Jon: Just to get it out of the way what is Cicerone?
Zack: Cicerone you actually did a better job pronouncing it for the first time than most people; the chicharrones Cicerone. So, it’s like pretty. Cicerone is basically for lack of a better term the beer equivalent of a Sommelier. It’s an exam that you have to take to prove everything from style history to pairing notes; beer production processes things like that. A lot of food pairing as it really comes down to it. But it's become very popular in the last few years because up until recently we only had so much beer to drink and people started to realize you could kind of do the beer thing with white tablecloth service. So, they stepped up the organization game and gave beer its own designation.
Jon: Did you have to take an official class or something?
Zack: There are no classes. One of the most infuriating things about it I love studying for exams and preparing for stuff like that but there is no roadmap that makes how much sense for them. They just give out a huge syllabus. They give you like 15 or 20 books that you have to read. Then there's like a huge tasting portion of the exam which is sort of subjective in certain cases because you're asked to pair with food. There are basic things where you have to taste for irregularities or off flavors in the beer. You have to buy the special kits to test it which are very expensive. So no classroom you're just all on your own time. There are a lot of people at this time who have taken it. But there's a lot of board stories that are being traded I'm study guides that people have made up but nothing official. In the past it used to be a lower than any of the 50 states Bar exams. I don't think that's the case anymore they just added another level and designation. I've had that for two or three years ago and it's helped me out a lot as a writer because people see that. Americans are obsessed with titles.
Jon: It's like you're officially an expert.
Zack: There is nothing wrong with the title itself it's just coming up with it that makes it a little easier to quantify what you do. Some people in this country want to see that when they go to hire you to do something for them. I know guys that have been brewing for longer than I've been alive who don't weigh more than I know about beer and they won't ever take the Cicerone exam. It totally just depends on what you're doing and what you're all about.
Jon: you went to school in Montreal and I just made the same mistake as I'm sure many do. You grew up in Canada, but you said you grew up in a small town in Boston.
Zack: yes I grew up on the North Shore just outside of Boston
Jon: where did you get the idea to go to school in Montreal?
Zack: It's cheap. It's cheap and it's also one of the best schools in the world. Legitimately it's like rank 13 when I was there. I didn't think I would get you because it's very competitive my grades were good I guess. I want you to study International politics and French. Technically it's both International and French-speaking city was kind of the perfect place. It also saved me a fortune on my tuition. One of the few people I know graduated without student debt.
Jon: is that is pretty clutch.
Zack: yes it's also Montreal it's a freezing City in the winter but one of the coolest places in North America.
Jon: Did you learn how to speak french?
Zack: yes I'm fluent.
Zack: I'm actually certifiably fluent.
Jon: Can you give us a little?
Zack: Oh my God I hate that. What do you want me to say?
Jon: I love cheese.
Zack: [French 4:42]
Jon: You studied economics, political science, French language and Literature… Did I miss anything on that?
Zack: No. I was one of those over-ambitious college kids. I was legally required to take a certain number of courses and was held back from taking a certain amount. I was there and like I said I wanted to study French. The McGill doesn't offer a lot of creative stuff on the side living some of the more conservative liberalized programs in the US. I didn't have the option to take Visual Arts or anything like that not like I went to school with any ambitions to do anything like that. I fancied myself a bit of a writer but I got to put it into practice writing rigorous curriculum up there.
Jon: I know you through friends but I know that you write a lot and you are a contributor on many websites. That kind of sounds like a degree that rounds you off and point you in the direction to be a writer later on. Was that the intention?
Zack: I don't think that came to me until halfway. When I got to school I was like oh my God the opportunities. I wanted to be a meteorologist. I was bid assets on being a meteorologist for a while or a geologist I was really into that. Then I switched over and I was like no I want to go and work for State Department. I want to be a diplomat. Then halfway through that I realized that's not exactly the career you want to launch into after college. I just realized like writing thing is fun and should maybe get a job in media because that is a sort of thing I can use that as an opportunity the kind of expand my practice of gaining knowledge and seen the world. I graduated from McGill and moved right into Montreal to New York basically. That changed a lot of things. That and also the economy collapse. Less than a year after I graduated.
Jon: We are segwaying perfectly leading into it. Did you have any family or friends when you moved here? You moved how long after graduation?
Zack: I graduated in June and I was here by July.
