BEERLAND's Meg Gill on why beer nerds are the most fascinating people out there
Meg Gill is a young entrepreneur who helped build Golden Road Brewery in Los Angeles into a craft beer Mecca that pulled in over $10 million a year before being bought by InBev in late 2015. Around that time, she was also listed in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” feature and just recently began a career in TV as host of VICELAND’s new series BEERLAND.
Which all just kind of fell into her lap after falling in love with beer in the hills of Colorado. After college, she still had the idea she would be an Olympic swimmer, challenging herself to hit new peaks and dig out of valleys with the spirit of an athletic champion. But life’s a funny thing sometimes, and the infatuation with beer grew stronger, thus steering her on a road she navigates today. It’s been a wild ride, she says.
We caught Gill as she was reading one of our stories about athletes microdosing LSD, in the midst of a time in her life she says she’s falling in love with fermented barley all over again.
What was the point in life you decided to be involved with beer?
“It started in Lyons, Colo. I moved out to Boulder after graduating from Yale, and I was continuing to improve drastically in swimming, so I didn’t want to hang it up — I wanted to train for Olympic trials. I was on a bike ride up to Estes Park one day and stopped into Oskar Blues. There I ran into Dale (Katechis) the owner, and he told me: ‘If it ain’t fun I ain’t doin’ it; you’re fun, this is fun, let’s do it.’
At that time (I was hired) to help him expand the reach of Oskar Blues, and I ended up learning all aspects of the business. I worked for him for free for about three months, then ended up going fulltime. That’s where the passion came from.
With that kind of attitude Oskar Blues shared with me, I got to a lot of places I normally wouldn’t have gotten. That’s the story that got me into beer, that was 10 years ago now, fast-forward a few years after that and I ended up raising money and started Golden Road with two partners.
Was craft beer something you saw the potential in? Or just loved and figured you’d want to make it your job?
It was a little bit of both, but mainly it was the passion. I couldn’t believe how big a story craft beer had to tell, yet how small the market share was. When I discovered Oskar Blues, I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t want to drink craft beer out of a can.
It wasn’t necessarily like I thought ‘oh it could be huge,’ it was, ‘I can’t believe how many people need to hear about this because I’m so infatuated and in love with the story and the beer. It wasn’t like I sniffed out … I was so lucky to have found craft beer at the time I found it.
At the time, were you into homebrewing?
I wasn’t into the homebrewing at that point, no. I was into tasting and going to breweries and finding different flavors.
"He told me: ‘If it ain’t fun I ain’t doin’ it; you’re fun, this is fun, let’s do it.’"
So that was a point where you just drank a bunch of beer and found what you liked?
Oh yeah, for sure.
Did you go to school for marketing or business ownership, or did you just trip up on a good thing?
Yeah, totally tripped up on. I had some small business management experience in college, just a way to pay bills, but I wasn’t passionate about business in school. I was passionate about swimming and athletics. I really thought I was going to Colorado to be a professional endurance sports athlete.
So how did the whole VICE thing get off the ground then years later?
VICE started talking to me about the beer space and not necessarily about TV. At the same time, I was pitched by a lot of people out in LA about doing TV, so, it was more of that ‘hey we have an office in LA,’ and we were bringing a bunch of beer to those guys, they’re super into beer. We just started talking, it happened naturally — it definitely happened over a few beers. It turned into a TV show pretty quickly thereafter.
What was something you wanted to bring to BEERLAND, something specific?
I think one of the reasons VICE was on our radar versus another production company is because we could be really authentic about it. I thought it was important to tell the homebrewers’ story.
Throughout my career, and being in the beer community, you run into these characters that I think have the most passion for beer out of anybody, whether it be professional brewers, marketers, business owners — all spectrums. Think homebrewers are the ones that are most beer obsessed, there are some interesting stories there that can make for a cool travel show.
I wasn’t interested in a show about me, or a woman in businessy story or anything like that, for multiple reasons — but one of them selfishly. I’m a little over obsessed with the business side of beer and I needed to get away from it. Doing more of it wasn’t something I thought would be good for me. I wanted exposure for myself and the greater viewer about homebrewers. I thought it would be a nice change of pace.
Like a vacation yet not a vacation?
Yeah, totally. [laughs] And that’s what it was. It was a total vacation! And usually the ‘why’ they’re doing it was the most entertaining for me.
Have you learned a few things along the way?
Oh yeah, the ‘why,’ and the reasons they’re homebrewing as part of doing something greater than themselves, and it being a communal activity for whatever reason, whether it’s not wanting to pay government tax on beer or a Navy family that sticks together when they can be together — there’s all these amazing stories. That is absolutely the thread of what’s most interesting to me.
What do you see as a future for beer?
I think the ‘wowing your tastesbuds’ with sours and barrel aged and flights and tasters has been great to bring people into craft beer. Now I think people are in it and the shockwave beers aren’t next. It’ll be what kinds of styles of beer are more approachable and what you can enjoy food with and what cooking influences on what you’re making in your meals can come out in your beers.
Certainly, BEERLAND has been a contributing factor to getting my head around that.