest beer recipe

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Partial Transcript: Is there a beer recipe that you've created that you are most proud of?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses what beer recipe he has created that he is most proud of.

51:35 - Working with Rockingham County Community College

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Partial Transcript: You've been involved with the Brewing Distillation Fermentation program at Rockingham Community College since its beginnings.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the Rockingham County Community College's Brewing Distillation and Fermentation program and his role in it.

Keywords: Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College; Blue Ridge Community College; Cindy Vickers; Rockingham County Community College

59:02 - Development of the program

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Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses how the Brewing Distillation and Fermentation program at Rockingham County Community College has developed over the years.

Keywords: Rockingham County Community College

61:01 - Changes in the brewing scene

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

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the changes he has seen in the brewing scene since he joined the industry.

65:37 - Educating bartenders and the public

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Partial Transcript: It's interesting because you tied part of this back into educating the public.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses how he educates bartenders and the public about Liberty's beers.

Keywords: Education

69:24 - Working in the craft brewing industry today

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Partial Transcript: We talked about how the brewing scene has changed. What's it like to work, to you, in the craft beer industry today?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses what it's like to work in the craft brewing industry today.

71:11 - Trends

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Partial Transcript: Are there any particular trends that you like or dislike?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses trends in the industry that he likes and dislikes.

76:22 - Role of breweries in High Point and the Triad

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Partial Transcript: What role do you feel breweries such as Liberty have played in changes in High Point and the Triad?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses the role breweries have played in changes around High Point and in the Triad area.

78:01 - Future of the brewing industry

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Partial Transcript: Would you like to take a guess at where you think the brewing industry will be in about five years?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses where he sees the brewing industry headed in the next five years.

81:51 - North Carolina beer and Triad brewing scene

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that you see as unique about North Carolina or Southern beer?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses North Carolina beer and the Triad brewing scene.

Keywords: legislation

86:51 - Favorite North Carolina beer

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Partial Transcript: What's your favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than Liberty?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses his favorite North Carolina beers from breweries other than Liberty.

Keywords: Brown Truck Brewery; Foothills Brewpub; Incendiary Brewing; Joymongers Brewing Co.

88:00 - Liberty's flagship beer and favorite Liberty beer

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Partial Transcript: I'm betting it's the American lager, but what would you say is Liberty's flagship or signature beer?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Isbell discusses Liberty's flagship beer and his favorite Liberty beer.

91:36 - Interview conclusion

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Partial Transcript: That's all I've got. Hey! Is there anything you'd like to add?


Richard Cox: Okay. So if we start, can you please say and spell your name?

Todd Isbell: My name's Todd Isbell. T-O-D-D, and then I-S-B-E-L-L.

Richard Cox: Today is Wednesday, August 7th, 2019, and we are at Liberty Brewery & Grill in High Point, North Carolina. I'm Richard Cox, talking today with Todd Isbell, brew master, as part of the Well Crafted NC project. To start, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Todd Isbell: Yeah. I'm originally from Syracuse, New York, suburbs and grew up in suburbia life. End of high school discovered beer. Actually, discovered beer at a really young age because my dad worked at Miller Brewing-

Richard Cox: Oh, wow.

Todd Isbell: ... in Fulton, New York. Unfortunately, that brewery doesn't exist anymore. Probably, with a subsequent question you might have, that'll be how I 1:00got into the industry. There's a lot of osmosis with that. He was a production or packaging manager. He was a shift manager that oversaw kegging, canning, bottling, and getting beer out the door. So he wasn't actually in the brewhouse. He'd be on the packaging side of things. He was there for 16 years. So as a kid, there was always beer around. It was cool going and visiting him at work and seeing these ... If you think even Sierra Nevada is big, you don't know how big these breweries can get. It's pretty neat to see brewing on that scale.

Todd Isbell: And then went into college at Clarkson University, be my alma mater, even though I have some Syracuse under my belt. Did civil environmental engineering for my major. But it was in college where I became a little more of the student of the game when it came to craft beer. Milwaukee's Best was always 2:00the cheap beer of choice, because everyone has a cheap beer of choice no matter where you live.

Richard Cox: That's the beast, right?

Todd Isbell: That's right. It would always be Milwaukee's Best was the go-to, but then we would just buy this one random six-pack of something we never heard of. That always changed. Rapidly I discovered that beer wasn't what the big three at the time told you what it was. [Budman 00:02:25] or Coors. They've conglomerated now. I'm a science-y geek, but also I love history. I love the history of science. The history of science and the history of beer are really interwoven. The romance behind the whole industry, which I really like a lot. And then after college, graduated in '96, to give you a timeline. Then I was in the military in the U.S. Army. Couldn't home brew, which I forgot to mention, which I started at the end of college. I lived in Germany for three years. So 3:00that's where I got really that ingrained deep historical societal part of brewing. Traveling Europe was really fantastic. It was really traveling would be ... because I lived in Germany from '97 to 2000. It was castles, breweries, and museums.

Richard Cox: Did you do any training while you were in Germany?

Todd Isbell: I beg your pardon?

Richard Cox: Did you do any training while you were in Germany?

Todd Isbell: Not brewing.

Richard Cox: Just enjoyed it.

Todd Isbell: I did warfare defense for the Army.

Richard Cox: Okay, so you were still in the military. Okay, yeah.

Todd Isbell: It was continuation of environmental engineering from baccalaureate and then U.S. Army chemical school and then was overseas during ... Balkans were going on as far as conflict. Then got out in 2000. Did New York State Guard for infantry unit for just one year. Then I completed my service.

Richard Cox: Awesome.

Todd Isbell: Started engineering, so I was a civil environmental engineer for 4:00several years. Pollution prevention mostly. And then started home brewing again. I think I got good at it. Then caught the bug. Saved up for a year and stopped engineering. I discovered that money isn't everything in life. You got to pursue what you love. Didn't have kids, so life was okay. So saved up for a year and moved to California and did the UC Davis master program. Graduated there in '04. Then I was in Front Range in Colorado for three years as assistant brewer, then worked my way up. I was with Rock Bottom for a bit. The Walnut Brewery as well as Rock Bottom Westminster, which I guess would kind of be their flagship, because headquarters was right next door for Rock Bottom. Then I was at the Pumphouse in Longmont and Ironworks in Lakewood. Then I moved here at the end of 2007 to Liberty. And so I've been here ever since.


Richard Cox: Awesome. What was the UC Davis program like?

Todd Isbell: Oh, it was great. Fantastic. Probably had the best educators possible. Dr. Lewis was my primary educator and I really owe him a tremendous amount. In fact, he started the brewing program there in 1968, I believe.

Richard Cox: Oh, wow.

Todd Isbell: He's an entomologist by trade. He's finally retired as a professor. He was a professor emeritus when I had him as a student 15 years ago. Brilliant man. He's a Welsh gentleman. I had him majority of the time and then Charlie Bamforth, who's a really hilarious Brit. Really well-known brewing scientists, especially if you're a foam. Foam physics and foam chemistry is his forte. He would be a secondary instructor. He is retiring here eminently. I'm not sure 6:00who's taking up the Davis program. It was good. It was on par with ... I did the master brewer extension program and then there's the master of science. Depending on who you talk to in the industry, they're pretty equivalent. It was essentially six months, Monday to Friday immersion. Pretty saturated. It was also a preparatory course to take the Institute of Brewing and Distilling London Associate Membership exam. I'm an associate member of that. It's essentially a nine hour, three part exam. Anything goes and you have no notes, no nothing. Just an un-programmable calculator.

Richard Cox: [crosstalk 00:06:47]

Todd Isbell: Yeah, the engineering aspect, even with an engineering degree, was actually rather in depth.

Richard Cox: Actually, that was the next thing I was going to ask was do you see how your extensive background in engineering informed when you flipped over to brewing.


Todd Isbell: Oh, I thought it was ... Actually, I don't want to say seamless completely changing your profession, but there are a lot of parallels. Understanding chemical usage, that's not really a big problem for me. Even the basics of water chemistry, which can get very advanced in brewing, that was, I don't want to say, on the easier side, but a little bit of a leg up, I guess, maybe compared to other people. But understanding food mechanics and thermodynamics for how heat transfer works or the refrigeration cycle for glycol usage and whatnot. Understanding how pumps work and cavitation. Also, that paid some dividends when it came to teaching, because they have to understand some basic engineering concepts to get in really do it themselves.

Richard Cox: And chemistry, right?

