Craft beer enthusiasm is demonstrated in a variety of ways. Some folks enjoy craft so much they become part of the conversation and brew their own. Some create beer clubs to facilitate the conversation. Many simply drink and partake in the conversation at bars, pubs, and breweries. And then there are those who create the conversation. After the inception of YouTube, it was only a matter of time before a small segment of the craft beer community utilized the online medium to share their appreciation for craft beer with the masses. Enter the dawning of the BrewTuber — the craft beer YouTube vlogging beer reviewer.
While the number of craft breweries in America has been exploding, the number of online beer reviewers has followed suit. And what was once just a digital hobby for some, has spawned into a legitimate money-making pastime able to garner brewery sponsorships, merchandise sales, craft beer community respect and other great opportunities within and beyond the world of craft beer.
Enter Ant B. a.k.a Anthony Blair, the charismatic BrewTuber bringing smiles and positive energy to the online beer reviewing community under the brand Craft Picks. On his Craft Picks YouTube channel you can catch Ant critiquing a variety of beers from across the globe and interviewing brewers who are local to his home-state of Indiana. And while many other BrewTubers follow a similar critique, review, and interview format, the tone and visuals created from the magic of Ant’s editing software, green screen, and upbeat personality allow for far more entertaining videos than most other beer review channels. But the fun doesn’t stop at YouTube for Ant. His Craft Picks Instagram page takes it to another level with its candid behind the scenes snapshots, occasional short segment review videos and a closer look at the man in front of the camera; while his Facebook page reinforces the brand by echoing both Facebook and YouTube platforms and providing an occasional internet sourced beer article or two. So what is the story behind Craft Picks? Read below to find out!
TA: First off, let it be known that as long as you and I have been in communication, it is nice to finally pick your brain about your brand and craft beer experiences. With that said, let’s get into it. How did you get into craft beer? What is your intro story?
CP: It’s good to see you get back into the creative lane again man. Let me say right out the gate that I’m thankful to you for reaching out and most importantly for the relationship we’ve built over the past year.
My beer story goes waaaaaaay back. When I was 16 I started drinking “craft beer.” This was when craft beer consisted of a lot of skunky imports. My first beer was a St. Paulie’s Girl that my homeboy Bleeps turned me onto while we were rolling to a RUN D.M.C concert. From there I started to get into “premium beers”, which back then was Michelob and Michelob Light. Because I’m “beer curious” I tried damn near all the beer I could find that sounded remotely interesting.
[At age 22], I started working in the kitchen of a local bar in Flint, Michigan. They had a world beer golf card and a whole new beer world opened up to me. I went through the “ice” beer phase and drank a sh** ton of Molson Ice. I was a big fan of Red Dog when it dropped. I drank Zima because the girls liked Zima and Jolly Ranchers aka “The Panty Droppers.” My Irish homies turned me on to Killians and I was really hyped about Xingu because it was from Africa. But, it wasn’t until 2001 that I was turned on to craft beer as we know it today. Around that time I was living in Muskegon, Michigan; which is close to Grand Rapids, Founders [Brewing Company] and Bells [Brewery]. A cat I was in business with turned me on to Bells Oberon. I was like, “what the hell is this beer with an orange slice on the edge of the glass?” That sh** was good as hell though, so then I started seeking fresh local craft beer, and it’s been a journey of new tasting experiences ever since.
TA: Wait, let’s backtrack for a second. What is a “world beer golf card?”
CP: A card that listed all the beers available at the bar. After a person drinks one, or several of the beers, they are marked off the card. Swag prizes were given away for achievements. Drink all the beers and get on a Wall of Fame.
TA: That’s dope! Well, as you know, we craft beer drinkers have seen beer styles evolve and even merge fairly frequently in the recent world of beer. One season the New England / North Eastern style IPA is all the rage. The next season it’s the gose style and the next it’s the sour IPA, etc. With so many choices to choose from picking a favorite can be quite a daunting task, but I have to ask, do you have a favorite style of beer? If so, what is it and why?
