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Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 3

Streamlining, Detail, and Focused Passion


When I was 6 and learning butterfly with the 9 and 10 year-olds, I couldn’t keep my feet together so the coach duct-taped my legs together and had me swim the workout duct-tape butterfly against the older kids with un-taped legs swimming freestyle. My first lesson in obsession toward perfection. When I was 11, my coach Karen told us that we would have to start the workout over if anyone “broke streamline” off any wall in the workout. She said that everything had to be perfect all of the time or that we shouldn’t come. Girls like me who wanted to be fast at the shortest events could not afford a single error and every movement and positioning of my body, mind, and spirit had to be in flow and perfect. We had to Streamline. When I was 19, after a successful first year swimming at Yale, coach Dudley Duncan, told me we’d swim all night if I couldn’t make the interval the team was swimming at 50X100s on the 1:10 while keeping my stroke count at 12 per lap, breathing bi-laterally and never missing a turn. This kind of repetitive discipline and painstaking focus is what has stuck with me throughout my career and in my daily activities.

We may never be perfect, even when we have succeeded in being the “best to become the best we are capable of becoming” (John Wooden, Spieker Aquatic Center at UCLA) – there will always be more we could have done. Reaching that potential starts with the details and a “focused passion” for the details (Phil Jamison, GRB). The best memories of my athletic career are learning the details. Becoming great at the shortest event in competitive swimming meant no detail could be left uncovered. I think there’s a similar unique position to be had at Golden Road. We aren’t trying to be a theme or serve the nation or take over a category; we are intently focused on one thing – growing craft share and culture in Los Angeles. The first few years of building Golden Road, lots of what we have been doing is “building” and I have been less focused on details than when I was training for the 50 freestyle. It’s been a cycle of infrastructure, hiring, construction, securing distribution, more construction, hiring, brand releases, increased distribution, new recipes, more construction and more hiring.

We aren’t trying to be a theme or serve the nation or take over a category; we are intently focused on one thing – growing craft share and culture in Los Angeles.

Golden Road doesn’t appear to be slowing down in these cycles, but we are now ready to focus on Streamlining, like Karen taught me nearly 20 years ago as a young sprinter. We have built amazing beers, packaging, events, food, culture, fans, and team-members. Now we will be able to focus this base and work on the programming details to support our distributors, retailers, and ultimately our fans. 

Athletics and business has not been about a swimming time or a number, but about constant improvement of life’s journey. We now have 15 distributors and 4,000 accounts that have supported us with very few resources in our startup first two years. We couldn’t have done it without them. I am so excited to have the resources in place to focus on the details and improve how we support our community as we “focus our passion” heading into 2014.



Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 2

Goggles Fall Off, Dresses Rip; Carry your Ace through Unexpected Chaos


Coaches have said to me, the only certainty in life is uncertainty. So you must learn to prepare for uncertainty. For Michael Phelps, it was having his coach make him race at an early age, without goggles a couple of times, so he could prepare to swim blind, knowing where he was in the pool at all times. This would come back to help him at the moment he needed it most in the 200 Butterfly in Beijing; it happened to be the race where Phelps could break Mark Spitz's record and become the most decorated Olympian of all time. I remember feeling anxious when Phelps dove in with water-filled goggles on his first of four laps, thinking it was over for him. But he didn't miss a stroke; his race was perfect, his focus never more on point. Phelps broke his own world record and said it was the "unexpected chaos" his coach had prepared him for throughout his life that helped him continue on.

I've felt the same sort of chaos happen in moments of high anxiety and focus. It reminds me of my of my favorite quotes from The Alchemist, "before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything it has learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we've learned as we've moved toward that dream." The night before my final Ivy League Championships, my performance suit ripped in the locker room and my coach drove to Rhode Island to find the only size 24 royal blue Speedo legskin suit on the East Coast. Having a great team around you to deal with chaos when it matters most is an important lesson that I was reminded of this month. I was (finally) invited to present to my #1 distributor's #1 account. 

Think of your two daughters in an emergency. I have an emergency. We have to go.

