San Francisco Says Goodbye to Beer Evangelist & Legend Eric Cripe
San Francisco recently lost local beer biz legend Eric Cripe to San Diego. Eric was an evangelist for great beer (and whiskey & Aussie wine) long before it was cool. He was with The Jug Shop in Russian Hill for a decade, where he ran the beer program, whiskey program, did certain categories of wine buying, and set up and hosted their weekly beer tastings. Eric was one of the first Certified Cicerones in the Bay Area (think beer Sommelier). His love of good beer inspired many locals, including myself, to learn more and ultimately join the industry. Lucky for us, Eric’s brother Evan is still at the Jug Shop and will continue Eric’s legacy.
I caught up with Eric as he was packing his bags and hosting the “Eric's Last Call” beer tasting at The Jug Shop to ask him a few questions. He shared some great insights, history, and some fun beer biz inside baseball with us. Oh, and he also says SD has better burritos than SF, so feel free to flame him in the comments!
Chris Cohen: Are you originally from the Bay Area? How long have you been in San Francisco?
Eric Cripe: I grew up in Turlock, CA and moved to SF to attend USF. My parents did an amazing job of keeping me from being a country bumpkin by bringing me into the city at least a dozen times a year to see plays, visit museums and attend concerts. It’s been fifteen years and now I have to say my goodbye to this amazing city full of amazing people. Luckily, San Diego is pretty awesome in it’s own right!
CC: How long have you been at The Jug Shop? How long did you run their beer program?
EC: I started working at The Jug Shop a decade ago as a stock boy and cashier while I waited tables and bartended at the now defunct TGIFridays in San Bruno. I got into craft and import beer in college and also become fascinated with the new “small batch” distilling movement. When The Jug Shop’s buyer took another job I jumped at the opportunity to buy the beer and help with the rapidly growing spirits department. That was back in 2007. The craft beer movement had a full head of steam going and spirits, especially the brown stuff, was just exploding. That was right when bourbon was taking off and rye was starting to resurrect itself. We had an amazing wine buyer at the time, Chuck Hayward. The guy is a legend, one of the foremost authorities on Australian and New Zealand wines in the country. He took me under his wing and got me tasting incredible wines from all over the world.
CC: When did you become a Certified Cicerone? You were among the first in SF that I had ever met.
EC: I sat for the exam in October of 2009 at the Great American Beer Fest (GABF) in Denver. It was so nerve racking. It was the first time I had gone to the festival and the test was Friday at 9am. So here I am, on Thursday night, at the most amazing gathering of craft breweries in the world and all I can think about is going back to the hotel room and cramming. Funny story – I didn't know her at the time but Master Cicerone Nicole Erny was in my testing group. I am a fast test taker, I finished up in about an hour and a half. At the same time I turned my test in, Nicole was asking for more paper to write more essay material. All that went through my head is, “OH MY GOD, I didn't write enough!” Needless to say Friday night's GABF session was celebratory, I definitely drank too much sour beer that night!
EC: In 2009 I landed my first consulting gig at Anchor & Hope. It was a great learning experience and the extra cash sent me to GABF and paid for the Cicerone exam. At the time, Traci Des Jardin was looking to re-concept the old Acme Chophouse at AT&T Park into a craft beer and elevated pub grub destination. She was having dinner at Anchor & Hope one night and loved that we had a cask ale and an eclectic selection of beers. As a result, I was approached to be the beer consultant for the soon-to-open Public House. It is a professional highlight for me because I got to help right from the design phase. I convinced them to ditch proposed glass coolers, install glass rinsers, and get refrigeration that would allow for multiple temperature zones so we could properly dispense cask ales. It was a huge success and it didn't hurt that the Giants won the World Series that year. The most satisfying thing about it was sitting at a ballgame, drinking one of my favorite beers of all time (New Belgium Eric's Ale), and thinking that I had a part in bringing craft beer to a major league ball park. So awesome!