Todd Isbell: And chemistry. Sometimes I would get the, "I didn't think this was going to be a chemistry class." "This is what we do for a living." Microbiology is a really big one. Understanding how microbes work and unicellular organisms, 8:00which yeast is. That's a good leg up as opposed to ... Not denigrating any profession or something, but, say, if I was an English major or a IT degree, they would have that removed. So perhaps they would have to work a little extra to get to what I would consider a par.

Richard Cox: That makes sense.

Todd Isbell: A par level.

Richard Cox: We've been dancing around this one a good bit now. The second question was how did you first become interested in the brewing industry?

Todd Isbell: Oh, yeah, definitely it was probably without even me knowing dad working at Miller. This would be well before MillerCoors. This is when they were owned by Philip Morris.

Richard Cox: Oh, wow.

Todd Isbell: Actually, Philip Morris, they gave me a $20,000 scholarship, because I was an employee. I did well academically in high school. Colleges are really expensive now. So when I went to school it was only $23,000 a year or something like that. It was almost essentially a year for free. It was divvied up.


Richard Cox: Yeah, right.

Todd Isbell: I owe them a little bit because of that, too. A little soft side of my heart. They did close the brewery down. Disgruntled when it comes to that. And then the end of high school when I was illegally drinking, my buddy, Matt, and I, my best friend, we would go to a place called Omar's or Le Moyne Mart in Westcott region of Syracuse. They would not card you. We would buy that case of Milwaukee's Best, and then we would ... something random that we never ... Don't. No underage drinking, people. No underage drinking. Then in college, starting home brewing, but then, again, this is also where I started getting more into science and whatnot, and then reading what we now call the Beeriodicals. So All About Beer Magazine was probably the only thing around 10:00then. Just reading about where, say, a beer style is from, what would make it that way. It's usually it's a lot of times going to be water driven, because sometimes there'd be very soft water like in Pilsen. There could be very hard water, say, Northern England. The Munich water would be good for dark lagers, for example. And then of course, hops growing regions are going to be powerful. And then understanding about indirect kilning methods and how Pilsner malt came about. It was actually stolen technology from England that was brought back to Bohemia, and then that's where the Pilsner evolved.

Richard Cox: So circle.

Todd Isbell: It really kicked into play when glassware was available to the common folk and you could now have a really clear beer that you could see through, and it was bright. Spread like wildfire throughout the world. I think the real big one was living in Germany. There's a girl I was dating at the time. We traveled a lot. I couldn't home brew just because I was in the military. I 11:00guess, probably I could. Maybe I could've figured out a way to. I'm too sure. First Sergeant probably would not have enjoyed-

Richard Cox: You probably had plenty on your mind.

Todd Isbell: ... a fermentation experiment in the barracks. Traveling around and being in even a simple thing of being in a beer hall that's three times older than our country is really cool. The American craft beer industry is pretty different from the Old World, although there's reciprocity now, because what we're doing now is now going back over to England and going to Germany and whatnot. There's a lot of places they only make one beer. They've been doing that for 100s of years. If you don't like it, well, sorry. This is what we do, and this is how we do it. That's the way it is. There's a great appreciation for tradition when it comes to that. The romantic aspect of brewing I really liked traveling Europe. Came back to the States again. Starting home brewing. More of 12:00the student of the game. And then kept getting in deeper with quality control, which is probably the number one thing for all brewers is quality control, consistency. Once you have slapped a sticker on that package, it better taste the same every single time you drink it, otherwise you don't have customers anymore. First of all, it's a great thing, but it's something that the wine people, the elite wine people, don't have. They could easily just blame it on, "Oh, we had a bad year. We had late rains." Well, we can't say that.

Todd Isbell: Barley grows in a field, and they have late rains. They could have early frosts. Hops are the same thing. Your water is going to change depending on what reservoir the water board is going to use or spring, fall overturn where the density flips the lake or reservoir over. But the beer always has to stay the same. This is where the science really kind of kicks in. The wine people can 13:00just be, oh, it's terrible water, 2008. Was a better year in 2009. They get away with it. We have none of that, which, actually, I like. We cannot get away with that. It has to taste the same always.

Richard Cox: It's a standards issue.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, it is. And then getting in the industry. Really, I had probably the best boss I'll ever have in Wayne McFarland, because I was at an engineering firm called Stearns and Wheler. It was a great job. A lot of short-term travel. Have car, will travel as a young gun engineer. A lot of short-term project, so it wasn't like working at a waste water treatment plant for the next year and a half. I was on a industrial department, which would be our smallest department. It was a little bit of chemical and petroleum bulk storage, pollution prevention, storm water, some solid waste like landfill design and closure, some atmospheric permitting. But I didn't get that personal 14:00gratification out of work, because I knew someone would ... Have to this three-ring binder that took me X amount of days or weeks or a month to create. I knew they were just going to sign it and put it on the shelf until three years later when they had to renew it. So it was a great job, and I was paid well. Gosh I'd be probably tripling my salary now that I think of it, if I had stuck with it. I'd be a PE project manager. It's great to have that epiphany in life that money isn't everything. If I was married with kids, it'd be a completely different story.

Richard Cox: Sure.

Todd Isbell: But being in your mid to late 20s having that thought process, that light go off on top of your head, and then move to California, go to the master brewer program, and live next door to the women's water polo team was pretty cool. Plus traveling Northern California, because every weekend I would just ... I'm a work hard, play hard type of person, so I would crank out work and then in 15:00the weekend I might bring a book with me, but then I would probably go camping out somewhere in Northern California, just explore. Yeah, that's how I got into the industry.

Richard Cox: How was the home brewing?

Todd Isbell: The home brew, it was pretty a standard track. This is the way I would suggest to a lot of people. Just start with extract, figure out if you actually enjoy cleaning things, and then settle the [inaudible 00:15:30] into all-grain. Oh, I forgot to mention the last year of my engineering, concurrent with my engineering, I did free help at Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, downtown Syracuse. In fact, I was there just a week and a half ago. They're still doing quite well. It would be Andy Gersten who would be my original mentor. He splits his time Sackets Harbor Brewing Company in Sackets Harbor, New York, which is just south of Alexandria Bay, 1000 Islands on Oneida Lake, or 16:00Lake Ontario and Buried Acorn, which is by Destiny, New York in Syracuse. He's there. I still owe him a lot. It would probably be, I would say, two weeknights and then one or two weekend days I would just do free help there. He got free help. I got free experience. It was a cool place to work. They had great beer. It was great food. They had pretty girls you could hang out with at the bar.

Todd Isbell: That is really where the switch went when I was, "Wow, this is a really cool job." I'm sweating like crazy, because it was a steam pit there. Plus, it was a basement. So it was really hot, really humid, which a lot of breweries are. The personal gratification of hanging out, going to a beer festival, and just cleaning up against the competition, so to speak. It was a 17:00great place to learn. That's actually where the true light went off when I was doing free help at Empire. It was just great.

Richard Cox: Awesome. We'll talk about Liberty for a while.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, sure.

Richard Cox: Can you tell us a little about the history of Liberty?

Todd Isbell: Sure.

Richard Cox: Knowing you started later. You weren't here for the beginning [crosstalk 00:17:20].

Todd Isbell: Yes, I came here in the end of 2007. We opened in January of 2000. We have a sister brewery in Myrtle Beach founded as Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery. Josh Quigley would've been the brewer there. Mark and Jerry who own our restaurant group, they decided to open this up in January 2000. So Josh came up and did the design of the place. There's a few more bells and whistles when he was here like that one bright tank. They just had the fermenters at the time. We have fermentation vessels, one bright, which shouldn't exist, but then there 18:00were eight 10 barrel serving tanks, just big kegs, essentially. He was on the oversight of, excuse me, construction, because this used to be a Red Robin way back in the day.

Richard Cox: Oh, wow.

Todd Isbell: So we're actually sitting right now on the patio. They enclosed it and put the glass wall in and then put the whole brewhouse and the cooler in the back when they put that in. Construction would've been in, I forget the period, in '99, but we opened January 10th, I believe, 2000. Then because there was the other brewery that Josh was running, he went back down to Myrtle Beach to run Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery down there. Eric Lamb came here at the beginning of 2000. He was here from Mendocino Brewing Company in Ukiah, Northern 19:00California, just north of Hopland, which is a cool area of California. He was here for several years. Then he moved. He wanted to move back to Northern California, so he was with Lagunitas. His family is all from Northern California, so he just wanted to move back. I came in end of '07, so I've been here since.

Richard Cox: January of 2000, you all would be one of the earliest brew pubs in the state.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, to use a good millennial term, we're kind of the OG. Technically, Red Oak would be old ... as far as Triad is concerned.

Richard Cox: Yeah, right.

Todd Isbell: Red Oak would be older than us, but it was Spring Garden-

Richard Cox: Spring Garden Brewing.