There was a lot of nervous prep from the executives at the distributor on what I was to say and how to deliver the message. Perhaps they are conservative; perhaps I can be a loose canon on big sales calls...needless to say, I met the distributor's key account manager at their warehouse early, with cold beer and a killer presentation in hand. We drove to a bustling warehouse, walked through a sales bullpen, and waited for our presentation to begin inside the owner's office with 8 guys and one gal. Story telling happened on both sides, and all the beer was sold in with ease. I was thinking "What was all this prep about from the Big Bosses? This guy is easy." I was then escorted out to meet the sales guys in the warehouse bullpen, and had my back to dozens of warehouse guys. A couple minutes into chatting, a girl ran out of the office with a panicked look. She said, "Come here!" I thought it was going to be another one of those situations where all the men tell their bosses "Meg's mouth got us kicked out of the meeting." Did I say something wrong? 

The sweet gal says, "Your entire dress is ripped, all the men are staring at you in the warehouse."

Most horrific moment ever. Bare ass in a beer warehouse. I tried to keep my focus; I thanked her and grabbed my guy's arm; "Think of your two daughters in an emergency. I have an emergency. We have to go." My guy grabbed a folder from the sales guy's desk and ran behind me as to block these guys from seeing what they'd been staring at for God knows how long. We met the distributor's off premise manager in the parking lot (we were set to change cars and throw me into another key account in the area) and threw a Corona jacket around my waist. We then headed to Macy's on the way to our next sales call, where, I kid you not, my Budweiser Distributor Off Premise Sales Manager picked out dresses for me and brought them to a dressing room. The first one I tried on, I bought, with BDOPSM saying, "baby, I know this dress is only 30 bucks, but you look like a million bucks." I told him back, "This will be the month Ace hits targets for the first month ever. Only extreme chaos could warrant success with you guys."

Later that day, I had lunch with the owner of the distributor in my new dress. I told him the story, to which he responded, "Now that's a partner, baby!" Then, after seeing yet another month of hockey stick Distribution growth and triple-digit Volume growth, yet still not hitting Monthly Targets, he told me to keep the reigns tight, never stating, or even hinting, my expectations for Ace were unrealistic after nearly 2 years of demanding more. To the only distributor allowed to call me baby (drivers to owner), who have come so far in their development of craft beer and Golden Road in LA, thank you for leading me through chaos and preparing me for the unexpected. Your friendship has been one of the most rewarding parts of building Golden Road for me. Congrats to your first month of green thermometer success - it will only get better from here!



Confessions of a Swim Team Drama Queen 1

Coaching and Being Coachable


Every project, relationship, decision, business opportunity of my life has been weighed, measured, and compared to a situation, movement, or streamline in the pool. I recently realized that part of why swimming helps me so much in business is the perspective it provides. Cell phones aren't allowed in the pool! I CAN'T take a call about an out of stock, an upset account, a tweet that didn't go out or a beer not ready in time. That's not to say I use swimming to avoid thinking about beer. In fact, most of what I think about in the water IS beer, but more about movement, positioning, and drawing analogies. For example, how many kicks off a wall I take in butterfly tonight should equal the number of percentage points gained in Ace's (home market distributor) Point the Way draft distribution this month.Sounds nerdy and maybe a little crazy, but then every butterfly lap, I'm counting my kicks off the wall and planning how I'm going to get Ace to hit distribution increase and what that does for our overall business goals. Because of a recent incident where a chemical burn at a swim meet left me in extreme pain and temporarily blind, I questioned, for the first time, ever swimming again.

I was screaming and crying in so much pain, burying my eyes in the headboard of my hotel room in Indianapolis with my best friend forcing milk in my eyes (we thought it was a PH in-balance). Was swimming still worth it with Golden Road asking for so much energy? This wasn't the first time swimming left me with a near tragedy. Back in 2009, I was training for Olympic Trials and did my first Tahoe crossing, had vertigo and didn't know it, tried to drive home after the race and flipped my Subaru. I wasn't able to swim for a while after, so questioned my identity being wrapped up in a sport for 20 years and where it was headed. I was already in the beer business, but a switch went off due to an inability to swim that led me to countless hours of business planning, reading, beer studying, and talking to whoever I could about business and beer. The journey to Tony and Golden Road, if you will. Drama aside, swimming has taught me so much, and has left me with a desire to give back to others–athletes, non-athletes, swimmers, non-swimmers, business people, beer people, everybody! I would like my first lesson to begin with coaching–one of my favorite things to do in the world!

