A Pint with Peter Bissell, Co-Founder of Bissell Brothers Brewing Company
Peter Bissell on Finding Balance in Beer, Eschewing Industry Trends and One Very Crazy Fan Tattoo.
Written by Alex Weaver
Photography by Bissell Brothers and AW
Peter Bissell seems like a guy who’s got it all figured out. Family man, fitness enthusiast, gifted photographer and chef. He also happens to be the co-founder of one of the best breweries in the country along with his brother Noah. Aptly named Bissell Brothers Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, opened its doors in December 2013, and is now pumping out a steady stream of some of the best beer money can buy.
We caught up with Peter to learn a bit about how he keeps all his passions alive and thriving, the best beer he doesn’t produce, and one fan who took his love for Bissell Brothers to another level.
Alex E. Weaver: You just took a major trip around Europe? Did you bring back that you’ll be applying to your beer?
Peter Bissell: There was a very specific reason we went to Germany and Belgium: To get inspired by the famous — and very different — beers from these two countries. But we won’t delve into that right now. It was a fantastic chance to see countries by road (my favorite way) with my dad and brother, and drink some amazing beer in some beautiful locations!
AEW: Everyone’s talking about the brewery/taproom boom and the dominance of hazy IPAs right now. What are we — consumers, brewers, media — not talking about in the industry that we really should be?
You’re letting everyone see where you stand, and it helps separate the fans from the non-fans.
PB: In this era of social media commentary and armchair “experts,” I try very hard to know my place. I wear several different hats for Bissell Brothers, but I am certainly not an industry watchdog, commentator, or pundit of any kind. I only know what has worked for us. I think as the industry continues to diversify, people will find success through a wide variety of methods, which is awesome, but whatever you do, I do think it needs to come from somewhere inside you that is genuine and speaks to the kind of beer you truly want to make, and the type of storefront and/or distribution you really want to run. We do everything the way that we really want to, and we make no concessions based on observed industry trends that don’t make sense to us. What happens when you commit to this mentality is that people who dig what you’re doing love you for it, and people that were never going to be real fans come once and then don’t come back. You’re letting everyone see where you stand, and it helps separate the fans from the non-fans. Fans are in love with you because you’re their dream company, and they’re spreading the word to their like-minded friends. And you’re not disappointing anyone by trying to appeal to everyone. I do think that concept will become more important by necessity, as beer and taproom culture continues to grow and progress.
AEW: Looks like you’ve spent some quality time with the folks from Trillium Brewing Co. in Boston. Are there any other brewers/breweries that you especially respect?
PB: I respect anyone doing things their way, with the goal to constantly be making better beer, and making the experience better for your customers. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways — it is certainly not limited to one “type” of brewery — but you know when you’re in a place that’s doing it right. For me, when it comes to industry friendships, it always starts from a real, organic place for me. It’s about the type of person someone is, not that we both happen to be involved with beer.
AEW: I noticed on your Instagram feed that one very dedicated fan got the Bissell Brothers logo tattooed on his hand. Thoughts?
PB: I shared that on instagram and got all kinds of texts, people thought it was my hand [laughs]. Certainly the craziest one I’ve seen thus far.
AEW: You seem to have a lot of passions outside of the business. Ice hockey, just to name one. Do you think that’s an important aspect of your success, or is it just plain fun? How do you balance it all?
Having a diverse life is very important for finding the inspiration for your main thing.
PB: For me, it’s remembering why we went down the path of business ownership in the first place. To be sure, there is a ton of work involved with running a brewery, but as you grow you can control and delegate that work. Business is so rooted in the pursuit of money, but I tend to view time as a currency of completely equal value. We each have the exact same amount of it each day, and we could lose it all at any time. So how will you spend your day when you’re finally in a position to control at least some of your time? For me that’s being an active, involved parent, putting my health first with no excuses (lots of exercising in various forms, including puck!), maintaining active friendships with people outside of the craft beer world, and holding on to passions of mine that are independent of my occupation, such as photography and cooking. Having a diverse life is very important for finding the inspiration for your main thing. Individual industries tend to be too insular and self congratulatory, that’s why I think it’s important to maintain contact and interaction with people and pursuits outside of my actual profession. It’s been the source of some of my favorite contributions to Bissell Brothers.
AEW: If you were marooned on a desert island and could have an unlimited supply of one beer (that’s not from Bissell) what would it be?
PB: Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze.