Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Talking Beer with the Chief Beer Officer.

Had a chance to chat and have a few beers last week with Scott Kerkmans, chief beer officer for Sheraton's Four Points hotel line. He was in the midst of a tour and had a stop in Brussels — at Delirium, specifically — where a handful of breweries appeared to be trying to woo him and his colleagues. It was interesting to watch smaller commercial breweries like Huyghe spinning the old "Belgium is beer paradise" line for someone who is savvy enough to know the truth is a bit more complicated.

Anyway: You may remember the well-publicized search for Sheraton's chief beer officer two years ago. Thanks to the publicity and straight-up attractiveness of the job, the Starwood-owned hotel chain got more than 7,000 applications from 30 countries. Kerkmans, a former brewer at the Alaskan Brewing Company who is still not yet 30, eventually came out on top.

It didn't take long for me to see why they hired the guy. His job is not just to push the Four Points hotels into stocking better beer; he is also the public face and voice for that effort. From what I saw last Tuesday, it continues to be a smart publicity move. It might typically go something like this: Kerkmans visits a city with a Four Points hotel, the hotel alerts the local journalists that the "chief beer officer" is in town, and the journalists come to drink beer and meet the guy with the dream job. Maybe they also write about it.

Besides talking to journalists and posing for pictures, Kerkmans says he's doing his damnedest to get each Four Points to stock interesting, local beers. The rule for the bar: There must be four drafts and eight bottles at a minimum, and at least half of those should be local.

Just to be clear: Local for the Four Points in Brussels does not mean Cantillon; it means anything Belgian. "Here, Hoegaarden would still be considered local," Kerkmans said. Yes, even though it's owned by Belgian-Brazilian-Missourian-global giant A-B Inbev. Not that he is satisfied with that.

"My job, I feel like, is to do my best to get one or two very interesting local producers a seat at the table," he said, "so that people like us can go to the hotel and find something we'd like, something we'd enjoy. ... It's always a challenge to set the balance right."

People "like us"? I presumed that he meant geeks. Aficionados. Kerkmans is a genuinely good guy who's good at talking to journalists. Have any of you visited a Four Points lately? Did you have a beer there? I'd be very interested to hear how he's doing at the other part of his job.

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