Zack: I was trying to figure out if I was going to move back to Boston and it took less than a week. I was like no I'm not going to do it. So I was on a family vacation and I'm on my way back home I told my mom “I think I'm going to get on a train to New York tonight.” it sounds like some stupid cliché like Bruce Springsteen song or whatever. I jumped on the train. I had $170 in my bank account. I was able to stay. I had no family here, but a really good friend of mine who I spent summer living in England with. She let me sleep on her couch for the entire summer before. She had offered the same thing. She said, “Come and see if you can find a job and an apartment for two weeks.” I found both in 10 days.
Jon: You were really determined at that point.
Jon: Was it the fact that you just didn't want to go back to living with your parents?
Zack: That was a huge part of it not that I don't love my parents.
Jon: That was very much my motivation moving out. I'm like ah man they're making me do chores and stuff like that I need to get out of here.
Zack: It was that but part of it was having moved from the small towns I grew up in, to Montreal realizing oh man there is so much more out there. The time that I have to spend in New York this summer before the bar had been set way too high for me to kind of slink back into doing something I wasn't super interested in. So I was really motivated and kind of typical twenty-two-year-old naive and I was like I can do New York this is no problem. I'll make money. Even before the crash it was like A bit of a stretch for me. I made it happen and I was lucky to make it to the right people at the right time.
Jon: Was that first job a writing position?
Zack: Yes I started off at this place called Eats.com which eventually became Delivery.com. They hired me to write up some restaurants and stuff around the city. It was one of the first things that had been offered to me that wasn't completely off the beaten path of what I wanted to do so I took it. It didn't pay very well and I was like 22 as I said and starving. I was trying to figure out how to make this job work. The roommate that I had at the time somebody I found through Craigslist be sheer luck or faith happened to be from the same graduating class at McGill as I was. I met them sending out an email on Craigslist. I was responding to his ad on Craigslist to make ends meet. I started waiting tables at a restaurant he just bought that I lived above. It was an Italian wine restaurant and bar. When the economy collapsed and all the other prospects I had dried up that's what actually kept me in the city, but it was also what was teaching me about service Industries stuff. It was like a really interesting experience because he was a year older than me and he owned this restaurant. He was opening this wine shop over here. I kind of opened my eyes to the idea. I moved to New York with the intention of working for other people. My entire life I assumed I would go on a business or I'd start a career working for other people. Then I started thinking maybe I can start doing something for myself someday. And that didn't last too long. I ended up having desk jobs that burned me out really fast.
Jon: You kind of went right into writing about food I'm restaurants in New York.
Zack: Not entirely by design. The writing I was doing for them it was very much it was an advertorial, but it was not as polished as it could be. This was before writing about food that I have taken off on any kind digital. There wasn't the culture of writing about food and stuff online. This is 2007/2009.
Jon: Was Yelp around?
Zack: The place I was working for was kind of directly competing with Yelp. That was sort of the passionate thing. A lot of my friends treated Yelp differently back then. I don't know if you remember that. Back then people would take the reviews you're very seriously. I had a group of friends that were all about it.
Jon: Yes they would leave very distinct detailed reviews in Yelp.
Zack: Oh my god.
Jon: I don't think I've ever left a review on Yelp. I go off the reviews but I've never actually left one. Especially I've never left like an unsettling disappointing review.
Zack: There's so much that I very early on realized like Yelp it's like the best and worst of things in the world. Mostly because so many ill-informed or anger people get a platform.
Jon: Exactly the anger. You can always find the one or two star reviews are just people that didn't have a good day even before getting to the place of their reviews.
Zack: Yes even though people should know that is the case. You see people calling out hosts by name or things like that. They're clearly irate online. At this point we should understand what like an angry internet person sounds like.
Zack: I don't know this site was different. I wasn't just writing those reviews I was going around and talking to restaurant owners of a bunch of like early day plan your day out in New York I like trips up and down the street trying different restaurants stuff like that. I didn't move to New York to be a food writer. I just wanted to do anything writing related. I remember applying for jobs at foreign policy magazine. I'm trying to see if I can get entered into the economist and stuff like that. This is just what happened to come by first. It sounded cool.
Jon: You then went on to work for a few other media companies.
Jon: I think on your LinkedIn it says you worked at Gawker.
Jon: It wasn't well before it got sold off or went under?
Zack: It was killed off which is RIP we need them now more than ever. Way before that that was 2010. That was right when economic collapse was writing itself in the media world I guess. I had been doing weird freelance stuff I'm something popped up for an internship but I just quickly on the fly shot off an email. They got back to me and I ended up starting a video internship there and meeting some of the people who have changed my life the most in New York City. Coworkers and some of them are best friends and they are working there. It was an amazing place to be. It was a really crazy time for media. Old stuff for dying off and new stuff were coming up fast and Gawker was kind of at the forefront of that. I was such a tiny insignificant part of it but to be in the room when so much of this stuff was happening was surreal to me at the time as a big fan of the website but you could feel things that were happening in the office. It was a really good time to be there as a young bootstrapping intern.