Todd Isbell: Spring Garden Brewing, right, which is by a Harris Teeter now. I 20:00don't know if it necessarily went under, whatever the ... but they now have a full production brewery. Really cool tasting room, if you've been there. It's really nice. Chris Buckley is the head brewer there. He knows his stuff. He's really very knowledgeable. We would be, I guess, the early one and then continuously brewing. Yeah, we're approaching 20 years, which is pretty neat. I'm trying to think of other brew pubs that were open at the time in 2000. That might be a better question for the historian here.

Richard Cox: In this area.

Todd Isbell: Not too much. It was the original Old Hickory. They predate us.

Richard Cox: It was Lager Head in the '90s in Greensboro.

Todd Isbell: Yes, but I'm not sure if they had a restaurant.

Richard Cox: They did. We have a menu.

Todd Isbell: Oh, great.

Richard Cox: I'll tell you about it. Yeah, they did, but they left four years, I think, five years. In this area you all might've been first.


Todd Isbell: Yeah.

Richard Cox: There you are, and you're still here.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, it's good to go. We got a good track record.

Richard Cox: So what led you here in 2007?

Todd Isbell: I was with two breweries in Colorado, Ironworks where I was the, well, the only brewer, the head brewer, I guess. That was a cool concept. It was a really small place. Kind of dive bar-y as well. The cool thing, I was there for, I think, two and a half years and we never had the same recipe twice. That was a really cool place for me to try anything. Don't be afraid to fail mentality. It was only a seven barrel system, so if something wasn't a solid seller, we didn't have to worry too much about it. It was such a small place that I was really only there about two, three days a week. Then I supplemented my time at the Pumphouse Brewery in Longmont, which also I lived there as well. I was with another brewer there, so we were co-brewers. Unfortunately, Ironworks 22:00didn't make it. They're back up and running. Kurt, he's from Mountain Sun Brewing in Boulder. Kurt, I forget his last name. Sorry, Kurt.

Richard Cox: That's all right.

Todd Isbell: They got a new owner and was able to hire him, but I was already out the door. Even though Colorado is really rich as far as craft beer is concerned, at the time no one was really hiring, or if they were hiring, it was on a bottling line or cleaning kegs or something like that. I'm not elitist or anything like that, but I didn't want to. I have got to pay the bills. Even applied to Coors and Golden and AB in Fort Collins, but they weren't hiring at the time. They like the you have a degree, also served in the military, can take orders, and shut up. Anheuser Busch guys, they really hire from UC Davis, for 23:00example. They are, "Oh, engineering degree. You were in the military as well. Great. Let's interview you." Actually, I did interview with them, but it was just for, I guess, the experience or whatever. They weren't hiring. It is what it is. This place opened up, or the slot opened up. I'm from the East Coast from New York. So I was, well, I'll move closer to family. I love travel. So I could explore a new part of the country. I already lived in Colorado for three and a half years, I think. They flew me out for the interview, but I spaced it and got a car and just traveled around for a week to discover if I wanted to actually move here.

Todd Isbell: I'm in management level so there's all the benefits that go with that. I realized, well, now 12 years ago that the Triad or North Carolina as a 24:00whole was what the West Coast or Colorado was like say 20 years prior. The potential was ripe. Actually, it came to fruition. North Carolina, it's really kicking ass. I don't want to say I was a trendsetter or anything like that, but I knew that it was going to happen. I was, "Ah, I'm going to jump on this." There were a lot of breweries here. Now there's probably five times as many. I think when I moved here, we'd have to check the timeline, there might've been 20 something, 30 something breweries in the state at the time. This is right after Pop The Cap. Julie from All About Beer was the main driver on that. I moved out here and just hit the ground running.

Richard Cox: Awesome. What is your role here as brew master?

Todd Isbell: Oh, well, I don't have an assistant so anything-


Richard Cox: Everything.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, everything to do with the beer we brew. So it's everything from ... In reality actual brew day is pretty easy to be honest with you. Everything is muscle memory now. Everything from ordering raw ingredients to inventory oversight to taxation reporting, excise taxes, all that, prep that for the man to sign, brew house seller operations, clean kegs, clean draft lines, staff education, and some outside sales. It behooves all brewers to sell their beer in-house on draft, because the profit margin is so much higher. Plus, we're a small brewery. It's just a 10 barrel system. We do about 750 barrels a year. Our record was actually 890, but we have so much competition now. Everybody is a little bit down. This particular summer wasn't the best, but the other people, 26:00they're in the same boat. There's so much competition now. Our record pace, we've now leveled off from there, so we're pretty consistent now.

Richard Cox: Makes sense.

Todd Isbell: Anyway, that'd be my role.

Richard Cox: Good. When you got here in 2007, the place had been running for seven years. When you came in, were there any changes you felt you needed to instigate to make it more reflect you?

Todd Isbell: I did, yeah. There was, at least in my opinion and what some people have told me, the beers were fine but it would be they all had a similar flavor, but the colors were different. There's some great ways around this. One was ditching the yeast strain. They used, which people think the steam yeast is you can ferment it at ale temperatures, but you get lager characteristics. I completely disagree with that. I'm trying to make, essentially, a toned down 27:00Czech Pilsner as our American lager and using that yeast just is not conducive for that beer style. A little bit more. They usually, which there's great credence in this, just ride the water you have is the water you use. It's very Dr. Lewis type thought process, because it's the only thing that's truly local. Your yeast is going to come from some bank somewhere, who knows where. Your hops are going to be coming from Pacific Northwest or England or Germany or Slovenia or whatever. Your malt is going to be coming from Canada or somewhere in the Midwest or Europe. Water is the only thing you can consider your own. Everyone always says drink local. Have your local beer. The only thing that's local is your water usually. So why mess with it? I'm, ah, there's some credence in that, but certain beer styles doing a water modification is a big one.

Todd Isbell: Temperatures and fermentation have to change. Base ingredients, move those around. Mash temperatures. You have different body of beer, different 28:00ester profiles from fermentation, and then you have to diversify the hops you're using. Over the years, this is also keeping up with the Jones', but I also am changing. Slightly shifting my IPA, for example, which is a very traditional North American IPA, then shifting it a little bit towards West Coast, not as much as San Diego, but more West Coast-y. Then shifting a little bit back, cutting the bitterness down, but adding more dry hop and having more forgiveness for haze, which the traditionally-

Richard Cox: I was going to say, yeah, the German-

Todd Isbell: ... classically trained brewer cringes when they ... If it's not a Hefeweizen or a Belgian White or something like that, the beer should be bright. I don't necessarily subscribe to that magazine 100% of the time, but a lot of times people, the craft beer industry, it's more so fast and so often that 29:00sometimes you can't really keep up with the trend. The opinion is further than the trend, so to speak. I hope we get back to some session beers. I hope we get back to bright beers. A lot of those hazy beers, which if you have them fresh, they taste great. They have zero shelf stability at all. So you could go into a bottle shop in town XYZ and you see these hazy IPAs and they're sitting at room temperature. Then you look at the can. This is four months old. Just find something else. Let that thing collect dust. But hopefully we get back to all that. It is what it is. I don't get gimmicky with pastry stouts and adding Skittles to beer or Lucky Charms. There's a little bit of a purist in me. Now those things could sell, but since we sell here in-house, over 90% of the time 30:00if I make a beer that's really idiosyncratic, we could be sitting on that beer for a long time. I want no part of that. Move through it.

Richard Cox: That's what I was going to say is your situation is sometimes unique compared to tap rooms, because you have a restaurant. You're looking at pairing with food as a part of what you're doing.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, food pairing, it's wise. Wine people have beat us out for many years, and the cheese people. However, beer and cheese really go very well together, carbonation especially. It scrubs the fats away. It's difficult for me to dictate to someone else what they should be drinking with some food that they had, because if you want to have an oatmeal stout with a salmon Caesar, have at it. I wouldn't recommend that myself. It's a to each his own. Having an American 31:00lager with a pizza is, I don't know.

Richard Cox: Classic, right?

Todd Isbell: That's classic. You can't go wrong with that. Or a brown ale with a mushroom Swiss burger is just perfect. There are tricks to the trade. Not tricks. Intermingling with how your palate works with food and drink is powerful and needed, but admittedly I let the customer explore that on their own. I could give them suggestions, but-

Richard Cox: But it also means you're not throwing Skittles beer out then.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, correct. I'd probably drink the Belgian White with that salmon Caesar. That probably would go. And blackened salmon cooked medium.

Richard Cox: So cast your mind back to 2007. What was High Point like then?

