Kelly Taylor: Crafting a Brewery, a Guild and Beer Week in NYC

Kelly Taylor of KelSo Beer Co. talks about the landscape of brewing in New York City, founding the NYC Brewers Guild and what to expect this NYC Craft Beer Week. 

Photo Credit: Turkell, Michael Harlan. Edible Brooklyn. “KelSo Taylor is Hop Happy, and For Good Reason.” Jan. 10, 2011.

KelSo has been brewing beer for New York since 2006 and you personally have been brewing in New York even before that. With the large amount of craft breweries that have opened in just the past 5 years or so, how have you seen the New York brewing scene change? In terms of the ability to collaborate? Friendships? Competition? Sourcing ingredients?
In the past five years, we've expanded the amount of breweries in NYC threefold, from around 10 to now over 30. This results in much more competition for shelf space in grocers, and tap space at bars. "Local" is more in demand now than ever before, and the expanded variety has increased rotations so that our sales teams have 3x the work to sell the same amount of beer. However, the positive side, is more and more bars are opening with craft beer, and focusing on local or New York State, so there are more and more places to sell into. As brewers buy more local ingredients, we're seeing an increase in the amount and quality of locally grown and malted grains and regionally produced hops. So there is an expanded availability of some raw materials, while the more popular hops and malts, like New Zealand hops and English malts, are getting more and more scarce. Breweries historically like to work together in new beers and new marketing programs, so we're seeing that increase tremendously as well. Shared packaging, tap takeovers and bulk buying of ingredients all have a play in the way the market here is developing.
Would you say that retailer expectations have changed in a significant way since this surge of new craft breweries in New York? What about consumer expectations?
Absolutely. It's all about rotation now. "What’s your new beer"? That kind of thing. Though we sell a solid amount of our core beers, and many bars are keeping a core on tap or on the shelves, the new placements are more likely to be rotational. I think this will settle down when the market evens out in a few years, but for now, hype is driving the shelves and consumers tastes. 
Has having all these other small craft breweries as your neighbors affected the type of beer you brew? If yes, how so? Where do you get inspiration for creating a new beer?  
Only for some of my seasonals. Even the term "seasonal" is a little outdated. Rotational demands make us constantly evaluate our product offerings and make sure we have some small batch stuff to keep those placements and, indeed, social media chatter going. We typically brew the beer we want to drink or want to see in the market: Simply Good, balanced, nuanced like the Nut Brown Lager or the Pilsner or Wit. Sometimes, we brew what the customer is asking us for like the Edible NE Style IPA or the Berliner Weisse. Even then, we want the beers to be balanced and Simply Good.
How do you envision KelSo in the New York market? Would you say you have a specialty, forte or style? What do you want people to associate with the name “KelSo?”
KelSo is Simply Good. Our Nut Brown Lager was our first beer, and is the beer I think most signifies our brand. Balanced, flavorful, and clean. Fresh, classic, yet satisfying.
You recently changed the packaging for KelSo. Could you tell us a little about the changes you made and your thought process behind it?
We wanted to give the cans a more engaging look. Keep it simple, yet give them movement for the eye. We hired a designer that had the sensibility we were looking for, from seeing his other work, and pretty much let him run with it. This was a first for us, as we usually micromanage our designers to death. When your name is the brand, you have a tendency to overthink things, I suppose.
KelSo is very active in the community with Beer Helps! You’ve contributed to several different causes, from sustainable farming to community development. How do you choose your causes and find which organizations you work with?  
We believe in giving back to our community. I was raised in a community that was very tight-knit, and saw the value of giving at an early age. We typically work with food based charities and movements, as we are a food based product and find the synergy seems to make sense. Marketing and promotions are through similar channels, and we can give back to people whom are not able to afford an intricately crafted beer.
You are also co-founder of the New York City Brewers Guild, created to advocate its local brewing members and to foster a healthy, ethical and growth-focused craft beer industry in the city. What achievements are you most proud of the NYCBG for? What struggles/setbacks have been the hardest for you, the NYCBG and its members?
I'm proud of the community of brewers in this city, and the tone that the Guild has set in conversations within the community. We've come together to share ideas, promote craft beer, and help each other flourish in the most expensive city in the country. No small feat. The struggle has been in promoting NYC Beer Week in a way that makes sense to the public. So many people still think it's about NYC produced beer, but that has not been the case. We've always promoted NYC Beer Week as the celebration of the NYC craft beer community, bars/restaurants/grocers of the city, and the diverse products from around the globe that can all be found in one spot, NYC.
NYC Craft Beer Week is coming up, starting 2/24. What should we be looking forward to from KelSo for NYC Craft Beer Week?
We'll be doing some happy hours and tap takeovers. We’ll be releasing the new can package, plus a re-appearance of the Edible NE Style IPA. Should be an exhausting week.
Could you tell us about the upcoming NYC Craft Beer Week Opening Bash at Brooklyn Expo Center? What should we expect?
There will be about 60 breweries and over 120 different beers. Some local favorites, as well as beer from across the country, shipped in just for the event. We hope to showcase some of the best beers from around the USA, with their brewers representing them. This is key. The people that made the beer will be on hand. Should be a great time. Also, earlier in the day, my favorite event of NYC Beer Week, the Fermentation Festival, is happening in the same space. We flip the event space in about an hour and a half. With fermented foods and some home brews, there is a lot to see at this matinee second annual event.