Jon: Cutting your teeth on the work.
Jon: You mentioned some of the friends that you made there were super influential on your life and you still stay in contact with them.
Jon: In what way did they help you to kind of get your footing?
Zack: We kind of joke around and call it like a second version of college class with friends because so much of us came together in the same phase of life. We have the same set of Interests. We basically were working long hours and doing interesting stuff, building something together. To this point I've got friends like some of our mutual friends I met because I sat next to them during this internship we worked on stuff after that. We've gotten each other jobs. I remember the first few jobs I had after Gawker we're all through people who I had met through this opportunity.
Jon: Everyone was just kind of looking out for each other.
Zack: And through them too. The people I met they’re friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. You go to any of these events and now it's in a New York media bubble too I suppose. I have been roommates with some of these people I worked with there. I have married a couple of them off. It's just one of those things like you just felt like college friends.
Jon: You went on from Gawker to work at Oyster which is a cool magazine.
Zack: I have the Webby Awards between there. I worked in a couple of mutual friends as well who were there. Then I jumped over to Oyster which is no longer independent product. Back then it was owned by Travel Channel. We were doing hotel reviews, travel writing and stuff. It was a lot of fun.
Jon: That was the last kind of writing position you had.
Zack: That's the last desk job I had.
Jon: Before branching off and starting what is known as today Alphabet Beer Company. At that point in your life what was going through your mind? What led you to that decision?
Zack: It was a bunch of things I was looking around at the landscape of media or where I could go tangentially from where I was at. None of it looked really great. None of my friends were getting huge raises or job promotions without getting massive lateral moves or leading the city. The job security thing was getting worse. So many of the places I wanted to work two years later were laying off and shutting down. I just realized I didn't want to have to worry about that. It took a lot of time to invest to end up making no money and having no job security. On top of that I was just stressed out. I really didn't like my workload for the amount of money I was getting paid. What's also just the way it was making me feel like at the end of the day I didn't feel as meaningful or fulfilling as I wanted it to. I always tell a story, but I am always at home visiting my sister in Boston and it's a Saturday at 11 AM. I was already coming to grips with my demons. The Sunday scaries like after 11 AM on a Saturday. My now business partner called and he was like “Do you want to open up a beer store we could mention yours before?” I was like you know what yes. I knew he meant it. It wasn't one of those like half-baked things. When he asks you to do things like that he means it. So I was like yes I'm not going to pretend like this not worth it. It's as risky for me to do this as it is to stay in the line of work that I’m in. I was like if it doesn't feel good I just go back.
Jon: Yes I believe at that point you raised a really valid point. What's the worst that can happen? You might end up with a little more debt or something like that you go to back and live with Mom and Dad. It's not like you're going to burn and fall into a ditch that you can't get out of.
Zack: Yes because everyone in this country is like pro self-starter until you get them to sign that paper work. They're like I had friends they're going to do that. I'm like yes I know I'm going to do it. My parents and everyone are really supportive when I get to it. You really want to walk away from the security of a desk job?
Jon: My parents they do the same thing now?
Jon: I'm a graphic designer and my parents when I told them hey I'm leaving my job they're like “Hey are you going to have health care?” I was like “I might go freelance a couple of months.” Healthcare though. “What if you break your arm?” I'm like “Mom I literally use a laptop all day I'm not lifting anything.” I think as we get older you and I` we'll kind of understand and looking towards the next generation of people maybe that won't be such a heavy topic. It feels like my parents your parents all kind of same concern where those are the biggest things. Rightly so but I think you and I approached it—
Zack: sounds like we have to vote.
Jon: we approach it in a way like we kind of face it head-on. It's like yes I understand that but I'm going to make sure that I'm doing all the right things to get me in that good position later on in a month or two. But I know I have to stick it out for that.
Zack: we have to think more long-term different than our parents generation. What is a whole angry Millennial debate thing which makes me pissed off because so many people are like all you guys want to do is just complain. But you can look at it any metric and see how different it is for our generation. After that point I wasn't thinking this then but now I look back and realize it was a good Millennial move of me to try and cut it out on my own. I didn't see as much joy in anyone's face by pretending to pledge loyalty to I'll company until they got laid off two to three years later. This place has already seen its worst days. We were five months old when we got wiped out by a hurricane which is like the equivalent of—
Jon: Was that Sandy?