Todd Isbell: Oh, okay. We were pretty much the only gig in town as far as craft beer was concerned. I'm trying to think what. Two or three years later The 32:00Brewer's Kettle opened. That was a bottle shop. David Armstrong runs that. He's very knowledgeable. This would be well before Brown Truck existed, before Joymongers and Prior and Gibb's. It was just Natty Greene's, which is 25 minutes away and then Foothills in Winston-Salem-

Richard Cox: The other way.

Todd Isbell: ... the other 25 minutes away. So it was really just us. Then even still, in Winston we just had, Spencer was running City Beverage as a bottle shop. That's old school institution. That might be a good person to interview as well, especially his grandfather started it post-war as just a soda shop.

Richard Cox: Oh, wow.

Todd Isbell: It really morphed. Spencer took control after his dad, rest in peace, took it over. I don't know what was in Greensboro. I guess, Best Buy. I'm 33:00not sure when they opened. I know it's old school grocery store, but I forget when the craft beer thing kicked in. So don't quote me on that. Only having three brew pubs in three towns that are a half hour away from each other was pretty cool because you were the only person. You're the only gig in town. Still, North Carolina is part of the south. We're the most progressive of the area regionally in the U.S., but it's still a lot of Bud Light and NASCAR. I guess rightfully so. I don't have a problem with the big boys. Although, NASCAR I'm not a fan of. Just driving in circles. When they do it Watkins Glen or Sonoma, you find who actually shifts and turns right. It's, oh, wow, it's a different roster who wins.

Todd Isbell: Anyways, that's something that we're always going to have to combat 34:00forever and a day. Now the competition is really, I don't want to say fierce, but we'll let the dime counters deal with that. Brewers, we're all friends. We all get along. We do collaborations and whatnot. The landscape today versus what it was in end of '07 is drastically different, especially Asheville. Actually, Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh it's absurd almost the growth rate that's taken place now. Of course, we've got Sierra in Mills River and New Belgium is in Asheville. So the big boys are now here. Oskar Blues is in Brevard. They're doing well. My buddy, Thomas, is there, packaging manager. Good guy.

Richard Cox: Awesome. You mentioned you're running a 10 barrel system. How would you actually describe your location and your space as far as someone's watching 35:00this and they want to know what is Liberty, where is Liberty? How would you say where are we?

Todd Isbell: Oh, where are we? Yeah, sure. The address is 914 Mall Loop Road. We have a 1980s designed shopping mall that High Point University, which is literally across the street. They're expanding in a great way. They're a huge contingent of our sales. They're going to be coming back to school in about a week and a half, so we're happy about that. We go into a little slow-mo during summer. When I got here, the mall still existed but that design isn't really what people do for shopping nowadays. We would be on a periphery road around Oak Hollow Mall. Across the street would be High Point University. West Saint Christian is a well-known private school. Really good sport programs there. We 36:00have a 10 barrel system. We have a full restaurant. I would generally say American style cuisine. We seat barely over 300. We have a patio out here. We're in the brewhouse right now. We have a 10 barrel brewhouse. If you can see or not, we have Grist Case, Mash Tun, Hot Liquor Tank, and then the kettle here. I have two 20 barrel fermenters, two 10 barrel fermenters, a 10 barrel bright, and then eight 10 barrel serving vessels in our cooler.

Richard Cox: Wow. How would you describe Liberty to people who are unaware of the brew pub? Someone's, "Tell me about Liberty." What would you say to them?

Todd Isbell: Oh, what I was just describing before. It's a full-service restaurant. We can easily accommodate 300 people. All our beers are produced 37:00on-site, service on-site, made 10 feet maybe from where you're sitting, which I really enjoy that. That guy over there, that'd be pointing to me, grain to glass. One of the cool things is I can get done with work and then you can sit down, watch people enjoying the beer you make. They might not even know who I am and that's fine. Usually it's pretty much you can get the beer here and nowhere else. There's that. That's a cool aspect, I think, of it. A lot of people will have just production brewery so there's no food available. Some people do food trucks but not every day. Some people do food trucks but it's only from 4:00 to 6:00 PM. We'll be open at 11 every single day. We're open every single day except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. We'll close early on Christmas Eve. But 38:00we're open every day 11. You can get lunch. You can get dinner. Happy hour. A lot of TVs. We'll have always sports to be going on. But if you also want to have a quiet family environment, then the dining room side you can easily accommodate many, many people. If you want to have more of a quiet sit down dinner, we easily can have that for you as well.

Richard Cox: What would you say is the mission or theme of Liberty? Which is really in the name, right?

Todd Isbell: Yeah, pursuit of happiness. I think that would be a good, concise theme. It's really the general pub or beer garden thought process. The American bar scene would be we just want people to come here, enjoy their time, enjoy their friends, meet new friends. We could have live music here sometimes. We could have trivia on another night. Sometimes it could be a full band, but sometimes it might be just a guy and a guitar doing acoustic. Those are always 39:00good. March Madness is always a big time to come here with our Mug Club. If your team randomly generated, if it wins, you can get gift certificates. At the end at Final Four it's cash.

Richard Cox: Cool.

Todd Isbell: That's a good one. That's a big draw is March Madness for us. It's a good way to escape work at noon. Take a day off and watch basketball all day.

Richard Cox: You mentioned this earlier. This shifts the questions a little bit. Are there resources you'd say you have drawn on to help you grow as a brewer?

Todd Isbell: Oh, sure. Yeah, without doubt. Just contacting other brewers in the-

Richard Cox: Area.

Todd Isbell: ... state. Luckily, I've been in New York, Northern California, Colorado, now here in North Carolina. There's a bunch of people I could call up just from history. Oh, you know what, maybe Mike Hall had ... He's back in 40:00Colorado now. I think he made something like these when he was brewing at Oskar Blues back in the day. I call him up. "Hey, what do you think about this?" Just play off each other. The networking between people within my own history is going to be a big one, but also I'm a member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. So utilizing that network is amazing. Then when we started the college program six and a half years ago, that was a really big step because now we're in the academia realm. We could draw a lot off that.

Richard Cox: Awesome. Does Liberty engage with any types of community engagement work or fundraising?

Todd Isbell: Yeah, we do actually a lot of charitable work. We work with the Salvation Army here in town. Actually, a couple times a year we'll do blanket drives. We work with our first responders, both EMT, fire, and police officers. 41:00We do a lot of work for them. A big one would be the Arc of High Point. We have actually two people that work here in the mornings. Actually, you might have seen Terry. Terry, I think, is here and Jackie is here. We assist with that. More local community engagement. We're part of a restaurant group. We're not a chain, even though we have a sister brewery in Myrtle Beach with the same name, the food is going to be the same, but the beer is going to be completely different. If you go down to our brewery in Myrtle Beach at Broadway, the beers are going to be completely different. They have different water.

Richard Cox: Circle.

Todd Isbell: Plus, we want the brewer to, that'd be Mike Silver now, beg your pardon. We want him to kind do what I do. You want that identity that's individual for each brewery, but to go back to the charitable donations, we do 42:00have restaurants of different concepts in different towns. We're based out of Charleston, but we have restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina, Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach. But we also within that will have, say, Pearls, which is a raw bar, which is fantastic. Kaminsky's, which would be [inaudible 00:42:27] dinner, drinks, and then high end desserts. They're really good. Rio's, which would be a Brazilian steakhouse. We do have different concepts. Flying Fish is a fish market but also with a restaurant. It's really neat. They throw the fish and everything, which is fun. Each individual one of those has their own. Flying Fish does intercoastal work. Just for example, don't quote me on the specific ones that are in Greenville, South Carolina, but they would have 43:00their own individual charitable programs. We do have our different identities for that, which is good.

Richard Cox: Yeah, the charities seem to match the identity, which I think is what you're getting at. Awesome. Are there any ways that you see Liberty growing in the future or would like to see Liberty growing in the future?

Todd Isbell: Yeah, would like to see it grow, because we do have some room for expansion in the brewhouse. In fact, where you're sitting we could put some tanks here. We could take some of the grain storage, put it outside, put another fermenter in here, some more bright tanks. But then that would necessitate getting another full-time employee, perhaps two full-time employees and one would just be doing deliveries and draft lines. I don't own the place. Mark and Jerry have their business model. They're like "It's a full restaurant, on-premise brew pub." And they're like, "That's an animal we don't want to get into," which I'm in agreement with because if we wanted to do the full scale 44:00production, I would say keep this as is and then start a whole new brewery elsewhere as a production brewery. I think that's too late to the game, because going into production right now is a brutal game. The landscape of trying to get tap handles from bar XYZ or shelf space in a store is very difficult.