CP: Man, you ain’t never lied about the abundance of styles available. It’s mind boggling all of the options we have to choose from. I don’t know that I can narrow down a style per se. But, I like what Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery said in a video I watched recently. When talking about the beer that Brooklyn Brewery makes, he says they aren’t making “gimmick” beers. I believe so many of these new styles of beer are “gimmick” beers. Let’s sixtuple dry hop this beer. Let’s dump a butt load of lactose, vanilla, lupulin powder, fruit puree or whatever into a beer; make some “cool” can art labels, promote a limited run can release on social media and laugh all the way to the bank. That being said, my favorite style of beer is old school beers from the beer motherland: British, Belgians, Germans, and Wild/Spontaneously fermented beers.
It’s my opinion that an exceptional brewer is one that can make a kick ass beer with just water, hops, malt and yeast. I’m on the lookout for exceptional beers made by exceptional brewers. Not “trendy” beers or the hottest beer on social media. I ain’t gone lie though, I do trade for trendy and hot beers to put on my Craft Picks beer review show because people are searching for those beers. I get spins with those beers. Ain’t nobody doing a YouTube search for an Extra Special Bitter.
TA: Do you have a favorite beer? If so, what is it and why?
CP: A favorite beer? Hmmm. I can’t say that I have a favorite. My go-to beer that I can find almost anywhere is Bells Two Hearted [Ale], representing the Mitten aka Michigan. I can find that beer in a hood ass liquor store or a chain restaurant and it always comes through for me when I need a beer and have limited options.
TA: Answering this could potentially create some haters, but do you have a favorite brewery? If so, who is it and why?
CP: Ha ha ha! Haters! Haters everywhere. Can’t avoid ‘em man, so why even bother? My favorite brewery—once again reppin’ the Mitten—is Old Nation. They make the most fire ass beer that nobody is talking about on social media. It’s a travesty. Plus their story is great. They almost went out of business.
The brewer comes from a brewing family and was formally trained overseas in the beer motherland. Old Nation was brewing old school beer, but we all know, ain’t nobody standing in a can release line for a dunkel. So, the brewer started brewing hazy IPA’s—much to his chagrin—and they blew up. M43 and Boss Tweed are crushing most hazy single and double IPA’s out there, in my opinion.
TA: You often post pictures on Instagram of beers you’ve acquired through beer trades. How did you get into beer trading and how rewarding has it been?
CP: This cat I hit bottle shares with, Hopbiscuit, turned me on to the trade game. Three years ago, he’d bring beers through that I’d never heard of. I’d ask him where did you get this or that beer. He’d reply, “I got this from so and so out in Colorado” or some crazy sh**. This piqued my curiosity to no end. I’d ask him questions about how he did it and he hipped me to the intel. I tried finding people to trade with on Beer Advocate, without much success. Then I found a cat on Untappd; that was my first trade. I traded for some TreeHouse and tried Julius for the first time. That beer blew my mind. I was like, “Yo, it’s some really good beer out there that I need to get my hands on.” Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have much trade currency living in Indiana. The only thing we had at the time was 3 Floyds and Upland Sours. But then 450 North hit the social media scene and blew the f*** up. 450 North is 15 minutes away from me, so that was the game changer and catalyst for taking my beer trading to the next level.
I have to give props to them 450 cats for turning their operation around. I’ve tasted beers from all over the country that I never thought I’d get the chance to try. That’s been the reward of beer trading: tasting beers from breweries that I’ve heard of and some I haven’t [while] expanding my beer knowledge and palate.
TA: I saw on your Instagram that you passed your Certified Beer Server exam via the Cicerone program recently. Congratulations on the accomplishment! What motivated you to want to take the test and how did it feel knowing you passed?
CP: Thanks homie! I do beer reviews and I believe that I have to be accurate in my assessment of the beers that I taste. I thought going through the cicerone program would give me additional knowledge to not only be able to better assess the quality of a beer, but give me a differentiator to separate myself from other people reviewing beer on social media.
TA: What motivated you to start a YouTube channel with beer as the focus?
CP: Man, I wanted to start a YouTube channel a couple of years ago. I had no clue what the focus would be. I was talking to a local cat that has a Facebook page where video is the focus. He now has over 11,000 likes. He and I were talking over beer one night and he said, “why not do beer videos?” I was like, “man, come on. Who would watch that sh**?” He was like, “no, for real man. You have all these great stories. You’re already creating the content. It’s not even a big leap to at least give it a try.” I thought, “I guess he’s right. I’ll give it a shot.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
TA: How did the name Craft Picks come about and where did the phrase, “Mo’ Head Y’all” come from?