CC: Tell me a little more about The Jug Shop and your brother Evan taking over the beer program there.
EC: The Jug Shop is a San Francisco icon. They have been on Polk Street for 50 years! It was early on when I realized that the Jug Shop didn't just have customers, they had clients. The Friday night tastings were a great way to build rapport with folks and they would not of been possible without help from my brother, Evan Cripe. He is up for the challenge of continuing the tastings. Evan has an incredibly developed pallet for someone his age. We argue constantly about flavor, which means he knows how to taste. Flavor is so subjective that defending your position is a lot more valuable than nodding your head and going with the crowd. He is studying for the Certified Cicerone exam and wants to sit before the end of the year. He is now, wholly responsible for the beer program at the Jug Shop. It's not the end of an era, more like the closing of a chapter. You know who the first beer buyer at the Jug Shop was? Brendan Moylan of Marin Brewing Company and Moylan’s Brewery. He started the year I was born, 1982. That's one hell of an opener.
CC: What are your plans for San Diego and why are you going there? Do you have a job lined up?
EC: I am working at Krisp Beverages + Natural Foods, most SF beer tourists probably know it better as the Best Damn Beer Shop. They have an absolutely spectacular selection of craft beer and spirits. Sid and Omar, the two brothers who run the show, have done an outstanding job. They have brought me on board to transform their wine department into something worthy of standing next to all the amazing craft beer! You should see their cellar, it’s like nothing I have ever encountered.
Ultimately, I want to open an on-premise/off-premise concept like City Beer Store in the coming years. San Diego is home to some of the greatest hoppy beers in the world, and if you ask me, that stuff should be drank as fresh as can be and on draft. A barrel-aged barley wine is fine on a shelf, a super dry hopped beer, not so much. The hybrid concept is the way to go – great local beer on draft, bottles from around the world on the shelf.
CC: Did the skyrocketing rent prices in SF have anything to do with you leaving?
EC: My amazing wife Kate is originally from San Diego and her parents have lived there for more than 40 years. We are starting to think about putting down some roots, maybe acting like grown-ups…maybe. The Jug Shop took great care of me and my wife has a great job, but buying a home in SF was out of the question. Plus the San Diego weather is incredible, the beer is delicious, and did I mention the burritos? Size of a small child, absolutely delicious, and $5. SD whips SF in the burrito game. I don't even know why it’s a conversation. Crappy places in San Diego make better burritos than some of the best in SF and I finally understand why my wife was constantly disappointed in SF’s tortilla chips. I don't know what they do differently down here but the chips are off the hook.
CC: What will you miss most about SF?
EC: My brother. I have only not lived with the guy for four years of his life, he’s my best friend. Now you’ve got me crying, but I'm going to miss him the most. Luckily SF is just a short flight way.
The people. I have met so many amazing folks over the years, especially in the beer community.
The views. Visually, San Francisco is so breathtaking. The hills, the fog, the architecture, the bay, the bridges. I'll miss them all.
The food. San Diego has incredible Asian food so I'm sure I'll be fine in that regard but Cioppino? Sand Dabs? Sourdough bread? The bread in SD kind of sucks, not gonna lie.
Wine country. Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe is beautiful in it's own way, but Sonoma is so special. I'll miss Sunday drives to the wineries, the twisty roads through the redwoods, and oysters from Tomales on the way home.
My family at the Jug Shop. The Priolos have treated both Evan and I like family and it’s why I stayed working there for so long. We've been through a lot together and I count myself very lucky to have had an employer that truly cared for their employees. I hope someday to do the same for my employees.
The Giants. At least the seats are cheap when they come to SD, plus they serve craft beer at Petco Park.
The Jug Shop, 1590 Pacific Ave, 415-885-2922
Chris Cohen is a Certified Cicerone, a certified BJCP beer judge, and author of the Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone Exam. He is opening a bar, Old Devil Moon, in Bernal Heights in early 2016.