Todd Isbell: I'm assuming people have talked about that. Entering the industry right now and thinking you're going to go right into selling kegs out the door to bars and restaurants, that's a very difficult endeavor. Very, very difficult. You have to hit the ground running. So that's why you're seeing now just really tasting rooms with you could get the beer there. That's it, because of profit margin. And then alleviating yourself of the trials and tribulations of having a full restaurant. You've got to have your ... I don't deal with the actual food 45:00side of things. I'll let our restaurateur, I'll let our kitchen manager, our executive chef, I'll let them deal with that. I got enough on my plate.

Todd Isbell: Starting a restaurant is a difficult thing in its own right. Doing both of those, I see that shift towards just doing food trucks, because you're alleviated from that. That coupled with the culture of the craft beer drinker is hyper local. Farmers markets are being back to sexy. Organic food, as our grandparents said, food, that's being back to being sexy. That neighborhood. This is my neighborhood bar. This is where I drink. This is where I eat. If you travel, you're more likely to go to wherever in whatever town you're in to go to those places as opposed to a chain because I don't do chains really, to be honest with you.


Todd Isbell: I don't see growth in that light as far as we're not going to be getting a whole canning line in here and all that stuff. There's mobile canning. They're doing a hell of a lot better job now than when mobile canning started. They finally are understanding what QA/QC means. You could just picture, say, I'm a brewery and canning comes in. We're, say, canning a Kolsch today or a really light, delicate Pilsner or something like that. "Hey, what were you guys doing yesterday?" "Oh, we were doing some sour beer over at brewery XYZ." It's, ah. You are rolling the dice when you don't have complete control over that. I don't really think we're going to expand that way. This is just the business model they want. They're probably, we have to redo capital investment and then we're going to have to hire more people. Maybe they just don't want to.


Richard Cox: Deal with it, yeah. It makes sense.

Todd Isbell: And I'm cool with that. I can run this all by my lonesome.

Richard Cox: Yeah, great.

Todd Isbell: I'm fine with that.

Richard Cox: Speaking of that, how would you describe your average week?

Todd Isbell: Oh, sure. Average week when school is in session is easily five and a half, six days. At best just a day off. Usually I like to take Sundays off just because just because Sunday fun day. Usually it'll be five days a week. A lot of times, if I have a day off, I still come here just to check on temperatures and pressure and whatnot. Everything's good. Okay, make sure the kegs are good or the beers are fine. Usually it'll be, we'll just say if it's a five day work week, two days out of that will be brew days. In the colder months, because I don't have a cold liquor tank ... That'd be a design flaw, I think, here was not having a cold liquor tank. The incoming water is so hot in 48:00the summer that my heat exchange really stinks. Knock out takes a long time. I would have a cold liquor tank in here as well. I lost track. What was the question again?

Richard Cox: Your average week.

Todd Isbell: Oh, yeah, my average week. Probably two days would be brewing, two days would be either a filter run or getting a beer on tap. Moving a beer on tap. And then the other day would be clean kegs, clean draft lines. Something like that. That would be pretty much ... And then there's the periodic clean the exterior of everything. That's always a fun job. That's when brewery clean, brewer not so clean. It's a very repetitive job to be honest with you. Cleaning is the majority of what we do. A lot of people say we're glorified janitors, which is kind of true. There's a guy I used to work with, Rod. He said it's a 49:00third lab tech, third janitor, third forklift. Everything starts at 50 pounds. I think that's a good way to describe it. Third lab tech, third janitor, third forklift.

Richard Cox: That's fair. How would you say Liberty reflects your personal brewing approaches, interests, or philosophies? Because you got back to your traditionalists.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, philosophical question with beer. This is what I would always tell someone who's brewing. Brew beer that you like. If you're good at it, people will also like it. There's some basic tenets of quality brewing that just have to be adhered to. This would be another thing. If I had more space here, we'd definitely be doing a lot more lagers without question. We always have at least one on tap. Next season there will be a hoppy, no boil, well, it's not as 50:00amber as I want it, but amber lager. Then Oktoberfest will come here soon. Year round we always have an American lager. All malt American lager, which is essentially a Czech Pilsner toned down to American lager specs. Soft water, Czech Saaz hops, Czech Budweis yeast, and all Pilsner malt. It works. It works nice.

Richard Cox: Is there a beer recipe that you created you're most proud of?

Todd Isbell: Oh, actually, that would probably go back to ... Well, recipe wise, it's simple as hell.

Richard Cox: Good.

Todd Isbell: Would be that American lager I mentioned. It's 91% Pilsner malt, 9% light Munich, soft water, Czech Saaz hops, but done to 11 BUs or IBUs, which they say it's International Bittering Unit, but outside the U.S. it's just Bittering Unit, which I always find funny. It's a great beer. Session, it's four 51:00points, usually 4.6 to 4.8, somewhere around there ABV. A better version of that, which I ... In fact, it's in the cooler right now on head pressure, is I'll take an unfiltered version of that and dry hop it and then force carb it. That's dry hop Keller Bier. That's probably my go-to beer that we make here, because it still has a healthy amount of flavor but it's still light, dry. You can drink a lot of them. We sell the hell out of it, actually.

Richard Cox: Let's talk about Rockingham. You've been involved with the Brewing Distillation and Fermentation Program. That's right. Fermentation program at Rockingham Community College since its beginnings. Can you talk about the program and what your role has been there?

Todd Isbell: Sure. We started, oh, gosh, what year was that? It was six and a half years ago. They came to me. I think they went to several different breweries in the area and were just looking for, it was really a reconnoiter, 52:00for lack of a better phrase, to just see what the interest was from educational side. For example, if I was hiring an assistant, what would I want them to know? What would I want them to be trained in? A lot of people really wanted more of the hardware engineering infrastructure side of things. If this pump seal leaks, I want someone to be able to replace that without even worrying about it as opposed to hiring some guy to come in here, or girl, to fix that at $60 an hour. Other people know that. Understand the basic refrigeration cycle. They have to understand brewing as well. We're the first community college in the country, Rockingham Community College, to have an accredited or an associates and applied science specific to brewing. They had other programs, but they would have been, 53:00say, a bachelor of science or a masters, like Davis or what have you.

Todd Isbell: For example, if my map skills are correct, that way would be Surry County. They have the wine program. They don't do anything beer related. Although, fermentation, there's a lot of similarities when it comes to beer and wine, because the yeast Saccharomyces doesn't care what you're feeding it. But we have a lot more maltose, maltotriose, so different spectrum for fermentation. We're the first one that was specific to brewing. As soon as we got the go ahead from Raleigh, the next day, because they had their paperwork in order, A-B Tech in Asheville started as well as Blue Ridge Community College south of Brevard. We each had to have our own angles. North of Greensboro we had farms. We had the 54:00industrial department. So there's two tracks you could do. This is the original design. Was, one, the agricultural track. It'd be growing wheat, growing barley, growing hops, cultivating them, understanding malting, hop processing. That'd be one track. The other track would be the industrial track, which I think is the most powerful of all of them, was stainless steel sanitary welding, HVAC, pump repair, motor repair, those kind of things. Really important. They had to have a background also in brewing science, so understanding what the hell takes place in this thing and what takes place in this thing.

Todd Isbell: A-B Tech, they're a hospitality school. They do a lot of restaurant management and whatnot. Their angle was running a tasting a room, getting into sales and marketing, that kind of thing. Blue Ridge, they were going to be working in, or they still are, conjunction with Oskar Blues in Sierra. They'd be 55:00more of, I forget the name of it right now, but operating, maintaining, repairing packaging systems. Kegging lines, canning lines. Repair of all those things. Again, you still had to have a background in brewing science. For example, at Rockingham, well, I didn't teach the agricultural stuff. I didn't teach welding. I wouldn't know what the hell I would be doing. I'm going to put a mask on and then I need a spark for this torch.

Richard Cox: Light a torch.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. You get what you pay for when it comes to welding. No doubt. You can have some really shoddy work. I started on the brewing science side. I did, for five years, well, there was a semester I did two classes. Essentially it'd be one class a semester two nights a week. We'd have a lot of the nontraditional students that had either family or a day 56:00job or something. Our classes would be from, say, six to eight, six to nine, some were 6:00 to 10:00 at night. I did those on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Essentially, I took the program from UC Davis and toned it down a bit and then crammed it into a semester. It was a daunting task, to be honest with you.

Richard Cox: I was going to say that must have been its own challenge.