Zack: Yes. I've talked to a lot of people about it and we got quoted up in God knows how many magazines, newspapers and stuff. It's like I'm 27 years old we just dropped every dime he ever had into a place which was the most terrifying thing in the world. It was super educational and made me realize if I can figure this out and get through this somehow then this is easier than weathering someone's storm. I mean literally in this case made it through that storm. In this country it's just; think about what about your health care. There is no safety net for the people who want to take risks yet. I feel like the lack of safety net stop everyone from cutting out on their own. That's a good thing. You realize when you get here it's not as scary. Every single company your boss and everything boss or company you had started off as someone breaking off onto their own. So you have to think of it that way and realize if no one ever cut out on their own they'll just end up working for Verizon or something which would suck.
Jon: Your business partner mentioned he wants to start a bar. He has mentioned this off another conversation previously. You went from writing to media and having interest in being a politician of some sort or getting into politics. Where does this connection for beer come in?
Zack: That's what some people ask me about. You're born on obsessed with beer your whole life.
Jon: You must have been drinking it when you were younger.
Zack: Going to school in Montreal helped because we could drink when we're 18 I'm they had a good Beer culture. So I did get a little bit of a head start on learning things about beer that weren't lying in the basement which I'm very grateful for. You literally don't have that kind of stuff in Canada. I was able to get a little bit of a head start. It didn't come to my thoughts. Just like I was with food, wine and spirits at the time I was very curious and want you to learn more about it. Every time I was out and saw something I would order a thing I hadn't had before. But I didn't have any solid beer education. I learned all I could about wine because I was helping my roommate run his business over there. Those curriculums existed, but back then there was no the real way to learn about beer other than scant blog posts online and a couple of books have been written about Belgium. So for me it was basically the idea to open this place which came up and my curiosity about beer was a necessitated was deep into knowing all is going on. I knew what I like and how to talk about beer in a way. We had to learn from working and running this Italian wine bar and my business partners wine shop and liquor store two doors down from here on how to sell people's stuff in an informed and polite way. I think it is the most important thing. Not talking down to people they're already willing to give you their money. Don't make them feel like an idiot.
Jon: You kind of saw it as an opportunity. It may not have been this all out passionate Guy about beer but you saw this opportunity to kind of present that world or industry in a way that made sense like the service aspect of it.
Jon: It was a big part in kind of how you approached this and to better improve that.
Zack: Yes, it was a lot of things to. It was 2012 this was right as the craft industry beer was jumping to something it had never been in this country or the world. It was perfect timing not that we had designed or seen it this way. But it was perfect timing on our part to start this because but like everything was in overdrive right around then. They needed more places like we were providing to explain and initiate people into a lot of this new beer stuff. We were willing to do it in a way that wasn't exclusive or demeaning or snobby. We had already been selling wine for years. As I said we're young dudes selling wine in t-shirts. That's the same thing we're going for sort of vibe. Beer is one of those things that's demystified. It doesn't matter as much as wine but it was like a movement of people dipping a little snobby about it and we kind of wanted to be the opposite of that.
Jon: Alphabet City is going into its sixth year.
Zack: We’re halfway through so 7th in May. So, 6 1/2.
Jon: So, 6 1/2 years old. You mention five months in you guys got hit with Sandy and the place was flooded. I'm sure that was one of maybe one of the very low point in the six and a half years. What has been some of the takeaways for establishing a place like this? What do you look back and realize if you have to tell someone starting a business what would be the things that they should watch out for or mindful of?
Zack: It's funny because I get asked that a lot too. It's kind of a two-edged sword because I learned something going through Sandy early on and realizing that if that had happen to us 5 years in I would have had a very different experience. But back then this place was so new that I was still cutting my teeth on my first experience and ownership. The advice that I give most people when I get asked this is just be humble. Be completely sure this is what you want to do because you're going to work harder than you did at your desk job. I work twice as much as I did before. When I was miserable at my desk it didn't feel the same. Now I may be physically exhausted at the end of certain weeks but I know this is something that I'm building for myself. It makes me so much more motivated. It makes me work so much more efficiently and in a different way than any other job I had. It's a lot of work but it's the right kind of work in my eyes. I'm not going to made myself a billionaire tomorrow. I don't think I would have made myself a billionaire sitting at a desk either. So when people ask me to takeaways are for the six and a half years it's that things get good and bad. It's like any relationship you've ever been in or job you've ever had. The more I get into this thing it's like maybe it's just me getting older as well. Nothing ever stops surprising you it can just happen at the drop of a hat. Saturday night there could be a literal fire to put out. There are also just really good things that come of it. When you can make these decisions for yourself the kind of force you to mature faster I think more critically of your own actions which I don't think is something I don't think I'd have done if I stay behind a desk. I tell everyone that be prepared to take more responsibility for your actions and kind of own up to it for better or worse. It's like you have to be more adult. I was 27. I was 27 when I became the owner of a beer bar. I was enjoying the hell out of that obviously. I also have to be responsible enough. I have employees and have to make sure this place is being run the right way. At the end of the day this place only runs really well because I have great employees. That all just comes from learning things along the way and realizing that it's never going to get super easy just a little less confusing.
