Exclusive Q&A: NY Craft Beer Week Director Josh Schaffner

Seasoned booze hounds take note: Friday was the launch of NY Craft Beer Week, a nine-day celebration of craft brewers’ tasty creations that’s taking place in over 80 bars across New York City. It’s not too late to grab your $35 passport — a valuable slip of paper that gets you $2 pints at each of the participating bars and a discounted rate for many of the beer-themed events occurring around the city. Read on for our interview with NY Craft Beer Week director Josh Schaffner, a man who likes his beer with everything. Even pancakes. Flavorpill: So, why have an official beer week? Hell, isn’t every week beer week? What makes this so noteworthy?

Josh Schaffner: One can find great beer every week of the year in NYC, but NY Craft Beer Week is noteworthy because of all the special events scheduled to take place during the week. There are Beer Walks, tasting festivals, brew-master meet and greets, lectures, beer dinners, food pairings, and so many more things that can help people discover craft beer in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily do so. This is also the only week of the year where every great beer bar of the city is offering the opportunity for patrons to pony up to the bar for only $2 on their first pint.

FP: NYCBW is a young enterprise; this is only the second annual beer week. What faux pas did you learn from after the first time around? Will there be noteworthy differences between this year and last year’s?

JS: Most people aren’t going to visit six bars in one night on a Tuesday. Props to those who can, but we changed the format of the Beer Week this year to allow for people to visit bars at their own pace throughout the week without feeling pressure to get it all done on any particular night. Last year’s Week revolved around neighborhood beer bar crawls, while this year’s Passport provides incentive to visit a bar in any neighborhood of the city on any day of the Beer Week.

FP: Your website lists 83 different venues and 162 unique beers… How do you select your venue partnerships? What qualifications does the beer have to have to be worthy of Craft Week?

JS: The venues are those that are already serving good selections of craft beer any other week of the year. We take a look at the tap selections, and we expect the participating bars to have at least 50 percent of their taps to be devoted to craft beer. Some of the bars are 100 percent craft beer. But it is a goal of the Beer Week to have craft beer available in more and more places throughout the city so we do what we can to provide encouragement to those bars that are just beginning to discover the pleasures of craft beer.

FP: How did you become a beer connoisseur?

JS: I wouldn’t say I’m a beer connoisseur. In fact, I kind of dislike the term as it implies that my appreciation of beer is better than someone else’s. But I came to love and discover beer through travel as I experienced the many different local offerings that varied with each region of the country and the world that I went to. I think it’s a wonderful way, in fact the best way in my opinion, to discover and experience a place based on its food and beer.

FP: Are you a beer snob or do you value everything from PBR up?

JS: I don’t think of myself as a snob either, but I have to say that I find very little value in knocking back a PBR. I don’t like the taste as there isn’t much of one, and generally prefer beer with a good flavor profile to it. I drank what I could get when I wasn’t of age. Now that I’m all grown up, I value that I can drink so many different wonderful flavors and I see no need to keep on drinking the stuff that I drank as a kid only because it’s what was available to me.

FP: You will be hosting events like Women in the Beer Industry and Deconstructing Beer: Hops, which are a more cerebral take on beer. How do you woo people who just want to get their drunk on into thinking more about their beverage choice?

JS: It’s an ongoing process. I think that more and more people like to know where the products they consume come from and how they are made. I’m talking about furniture and sneakers as much as I am food and beer. Getting one’s drink on is a great moment of merriment, and often much needed at the end of a long day or week. But a lot of people develop a greater appreciation for the flavors they are experiencing once they being to understand how and why they got to be that way.

FP: I’ve seen beer-and-cupcake pairings before; what should beer be paired with that people might not think of?

JS: I’ve developed a devoted following amongst my group of friends for my pancakes and beer gatherings. What’s great about beer is that the diversity of the flavors available in the many different styles allow it to be paired with just about any food out there. A friend recently put together a beer and ice cream pairing and those flavors were really revelatory.

FP: How is the NY beer scene different than elsewhere?

JS: We are blessed with untold numbers of things to do on any given day. We have such a large population and so many different neighborhoods that there really is a little bit of something for everyone. I like the fact that NY Craft Beer Week is occurring at the same time as Fashion Week or the US Open. Our city offers an ability to appreciate many things at once.

FP: Who’s your favorite famous beer-guzzler?

JS: Jimmy Carter. He signed into law the bill that legalized homebrewing. Most craft brewers started as homebrewers, and without that law we wouldn’t have the vast selection of craft beer that we do today.