This October, VinePair is celebrating our second annual American Beer Month. From beer style basics to unexpected trends (pickle beer, anyone?), to historical deep dives and new developments in package design, expect an exploration of all that’s happening in breweries and taprooms across the United States all month long.

VinePair’s inaugural Next Wave Awards were introduced in October 2021 to recognize spirits, wine, and beer professionals whose work has helped propel the industry forward to a brighter, more equitable, and sustainable future. There were 16 awards given to outstanding industry professionals who have advocated for change in the drink industry this year.

In this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe talk about the spark that led to the creation of the Next Wave Awards, how winners are pursuing new and innovative tactics in their industries, and what makes their stories special — and ones that drinks enthusiasts and professionals should look up to.

Tune in to learn more about what VinePair’s Next Wave Awards are and why they matter. Plus, read the profiles on award recipients here.

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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And I’m Zach Geballe.

A: How’d you get here?

J: Welcome.

A: Yeah, man. You’re in New York. What’s up?

Z: I am in New York.

A: In the studio that Keith and Katie built.

Z: There’s the House That Ruth Built here in the Bronx, and now there’s the podcast studio that Keith and Katie built. I’m very excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

A: Of course. Before we kick off today’s subject, which is why you’re in town, you go first because you’re the guest. What have you been into?

Z: It’s a good question. I decided, after our conversation about it the other week, that I would have a Bloody Mary on the flight. It was a pretty terrible Bloody Mary mix and vodka.

A: So you go vodka. You’re a vodka in the Bloody Mary person.

J: As opposed to?

A: Gin. Joanna just gave me the look of, “Who do you think you are? As opposed to what?”

Z: I’m sure whenever the Bloody Mary episode of “Cocktail College” comes out, we’ll talk about variants. I just didn’t feel like messing with it. The flight was just fine, but the beverage selection was a little so-so.

A: They can’t all be Tip Top.

Z: I was just going to say there was no Tip Top.

A: They do not pay for this podcast, by the way. We’re just big fans yet. What about you, Joanna?

J: I was very lucky that I got this opportunity to go to a wine dinner to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Heitz Cellar. Wow, they had some really exquisite wines that they opened. They had wines from ’86 and ’87, but no 1988, my birth year, unfortunately. There was a ’99 and a ’92 Martha’s Vineyard and a 1977 Bella Oaks.

Z: Oh, man.

J: These were all amazing. I haven’t had a lot of old wine. They were really fresh.

Z: Yes, that’s always a hallmark of Heitz. I haven’t tried that many, but I’ve had a couple from the ’80s in the past, and they stand up really well. I have to ask, because when I did wine dinners. it was hard to do dinners where we presented 11 different Cabernet Sauvignons and we’d have to be like, “Have fun pairing.” Was it hard, as a diner, working with that many wines?

J: We were talking with the somms, and they did all the pairings. I think they did a really good job. I heard from them, without having eaten the food, that it was a little challenging. There was a foie gras dish, and it typically comes chilled at this restaurant, One White Street in Tribeca.

A: That’s Dustin Wilson’s new restaurant.

J: Yeah. Dustin and Carlton McCoy Jr. were doing the pairings. Carlton suggested that the foie actually be seared to pair with the wine that he had in mind. It was beautiful.

A: Carlton is the managing partner and co-founder of Lawrence Wine Estates, which owns Heitz. Very cool.

Z: How about you, Adam?

A: Oh, man, how about Adam? Well, I was in Arkansas last week.

Z: That’s right. Not quite Canada.

A: No, but I got to do this really cool thing with my little brother. When I landed on Friday, he said, “I want to take you to my local wine shop, and I want you to point out wines that I should be drinking.” As we walked into the wine shop and I was looking at wines I saw that they had Kermit Lynch. I told him, “Here’s what his logo looks like on the back of the label. You’re going to be fine. I don’t need to show you anything else. Take a picture of this logo. I guarantee you, it will be great” They had Kermit Lynch wines that were $10. They had Kermit Lynch wines that were $100. He might not love all of them, but it’s going to be better than just guessing. Let’s be clear, this wasn’t a wine shop. This was a massive liquor store. They had a crazy selection of beer. They had a cigar room. They had tons of different liquors, but they also had a very robust wine section. He just wanted to know what to look for, so that was really helpful. Then, we went to his neighborhood, which is really cute. It’s this cool little neighborhood in Little Rock called Hillcrest. Little Rock is a city of neighborhoods. He has a little downtown Hillcrest that we can walk to from his house. His house is on this really cool nature preserve. Anyways, there is a street of restaurants and bars, and there’s a little liquor store there. We walked in because he wanted to see if there was anything different. He saw Kermit Lynch immediately. Keith would be very excited to hear that I also turned him on to some Field Recordings.