Todd Isbell: It was, yeah. The engineering stuff, we incorporated that into a different course. Cindy Vickers, whose husband, whose unfortunately no longer with us, he is the one that founded Loggerhead. She retired MillerCoors so she ran their labs. We had this really amazing lady who really could run the show. She did a semester for chemistry, a semester for microbiology, and she would do tastings and whatnot. I would do tastings as well, but mine would be on the, 57:00say, Thursday. I guess discuss about the schedule. Typical, Tuesday and Thursdays. Tuesday would be six to nine just all on the dry erase board, some anecdotal PowerPoint presentations or short movies or something like that. Thursday would be two hours of that and then the last hour would be tastings. I would have the Brewery Association guidelines up. If I make that beer style, I'll bring in a growler and we can sample. And then I would go and find a couple, say, if it's a English Brown Ale, for example, I'd bring in mine and then I would go and find a Samuel Smith. I would go and find shotgun. Not shotgun, but whatever their brown is from Lonerider. Anyways, or Downtown Brown, different styles and bringing that in. They just have about three ounces of each, but we'll discuss recipe wise how they're made. My sensory would go that way.

Todd Isbell: Whereas Cindy and her sensory, she would take, in fact, it was 58:00great, bring in quarts of Miller High Life and then spike them chemically so you could discover what acetaldehyde really is like, what diacetyl is, what isovaleric acid is, those kind of things. Flaws. At first, the flaws that she would do are really high, three times threshold. It's, whoa, my gosh. But then you tone it down. Sometimes you can mix them to try to get people to fine tune their palate. That was really good.

Richard Cox: That's fascinating.

Todd Isbell: Tom Eplett, who's now in Golden, he did an engineering program. He was the brew master at MillerCoors in Eden. So beneficial having them there in close proximity. Brad was our resident farmer, so he did the growing of barley wheat and hops. It was a really neat program. Jeff runs the program in A-B Tech. Gabe runs the program in Blue Ridge.


Richard Cox: How would you say the program has developed over the years?

Todd Isbell: Well, it was great. I challenged when I went for my raise. I challenged the powers that be at the school to show not only graduation rate but job placement within industry of those that graduate. We were near 100%. If you make it through the program, it's a college program like any other. You could get a math degree or an English degree. Whether or not you're going to get a job as a mathematician would be that's the debate. This is whether or not you could gauge whether or not the college is doing its job or whatever, what have you. Our job placement was near 100%. Some of my students, I think, we have three are at Natty Greene's, I think four are at Foothills, two are at Red Oak. Joymongers 60:00has two. A few are in Raleigh. One's starting at Hop Yard outside of Winston-Salem. Two are running breweries in Virginia. Some have moved to elsewhere in the country. Two own different home brew shops elsewhere. They're just fine tuning their skills. I still think that's in the industry. Yeah, we have a really good track record. They're in big breweries and small. One went to Pabst. That was really cool. That's one of my cheap beers of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon. I understand they have a latte out, which sounds pretty awful.

Richard Cox: I just read about that.

Todd Isbell: But I got to try it. I have to try it.

Richard Cox: I just read about it. It's five percent alcohol is what I read. Sneak it in your coffee cup. That's awesome.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, but we had a really good program there. Good success stories for the graduates.

Richard Cox: Yeah, that's amazing. This is a large question is how has the 61:00brewing scene changed since you first went into the business?

Todd Isbell: Oh. Sheer population. The number of breweries ... Wait, since I got into the industry or since came to North Carolina? I guess probably both.

Richard Cox: Let's do both.

Todd Isbell: I went into the industry in, I guess, 2003. I'd have to look up how many breweries were in the ... I know the Brewers Association would have a little chart that would say by year. I'm going to guess a little over 1,000. They're now approaching, I think, we're at 7500 maybe. Are we hitting 8,000? I don't know. There's close to 10,000 or more wineries in the country. I don't see people complaining about that. It is what it is. The average person now can very readily get a craft beer. Just because it has that craft nomenclature doesn't 62:00mean it's good. Just because it's local doesn't mean it's good. This is a tough pill for some people to swallow. Again, just because it's local doesn't mean it's good. Just because it's craft ... That definition changes readily. It changes all the time. The Brewers Association, it is a lobby group, so they will change their definition to keep Sam Adams in the mix and whatnot. I'm curious how it works with them with Lagunitas. They have now a partnership. I forget how that all works. I guess that's a side note.

Richard Cox: Yeah, it's that percentage sort of thing now.

Todd Isbell: Even your dive bars now have IPAs. IPA is dominating the market within the craft beer industry. I'd like to see more lagers, but it's understandable, because they take three times longer. I get that aspect of it. The sheer quantity is pretty vast. There's complicating factors with that as a customer because you could have those dust collectors in a store. That could be 63:00your first experience in thinking you're going to get a craft beer and you have a negative one because it wasn't refrigerated and stored properly and whatnot. Luckily, we're combating that with the snowball is going downhill for education. Education is really a big one. We're also, I hope on par with the wine industry with being an elite thing, because they had great marketing forever and a day. A lot of it went into the fact that this one bottle of wine could be hundreds and hundreds of dollars or even thousands. That doesn't exist in the brewing world, or if it does, you're getting ripped off. I know what goes into making those barrel-aged imperial stouts. They're not worth what you're paying on the gray market or black market, for that matter. Not to say they're bad. Just saying imperial barrel-aged stouts, but they do age better than American lager.


Todd Isbell: Usually, yeah, your average drinker knows a hell of a lot more than they did in 2003. That goes, now correlate with North Carolina, there's so many breweries now that you're more likely to be, "Hey, you know what, let's just check this out." Courtesy of doing a flight or samplers, if you didn't like a beer, you only had three ounces of it, or how about one and you only lost two ounces. It's not really that big of a deal. Those are really prevalent now even at just a normal bar that's not even a brewery. They're tasting and doing samplers.

Todd Isbell: I think the public is getting more educated. There's a great amount of different beer styles. A lot with the real small breweries, the nanos and whatnot, you could get really idiosyncratic beers. If they don't sell well, well, we only made three barrels of it. It's not really that big of a deal. Say, just to use an example, if Foothills made an experimental batch on their 50 65:00barrel system that went into a 400 barrel tank, they did eight turns of it and it just so happened it didn't sell well, they're like, "Ah. This is a major commitment for us to do." That's why you got to do those. They also have the brew pub so that you can do smaller runs. We don't the beer bottles with the little dog on the cover. In fact, my buddy, David, with wine, he's, "Never buy a wine that has a critter on the front of it. It'll never be a good wine."

Richard Cox: It's a gamble.

Todd Isbell: Which I always found funny.

Richard Cox: It's interesting because you talk part of this back into educating the public, because you said earlier one of the things you do here is educate the people behind the bar. How do you do that? First of all, how do you educate them to talk to people coming in and what beer should I try? What in the world is a wet Blackberry Wheat?

Todd Isbell: This is ongoing struggle that brewers and bartenders or any service will, I don't want to say struggle, but there's always going to be, yeah, 66:00perhaps a struggle with the public. We do tours. If new employees come in, I'll get four at a time, give them a tour, tell them what I do. It's probably a 45 minute tour. I just what happens here, what happens here, what is beer, what makes each one different. I'll have a full packet for them to not necessarily memorize. I put up sheets of paper definitely for all our seasonals. There'll be a full, say, paragraph or two description of the beer. And then in bold keywords this is what you have to be able to just rattle out to any customer.

Todd Isbell: Someone might not know what an oatmeal stout is. I have to see the sign here. Oh, it has oats in it. But to be able to describe this is going to be our fullest bodied, our darkest beer possible. It's going to be six and a half 67:00percent. If you think it's a Guinness, it's going to be much more intense flavored, more roast, more body. You get nuances of raisin and toffee, those kind of things. Hops are just for balance. IPA, this is going to be our hoppiest beer. Know that it's seven percent ABV, pale blonde, orange in color. To be able to knock those out from pinpoints, because also as a full-service restaurant, we could also have someone who's not 21 servicing. We could have an 18-year-old or a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old or someone who's 23 years old and doesn't drink for whatever reason, health, religious, social, whatever. If you work here, you still have to be able ...

Richard Cox: Yeah, you have to talk about it.

Todd Isbell: You still have to know that. You have to understand what's on our supreme pizza or tap room pizza. Sorry. To be able to describe what a 68:00porterhouse is. Well, it's a T-bone but it has a larger filet. Essentially, New York Strip would be the other part. That's pretty baseline stuff. If they really want to get beer nerdy, that's where they could interrogate me. There's only so much you can do. The bartenders have to know more than the service staff, but they're my direct ambassadors. As a brewer, I'm here mornings and afternoons and then I go. I don't live here. So they're my ambassador. They have to know their stuff otherwise, well, things don't go well. The customer is number one. As soon as they walk through that foyer, they're the number one person in this place. We have to give them the best experience possible. It's not necessarily great food and great beer. Great service is paramount. Because the burger could be okay in 69:00whatever restaurant you go to, but your service really rocks, it really helps out.

