On this episode of “Next Round,” host Adam Teeter and VinePair’s senior editor Cat Wolinski chat with Adam Zuniga, advanced cicerone and creator of Knotfest Beer Pit. Knotfest Beer Pit is a direct-to-consumer beer subscription club inspired by heavy metal culture. Zuniga explains why, for him, heavy metal and craft beer are synonymous.
Zuniga also explains the month-to-month box that Knotfest Beer Pi customers receive. Each box contains eight beers from four state-of-the-art breweries around the United States. Finally, Zuniga details the creation of his show “The Six Most Metal Breweries,” an award-winning series that showcases the crossover between craft beer and heavy metal music.
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Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter, and this is a VinePair “Next Round” conversation. We are bringing these conversations between our regular podcast episodes to give a better picture of what’s been going on in the alcohol beverage community. Today, I’m really excited to be joined by Adam Zuniga, advanced cicerone and the creator of the Knotfest Beer Pit. Adam, thanks so much for joining me.
Adam Zuniga: Adam, thank you for having me. It’s always good to know another Adam.
A: Yes, always. Also, we have a special guest, which is beer lover, senior editor at VinePair, and all-around beer cheerleader Cat Wolinski. I mean, you crashed my interview.
C: I did. Is this weird? I’m here. I’m here on a “Next Round” episode, breaking the rules.
A: We’re going to co-interview Adam, which I’m pretty excited about. Adam, can you chat with us a little bit about what Knotfest Beer Pit is?
Z: Absolutely. The Knotfest Beer Pit is a direct-to-consumer beer subscription club that is sent monthly. It is meant to represent the highest-quality craft beers on the market, as well as the most metal craft beers available on the market and a collection that you won’t find anywhere else paired together.
A: So what do you mean by the most metal?
Z: Well, it’s an interesting question you ask. My background is often working in craft beer sales and in marketing. In doing so, I found a way to incorporate a lot of my own personal interests into it, which of course includes heavy metal. The more I look for it, the more you will find brewers in any given brewery, whether they’re a declared metal brewery or not, have a background, a love, and a passion for hard rock, heavy music, or heavy metal that helps them get through the day and influences their work. When I say metal beer, I believe they’re bringing the same ethic and the same attitude to their beer as if they play in a band, as if it’s their own passion product, as if it expresses their own DIY ethic. That quality, first and foremost, is what translates into the beer. Yes, it can be big, boozy, and aggressive, but it can be lighter, fashionable, and intended for a show and day drinking. They can bring the aesthetic into the label art, into the name, their recipe development, and thought process. To me, all those things represent a metal beer, and I’m trying to bring them all into the Knotfest Beer Pit, into this box people receive monthly in such a way that you’ll never have available anywhere else. All at one time, all in one place.
A: Wow, that’s really awesome. Had you ever attempted a subscription service like this before? Did you know anything about what this was going to take going in? What was your plan to launch a beer subscription service?
Z: One of the few positives after a year of negative, obviously craft beer, as has every industry, been struck hard on account of Covid and during the pandemic over a year now. As a result, people had to get crafty. Breweries had to get even more crafty. We’ve seen a lot of traditional distribution laws not fail, but at least become laxer during the pandemic while breweries figure out how to reach the consumer directly. It’s been much the same for artists, bands, and musicians because they’re not able to tour. They’re not able to perform live right now. In this case, 5B Artists + Media, who represents Slipknot and a variety of heavy bands on their roster, was trying to see how they could continue to reach their fans even though artists can’t play live right now? I had originally met them at Kings County Brewers Collective when they were collaborating on a beer for another one of their bands called Behemoth, and you never know how these little things are going to come back, so it really just circled around. They were looking to get more invested in the beer business to find out how to monetize their artists when live music is not happening. They approached me with the idea of a direct-to-consumer beer club. It was the perfect storm because we’re living in a state right now where there is nothing more important than direct-to-consumer. They said, “We want to work with you, we want you to lead this project. You select the beers, you work with the breweries. We’ll try to incorporate our bands and our branding, and it’ll be the perfect storm.”
A: Nice. How many breweries are taking part in the club and how many bands?
Z: As of right now, each box, month-to-month, is going to include four different breweries, and you get two beers from each brewery. One box, eight beers, and four breweries. In each box, I’m going to try to include at least a nod to some of the band beers that have come before or the longest-standing band beers out there. In this month, for instance, we have a Belching Beaver Phantom Bride IPA included, and that’s a collaboration with Deftones, who is one of 5B’s artists. In addition to that, we have Morbid Hour black pilsner, which is my beer made in collaboration with Kings County Brewers Collective and St. Vitus Bar, which we shot a pilot episode for and released as the first episode for a series called “The Six Most Metal Breweries.” Then, we also include Gashadokuro Double IPA and then WayFinder Hell. That’s from Wayfinding Beer in Portland, Ore. Every month, it’ll be at least four different breweries from four different states, and then we’ll try to have one band beer involved.