J: I love Field Recordings.

A: That was cool. We tried to drink the local beers, but they weren’t amazing. He said he’s had some issues. I was shocked at how many craft breweries there were. There were nine or 10, and not a lot of stellar ones. I don’t think they’re trying to be nationally known, though. They’re just the things for their neighborhood. We just hung out and drank some random stuff. Field Recordings is one of the wines we drank.

J: Which?

A: It was their red blend. It was really good. It’s a really cool winery and they have really great wines. It was cool to see it there. Then, on my flight, I had some SweetWater because that’s Delta’s thing. I haven’t been drinking a lot of cocktails. Tonight at the Next Wave party will probably be my first cocktail in a month. I’ve been trying to drink less spirits.

Z: I’ve been messing around, after our most recent episode, with us all tasting Jägermeister. Despite the content of that conversation being focused on it mostly as a shot, I’ve been playing around with it in cocktails a little bit. I stand by the claims I made on that episode. I think it’s a more versatile and interesting spirit than I had given it credit for last week.

A: It’s very delicious. So, let’s get into today’s topic. I’m going to let Joanna introduce it. We’re talking about the Next Wave Awards. On Thursday, we launched our inaugural Next Wave Awards, which is going to be a massive program we put on every year. We’re throwing a huge party tonight with all the winners. Joanna, would you want to explain what it is?

J: Sure. As Adam said, this is our first year doing this awards initiative. It’s really meant to recognize professionals and organizations across the wine, spirits, and beer industries who are doing amazing things. This year in particular, we’re recognizing people who have stood out and distinguished themselves over the past 18 months to two years in this very challenging time. I acknowledge that there are a lot of awards programs out there, and this is another one. We really just want to take this opportunity as a publisher to recognize people doing great things, pushing their respective industries forward, and making them better places for people to work, better for consumers, and just better all around. That’s the mission of the Next Wave Awards. As Adam said, the package launched on Oct. 21 with all 16 of our winners, and tonight, we are celebrating with a big party.

A: It’s going to be awesome. I’m excited for that.

Z: I’m glad we’re recording before and not after the party.

A: You’re right, Joanna. Every publication ultimately has an awards package. That’s just what happens. It’s been interesting to hear the reactions of the people who have been awarded. There are enough people that need to be recognized in the industry that I think there is space for different things and different perspectives. Not that I’m biased, but I think ours stands out because it’s really looking at the future. We’re not giving awards that are honoring people who’ve been in the industry for 35 or more years. It’s more about people who are saying, “What’s new and next?” That’s where you continue to push the industry forward. You build more inclusivity, you build more acceptance of different people, styles, and ideas. That’s what I’m really excited about. It was hard, though. It was really hard to figure out who these people would be.

J: Agreed. We were compiling our lists for each category, and it just feels hard to pick a winner. There are a lot of people out there doing really great things that we’ve seen. Our podcast, over the last 18 months, has spoken to a lot of those people. We’ve covered a lot of those people in our VP Pro Q&A series as well. It was definitely challenging to come up with this list of winners. Like Adam said, I feel really good about it.

Z: I have to ask a couple of questions as the quasi-outsider here. It does feel to me that the 18 month to two year time window that Joanna mentioned has been a transformative one for the industry. So many of the winners, and I’m sure many of the other people under consideration, reflect that. Whether it’s the initiatives taken to liberalize to-go cocktail laws in Illinois or change the way that craft cocktails are distributed and credited to bartenders, those things have been transformative. Not all of that traces directly to the pandemic, but it has been such a transformative and seismic incident. It’s an ongoing disruption in the industry, too. When we look at the winners and the overall concept of the awards, I wonder if there’s this sense that we are not only honoring people who are forward-looking, but also people who looked at what was going on and thought, “This is wrong. We have to do something.” Everyone recognized that to some extent. You read some of these beautifully well-written profiles about these people and what they’ve done and think, these are people who could have cowered in fear, and instead, they tried to make meaningful change in this industry and a whole host of ways.