Swimming has taught me so much, and has left me with a desire to give back to others–athletes, non-athletes, swimmers, non-swimmers, business people, beer people, everybody!

Lesson #1: Coaching

I’ve always made sure to surround myself with great coaches for every passion project–a stellar Latin teacher and a strong female academic advisor at Yale guided me through my academic endeavors. Countless swim coaches drafted my understanding of hard work and determination that has defined my work ethic. My career in beer has been matured by a man who bought a Budweiser distributor at age 25 now in his 60s, the coolest woman in the beer business (ummm Kim!!), a Mrs airport commissioner, and my always-knowing-the-right-answer business partner, Tony. These relationships have been responsible for accelerating my growth and have provided me with tremendous perspective.

In addition to seeking great coaches, I spent over a decade coaching young swimmers, until I moved from Boulder giving Dale's son lessons, and began to take a career in beer more seriously. But that doesn't stop me from telling anyone I see in a pool what I think of their stroke and how to improve it. On Friday nights, often I leave work around 7 o’clock for the evening swim team practice, and spend 5 minutes after workout in the hot tub talking to 4 year old Stella and 5 year old Caroline about their freestyle progress and have them blow bubbles out of straws to work on breath control. I cherish these moments more than most anything else–even sitting at a bar drinking hoppy beers sometimes! Needless to say, something magical happened on a swim lesson on a Sunday a few months back, with my good friend and Golden Road Brand Manager, Tyler.

Tyler asked me for a lesson, so I took him over to the Rose Bowl where we spent an hour going over freestyle stroke technique. His goals were relatively simple–he wants to get to a place where he can swim a full hour without stopping, while keeping his stroke together. I worked with him on breathing, streamlines, rotation, and flip turns with a lot of big picture tips on basics that will increase his endurance through technique improvement. At the end of the session, Tyler asked me about my coaching background and I lit up. I couldn't stop gushing about the kids in Chester, Virginia I coached, the lessons coaching had taught me, and how much I missed it. At that moment, I knew how to get back to my coaching roots–through Golden Road!

Having worked closely with Tyler for a couple of years now–he's our oldest employee along with Matt Ponch–I suddenly realized some of the opportunities I had overlooked at Golden Road during the first year. I wasn't carrying my coaching lessons of encouragement, guidance, and patience into management and team building at Golden Road. It was easy for me to be distracted by the "build, build, build" reality of our day-to-day operations. I was not taking the necessary time to stop and engage in coaching–and receive coaching from others.

A huge light bulb went off that has changed the way I interact with those in my business life. I'm not just counting my kicks off walls for new PTW placements, but taking best practices out of the water and working to kick better together. I especially thank Tyler for this lesson and for his support, growing together from the beginning!



Meet Jesse Houck

Golden Road Brewmaster and I-10 Cyclist

A lot has been changing up in the LA beer universe and it's an exciting time out here in our land of sunshine & suds. We are thrilled to welcome our new brewmaster Jesse Houck to the Golden Road team. With 12 years of experience in the beer industry, Jesse brings his strong brewing background which was largely cultivated in Nor Cal, on down to So. Cal where the beer industry has been booming. So now that Jesse's had a couple weeks to scope out the brewery and get to know his fellow coworkers, it's about time you get to know a little of his background. Jesse was born and raised in Novato, CA, but grew up in North Carolina. Dad was a quality control engineer for a big telecommunication company, spending his time working on government contracts, and mom stayed at home, but neither parent was heavily into beer. His first craft beer was a Pete's Wicked Ale from one of his friend's parents, which Jesse noticed had a good amount of flavor compared to Dad's Miller Lites. His interest in homebrewing blossomed when his crafty older sister gave him the most epic 21st birthday gift of all time: a Mr. Beer Kit. Being the hands-on, handyman Jesse was, he busted out his first brew, realized it tasted "like ass," then immediately set out getting hip to the science behind making good beer.