A: OK, so all the beer is coming to you first in New York, etc. and then you’re boxing them out, and selling them? Are they coming individually from the different breweries? Obviously, you have a brewery from Portland, here from Brooklyn, one from Virginia, one from Oceanside, Calif. How’s this all working?
Z: It’s a vast network. I am currently based in California, and 5B Artists + Media is based in both California and New York. I am working with all the breweries to arrange a one-time drop and temporary distribution to the state of New Jersey, believe it or not, unless they’re already distributed there. They ship their beer to New Jersey and it’s received by a large retailer called Roselle Park Wines and Spirits, who also ships all Slipknot Whiskey nationally. When you really dig into this, it’s unbelievable that traditionally, it has been easier to mail-order wine or whiskey than it has beer. I don’t know the full extent of the reasoning behind that. As I said, thankfully, those laws are starting to change a little bit, or at least people are turning a blind eye during Covid. I get all these breweries to ship their beer to New Jersey for just a one-time, nonexclusive, temporary drop. From there, it is shipped to about 30 states by Roselle Park Wines and Spirits. Those 30 states are eventually going to grow to hopefully 40, possibly 50. There’s a couple outliers, the blue states, you know who you are. Then, we might start shipping internationally to a couple of additional countries as well.
A: Cool. How are you getting the word out about this, and how has it been so far?
Z: So far, so good. Anything that starts small inevitably has to grow. That is the nature of life and music and beer. Primarily, the word has been through knotfestbeerpit.com. We are promoting it on social media. That’s also why I reached out to Cat, because originally with VinePair when we did the collaboration with Morbid Hour, with KCBC and St. Vitus Bar. VinePair was thankfully one of the publications out there that’s big enough to explore a world that is potentially off the beaten track or morbid as craft beer and heavy metal. I really appreciate VinePair for that. I reached out to you if there was any interest. It’s a great thing, Cat, because on the beer side of things, a lot of people want to say, “Metal is too gimmicky, it’s quirky, it’s not serious enough, craft beer still wants to be taken very seriously.” On the metal side, people might want to say, “Well, craft beer is not metal enough. It’s too niche and specific with the strain of metal breweries out there.” I love it when someone like VinePair will explore this world and acknowledge it.
C: Totally, I love covering those cross-sections of the beer world and the other worlds surrounding it like a Venn diagram. Metal is obviously one of them, beer has always been a part of the metal lifestyle and shows. I think it makes sense to approach that from a branding perspective, too. I have a question about the service itself. I am often asked for recommendations for beer subscription services or gifts, and I don’t usually have any recommendations that I can feel really good about. Can you tell us how Knotfest Beer Pit is different and why it’s worth the subscription compared to others in considering the price point as well?
Z: First of all, it’s month-to-month, so there is no required commitment. You can go as you want to go. Month-to-month, take it or leave it, you can choose. In addition to that, the beers are chosen by me. They’re curated by an advanced cicerone. A lot of thought and effort goes into the beers you’ll be drinking every month. There is no dud, as I said, quality first. To me, the idea of metal represents quality. So you have a beer subscription club that you can choose month-to-month. It’s guaranteed to be the highest quality, curated by an advanced cicerone. Then, of course, with a unique point of view, when you have an agency behind it, like 5B Artists + Media, it’s the seal and stamp of approval that these beers represent our artists. These beers represent the heaviest, most metal beers on the market. If you take all that combined, no commitment, highest quality, and most metal attitude and aesthetic that you will not find anywhere else. I haven’t seen anyone else out there doing something even remotely similar yet.
C: That is true. Most of the subscription services that have existed over the last few decades are either distributor-run, or you’re getting the dusty things off the shelves that weren’t selling so well. I do have another question about the freshness. Obviously, these are all quality beers, but if they’re coming from around the country and then New Jersey and then back out to wherever they’re being sent around the country or even internationally, how can we know — something like a black lager or any lager will survive decently overseas — but if it’s something like the Adroit Theory EBK, which is, I think, 8 percent Imperial IPA. it’s chock full of all sorts of different hopped varieties. How are you guaranteeing that it can be enjoyed fresh?