A: Totally.

J: I think a lot, if not all, of the people who have won are people who weren’t just complacent. They didn’t just watch their businesses fall apart over the past 18 months. They stood up, did something, and made change in the industry for the better.

A: I think so, too. There’s a lot of examples here. It’s as simple as people like Julia Momosé, who started calling, very vocally, as the bartender in Chicago who was saying “We need to-go cocktails, too.” She put herself out there and took that risk. She watched what had happened in New York and California and thought, “This has to happen here.” There’s also people like Alexis Percival, our Sommelier of the Year who said, “I’m going to be vocal and say to the city, we need to shut down. It’s not just about money at the end of the day. It’s also about the health and safety of our employees.” They needed the government to do that because they couldn’t trust individuals to operate in the best interests all the time. They did need legislation. That’s the kind of stuff that’s really inspiring, because it does take a lot to put yourself out there like that and to take those risks. It’s especially tough when some of the things you’re calling for, in the case of Alexis, is at the detriment of your business. She could have said, “Keep us open, let’s make the money.”

Z: Lots of people did say that, to be fair. That’s not even to be too critical of them.

A: No, not at all.

Z: I understand that operators were all put in an impossible position. We just mentioned this inaugural batch of winners will sort of be always time-stamped with this period of time and what Covid meant for this industry more broadly. There are also some winners here that I think are not as specifically Covid-related. There are two honorees from Uncle Nearest, which I thought was a really cool story. I’ll admit, it’s a story that, until I was reading the profiles, I was not as aware of as I should have been. I had seen it but hadn’t dove into it. What was it about what they’re doing that merited so much attention?

J: We have a Q&A on the site with Victoria Eady Butler, who is their master blender. We’d talked to her. We also have coverage of Fawn Weaver and the work that she’s doing in the venture fund that she put together. What we tried to do was really pinpoint initiatives that launched or things that happened in the last year or so. Our staff has also been in New York for the most part during this time. Our scope is somewhat limited in terms of how much we’ve traveled and things like that. For us, the two of them were both outstanding in what they’re doing right now and with the initiatives that they’ve launched in the past 18 months.

A: In terms of Fawn Weaver, who’s the founder of Uncle Nearest, what she represents is what has been discussed as being so important in terms of entrepreneurship, but doesn’t happen that often when people become successful. She is very invested in the promotion of and investment in other people of color who are entrepreneurs. I’ve sat on a lot of entrepreneurial boards, especially featuring conversations about how we can help people of color, indigenous populations, and others who are entrepreneurs. One of the biggest issues is the raising of funds.

J: Yes, money. Actual financial investment.

A: It’s actual access to capital. She has been successful and decided to take her wealth and, instead of doing lots of other things with it, is investing it back into this specific community. That’s extremely impressive, and it’s setting an example for lots of other people. She is just so impressive that way. That’s why it was warranted, beyond just her involvement with Uncle Nearest. She started this incredible brand that’s raised a lot of awareness around the stories we tell about whiskey and who actually created a lot of these products. There are a lot more people who are involved in all the things we drink than just the one person whose name was on the deed, if you will. I think that it’s even more than that for Fawn. This fund that she has is just so amazing. That’s why they both won separate awards in that regard.

J: And not just the spirits brand.

A: Exactly.

Z: Very cool. Joanna, you mentioned that we have talked to a lot of these people already in one form or another, via Next Round episodes or VP Pro Q&As or other methods. One of the people whose stories I really was struck by when we did the podcast episode and then in reading about it more is Aaron Polsky with LiveWire. He has this record label analogy that he’s made. There’s the idea of LiveWire being like a record company that just happens to make canned cocktails as opposed to records. I read that piece and thought, it makes total sense. If I was a bartender with some recognition that wanted to do this and didn’t quite have the wherewithal, time, or infrastructure to launch my own brand, that would make sense. Does that seem like a model that would make sense to you? Could you see the equivalent in beer or wine? Or, does it feel like brewers and winemakers already have their own companies? Is it really about this idea of capturing the bartenders’ brilliance in a can that makes that model work?