Jon: You guys are named Time Out New York’s most loved bar in New York City.
Jon: I think it's pretty high up there in terms of accolades. Then you are also rated one of the top 5 craft beer bars by Brew Dogs. Is there anything that you think aside from starting your own business that's attributed to be in such a neighborhood favorite around here?
Zack: I've only ever lived in this neighborhood both my business partner the same thing for him he's never lived anywhere outside of East Village. I've never lived west of Avenue A. So for me this has been home for my entire young adult life. Even though we're just starting up something small part of it was being aware where we were serving, the people around us and realizing that you have, first and foremost responsibility to the people around you in the community. That was easy for us to feel because it started when I was waiting tables over Invino and when I was running the place and interacting with people in the neighborhood on a daily basis. You realize at the end of the day this is what makes you different from visiting some big faceless corporation for a chain store. It is that these people come here and they get to know you. You have to respect that and the neighborhood. I think that is really played into who we are. Even as we slowly grow often do this projects like what we have on Governors Island and stuff which literally has no neighborhood. People cannot leave out there. It's still informed for you do business with people on a day-to-day basis and remembering that it's all about making people want to come back.
Jon: You mentioned the Governors Island project that is 2 years in just about.
Jon: Just about to finish the second year. Where did that idea come from?
Zack: that's just one of those things that you get hounded when opening up a business. These people will hound you with opportunities to open up new spaces whether it’s a new lease or something that. We got an email from an RFP for proposals on Governors Island, if you are looking for businesses to help develop the food scene out there. That was something which was a crazy opportunity because they hadn't opened this up in the years the island has kind of slowly developed into food truck destination. My business partner and I were like we’ll split balls and see if we can get something out of this. We realized quickly that we're going to need help out there running a food program because the odds were completely stacked against us. That Island doesn't have any of the infrastructures you need to run any kind of restaurant. We contacted a few people we thought would be a good fit. The first person we reached out to was Eddie an editor who runs “Eddie and the Wolf” a couple floors down from us. He's like a [Inaudible 28:24] star chef. He's a smart dude and he quickly agreed to go on business with us which one surprising to us. To me it seemed like something different from what he does. He's gotten so amazing spot. I don't know if you seen it. Him saying yes is kind of made it a possibility. When we got accepted for a proposal it kind of took us by surprise. Last year was our first year out there we learned a lot. Is there was no running water. We have to figure out how to do a lot of basic things out restaurants are used to in like a completely remote setting like having to drive everything out there on the ferry. It's not like you can just run down to the store whenever for something. It's a completely different operational experience on the island but it has made me more aware of day to day. It's been a long two years. The place that we open this year was a completely different concept. But it has been a lot of fun. Every time we open up a business I realize you learn more and more things even if they're very similar in concept. Every process is like a new set of opportunities to learn how fucked up the legal system is or how crazy just to get a licensing done.
Jon: You think that would get easier. A few of the steps might get easier but then out of nowhere there is always this curveball that hit you so hard you can never adjust or practice or prepare yourself for. Does that make sense?
Zack: It doesn't matter who you are. You can be Danny Meyer and you still run into an operational pick up when you’re trying to open a new place. It's just par for the course and realizing you start learning what to do when things go wrong. I guess that is just as important because if you're running a restaurant nothing ever goes wrong and then you're probably not running a very good restaurant or it's probably closed.
Jon: Learn how to stand on your toes longer.
Jon: While I have you here I just want to get into a little bit more nitty-gritty about beer on the back-story and what I should look for when I step into a store as I'm clueless. I’m a stout guy. I like dark beers because they have the chocolate kind of coffee nodes. The only reason why I found that's out was because I took a trip to Ireland. Super stereotypical. What are some of the other categories of beer? When you walking how do you determine which one you're looking for?