Z: Yeah, absolutely. I’m putting a lot of thought and effort into freshness because, as you said, I want every box to include at least one, if not two lagers. As we know, lagers are more prone to survive shipping. They’re more prone to stay fresh longer because they’re not highly hopped. I think every box is going to include at least one to two lagers, specifically with freshness in mind. Also, when it comes to imperial territory with stouts, as there will always be a bigger beer that they can only improve with age, even something like oxidation might bring out more wanted flavors. If it does have a little bit of time to when it reaches the consumer, it’ll still be a valued experience, highest quality, and great taste. With IPAs, I have to pay very, very special attention to them because, as you know, they’re the most volatile and the most perishable. What we are going to do moving forward is make sure that IPAs, in any given box, are only canned and shipped at the very end of the month prior to that box. This is the first box that just went out, and it was shipped at the very end of March. What I’m going to try to do going forward, for example, for the April box that’s coming, the IPA was just canned literally the last week of March for the April box. Then, we’re going to keep pushing forward to get that April box out, maybe mid-month instead of the end of the month. The bottom line is the absolute goal is to make sure that an IPA will be canned within 30 days of being received by Roselle Park and shipped out to consumers. Then it will be consumed most definitely within 60 days of reaching the consumer. That will go for all beers, not just IPA. We are really trying to make sure when this is rolling perfectly out to market, that no beer in there will have more than 90 days on it at the absolute most. I would say that is a reasonable representation of freshness from any brewery, as long as conditions are kept under control.
A: Right now on the site, the subscription is $50 a box. Will the prices change, or are you trying to keep it $50 every month? How does that work?
Z: If anything, we’d love to get the prices down a little bit. As I said, it’s still a work in progress and we are figuring that out right now. It’s important to emphasize that you’re getting eight beers total, two of the same beer from each brewery. When you write down costs, you can tell me what’s going on in New York City right now. If you were to order eight beers from any of the breweries doing a direct-to-home delivery, what does that amount to with tax and delivery fee included? I don’t know if $50 is relatively in the ballpark, but I can tell you definitely just from having ordered from beer subscription services in the past, that’s not outlandish, given the cost of shipping and all things considered. Then, we’re going to reevaluate after three or four months and decide if we want to include more beers. Do we want to include fewer beers? Ultimately, how does that take the price down or add further value?
A: Very cool.
C: I was going to say that $50 might seem a lot for eight beers, but it’s also important to consider that you’re getting things that you probably don’t have access to, considering that they’re coming through this crazy distribution setup that you have going. Of course, I can get KCBC in Brooklyn, but I don’t think I can ever get Wayfinder, Adroit Theory, or even Belching Beaver. That’s pretty rare around here, so I think it’s cool to be able to try these beers that you’re aware of but don’t get to drink too often.
Z: It’s very true. You’re supporting craft breweries around the country that still, traditionally, have limited distribution. As I said, this collection won’t be available in any one place, anywhere else, any time soon.
A: I think it’s very cool because I like the idea that this is a subscription club, but it’s based on a theme. Usually, I think people are wary of subscription clubs because then does it become the beer they got the best deal on this month? How does that work? I think it’s cool because it’s like, “No these are breweries that all share an ethos.” I think that’s super, super dope.
Z: Yeah, for sure. No, there is an ethos and an ethic guiding the selection of every beer that goes into this box.
C: If you check out The Six Most Metal Breweries, any of the interviews, Adam knows all these people, and you’ve been the most connected with all these breweries.
Z: Yeah, not to play favorites, but a lot of the breweries included in this box are really like best friends throughout the country and among this industry. It’s great to be able to continue working with them in this way while we still are on lockdown, and while the country is still partially shut down. Everyone is getting crafty. It’s just a way of, as I said, continuing to communicate this message of craft beer and heavy metal across the nation.
A: I dig it because I was not super aware of craft beer and heavy metal. I’m not going to lie. I always thought it was craft beer and jam bands. So I’m glad to have been informed. Cat has kept me in the know and told me that there are some metal people.
C: I mean, I wrote that story like three years ago.
A: Grateful Dead, people. This is cool. Adam, how do people sign up?
Z: OK, so, Adam, first of all, I’m just going to say that I am firmly committed to taking some of the “hippie” out of craft beer. You are right. There is this stigma and there are a lot of people working on my side of the industry that is definitely like hippies following Phish around the country. There is that image ever since the Sierra Nevada cobbled together their first brewhouse, but we’re taking it back.
C: There’s room for all music lovers in the craft beer world.
Z: That is ultimately what is most important, Cat. You are absolutely correct. OK, how do people sign up? They go to knotfestbeerpit.com. That is the single best source. You can go to knotfest.com and there’s also a link to the beer pit. You can follow @knotfest on social. You can follow SixMostMetalBreweries on social. We both regularly push and plug this just to draw attention to it and get more people involved.
A: Amazing. Well, Adam, this has been really awesome to chat with you. Keep doing what you’re doing. I think it’s really, really cool. And Cat, thanks for joining me on this one.
C: Yeah, thanks for letting me in, guys. Adam and Adam.
Z: Cat and Adam, I am so thankful for the moment. Really appreciate you supporting craft beer and heavy music. Thank you.