A: I think in the wine and beer space, you already have collaborations that might happen between Other Half and Trillium, for example.

Z: And we know you don’t want a line of cicerone-affiliated beers.

A: They don’t make beer, they serve it. I think that’s the difference is that, in the world of service professionals, the bartender sits very separately from the sommelier and the cicerone as a person who not only serves but also makes the drink.

Z: They create.

A: It’s very different. One of the other awardees is Gage & Tollner. They are winning our Food and Beverage program of the year. If you talk to St. John Frizzle, who’s the beverage director and one of the owners, the amount of testing they do to create the perfect Manhattan and how much goes into that is a lot more chef-esque than many bartenders. That’s not to take away from cicerones or somms, but I do think it’s different. When you read about these bartenders, what Aaron has done that is so cool, is he’s saying, “I know that a lot of you will probably never get to go and have one of these bartenders’ cocktails.” Shannon Mustipher, one of the people who’s done one of his cocktails, is arguably one of the most highly respected tiki bartenders in the world. Here’s a way you can have her drink. I think that that is very cool and super unique. The fact that he also gives proceeds back to the bartenders is also revolutionary. He’s not just trading on their name or paying them a one-time fee. They see a return on every sale. They really feel ownership. So I don’t know if this is public, but I’m just going to. So you do it. Masa from Katana Kitten is about to come out with a LiveWire. I was talking to *him and he said, “I can’t wait for you to see my canned cocktail brand.” He almost considers it his band inside LiveWire. I think that that is really cool.

J: He’s very invested in it.

A: Masa doesn’t have the time to figure out the marketing plan, the sales plan, and all this stuff, but he had the time to develop the cocktail with Aaron. Now, he’s going to put it out. I think it’s really revolutionary.

J: When we chatted with Shannon Mustipher months ago for a different podcast, before her drink came out, she said, “I’m launching an RTD,” like it was hers. I think that’s great. It’s really cool and what makes it stand apart from all these other brands that have come out.

Z: Yeah, absolutely. I’m thinking about some of the other things that have happened in the last year and a half. We started out by talking about Covid and its impact on the industry. It should not go unnoticed or unmentioned that, contained within that, there were real pushes for more equality, social justice, and awareness about many of those things. This started before the pandemic, but people were also talking about the Me Too movement and awareness about the way that people of all sorts are treated within these industries. I want to mention what Brave Noise is doing as well. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s been on social media a lot. We’ve talked about it on the site. There’s this idea of really calling out some of the truly horrific behavior in craft beer. It is obviously hugely important to call this out, and what they’ve done is also turn it into a movement for change. This sounds like I’m dismissing the importance of just putting that information out there. It is hugely important to have it out there. Brave Noise has also provided a hopeful, forward-looking vision for craft beer that is more inclusive and that is not abusive. You guys are at least as familiar with the story as I am. Is there more that we should say?

J: I think what’s important to mention about Brave Noise and what sets it apart from other collaborations of a similar kind is the accountability part. That’s really big. I think there have been fewer than 200 breweries participating in this collaboration, which is kind of shockingly low, considering how many craft breweries there are out there. The bar is really high for these breweries to participate and all the things that they need to do to be a part of this collaboration. It just really highlights how much work there is to be done. I think that’s why this is an incredibly important initiative in the craft beer industry right now.

A: I totally agree. What they’re doing is extremely important. This segues a bit into the other things around beer that we’re highlighting in this list. One of the most impressive organizations we’re awarding, to me, is our brewery of the year, Talea Beer Co. It’s impressive because it’s so simple. One of our other awardees, Breeze Galindo, who’s Brewer of the Year at Other Half, I got to meet for the first time in person on Monday. I went over to Other Half to say hi and also pick up some beer for the party. She asked, “Can you tell me who the Brewery of the Year is?” I whispered to her, “It’s Talea.” She was so excited. We were talking about it, and she was saying the same thing, which is what is so exciting about it is that craft beer has been screaming forever that they are dead in the water if they can’t let in other groups besides white bearded men. No offense to Zach, me, and Keith. That’s always in the stereotype, though. These spaces that are being created in craft beer are built through the gaze of white bearded men. They are not welcoming. They do not help.