Though he pursued engineering and chemistry degrees at UNC Chapel Hill, Jesse was always a mechanically inclined kind of person but did not want to follow the career path of those degrees. He started doing more hands-on work, at one point even doing exotic woodwork with an architectural firm. While getting knee-deep into a handful of jobs, homebrewing was a constant hobby. At one point, Jesse admits "I got carried away," and he decided it was time to get technical with his beer knowledge. Jesse enrolled in the UC Davis Master Brewers Program so he could figure out how to "build a 'proper' home brewery (what the kids today would call a nano)." After graduation, Jesse knew he wanted to stay on our coast, so he landed a job at a brewpub in San Francisco and found himself enamored with the beer community. He kept his brewing game sharp by purposely working in multiple breweries with different systems, techniques and styles. "I was working part-time at four different breweries in San Francisco, absorbing a little bit from all the other brewmasters. I would do a full shift at 21st Amendment then hop on my bike and do a night shift at Speakeasy. 21st resonated the most with me -- Shaun O'Sullivan is an amazing brewer and I really dug his hop-forward west coast IPAs and pale ales that were just gaining traction at the time."

I was working part-time at four different breweries in San Francisco, absorbing a little bit from all the other brewmasters. I would do a full shift at 21st Amendment then hop on my bike and do a night shift at Speakeasy.

"From there I worked my way up to Head Brewer at 21st. I enjoyed recipe development and brewing at a pub, but wanted new challenges and growth, so after I left I sought out work at quickly growing production brewery." After 5 years of time at 21st, Jesse found himself at a little place called Drake's Brewing. No big deal.

But here and there in his years of brewing, there were some interesting gaps in his work. Jesse spent a year diving in southeast Asia, lived on an island for 6 months, and also managed to find time to bike across the country, from San Diego to Florida for a couple months. Also not a big deal.

On his last day at 21A, our owner Tony descended upon Jesse, at Meg's recommendation, to taste his brews. "He told me about his project at the time to renovate an old movie theatre and turn it into a California-only craft beer bar. I thought he was a little crazy because I didn't think LA really had much desire for craft beer at the time. While I was at Drake's, I saw how much beer we sent to the LA market and during a few sales trips down here I was just blown away by how cool the scene was and how much growth was occurring."

Jesse kept in touch with Meg & Tony and shared the enthusiasm for their vision and ambitious goals in Los Angeles. "When the brewmaster position became open, I jumped at the chance to be a part of one of the coolest craft breweries in the largest & fastest growing craft market in the country." As our new brewmaster, Jesse spends his time overseeing the entire brewhouse -- from procuring hop contracts to recipe development to finishing our beers. "But I don't do it alone," says Jesse. "We have a highly talented team of brewers who carry a lot of the load and also execute their own individual styles in the brewhouse." Some of the recent brewers' beers include "It's Not Always Sunny in LA" and "Aunt Sally Pale Ale", which you can try now at The Pub at Golden RoadHe'll also be getting his hands on a Point the Way revamp, re-releasing Wolf Among Weeds and ramping up our new, giant system to brew our core brands. This will free up our 15 bbl system so our brewing team will have a space create more specialty beers and pub-only goodies.

Since moving down to Los Angeles, Jesse has been pretty blown away by the beer scene here, so let's pat ourselves on the back, LA. "From other brewers to bar owners to social media, everyone is really positive and excited about what is going on here and are all super friendly," shared our new brewmaster. He's been surprised by "what a great team the brewery has. I didn't really know what to expect but was stoked once I got a chance to meet everyone." Though he hasn't had much of a chance to sink into all that LA has to offer, he's looking forward to exploring it more, maybe on bike, maybe after finding tasty vegetables at the Atwater Village Farmers Market. And maybe after a dive or two off our local islands? Jesse has a lot of exploring cut out for him.

Favorite GRB beer: Golden Road Kolsch. "I've been drinking a ton of the Kolsch that Cole and the guys made. It's got a killer nose on it and has just a little bit of west coast edge to keep it interesting."

If you see Jesse ask him about: Cycling through Texas.

You can follow Jesse on Twitter as @NorCal_Bitter


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