Zack: That's actually one of the most fun parts about this. When we're working in wine they've been around for centuries and there is this really stayed archaic system of wine regions and varietals that people think they know everything about you and there's all this mysticism about it. Beer doesn't have that. It has the dad jeans and t-shirt vibe. Even when we’re starting and things are getting a little fancier even the fancy imported stuff it still had it I kind of buttoned down look to it. You're in the rare area of American who actually starts beer. That's one thing in this country that people are still afraid of.
Jon: Everyone is. I like times too. You can't just drink a stout all day.
Zack: Its cool stouts are for winter time and pilsners are for summer. I'm one of those weird ones I can drink stout in 110 degree weather. You know that Guinness’s second-largest Market is Jamaica?
Zack: Very brew special strong type. You're like the most popular beer in the Caribbean.
Jon: For real.
Zack: Yes. For most people the only experienced they get with dark beer in this country is Guinness on Nitro which is great, but that's the only option most people ever against most obsessed with IPA’s and pale lagers here. A lot of the experience people have drinking beer it’s like going out into the world and only ever having tried Northern Italian food I've been just trying to branch out into literally anything else. After these days I have people walk in the front door and they're saying, “I don't like Craft beer.” it's usually because they're not exposed to things like IPA.
Jon: I'm not an IPA guy either
Zack: There's nothing wrong with that, just because there's a ton of them that's the right answer. It's just because the flavor profile it's so unique a lot of Americans drinking experience and it has so much flavor. Its super bitter and floral that people gravitate towards them. But that's not the only thing out there. No because there are so many options out on the shelf, I can take any one that walks in the door and 99% of the find at least one thing you like whether it is a sour beer which is a huge sector of beer in the last few years that has kind of opened up more opportunities for people to get into beer. People will try a berliner weisse or gose for the first time. Their eyes light up like oh my God I didn't know beer could taste like this. That's a version.
Jon: It's like a kid in the candy shop like an adult can be shocked.
Zack: Exactly I stand in front of my own fridge here we have 450 scues on the shelf, all these cans and bottles ready to be taken home. Even I have a hard time some nights trying to find out what I want to take home. It is indeed like a candy shop. It's great because a few years ago that would have been a handful of styles. Now there's so much out there and it's allows people to walk in free of judgment and drink whatever they want. That means of the end of the day instead of going home and assuming that they're just a white wine drinker or just this one segment of cocktail or spirit world. They can find something that they like. It's great to be able to help people find that stuff.
Jon: I hesitate to ask but the designer in me can’t help. Being a graphic designer I walk into a store and I look at the cans and I'm so judgmental of the label on the branding. I'm sure it's wrong in a sense. I've walked in before and bought a four pack purely because the illustrations on the can are gorgeous.
Zack: Of course we're only human.
Jon: Are there any takeaways? I guess not to judge a book by it's cover necessarily.
Zack: like I said we're only human. There's only so much that has happened in a few years is beer. One of the huge ones were actual beautiful design in can work. A lot of that comes from the fact that a lot of these dudes were in creative exploits or careers before and when they left or able to design their own beer labels. Some of my favorite dudes are graduates from RISD or art school from wherever and they have some of the most beautiful cans. A lot of times the beer inside of those cans is great. There are also some of the best beers you have with comic sans on the label. The brands are starting to realize the better their cans and bottles look the more likely people are to pick them up. I'm happy to see the design game get elevated. I'm someone who has never studied or work in graphic design.
Jon: You've been in media.
Zack: Yes. I like to think I know a decent design when I see it. I can tell when I pick something up. I never pick up something that I would never drink myself. But I can tell when something is going to move faster because of the way it looks. That's only helps the Brewers and it also helps me. It's always true if someone comes up with a gimmicky name and there's like good beer behind it just makes it that much funnier and easier to sell. I never pick something up if it sucks and looks pretty what is a point. Once I try it if I wouldn't drink it or serve it to my friends then I probably wouldn't put it on the shelf even if it looks pretty.
Jon: It’s easy to kind of fall short on the product versus the actual design I'm look and feel of it.
Jon: You mention that you have a few beers that fly off the shelf because they look so good.
Jon: Could you detail some of those brands like some of the ones that you think are a good design.
Zack: There are bunches I love. Grim is a very popular one.
Jon: That is one of my favorites.
Zack: The artists appreciate the labels and stuff.
Jon: I had a freelance project for small microbrewery down south. Grim is always one I reference. This is like really good beer design. It's a good idea and concept.