Richard Cox: It does, yeah.

Todd Isbell: Service could be great and the beer is terrible. That's not good either. You got to be on point. You have to have your A game all the time.

Richard Cox: Yeah, awesome. You talked about how the brewing scene has changed. What's it like to work, to you, in the craft beer industry today?

Todd Isbell: Oh, it's great. Esprit de corps and camaraderie, I think, is probably the big one. Traveling around, because I can't go everywhere in the state, but traveling around I'll always go to the new brewery in town. They're always new people to meet. There's so many breweries now that I can't keep up, to be honest with you. Since we don't package, a lot of people won't have heard of us. Say if I go to Wilmington, they're, "Where's Liberty from?" I'm, "Well, 70:00it's in High Point in between Greensboro and Charlotte." They're like, "I've never heard of you. You guys just open?" "No, we've been around almost 20 years, but we're just a brew pub." Because when I moved here and we would have, say, a beer festival or a brewer's gathering, for lack of a better phrase, we all knew everybody. Now we go to meetings and I don't know anybody. It's almost like I don't know anybody. This is a good thing, because what's good for the individual, is good for the industry. What's good for the industry is good for the individual brewery.

Todd Isbell: The esprit de corps. For example, Brown Trucks right down the road, if they're in a jam to get a bag of Munich malt or something, "Hey, Todd, I need two bags of light Munich." I'm, "All right. Gotcha." He's, "I'll get you next week. No problem." Or if I need to borrow an 11 pound bag of hops, not a problem. We do that stuff all the time. You don't really see that too much in 71:00other industries, in fact, at all. That's the cool part of our industry that I like a lot. Yeah, esprit de corps, I think would be ...

Richard Cox: Yeah, that's great. Are there any particular trends that you really like or dislike?

Todd Isbell: Going into it, the hazy IPA I thought was deplorable. To a great extent when they're stored improperly, they still are because it's the exemplar of originally poor brewing operations. Then it caught on because there are several beers that would do really well, Heady Topper and beers of that nature. But they would ship them across country. God, who knows what the heck that things been dealing with. Someone on the West Coast gets a Heady Topper from whatever years ago and has it. "I don't understand what the hype is all about." But if you have a well-made one and you have it fresh in-house or check your 72:00dates, it's fantastic. They don't really do too well for longevity. Actually, what was it for the other question?

Richard Cox: Oh, really like or dislike. Just anything industry wide.

Todd Isbell: Trying to get back to lagers would be great. Mason Jar in Fuquay is doing a really good job. Dave Haydysh is the brewer there. He's doing a really good job. The problem is lagers take much more longer time. If you could crank out three batches of something in this tank, you're going to do it because we're in business to make money. Secondarily we just happen to be making beer. You have to be floating above water. What things have I not liked or I want to change or I'd like to see in the future? Luckily we've moved away from the how bitter can we get this beer, which there was an interesting race. That'd be the advent of San Diego IPAs really. That race has, I don't want to say petered off, 73:00but it's leveled off. If you still want a San Diego IPA, great, you can get one.

Todd Isbell: The how high alcohol can get, which I get it. In the grand scheme of things, it's a little sophomoric, I think. That was a stupid race. We're restricted here in North Carolina at 15% ABV, which is a lot. I think the closest I came here was 11 1/2%. It was a wheat wine. It was a millennial wheat, because it was our 1000th batch of beer. I'm, well, in this light, having something really strong is in order. It would be an imperial version of our American amber ale that we ... Or, excuse me, American wheat that we always have on tap.

Richard Cox: Fascinating, yeah.

Todd Isbell: The race for high ABVs, luckily that has gone away. Kettle souring 74:00is one that you really have to know what you're doing, because a lot of those are dreadful. I think the pastry stouts are not good. Those don't last well. They're so cloyingly sweet, it'd be probably better to make a reduction with it or cook with it or something.

Richard Cox: Yes, cook with it. Right.

Todd Isbell: Adding just for gimmick sake, maybe for a nano brewery it would be all right, but making the Fruity Pebble and Lucky Charms beers, I think those are pretty awful. Some of those people, I think, are just grasping just to be different just because. I used to live in Northern California and Boulder, Colorado and I've been to Asheville a lot. A lot of people, being weird is cool. Been to Portland. Keep Portland weird. A lot of people, just to use an example, comedic, it's how can I be different today. I got to be as different as possible. It's like, well, just because you can doesn't mean you should. The 75:00Jurassic Park quote. Those are things I'd like to see get away from are the real gimmicky cheesy ones. Some of the labeling can get crazy. Not to name specific ones but there's a brown ale from a brewery, and their label, I don't know how it got approval. It's labeling approval. Some of those things are ... There's off the cuff jokes that everyone does, off color jokes or whatever. Those are fine, but when you actually this is representing your company and now you're insulting the whole industry, I think. I think we need to get away from those.

Todd Isbell: I think go back towards some of the traditional beers. Session. It'd be great if we could keep someone here and they have four or five beers, because they're only 3.5% ABV. Kind of like that beer garden English pub 76:00mentality, because we want you playing darts all night. As opposed to coming in and getting shellacked on two small pours of an imperial IPA.

Richard Cox: And not even knowing that's what you're doing.

Todd Isbell: And not even know that you're going to get hammered. I'd like to move away from those. Those are good beers in the right place in the right time.

Richard Cox: Great. What role do you feel breweries such as Liberty have played in changes in High Point and the Triad?

Todd Isbell: Oh. I think we would've been one of the sparks. One of those national sparks that started the fire. In this case, the wild fire is a good one. This is job stability for a lot of people. Then just really try to continue from quality standpoint. Quality, which I think I said in the introduction, that is arguably our most important thing possible. I have a little bit of, in fact, I have a lot of forgiveness here in a brew pub environment because the beer stays here. It's cold all the time. I'm in charge of the transfer, a minimum 77:00amount of transfers, and we're going to crank out, I'd say, a batch of IPA in about three weeks. It doesn't have, really, any time to, say, oxidize or warm up and have potential bacterial growth or something like that. That's a great benefit that we have. If you come here, you're always going to get something that'd be of quality. It might not be a beer style you care for, but hey, that's why we give away samples. That works that way. Being one of the originals is pretty cool. Even when I moved here in 2007, we'd already been in operation for seven years. I still was in one of the leaders of the pack as far as North Carolina is concerned considering the number of breweries now. Yeah, I think we're just one of those sparks that just kept it going.

Richard Cox: Which is great. Would you like to take a guess at where you think 78:00the brewing industry is going to be in about five years?

Todd Isbell: Yeah. I think we're going to continue with growth. The ones that are adequate are going to unfortunately go away. Capitalism, it has its ups and downs. The free market has its ups and downs. If you don't hit the ground running nowadays, you have to have good beer right off the bat. Otherwise, you better have a good food program or something to keep you afloat or a good wine program. Something.

Richard Cox: Something.

Todd Isbell: You have to hit the ground running nowadays. Just because grandma passed away and you got $200,000, and you home brewed a few times, that does not mean you should open a brewery. Just try to get some professional experience first. There are schools that are available. At the college we would have both hands-on and lecture style and then internships that would be available at local 79:00breweries. We do great hiring from the program. Try to get a formalized education, because just being a home brewer, that does not stand out anymore on a resume. You are going to get passed over. You have to get some experience and you're going to have to swallow pride and start from the ground up often. You could be a really successful whatever you do for a living and you retired or you retired early or you're done with that industry. You used to make $80,000 a year. Well, guess what? You're not going to be making that. But you want to get in the beer industry. Those are some of the sacrifices you're going to have to have. You have to hit the ground running in the future and now. It should've been 10 years ago as well.

Todd Isbell: I do see a continuation of the hyperlocal. I do not think there's ever going to be someone who started locally and they're going to become Sam Adams. It's not going to happen. You're not going to become Sierra Nevada. We 80:00saw what happened with what's their names, Green Flash that bought their brewery in Virginia. They shuttered. I don't know who is there now. Someone bought that. Deschutes was going to do one in Roanoke. They held back on that. That's one of the best breweries in America. They were wise to not do the overexpansion. Sierra Nevada had enough clout that they could do it, because they're probably the most important brewery in America, I think. Historically, we could go with Anheuser Busch from a science standpoint. Cold storage, cold transportation. From a scientific standpoint, Anheuser Busch probably would be. But as far as craft beer, nobody comes close to Sierra Nevada. They're just brilliant. Everything they've done was just always quality driven. The days of a small brewery becoming them, those are long gone. The hyperlocal thing, I think it's 81:00going to continue.

