Helping Craft the World of Beer: An interview with Shannon Long, founder of Brew Export and Producer/Host of Pure Brews America
By: Matthew Stein
Shannon Long’s love for craft beer and the industry is taking her on a journey that has allowed her to explore the world and throughout the state of Michigan. A beer lover and enthusiast, a self-starter and entrepreneur, creative and personable. These are the words that describe Shannon Long. Her taste buds take her wherever she needs to go in order to discover new breweries and meet the masterminds behind them.
Right after college, Shannon founded Brew Export, which is her exporting company that allows people to experience beer from different regions and cultures. Shannon came in contact with a film crew who wanted to work with her and together, she has helped produce herself and the television show “Pure Brews America”. While on the show, Shannon takes you on an interactive experience by going behind the scenes and into the brewing process, does fun challenges that are given to her, and she gets the chance to interview owners and brewmasters.
Shannon Long, is a beer connoisseur, a woman of the craft beer world, and wants to help tell the stories of breweries and beer founders. Shannon Long’s love for craft beer and the industry is taking her on a journey that has allowed her to explore the world and throughout the state of Michigan. A beer lover and enthusiast, a self-starter and entrepreneur, creative and personable. These are the words that describe Shannon Long. Her taste buds take her wherever she needs to go in order to discover new breweries and meet the masterminds behind them. Right after college, Shannon founded Brew Export, which is her exporting company that allows people to experience beer from different regions and cultures. Shannon came in contact with a film crew who wanted to work with her and together, she has helped produce herself and the television show “Pure Brews America”. While on the show, Shannon takes you on an interactive experience by going behind the scenes and into the brewing process, does fun challenges that are given to her, and she gets the chance to interview owners and brewmasters. Shannon Long, is a beer connoisseur, a woman of the craft beer world, and wants to help tell the stories of breweries and beer founders. Pure Brews America (PBA) is a TV show that stars Shannon Long and is filmed by Yellow Flag Productions, which is based in Southfield, MI. The show is also sponsored by Meijer and is featured on at least six different television stations plus episodes are shared online for viewers. The following is an interview that was conducted with Shannon, about PBA, about her career and her start, and about her true love for craft beers.
FM: How did you come up with Pure Brews America?
SL: In college at Michigan State University, I was aiming for a degree as an international relations major as well as a marketing major and I was challenged to write my capstone thesis for my international marketing class, to take one product, and export it to one market. I was also vice president of the entrepreneurship association. The paper had to be 50 pages and, so I decided to use the subject of beer. I started by talking to Founders, which is in Grand Rapids, and to many other founders of craft beers and lots of other breweries. I talked with them about why they were or weren’t exporting to other countries and found out that most were scared to start exporting because they were more focused on making great beer, which I saw an opportunity in. This helped me to found Brew Export, which is my business that I started right after college, and we export beer all over the world. As I was doing this and other “beer business”, my cousin who works for the company Yellow Flag Productions, told me that they were doing a beer TV show and that he thought I would be a great host for the show. I had never been on TV before or anything close to it so this was nerve wracking at first, but it all worked out. I worked with them to come up with the concept for the show. The show’s name I did not come up with, it was already titled that when I went to work on the project.
FM: What’s is a typical day like for you?
SL: Usually, we get up early in the morning, drive to the brewery, and begin filming. The film rolls all day long and even with all that footage, it really gets edited down to a short time. We always do an owner interview, a brewmaster interview, a tasting, and some sort of activity for me to get involved in, whether that means me getting messy, messing something up, or me just generally causing trouble. No two breweries are the same, even though they have the same general equipment and they all have great beer, the people and the atmosphere are totally different at every place we’ve gone.
FM: How many breweries have you visited approximately?
SL: Close to 300. This has been all over the country and all over the world including California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Shanghai, and the Midwest. On PBA, we have filmed at close to 70 breweries in three seasons time.
FM: What’s your favorite craft beer if you had to pick one absolute favorite?
SL: That is the hardest question. I can tell you my favorite craft beer style, which right now is anything sour. People go through their phases, being really into IPA’s, Stouts, and Sours, but I’ve been into Sours for about the last year and a half and I don’t see that going away any time soon. I can enjoy and appreciate any type of beer. Any well-made craft beer, I can enjoy. I always have a special place in my heart for two beers, which is iO Saison from Jolly Pumpkin in Traverse City, MI, and Sea Quencher from Dogfish Head on the East Coast, in Milton, Delaware, which one of the originals.
