I’m standing at the front of a bar, in some Florida brewery, attempting to decide on whether I’d like the mango Kolsch or the peppercorn witbier (two styles of beer I wouldn’t typically go out of my way to drink, by the way) and before I can decide, some young, short-haired, brown-skin woman taps me on the shoulder and says with a rather large grin on her face, “order the blue-raspberry gose! You won’t regret it.” I ponder, “should I trust this well-dressed stranger? Or my own taste-buds and cravings?” But then, a second voice outside of my head says, “just go with it. SHE knows what she’s talking about.” I would then quickly fold under the peer pressure of the friendly craft beer enthusiast I just encountered, order the suggested gose, and shoot back a mirrored grin…of approval. This is the type of scenario I’ve always pictured happening to me and the person I most recently had the pleasure of interviewing. And why would I allow this person, in particular, to determine my craft beer experience in that moment? Well, because the SHE in that encounter would be none other than Christina Hughes aka Chris bka Thee Craft Beer Connoisseur.
As a self proclaimed, “Beer Influencer” and beer connoisseur, Chris prides herself on being knowledgeable about the beverage she is passionate about: craft beer. Like many beer folks on Instagram, Chris provides visuals of her style, her often fun and quirky demeanor, social gatherings with friends, celebrity encounters, and best of all: her beer trips, meetups, beer hauls and beer reviews. But, what separates her from the rest of the beer noise is her ability to own her self-proclaimed title and run with it. Within a short period of time, she has evolved into the voice of craft beer for many of her peers and social media followers. And her IG doesn’t simply feel like a random feed of beer pics after beer pics (like so many beer enthusiasts do), but a concerted effort to shed light on the beverages she loves, hates and just slightly enjoys while bringing her followers – from the seasoned beer drinkers to the craft newbs – along for the ride of her exploration into documented and uncharted territory. So raise your glass for Christina Hughes, Thee Craft Beer Connoisseur, as you embark on her craft beer journey.
TA: When did you start drinking craft beer and what beer and experience was your introduction?
TCBC: I was introduced to craft beer sometime around my last year of college. I had gone through my entire college experience without drinking ANY beer at all, and the day came when my friends had ENOUGH! I literally had a beer shoved down my throat. lol My first memorable craft beer was Unibroue – La Fin Du Monde. [It] changed my life! This was the first craft beer I tried that stimulated my taste buds and had a bit more of a flavor profile. Sweet, boozy and caramel – I can still remember the taste!
TA: What is a “Beer Influencer” and how did you become one?
TCBC: Great question! A Beer Influencer, in my opinion, is a knowledgeable beer expert, with a solid and credible online presence. Mostly your bloggers, vloggers or social media guru’s fall into the “Influencers” category (which is also a term coined by Millennials). I feel as though I’ve been an influencer ever since I started my online page to share my craft beer journey. My peers began to look to me for more insight on good beers and styles of beers to try, so it just kind of became my thing. My influencer status was validated a few years back when I got into an online match with a well-known Florida brewery. They were pretty concerned that when I told followers to not drink their beer…they stopped drinking their beer!
TA: I’ve been following your Instagram account for quite some time now and I’ve noticed you seem to favor sours, Berliner’s and gose’. Would it be a fair assumption to say that these are your favorite styles of beer? If so, why are they? If not, what styles are?
TCBC: Actually, my favorite style of beers are STOUTS! I don’t feature them often. They aren’t easy-drinks, so I have to be in the mood to drink one. However, I love a good sour beer! I’m from Florida, so we are often being fed crispy, light and tart seasonal brews by our local brewers.
TA: Here’s a hypothetical: You’re at a wedding reception in search of craft, but all they have is Bud Light Lime, Blue Moon, Yuengling, Heineken, Guinness and Stella Artois, do you grab one of those or refuse and hold off until you get home? Also, if you choose one, which one would you choose and why?
TCBC: I have rules for situations like this one since I can’t be seen with “generic beer” in my hands! I stick to drinking hard liquor, and save the beer experience for home. When I go out to clubs though (which usually never have craft as an option), I will try to find a Stella or Heineken if I really want to drink a beer. As an influencer, it’s important that people see me with a beer in my hand. But truly, the power lies in the beer I am holding in my hand! Drink craft, not crap!
TA: Of the myriad of craft breweries you’ve visited, which one raised the bar (no pun intended) for you and made you want to revisit and how did it do so?
TCBC: Torched Hop Brewing. I am not a huge fan of Brewpubs, or restaurants incorporated into breweries, but they sold me on the experience the first round! The atmosphere is very eclectic, and the staff is very knowledgeable on the beer menu, not just the food.
TA: As TheeCraftBeerConnoisseur, obviously you go out of your way to try new craft beers. What’s the furthest you’ve traveled in an attempt to get your hands on new beer or a new beer experience and what was the beer or the experience you received?
TCBC: Hmmmm, I am actually working on that! I’ve only traveled as far as the next city over to get some special release beers. Let’s just say, I stay away from the special releases because the lines are way too long for my liking! However, I am planning to take things to the next level in 2019 and venturing out to travel to the top five craft beer hubs in the nation. These areas include: California; Colorado; Asheville, NC; Chicago and back to Florida.
TA: Your pictures and videos on Instagram always come out looking polished and sometimes even professional. What equipment do you use to capture those moments and give them such a high quality aesthetic?
TCBC: Most times, I am using my Samsung Galaxy to take photos and videos. Or, I use my best friend’s I-Phone to get the special focal points on beers with nice designs and artwork.
TA: If you could create a TheeCraftBeerConnoisseur beer, what style would it be, what adjuncts and/or hops would you use, and what would you name it?
TCBC: Debating if I want to share my dreams on this one! Ideally, I would like to brew a sweet Stout with Debbie Cakes. I would probably name it “Sweet Debbie”!
TA: As a black woman navigating within the craft beer community, a community often pictured as white and male dominated, how do you fit into the picture? Have you ever faced adversity or opposition within craft beer spaces (breweries, conversations, online, etc.)?
TCBC: Oh yes, I have been kicked out of groups online [and] blocked by other influencers and pages. [But], I’ve personally never had an adverse experience within a brewery setting, which is why it is so important to me that Women and people of color visit breweries for the real craft beer experience. Then, I believe, more people will understand how much beer bridges the gap!
TA: As TheeCraftBeerConnoisseur you have a strong appreciation for craft beer, you visit many breweries throughout the year, post great pics and videos of your adventures via Instagram and sell your branded stickers and magnets online. Where do you hope to take your brand over the next five years and what is the ultimate goal of TheeCraftBeerConnoisseur?
TCBC: The ultimate goal is to change the face of craft beer and drink beer for a living! I hate the word diversity – it means nothing to me and is just about as inaccurate as a Nielsen survey poll. I want to have my own show and also travel around the world drinking/reviewing beer and connecting with minorities who want a place in the industry. The possibilities are [endless]!
TA: It was great to finally learn some of your story and about your connection to the craft beer community. My last question for you is, what advice can you give the potential “Beer Influencer” out there who is trying to build a brand and cultivate a following?
TCBC: It’s all about being organic. I don’t force my followers to connect with me, or pay for other individuals to follow me. I find other enthusiasts through my current network of friends and build from there. Engagement is always important too. Nobody is trying to win a competition, we’re just all here to drink good beer!
It was a pleasure interviewing Chris and discovering part of the story behind the person we see in the digital space. If you’d like to learn more about Thee Craft Beer Connoisseur, follow her on Instagram and Untappd at @TheeCraftBeerConnoisseur.