Near the end of our early morning brew day at Bullfrog, Mike Hiller, founder and brewer of Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Company, walked in to drop off a sack of malt. We had been emailing with him to set up a time to talk, but hadn't settled on a anything yet. We agreed on early afternoon and ran back to the hotel for a quick nap before meeting up with him at his brewery just down the street.
Mike is a Williamsport, PA native as well as an ex-welder, actor and almost novelist. His first brewing job was at Legend Brewing Company in Richmond, VA. Legend produces a wide variety of fresh beer to a limited market at an affordable price, as an alternative to mass produced swill, which seems to have informed Mike's own business decisions.
Mike and his wife Kira run the whole operation: Mike is the brewer, salesman and delivery driver and Kira runs the business side of the operation. Mike takes a craftsman approach to both his brewing and his business: pragmatic and with forethought.
Bavarian Barbarian is the ideal local counter balance for the more out-there beers of Bullfrog. Mike strives to make his beers accessible, winning over Bud-Miller-Coors drinkers, while staying true to the fact that his aim is flavorful craft beer. His beer is also reasonably priced at $4 a bomber at the Wegman's around the corner.
It is always good for a small business of any type to get the locals involved in their business early. For a small brewery a loyal fan-base means free word of mouth advertising (the most reliable kind) and customer requests for your beer at local bars and beer stores.
Mike focuses on sessionable beers to pair with experiences, even if some of them are a bit higher in alcohol than the English tradition. His year-round beers are all the standards: brown, pale, IPA, stout. He adds onto these with seasonals like a dunkleweisse and a Brett spiked, spiced summer saison (with a yeast culture from Bullfrog).
Mike was inspired by Brewing Up a Business, the brewing autobiography of Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head. He meticulously worked on crafting a business plan for a long time, allowing him to raise the money needed to start the brewery. He purchased a big industrial space which gives him the room to expand when he outgrows his initial 10 barrel system, or when he wants to add a canning line. These days there is enough good beer available in most places that it takes more than good brewing skills to get a small brewery off the ground.
Mike is a committed locabeervore who preaches that PA is overflowing with amazing, well crafted beer, yet is inundated with alluring west coast labels that squeeze out the local fresh beer from shelves and taps: not that out-of-state beer doesn't deserve a place in your fridge or cellar, but more a case of missing the forest for the trees when it comes to supporting local beer.