Zack: They are a perfectly good example of something I would take some of the label artwork and frame that in my apartment. It is so nice. It is a beautiful looking artwork. Plus the stuff in the can in the bottle is fantastic as well. Everyone clamber's over their juicy IPA’s which are very good. But they're sours are amazing. They're Stouts are amazing. That is something like their attention to detail went through there. You're making beautiful art and that is a part of their message and expression. Just like cooking right now the aesthetic is as important as what you're putting on the plate for a lot of people. Exactly is not just Instagram thirst trap stuff, its people actually wanting to elevate the experience and stand out. Grim does that I think perfectly. Finback these guys out in Queens Kevin and Basil they are my two favorite dudes, they have beautiful. And they even have a special color blue wrapped around their kegs.
Jon: That's a nice touch.
Zack: It's like a beautiful vibrant pattern of blue. There can are also beautifully designed. I can't even think off the top of my head Still Water is a simple but cool geometric designs on his cans which really stand out to me. It's amazing how everything goes from minimal. There is some absurdly minimal stuff happening in beer now all the way up to incredibly complicated. There is a brewery called “Flying Objects” which house is very obscure or a Vanguard artwork on their labels. It's actually makes it impossible to tell what you're looking at but people love it. It's interesting for me to see how the artistic side of beer is it being explored by the people that buy it. People do I appreciate especially when they’re going to buy someone a gift you want the beer, the wine or whatever you're buying to taste good but it should look good too because people are going to take it more seriously. That makes it more likely for people to buy it if they're giving it away.
Jon: I want to switch over from beer to food because I think this is one of the parts I'm most excited about that I've learnt in the more recent weeks that you’re a big ramen guy.
Zack: Oh my god yes.
Jon: I am so glad I found someone that's also has a passion as much as I do, on the off nights that I don’t dinner at my place or something like that.
Zack: You cook a lot right?
Jon: Yes I cook a lot. More likely I will always go for ramen. I started exploring a couple places around the city. I'm trying to be more daring and outgoing in terms of not going to the same spot all the time.
Zack: Oh yes
Jon: What are some of the favorite Ramen spots that you frequent?
Zack: We're super lucky to live in the city in this country where we can have this conversation because so many places don't have that. I realize when I travel I'm curious about this. I want to start by saying that we're very lucky in New York that we have the stuff I feel so good. It really is the most satisfying meal. Something I could never cook at home the right to you just because it takes so long and it’s an art form as a white dude who has live in the Northeast his entire life it's just a completely different foreign food culture I deeply appreciate. I've lived about Minca on 5th Street between A and B and for what it's worth I have never been anywhere else that made me happy as one of their bowls of ramen. There's a lot of different ones are around here that come close. I like Hetichan which is up on like 52nd Street. They’re a great one. I really like Mr. TaKa.
Jon: I’ve been to Mr. Taka.
Zack: That’s really good.
Jon: I’ve been to Minca. I think I've ordered takeout from Minca.
Zack: I lived above Minca for five years their exhaust would blow the smell of tonkotsu broth in my room starting at 9 a.m. Every day. So I think I was indoctrinated into loving Ramen even more. Honestly if I have friends spend any time or live in Japan they always say that Minca is the best experience. There is a hole in the wall. You have been there right?
Zack: There is like 12 covers of that. It is like a tiny-ass restaurant that always has a line in front of it. It’s just so good. There are lots of other places around here that people-- there is like gimmicky places around here that kind of pops up that don't do as much for me. I'm happy that he's expanding Ramen as an idea to people. I think a place like Minca pretty much nailed it. I'm going to keep going there.
Jon: What the kind of first thing that you judge a bowl of ramen on?
Zack: Oh man.
Jon: Maybe it is the broth?
Zack: Well yes that is part of it. You realize and I didn't know this when I started eating haram mean I just thought it works hardy delicious soup but there are different types. You have been shio, shoyu, Miso and different bases of broth that come from different parts of Japan. I'm slowly realizing and learning. It depends on the mood. I've had good versions of each type. My favorite which is the Minka seo that I always get is like thick Tankatsu Chicken pork garlic. It is pretty intense flavor wise, but the texture of it is unlike anything else I've ever seen. There's so much fat in the broth it's like a velvet glove sliding down your throat. It is so good. That is like if I nine times out of 10 when I'm craving Ramen that is the kind of thing and craving. There are other ones too bubble up every once in awhile you know I can go for Tskaman which is the dipping one.
Jon: I don’t know that. I’ve got to try that.
Zack: it is so good. Minka has got a really good one. Have you ever been to Cocoron over in Kenmare? Oh my God they are dipping Soba noodles too, but legitimately great.