CP: Man, the Craft Picks name was me thinking VERY short term without much vision. I thought I would just be doing beer reviews. The thought process was, I’m picking a craft beer, hence Craft Picks.
“Mo’ head y’all” was me playing with words. A double entendre. If you check out my “Mo’ head y’all” video on YouTube you’ll see that it evolved from this idea of wordplay into my beer ideology. Head on a beer is so important to the tasting experience and became a sort of rally cry for me and for my Craft Picks family to accept nothing less than the best beer tasting experience. And who doesn’t want mo’ head, right?
TA: Do you ever watch, follow, or take inspiration from other craft BrewTubers? If so, who?
CP: I watch a few cats online. Alabama Boss is someone new that I got turned on to that pushes me to up my production and creativity. I do my best to support the brothas out there on YouTube talking about beer. Beer Is Fundamental and You Heard It Hear First are the cats I tune into and engage with most regularly.
TA: How has your life changed since starting the channel?
CP: Man, locally I can’t go to a brewpub, brewery or fest without someone saying, “Hey you’re the guy on that Craft Picks channel!” Man, it’s crazy! People will catch me on the streets and start talking about the last beer they tried. People inviting me to shares. I have a couple paid sponsors for the Beer Huntin’ and Pub Grubbin’ shows. I get media passes for beer fests. I’ve consulted for some local businesses. The most recent craziest thing is a local movie theater just ordered a cut out of me to promote the craft beer they are selling. WTF?! I’m telling you man, I never would have thought. Only in America.
TA: I’ve been watching your progress since before you started your channel and I’ve seen your social media following increase significantly in just a short amount of time. Why do you think people have gravitated to you so quickly?
CP: People tell me that I come across as genuine and honest. They also tell me that they like my smile and energy. I believe this is the secret sauce. I think these qualities are infectious and draw people into what I’m creating. I’m being the best Ant B that I can be and I think people vibe with that.
TA: When I saw your first few beer reviews on Instagram, I remember thinking, “Sheesh! This guy’s editing game is on-point! These videos look crystal clear, and he’s bringing a level of excitement to the beer reviews game that I haven’t seen in many other BrewTubers.” What equipment do you use for recording and editing and how do you manage to display an unmatched level of enthusiasm, authenticity and fun in many of your review videos?
CP: Thanks man I appreciate you saying that. My recording equipment is pretty basic. I use my Samsung S8 and iPhone 7+ with a Rode shotgun microphone, I have a small studio in my office, I purchased lights, and sound dampened the room. As far as editing goes: I use the Adobe creative suite, primarily Premier and Photoshop, and I use After Effects and Audition here and there. That monthly Adobe bill is a bitch, but in the end it’s worth it.
TA: What is the overall goal of Craft Picks and where do you see the brand 5 years from now?
CP: Man… I have this crazy ass idea. I read the book The Billion Dollar BET earlier this year. It’s the story of how Bob Johnson started BET and his eventual sale of it to Viacom. It’s a fascinating story. I don’t think I’ll at some point sell Craft Picks to a major television company, but I do believe that I can make it into an online version of a “television” station targeted to the craft beer audience. I have show ideas for days. To have regular shows that air online is the 5 year goal. I’d also like to get past 40,000 likes, follows, and subscribers and get to the Master Cicerone level and be able to step into the void left by Michael Jackson — to become the ambassador of beer.
TA: It’s been great getting to know you better. I appreciate what you’re doing and I hope you continue to provide a fresh perspective and etch out your space within the BrewTube community. That being said, the last thing I’d like to know is what advice can you give an aspiring BrewTuber who wants to stand out from the rest of the YouTube community?
CP: My advice to aspiring BrewTubers is: find your voice and find your lane, keep it real, create more than you consume, be prepared to work hard, embrace the highs and brace yourself for the lows, collaborate and don’t playa hate, and probably most important is appreciate every single person who likes, follows, and subscribes and make sure they know that you do. It’s been a pleasure chopping it up with you Arteest. I enjoyed this immensely. Thanks for the love homie!
Be sure to follow, like, and subscribe to all of Craft Picks’ social pages below. Check out his reviews on his Craft Picks YouTube channel and purchase some merch at CraftPicksTV.com.
Facebook / YouTube: Craft Picks
Note: For clarity and distinction between the varying levels of the Cicerone program, the phrase “Cicerone Certified” has been changed to “Certified Beer Server” within the excerpt and question 7 of the interview.