Friday, May 17, 2013

Pioneers of Beers: Brick Store Beer Manager Lee Dickson

Meet the beer manager of one of the world's best pubs

Ever since Lee Dickson served me a North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Imperial Stout at the Atlanta-based, world-renowned Brick Store Pub years ago, I have been super cool with this gentle giant and Steelers fanatic ever since. In this ongoing Pioneers of Beers series, it’s always a pleasure to have candid interviews with individuals who are responsible for brewing, serving, promoting, writing, and supporting the greatest beverage in the world. This time, it’s the beer manager for one of the most revered craft brew bars on the planet. Ladies and gents, here’s the funny, down-to-earth, and knowledgeable Lee Dizzle.

Ale: Okay, let’s get the basics. Where are you from and how did you end up in Atlanta?
Lee: Well I’m from Pittsburgh and moved to Snellville Ga. in 1986 to live with my dad. I was 6'-6" in the eighth grade and moving to a bigger school helped me develop my basketball skills.

I had to include the Heinz bottle to
rep Lee's home, ya heard?
Oh, so you’ve got some game, eh? Evidently, a basketball was eventually swapped out for a tap handle pouring craft beer. How did brew become a part of your life?
I used to drink at the Taco Mac on Highway 78—which is now Summits Wayside Tavern—and loved to try new beers. I still have some of the old newsletters they used to send out to their “Passport” members of their drinking club. I ended up moving back to Pittsburgh a few years after college and had trouble landing a job in my field which was ‘machine tools.’ The alcohol laws in Pennsylvania were much higher than Georgia then, so I started to drink lots of Belgians, cask ales and high ABV beers. I fell in love with this overnight.

How did you get the job at the Brick Store and become the beer manager?
I cut my teeth in the beer business at the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Pittsburgh. While bartending and managing, I learned a lot about selling beer, the importance of glassware, cellaring, and running a business.
I met one of the Brick Store owners, Dave [Blanchard], through the website I visited the pub a few times when I came back to town and then I started bugging the shit out of him, knowing I wanted to move back to Atlanta.

Nice! Dave is cool so I am glad it worked out. What was the first day like?
Oh man. My first day at the pub wasn't easy because a lot of the staff had been there for a long time, so I had a lot to prove to the owners and everyone else. I remember an old friend, Cozmo, who also worked at the pub who had suggested we share a Scaldis Prestige after work, and here I am six years later.

Lee's giant Steeler ass kicker.
What do you enjoy the most about your job and what’s a pain in the ass about it?
I'm a people person, so I enjoy working in a fun environment and interacting with the public. I especially love folks in the beer scene.
On the pain-in-the-ass part, anyone who's worked at a high volume restaurant will tell you that the work is hard and the hours are long. Working when everyone else is playing is sometimes the hardest part, though!

I feel you on that. I will try not to smile too much when I see you in the bar next time.
Ha! It’s all good.

What about specific beers? Name a few that are gangster along with breweries around the world that have wowed you.
I love the Belgian tripels like Westmalle tripel, Gouden Carolous tripel and Tripel Karmeliet. I’m a candy and ice cream guy, and these beers are sweet and complex. As for my favorite breweries, I've been to the La Trappe monastery in the Netherlands; Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium; Uerige in Dusseldorf, Germany; Traquair House in Scotland; and Twains in Decatur—it’s my local watering hole. You know what? As a whole, I believe the U.S. craft breweries are the best because damn near every one of them is pushing the limits and brewing exciting beers. From Allagash to Lagunitas, to Cigar City, to 3 Floyds.

Okay, Atlanta has an awesome beer scene. What is your favorite beer festival and why?
I'm a little biased when it comes to my favorite festival. Decatur Craft Beer Fest is my fave, though, because I get to entertain out-of-town brewery reps, plan exciting events, and try the best beers in the world with a lot of our regulars. I also really enjoy Hotoberfest, the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting, and Classic City Beer Fest.

Yep! I concur. They are all awesome fests. So how do you kill that little time you have away from the Brick Store?
When I'm not working around beer in town, I’m usually travelling from coast to coast or overseas in search of new beer experiences. A lot of beer is regional, and breweries or public houses are a great way to meet people and get to know their culture. I can’t tell you the last time I went on vacation that didn't involve visiting breweries or networking with beer industry people. It’s just a great business full of great people.

I can dig it. Besides the people, what do you love about the beer industry in general and what trends do you think are going to happen going forward?
I love the constant changes going on in the beer world and I think it keeps our industry fun and interesting. A lot of established breweries will keep rising to the top and a few will fall. I believe craft beer will continue to break into new markets and the traditional ‘Big Boy’ breweries will be trying to take back market share. The last ten years have been very interesting; the next ten should be as well.

Okay, besides running arguably the best beer bar in the country, what else could you see yourself doing?
My dream job would be to work in sales and marketing for a brewery I really believe in; hell, possibly my own. It’s my strength and also what makes me happy. I would also like to own or run a small bottle shop in a small town someday because of the interaction with regulars.

I’d be your first customer bro. Anything else you want to tell folks before we end this interview and knock off another pint of liquid bliss?
Yep! Just know that I love beer and working in the beer industry because of the great people involved like yourself. Thank you for creating one of the most informative and well-written beer sites around. I use it as a tool for my job, and your hard work has not gone unnoticed. Keep up the great work and remember: It’s not work, it’s just beer!

Damn, you got a brother blushing man. I will sip to that!
Let’s do it, Ale!

For more info on Brick Store and to follow Lee’s tweets, visit and @brickstorepub on Twitter. See you at their bar soon! 

My Crafted For Action x New Belgium Beer Dinner at Oreatha's is coming!

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