Jon: I'm kind of guilty of when I don't have the ability when I haven't gotten my paycheck I don't want to spend my money at one of the restaurants. One of the many great spots here in New York I'm very guilty of getting the $1 Top Ramen and trying to spice it up a little bit.
Zack: Oh my god. Do you know the secret move?
Jon: No. What is it?
Zack: One of the best moves you take a slice of American cheese.
Zack: I know it sounds so dumb, what if you want to create thicker broth at home. I read it somewhere in the New York Times or something. I thought it was going to just lop up and be gross, but when you drop it in hot water it's actually kind of dissolves scary in a way. Turns the broth into a really thick and savory like an umami bomb. Whenever I cook it at home for my girlfriend or whatever we talked about how our secret moves drop the American cheese slice in.
Jon: Would you suggest not a Kraft American cheese slice?
Zack: Well if that's what you got its American cheese. Apparently Millennials are killing it as a food item or so I read. Is there is the Highland Organic or whatever that one was with the cartoon cow on the red package. Then make an organic American slice of which I think is not that great for you. If you don't want to buy Kraft you can buy that. Every once in a while I stop in to buy those.
Jon: The quality doesn't necessarily matter.
Zack: Scallions always work for it if you’re dressing up at home.
Jon: Scallions and garlic.
Jon: I have a portfolio of sauces that I will add. I add like soy sauce into the broth. You add a packet of flavor. Then it is soya sauce teriyaki, houson and if I have any sesame oils I will add that.
Zack: I always have sesame oil. If I have it around like Ponzoo for the side if want to do soya based sauce. Like I said if I'm cooking it at home it’s usually out of desperation or it is like raining outside and can't get out myself. I like when I cook ramen for myself but it's never the same.
Jon: Absolutely. I did this once I tried to do it in a faster way obviously. If you want to slow cook you can make the broth.
Jon: It works out really well. I don't know how credible this is but it made me feel really good because I took the broth out put it in a big bowl and had it for the rest of the week and put it in a bunch of mason jars. That was a lunch for work. The mason jars overnight didn't freeze, but all the broth coagulated.
Jon: Yes. This must mean that I'm really good at it. This must be some good top notch broth here. It was a good I'm tasted amazing. I didn't really do it complete justice. I got the super noodle from Shopwright where I think the noodles are made out of seaweed. They're not like Ramen noodles. I'm trying to throw it together.
Zack: One of the best parts of making ramen at home for me I like a dry Ramen. There's like a new brand out right now that is like a spicy one that I love for dry Ramen. Pretty much 90% of what I've bought have been the Son Noodles. You can buy them from Whole Foods now. The fresh noodles you obviously can't keep them at the back of your cabinets like you can like Top Ramen.
Jon: You eat them immediately.
Zack: Yes the shelf life is like a solid 2 and 1/2 weeks. I've had them for a longer. It's so good to have it because it totally changes experience. If you have a little bit of foresight and you go out and buy one of those have that tucked in your fridge.
Jon: I need to look that up.
Zack: That is a good move.
Jon: What is on the horizon? Where is Zach Mack ABC Beer Governor’s Beer Company?
Zack: Oh my god, right now we're rocking out for the summer on Governors which will give me a little bit more free time. Right now my weekends are dominated by getting out there and just making sure that things go okay.
Jon: You took the 8 o'clock ferry or you missed the 8 and had to take the 8:30.
Zack: That’s right. I was out late last night. I woke up and drove out there and back. Now we are doing this. When that ends in a week, it would free up my time the kind of think about what do we want to do for this place this year. Fall and winter are very busy here so it will keep my hands full. I still do the freelance writing. I'm doing stuff for Thrillist. I'm pitching stuff around and hopefully this winter will give me a little more time to focus on stuff like that and maybe expand on it. Who knows? Every time I thought I was going to have a quiet couple of months something falls into my lap. The runway for Governors Island stuff happened over the span of 2- 2 ½ months. So who knows in a week my entire outlook on what my fall, winter and spring are going to look like will be very different than what I am right now.
Jon: It might be new Governor's for the weekend season.
Zack: Exactly. I'm always open to whatever comes my way. Who knows what it means here.
Jon: Thank you Zack. I appreciate you taking the time today.
Zack: Thank you.
Jon: Where can people find you?
Zack: On social media.
Jon: Social media, internet, anywhere physically?
Zack: Physically you can find me on ABC Beer Company on Avenue C between 6 and 7th. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter I’m ZMack. This place is ABC Beer Co. There is also Governor’s Beer Co and Taco Vista NYC. So, check them all out.
Jon: Thank you Zack.
Zack: Thank you man.