FM: How old were you when you had your first beer?
SL: I had my first CRAFT beer at 21. Once I turned legal age, I could really experience beer and think about what I was drinking. When I was still in college at MSU, I found a bar that had Founders Oatmeal Stout on Nitro and that is the beer that opened my eyes to the amazing world of craft beer.
FM: What brings you the greatest satisfaction in the Pure Brew America business?
SL: When we bring breweries to the TV who are not as well known, who are far away from busy regions, and we feature them on the show. From this, I get comments on social media from consumers who say I saw your show and went out and found the beer and I absolutely love it. People who live in Detroit don’t necessarily get up to Marquette too often or people in Traverse City don’t get to Detroit too often. Our show helps expose different beers from different areas to the audience who then can go and try them. When we open people’s eyes to more beer and breweries that they don’t know about, I know we are doing our job and we are telling people’s stories.
FM: Who are some of your greatest mentors in the industry?
SL: There were so many people who took me under their wing early on. Two people who helped me would be Lou Bitonti, who is the owner of the production company. He met me when I was 22 years old and he saw and believed in me from day one that I could host the TV show, help produce, and do sales. He’s been an inspiration for me and a great partner. No matter what, he’s never shaken.
The second person is Garry Boyd, who is the Ringleader at Hopcat (One of the busiest and well-known restaurants in Grand Rapids, MI) because he is a great guy to connect with and he knows everyone, he is always available to talk to and ask questions.
Initially I fell in love with this industry because of the people that have been so willing to help and share knowledge. While doing my thesis, they were all so willing to sit down and have a beer with me so that I could ask questions. There was no one who said that they didn’t have time for me or to talk with me. This helped me to make the decision to join this industry that I wanted to be a part of and help grow.
FM: What do you consider the most undervalued style of beer, what is the underdog that should be drank more and recognized more?
SL: I would say any kind of lagers. Everyone think lagers are any kind of macro beers, such as Budweiser or they think big name beer. People don’t think lagers can be craft beer. However, lagers are very hard to make, and you have to be a really good brewer to make a good and clean lager. I think in the near future, people will transition from super hopped IPA’s to a more balanced lager, something that is more drinkable throughout the day. Wolverine State Brewing Company out of Ann Arbor, MI makes exclusively lagers. I personally enjoy lagers because variety is key. I can’t drink one type all day because there is too much flavor, but with lagers, you can enjoy them without having too much flavor or alcohol content.
FM: BBQ seems to be loved by most home brewers. Can you give us your favorite beer and BBQ pairings? BBQ can be considered brisket, ribs, steak, even chicken or seafood on the grill?
SL: I would definitely do a really spicy chicken sandwich, with spicy BBQ sauce everywhere and a really nice IPA. The IPA would help cut the spiciness out and cool things down while leaving some heat there. That would be a really delicious pairing.
FM: Do you enjoy using craft beer for cooking?
SL: Definitely. On PBA, we have a whole section on the website under “News” where we have food involving beer and cooking. There are different things that we did including partnering with Hopcat and Faygo using beer for food and drinks. At Hopcat we did beer cheese, beer chili, beer beef jerky, beer turkey and lots of other food. Then at Faygo, we took beer and some liquor and Faygo soda to make craft cocktails.
FM: Do you have any craft beer adventures planned in the near future?
SL: In November, I will be going to Hawaii. I plan to check out some places including Maui Brewing Company and I will be trying some authentic Hawaiian beers. I want to see how they are doing things differently out there when it comes to brewing. There will be more places that we will be exploring for PBA and we will keep you updated!
FM: Who is Shannon Long as a person and as a Pure Brew America spokesperson?
SL: Shannon Long is very passionate about beer. My main mission in life whether it’s through PBA, Brew Export, or just drinking beer, is to position the US and Michigan specifically as the preeminent source for craft beer around the world. When you think Michigan or the United States, you think the best beer on the planet. Anything that falls under that umbrella is something that I am involved in or preaching the good word of great craft beer.