J: It’s just not a consideration.

Z: They’ve been welcoming to white bearded men, so maybe it feels fine.

Z: Maybe that demographic likes to be talked down to and think they have the knowledge and not ask questions and whatever. What Talea does so well is that, first of all, the beers are great. The space is also super airy, open, bright, and beautiful. It is a great place to just spend the day with all kinds of people. The staff is incredibly well trained on the beers, and they are incredibly open to any question you might have. It’s not hard, but they did it. I cannot believe it took this many years for people to do it. Now, this brand is exploding. It’s going to be a massive brewery brand because they did what people have been saying someone should do forever. They did it authentically.

Z: Very cool. I know there are more award honorees that we can mention. You absolutely should go check out all of the profiles.

A: I’ve got to mention one.

Z: I have to ask you about one. I have to ask you about Horse Inn.

A: That’s what I wanted to talk about.

Z: I figured. Shoutout to Lancaster, Penn., where my fake ID was from.

J: Oh, really? That’s amazing.

Z: So, talk to us about Horse Inn.

A: I talked to Aaron Goldfarb, who wrote the profile on them for the awards. He’s been. I’ve been. Keith has been to Horse Inn before. The couple that owns it have an amazing pedigree of dining right there. They worked under Sean Brock. They understand great locations and chose Lancaster of all the places they could have chosen to open a place. This conversation started when Aaron and I were trying to think of who we were nominating for this. There were a lot of bars we looked at all over the country. I hate to sound like this, but it is true that there are so many bars that get press around the country for being OK because it happens to be the best bar in that city. We want to say that there’s this huge craft cocktail movement, so we just say that X bar in X town is great. We’ll go there as New Yorkers or Seattleites who have truly great bars, then we’ll go there and think, “This place is not that good.” We had that experience at a specific bar in Atlanta that had gotten a lot of press. As we were talking about Horse Inn, Aaron told me, “I guarantee you if this bar existed in New York, every cocktail writer in the city would hang out here. Every single drinks professional would come here. This is on par with Toby Cecchini’s Long Island Bar. This is on par with Boilermaker. This is a great bar. On top of that, it has incredible food. It has this ridiculous whiskey selection. Somehow, it’s in Lancaster.

J: It has this crazy history, too. It’s one of the oldest taverns in Lancaster.

A: Yeah. It’s over 100 years old. It’s just this really amazing story. I think it just speaks to the fact that there can be truly incredible bars. When I was there most recently, I could have stayed there all night. I could have drank there all night. I would have been really drunk. The cocktails are so incredible. It probably is the best burger I have ever had. Keith agrees. The place is just fun, too. There’s no pretension. There’s no guest list. There’s no secret password. There’s no phone booth to walk through. They just make damn good cocktails. That is what I think is so exciting about them. It’s also in a city that, as Aaron says in his writeup, continues to be a sleeper on the East Coast for whatever reason. It doesn’t really make sense. The fact that the majority of the produce that’s used in the kitchens in New York City is coming from Lancaster County, and the meat, plus the fact that there are distilleries, breweries, and really great restaurants there is crazy.

Z: So, the thing that everyone says about the Hudson Valley is actually really true about Lancaster?

A: It’s actually happening in Lancaster. It’s three hours away, which is basically the same distance as Hudson. Like, what? Hudson does not have a bar like this. There are multiple neighborhoods in New York that do not have a bar like this. If this was in New York, this would be a top-five bar. That, I think, is why we awarded it. This really is a standout.

Z: That means we need to wrap things up, because I believe you promised me cocktails later.

A: One of their cocktails is on the list. There we go. This has been a lot of fun. Check out the Next Wave list. Let us know what you think.

Z: Any suggestions for the 2022 awards, you can probably send them to us.

A: I’ve already gotten some pitches today. All right, I’ll see you guys Friday.

J: Thanks so much.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

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