Monday, June 10, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHUCK STILPHEN, THE TRAPPIST/MIKKELLER BAR

Six years ago I interviewed Aaron Porter, half of the team responsible for opening the amazing Belgian beer café THE TRAPPIST in Oakland, CA. A few months later I found out that his partner Chuck Stilphen was not only a beer entrepreneur and connoisseur par excellence, but had played guitar in Boston punk band GANG GREEN in the mid-80s, right around the time me & all the college DJs at our Santa Barbara radio station were getting our drunken yuks to their song "Alcohol". Well, as a fan of beer and something of an admirer of old school Boston hardcore – though Stilphen sadly missed the chance play on their blazing, wild "Boston Not LA" tracks, but undoubtedly played them live later on  - I figured it'd be a gas to interview him on this blog.

Mr. Stilphen is opening a brand-new bar in San Francisco next month called MIKKELLER BAR. It's just what you think it is, and then some. We'll let him tell you about it in this short interview here.


(photo courtesy of Slow Living Radio)

BEER SAMIZDAT: Given your background in punk and underground music, what sort of connections do you see between the way regional "scenes" defined 80s punk (Boston, LA, Detroit, DC etc.) and the way the beer underground of small brewers and distributors works, if at all?

Chuck Stilphen: I'm not sure there is any correlation to the 80's punk scene and the current small brewing industry. From what I can recall back in the day there was a bit of a rivalry between cities, LA, Boston, DC and NY bands did not always get along. The brewing industry seems to be a lot more about helping each other out. Though there is now a bit of a riff with some brewers talking shit about "gypsy" brewers as they feel they don't have any skin in the game. That's all I have to say on that subject as I have friends with breweries and friend who are "gypsies" .

BEER SAMIZDAT: How confident were you when you started The Trappist that you had something that would be around five years later, and what are the key things you've learned about the world of beer, and a business in it, since you started?

Chuck Stilphen: We opened the Trappist with the thought of supplying ourselves with great beer. The original intent was purely selfish. We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who appreciate the quality of products we sell and the care that goes into getting a glass of beer in front of you.

BEER SAMIZDAT: The Trappist just screams "authentic", even for someone like me who, sadly, hasn't yet been to Belgium. What steps did you take to make sure that the Bay Area would have the true Belgian experience at your beer cafe?

Chuck Stilphen:
The Trappist is loosely modeled after a few of our favorite bars in Amsterdam and Belgium. We think we nailed it, great attention to detail, imported a lot of equipment most people don't have etc. Belgians are mostly all about the service, proper glass etc. We have gone to great lengths to provide the proper experience. If we can just get people to stop stealing glassware that cost us a fortune.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What brought about your involvement in the upcoming Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco?

Chuck Stilphen: I met Mikkel a few years ago on a trip to Copenhagen, Aaron had been emailing him and we all met at a bar. At the time it was one of only 1-2 decent beer places in Copenhagen. Mikkel opened the first Mikkeller Bar about six months later and the second one a few months ago.  I have returned every year since for the beer festivals in May.

In 2012 I started scouting for a SF location and well it seemed that SF was ready for a Mikkeller Bar so the idea was born. The two Mikkeller bars in Copenhagen are two of the best beer bars in the world because of the no compromise attitude and the quality and rarity of the product. I hope to continue with that in SF.

BEER SAMIZDAT: What can you tell us about a projected opening date, and some of the features of the Mikkeller bar and restaurant?

Chuck Stilphen: Right now we are targeting the July 4th week for an opening but openings can be moving targets, lots of details, construction, inspections left to complete. We will feature 42 taps, served at three different temperatures and will also feature the "flux capacitor" gas blending system built by Gabe at Beechwood Brewing. Beer will consist of a handful of exclusive house beers, some Mikkeller favorites and rarities as well as many from the best brewers in California, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and who knows about Africa or Antarctica?
 

We hired Chef Mike O' Brien (former sous from Churchkey DC) to work his magic in our kitchen.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Finally, you've had an opportunity to taste some of the world's great beers through your many endeavors. I don't know if you're a list kind of guy, but do you have any mindblowers and top favorites to share with the Beer Samizdat audience?

Chuck Stilphen: My taste in beer changes all the time, right now (aside from Mikkeller) I'm drinking (a lot) of Drakes (1500 & Alpha), De La Senne (they can do no wrong) and Prairie (I'm liking everything so far).

1 comment:

Tatiana said...

Nice! I can't wait for my next trip to the city to check them out!