Todd Isbell: Probably, because of that, we're going to see more nano breweries, real small. This would be considered a big brewery. This is a really small brewery in the grand scheme of things. We just do a little over 300 gallons a batch. That's where I see it going. I think, or at least I hope, we'll get away from the really cheesy, gimmicky stuff, which we'll do every once in a while but it's if I'm at my local bottle shop, I make a quarter barrel for him. It's a little joke kind of beer. We'll do those, but those are little one offs. Getting away from the gimmicky stuff. More shelf stability would be great. Hyperlocal. I think those are good trends.

Richard Cox: Great. Is there anything that you see is unique about North Carolina or Southern beer?

Todd Isbell: No. I think we're a state like any other. There could be places 82:00that ... There's great credence in this with the hyperlocal thing. We're only using North Carolina grains. We're only using North Carolina hops. Okay, and our water is from here. Hey, that's very cool. They also do that in Colorado. They also do that in Washington State. They do that in Idaho. They do that in New York, especially the farmers ... Excuse me, the farmers bill in New York from a few years ago really blew up the number of breweries in New York where I'm from. The thing is with beer, all you need is the equipment. We could order stuff from around the world. It gets to us really fast. From a traditional standpoint, this is where we'd have our each individual beer styles. The dry Irish stout and the Munich dunkel, Pilsen, whatnot. That's all gone now, because we can manipulate our water and our grains are going to come from wherever. Our hops we can now, 83:00within reason, grow almost wherever.

Todd Isbell: I really don't see a difference in North Carolina versus other states. I do see, courtesy of government regulations, North Carolina is a little bit, depending on the state we're talking about, ahead. We're still behind in others. Taxation would be a big one. The distiller thing that just passed, which is monumental. The distillers are loving life right now. Compared to, for example, say, Mississippi or Alabama, some deep south, we are crazy trendsetters. But could they make the same beer in Mississippi that we can here? Yeah. It wouldn't be an issue. That's more of where I think the consumer palate might be a driver along with maybe some experimental brewers. It's not that they're really experimental anymore, to be honest with you. In that light I 84:00really don't see a difference with North Carolina. We're leading the overall trends in the greater southeast. I think we've proven that. One of the reasons why a couple of the big boys have been here. You can make good beer anywhere.

Richard Cox: Is there anything that you see is unique about the Triad brewing scene maybe as compared to elsewhere in North Carolina?

Todd Isbell: Hmm. I'm going to again, no. Because we still have that camaraderie. I could go and go up to Prior and be, "Hey, Calder. What's up?" Go to Joymongers. "Hey, Uncle Mike." The same thing happens in Charlotte when, I don't know, Todd Ford goes to Olde Meck. "Hey, John. Merino." "Hi, how are you?" Just basic camaraderie is pretty universal in the industry. We share a lot. I have not seen hatred or dislike or anything like that. What makes the Triad different?


Richard Cox: It's spread out more.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, it is. It's spread out, because we have three cities that are loosely put a half hour from each other. It's a collective. Let's see. We're 115,000 population. Winston is I think over 200. Greensboro is two and a half.

Richard Cox: Something, yeah.

Todd Isbell: Two hundred and fifteen thousand, something. The greater area might be closer to a million, maybe. Then of course we've got the Piedmont, which would be much larger. Actually, for here in High Point, a good thing about us is because we have the home furnishings market twice a year. It's the largest trade show by a landslide in the ... Actually, it's the largest trade show, I think, in the country. Landslide, biggest single event for economic development in the whole state of North Carolina. We get a really international crowd a couple times a year, which is pretty neat. Maybe that would set us apart a little bit. 86:00Still, with the tobacco industry, which hopefully goes away and they start growing hemp. Getting into other crops. That's how Winston-Salem was founded money wise. We would've been furniture. Hanes brand and who else would be Greensboro economic drivers historically? Good international crowd here. What would make that different from Charlotte? I don't think too much because it's a pretty big city. Our infrastructure can hold better than Charlotte, because their population growth is not-

Richard Cox: Sustainable.

Todd Isbell: Right. Hopefully you like traffic when you're there. We don't have traffic problems.

Richard Cox: Now the hard questions. Interpret them as you will. What's your favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than Liberty?

Todd Isbell: Oh.

Richard Cox: It can be you had recently if you like.

Todd Isbell: Oh, had recently.

Richard Cox: Whatever works for you.

Todd Isbell: It's a collaboration that Brown Truck and Incendiary did, which is 87:00on tap actually at both places. They might be running out, though, at Brown Truck. When you read this, it's out. They did a hazy IPA, which is pretty funny. It was called Hypnotized, I think. That I really liked, because they executed it well. John Priest is at Incendiary. He and Burnett at Brown Truck, they did a collab. That was really good. When I go to Joymongers, usually Kolsch is the first one I'll drink there. Let's see. Oh, Foothills Torch Pilsner. In fact, that'd probably be my favorite beer in North Carolina that I don't make.

Richard Cox: Oh, there you are.

Todd Isbell: Torch Pils.

Richard Cox: Torch pils.

Todd Isbell: Lager.

Richard Cox: Lager, exactly.

Todd Isbell: It's really hoppy. Of course, it's Foothills, so it's going to be hoppy. If you're a traditionalist for a Czech Pilsner, which is a hoppy beer, this ups the ante. Yeah, Torch Pils definitely my favorite North Carolina beer.

Richard Cox: I'm betting it's the American lager, but what would you say is 88:00Liberty's flagship or signature beer?

Todd Isbell: Depends. On the whole year it would be Miss Liberty Lager, but when the school is in session, High Point University, they pound down both wheat beers. An American wheat and I use that same base and then post fermentation on the cold side I had blackberry puree I get from Oregon. That'd be blackberry wheat. Both of those beers they crush.

Richard Cox: That's an award winning beer.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, and the best thing is, because if we were in Portland, Oregon, I'd have to have five IPAs on tap that pretty much taste the same. They drink an unfiltered American wheat beer the most. It's the cheapest beer we make from an ingredient, and I can turn it around in 10 days. It's perfect. The dime counters like it. I like it. Plus, just shovel out of the Mash Tun, too. I don't have the best back anymore. Definitely, the flagship when school's in session, both wheat beers. As a whole, the American Lager, and then easily third place 89:00would be IPA.

Richard Cox: Oh, sure. Do you have a favorite beer from Liberty?

Todd Isbell: Dry Hopped Kellerbier. Unfiltered dry hop lager. That would be a go-to. Although, I only make it periodically. That's just to keep more of the-

Richard Cox: The rotation.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, it's good to have a rotation. Actually, in the future we're going to be shifting our schedule here, which I think is keep up with the Jones' would be a good way to put it. Historically, we have 10 beers on tap. Seven are going to be standard beers that are always on. Keep that recipe. Consistency. Three always rotate. If you come in once a week, you're probably going to have a new beer on, something like that. We're going to be shifting from that seven and three probably towards maybe a four standard beer, six rotating seasons. Because if I got rid of lager and the wheat beers, got to keep. IPA I would keep. Those 90:00outside we'll do more rotation. More yeast strains. I probably just because of I don't think I'll be doing bacterial fermentation here because once they get into the living room, they're crowding the couch and grabbing the remote control. I don't want any part of that.

Richard Cox: So no bret is going to be playing in here.

Todd Isbell: Yeah, luckily, brettanomyces, technically it is smaller than saccharomyces, but with proper cleaning regimen, you'd be all right. It's the bacteria lactobacillus or something. That's why the kettle sours are so sexy. I don't want to be dealing with a lot. We don't really have space for barrels. If I did a sour program ... This is a crazy thing that you see in breweries all the time. It's crazy. Having a bunch of barrels that are all wild, whatever wild means. Different microflora bacteria and/or yeast strains, plural. Next to a 91:00very clean American beer or a German Pilsner. Its, what are you people doing? Why? Why are you thinking that? Why do you do that? Especially if they're open fermentation, too, which we don't.

Richard Cox: Just saying, in your mind you can just see that moving back and forth.

Todd Isbell: I can just see it happening. They're airborne some of them, a lot of them. Go back to the question. Sorry.

Richard Cox: It was just what's your favorite beer from Liberty?

Todd Isbell: Dry Hopped Kellerbier would be definitely probably my go-to. No doubt.

Richard Cox: Awesome. That's all I got. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Todd Isbell: Keep beer alive.

Richard Cox: Keep beer alive. Thank you, man.

Todd Isbell: Yes, support your local brewery.

Richard Cox: I appreciate it. Absolutely. Awesome.

Todd Isbell: A pleasure.