While Kyle Kastranec’s official title is executive creative director, you could argue that his unofficial title is executive craft beer cicerone. (You know, like a wine sommelier, but for beer.) He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not actually a cicerone. But he’s still the one we run to for craft beer recommendations for important events like Ologie happy hours and random Tuesday afternoons.

So he drinks good beer, he writes about it, and his column Banquet and Chill is a must-read even if you don’t know a single thing about beer.

What inspired that name – Banquet and Chill? 

I forget exactly how old the column is now but it was right around the time, or shortly thereafter, when Netflix and Chill was a thing. And kind of in the zeitgeist, I was up late one night drinking Coors Banquet and said it out loud, “Banquet and Chill.” I put it on Twitter, it got a lot of love, and then I ended up designing these Banquet and Chill stickers that very much appropriated the Coors Banquet logo. *oops* (Editor note: we promise they weren’t for sale.) I forgot that I had ordered the stickers, but then they showed up on my doorstep one day. It became a part of my Twitter persona for a while. And when Michael, who started Good Beer Hunting, approached me about the blog column, we both thought it was kind of perfect for the tone that I was going for.

When did you get involved with Good Beer Hunting?

I got involved with Good Beer Hunting, or GBH, in 2013 or 2014, somewhere around there. I was really into craft beer at the time, and was reading as much as I could about it. When looking for more outlets with information, GBH was very much unto itself at that point. I kind of ate up everything that was currently there. Then I learned that it was really just a one man operation that Michael Kiser was doing in his spare time outside of work.

I reached out, and asked if he was looking for any other writers or contributors or photographers or anything like that. He said he didn’t know how serious it was going to be yet, but if I had any ideas I wanted to pitch him, to go ahead. I gave him a couple of ideas and he gave me the go-ahead on one of them. Then while I was working on that, an opportunity came up that he wasn’t available to attend, so he sent me instead. That was the first piece I did for GBH, and I did very regular, long form content for them for a few years. Until I realized there are only so many brewery origin stories that you can tell that are different from one another. Once I felt like I didn’t have any new ways to tell those stories, that’s when we started kicking around the idea of a blog, and trying to figure out what a regular column would look like.

“I realized there are only so many brewery origin stories that you can tell that are different from one another.”

horizontal photo of the inside of a busy bar. outside the clear windows are rows of cars parked as the sun sets
Kyle Kastranec for Good Beer Hunting, in Copenhagen

 

What is it that you love about GBH?

The one thing that I would say about GBH that’s as true now as it was when I first started, is that it was such a welcome and much-needed diversion for my brain. I took a lot of creative writing courses in college even though I was a graphic design major and took a lot of art and design courses. Especially when I started at Ologie, I was just design. I didn’t have as much input on the copy at all. Being able to exercise that part of my brain and keep that skill set on point and flexible was a lot of fun and continues to be. So that’s part of the reason why I think I continue to do it, in addition to now having a bit of a platform to get some of these dumb ideas out of my brain. 

It sounds like you just don’t just write about beer though. It’s a column about life with libations as the common thread. Does that sound about right? 

Yeah the tagline, or the logline, that we came up with for the column was, “a 21st century approach to drinking.” And it was more about the things that are adjacent to beer than beer itself. It could be other alcohol, be it wine or spirits or cocktails, what have you. But it could also be the beer that you had at a baseball game, or just the baseball game. It started out as a column focused on what is happening right now in the world and how I can connect to it and share a unique point of view. Over the course of that first year, I started to meld a little bit more into what I am personally interested in and figured out what I want to be putting out there. It’s a little less observational, and a little more self-motivated or personal.

“It was more about the things that are adjacent to beer than beer itself. It could be other alcohol, be it wine or spirits or cocktails, what have you. But it could also be the beer that you had at a baseball game, or just the baseball game.”

Inside of a dark bar, the only light comes from a small window in the wall leading to the back kitchen. Surrounding the window are stickers and plaques on the wall, layered over time. Inside the window a tall person stands, covered in black and grey tattoos and and looking down over their long beard.
Kyle Kastranec for Good Beer Hunting, in Memphis

 

Let’s chat about your Vessels piece from last year. Some of us *cough* have excessive amounts of cups and mugs, and might be told to downsize often. But they all have a reason! Even the plain white ones, there is a reason they are around. And there’s a story.

That one was a fun one because there was a really great response on social media afterward. People were telling me those very similar stories. Also, it was almost like a thesis from my point of view – about why I was allowed to accumulate all of these things, in defense of my behavior.

Is there a brewery or beer label that just knocks it out of the park when it comes to label design? It could be local, it could be national, for say, some of us who are heavily reliant on what labels look like in order to pick what we drink …

Yeah, there are so many, there are even agencies now that only do beer identity and label design, just because it’s become such a big part of moving the product. A couple that come to mind as far as standing out …

Austin Beerworks is one of them. They do a lot of really cool, innovative, very stylish labels, but they don’t box themselves into one specific thing. They cast a pretty wide net. 

Mikkeller is fun, they are out of Denmark, and their Art Director is an illustrator named Keith Shore. He does a lot of the artwork for their labels. And it’s very unique and distinct and eye-catching, and usually kind of tongue and cheek.

From a really classic standpoint, I love what Sierra Nevada does. Looking at them as the godfather of craft beer, and how they’ve made slight evolutions to their logo over time to get to the point that they’re at now, and the little things they do. Like on the lip of the can, they used to say, “family owned and brewed” or something, and now they say “family owned, operated, and argued over.” They add these really fun little things that are super subtle over time that I just really appreciate.

Any beers that you think are overrated or underrated?

I dunno – I won’t go into beers that I think are overrated, just because you know I don’t want to dust anything up. But I do think the Mount Crushmore piece that I did on Banquet and Chill does a good job of listing my all time favorites: Sierra Nevada Pale. Bell’s Two Hearted. Coors Banquet. Orval. 

You’ll have to read the Mount Crushmore piece to find out why.