Washington D.C. is a city that sees many residents come and go, and that includes photographers. After living and working in D.C. as a photojournalist for six years, photographer Nick Gingold moved to California and started working with California craft beer brewers. His California BrewMasters project is a series of portraits and interviews with many of the craft brewers in the Golden State, and Gingold is trying to raise $25,000 through Kickstarter to produce a book.
While Gingold may no longer call D.C. home, he still travels here several times a year for work. Anyone who can produce such hilarious portraits of our annual High Heel race participants, will always be part of the D.C. photo community.
Exposed: What interested you in Craft Brewers, and how did this idea get started?
Gingold: This all started about two years ago. I had just moved back to my hometown in Southern California from Washington D.C., and as a photographer I was trying to find a new project to sink my teeth into. My brother-in-law was getting really into craft beer and began introducing me to all of these amazing flavors. He now works at a brewery called Left Coast in San Clemente, CA. I started to explore it more and realized there was this rapid acceleration within the craft beer industry, they were seeing double digit yearly growth during a down economy. With that, a really interesting sub-culture of beer-enthusiasts was being formed. Today, there are over 300 breweries in California, next year we’ll see 40-60 new ones come out of the San Diego area alone. It just seemed like something really great was happening and there was an opportunity for that to be explored.
I started looking for ways this scene hadn’t been covered before. I have a journalism background, and I was really pushing my business towards portraiture. What I began to realize by attending beer festivals was that everyone paid attention to the beer itself; there were guidebooks on breweries, books on rating beer, etc… but no one was paying attention to the people responsible for the beer. It’s individuals coming up with these recipes, making beer great. It’s individuals starting these breweries. They work extremely long hours and put their hearts and souls into these recipes. So I figured, why not talk to them? Why not see what they have to say about a subculture they basically built themselves?
So now, two years later, I have what you see before you. California BrewMasters is a collection of interviews and portraits with some of California’s star brewers. I did an in depth interview with each brewer, covering every topic from their brewing history and backgrounds, their philosophies to brewing, and their thoughts on the industry. We get some great stories out of them. If they had a specialty or specific impact on craft beer we made sure to cover that. We then would do a portrait session, either in the brewery or in the communities in which they lived and worked. I wanted readers to feel like they were able to get a sense of who these people were, get to know them, and try to put a face and personality to the beer. In a time when craft beer continues to expand, hopefully we’ll be able to look at these interviews and portraits as a reference point towards the early days.
You are trying to raise $25,000 through Kickstarter to produce a book, which is a lot of money. Why make a book? Why not have this project live online?
Let me answer your second question first. This project is really about a community that creates a really tangible, delicious product. When you drink a beer there’s a whole experience that goes along with it. Some people fiddle with the labels; you pop the cap and (hopefully) pour it into a glass with just the right amount of foam. That first sip brings your taste buds awake. By the end, you may want another, or you’ve had a satisfying experience.
This project to me wouldn’t be right in the form of a blog or something of that nature. It needed to also be tangible. I want people to be able to flip through it, see the different brewers, and feel the pages. We’re making it a fairly large book, perfect for the coffee table of any craft beer enthusiast, and I’m proud to be able to offer that to readers.
As for the money, yes, $25,000 is a lot. But it’s all being very well spent, and will put this book in a position to succeed. First off, the project required a lot of man-hours and travel throughout California over the past two years. All the creation of content and costs associated with it are coming out of my pocket and I don’t want any of that back. It doesn’t seem fair for me to run a Kickstarter so I can get to know some of the country’s best brewers and drink beer for a while.
Instead, the money is being used for the actual production of the book: the transcription of interviews, editing of interviews, page lay outs, creation of copies – everything we need to make this book come to life. We have a portion of the money paying for marketing, and a portion going towards the Kickstarter itself, which takes 5%. We also have some awesome rewards we’re giving our backers. We’re doing t-shirts, beer growlers, book pre-orders, prints from the project, and stainless steel key chains that are pretty cool. There’s a lot more; I’d suggest everyone check it out.
Can you break this project down by the numbers for us? How many brewers did you photograph? How long did it take? How many miles have you traveled? How many craft beers have you consumed since starting this project?
There are over 45 brewers each with an in depth interview and portrait. I say “over 45” because right now we’re still adding a couple. It’s taken over two years for all this content to come together, and to find a publisher and get the deal done. I’ve partnered with Georgian Bay Books, a great company out of San Diego responsible for a number of great beer books.
As for travel, I can’t even begin to count. I’ve definitely have crisscrossed the state a few times. I did one road trip where I hit 14 breweries in 14 days. Sounds like a lot of fun, and it was, but also a good amount of time in the car and hard work involved. As for beers I’ve tasted, I wish I could put a number on that as well. A lot of these brewers have tried literally thousands of beers, I’m probably still in the hundreds. What’s great is that a brewers form of hospitality is to put a beer in your hand, oftentimes they want you to taste either their freshest or newest experimental brew. So there have been some fun experiences and things way out of left field. Also important to note – I learned early on that brewers will talk to you about anything or sit in front of your camera for a long time as long as they have a beer in their hand. You’ll notice in a lot of the portraits the beers in their hands are only half full.
How did you convince all the brewers to participate, and were there any holdouts? Did getting them on location take a lot of convincing?
You know that’s actually one of the best things about this project. I’m amazed at the sense of community and collaboration within the craft beer industry. A brewer once told me it was 99% asshole free. So with that in mind, I would basically approach brewers or call up breweries out of the blue and tell them what I was doing. I haven’t been turned down from a brewery yet. Everyone, from the big guns like Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada, to the smaller guys that brew out of their farms at “secret” locations (like one of my favorites, Brian Hunt from a little known brewery called Moonlight), were all very welcoming. There were no holdouts. As for locations, we took these brewers to some interesting locations. The idea was to get them out of the stainless steel background, and somewhere different. I’ve taken brewers onto the beach, onto rooftops, through marshes and onto rivers. Like I said, just make sure to put a beer in their hands and they’ll follow.
You lived and worked in D.C. for a long time, and still travel here for work. Which D.C photographers do you follow?
I lived in Washington for six years total and loved every minute of it. I’m still out here several times a year for work, and to reconnect with friends. I love watching D.C.’s own emerging beer scene come about. DC Brau is putting out some excellent stuff that rivals some of my favorite California beers. Flying Dog was an early influence on my craft beer knowledge when I lived here. There are around 15 breweries in the DMV area and that’s a community I’d love to see continue to grow.
I used to be a photojournalist in Washington, so I try to follow a lot of the political photographers throughout D.C.. The great Stephen Crowley, or David Burnett for example. I’d list them all, but the White House pool and Capitol Hill photographers do an amazing job day in and day out, and coming from that background it’s great to see their work. I also shot a lot of weddings in D.C., so photographers like Matt Mendelsohn, and Paul Morse. A lot of these guys I still follow and try to keep in touch with.
What is next for you?
Right now I feel like sort of a one trick pony, I’m really focused on this book being successful. In order to make that happen, we need to reach our Kickstarter goal. If we’re even a dollar short, we don’t get to make the book, which would be (putting it lightly) a real big bummer. If it’s successful who knows what’s around the bend, I’d love to expand this book throughout the United States. There’s amazing beer being made everywhere in the US, California to me was a way to put a parameter on the project, and California is really the place where craft beer as we know it today originated. But yes, I’d love to do an American BrewMasters project. First things first though, getting the stories and portraits of California BrewMasters out and to the beer-loving public.