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  • Writer's pictureLori Rice

Standing Out In SoCal and the Benefits of Brewery Collaborations with Mike Crea of Unsung Brewing Co

You are going to love the new sour we brewed in collaboration with Mike Crea. Mike is a Certified Cicerone® and the owner and brewer at Unsung Brewing Company in Anaheim. After brewing with Mike, we spent time talking with him about how to stand out in a saturated beer market, the benefits of his Cicerone certification, and the importance of brewery collaborations.

Mike serves as a great example of what it means to work your way from the ground up in this industry. He is originally from Ohio, and after a significant health event, he was motivated to make a change. He quit his desk job and he and his wife decided that they were ready for a fresh new start. The place to get it was California.

After having some difficulty finding a job in SoCal, Mike began to focus on his experience as an award-winning homebrewer. He’s always believed that learning as much as you can about a subject, and getting certifications if they exist, make you a more well-rounded professional in any industry.

He put this belief into practice and began digging more deeply into what it would take to start a brewery in the state of California. As he was researching this, he completed the WBA Master Brewer Program from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and then earned his credential as a Certified Cicerone®, a certification that demonstrates having a professional body of knowledge and essential tasting skills related to beer.

Not all brewers have this certification so we asked Mike how this additional knowledge has helped him. “Becoming a Certified Cicerone® benefited me tremendously. The certification expands your mind into flavors and gives you an expansive knowledge of beer styles” he says.

Many of the beers they create at Unsung originate from questioning what would pair well with the flavors of a food they’ve tasted. This knowledge of beer styles and flavor profiles sparks that creative development of new recipes. It’s this approach to brewing that has helped them create a strong fan base by offering beers aligned with consumer demand that also have an identity as an Unsung beer.

When asked what the market is currently like in the greater L.A. and Orange County areas and how a brewery can make their mark on the industry there, Mike says, “My answer five years ago is totally different than what it is today.” He goes on to say that this is because the market and consumer trends change so rapidly. For example, right now there is a lot of consumer interest in low ABV (alcohol by volume) beers and alternatives such as seltzer.

That being said, there are a few essentials if you want to please consumers. “You can open a brewery in the middle of America and reach only a fraction of the customers you have in Anaheim alone,” Mike says. This means a lot of palates and preferences to please, along with high expectations that need to be met.

Mike considers it essential in southern California to know your hops and create a solid West Coast style IPA, then round that out on the menu by offering a soft, pillowy Hazy IPA. “A crisp low ABV lager is good to have in your portfolio, too,” he adds.

Learning to craft new styles and increasing consumer reach to meet these needs is one of the top benefits of collaborating with other breweries. Most brewers agree that the key to a good collaboration is creating a beer with another brewery whose mission is aligned with your own, in both values and approach to brewing. Mike says,

“You can get a sense of a likeness between two breweries from Instagram profiles and trying their beers.” The idea for a collaboration can easily get its start there.

When asked about his collaboration with Full Circle, Mike says, “You were similar to us - a ground up brewery doing things the hard way. It was also an opportunity to learn.”

He adds that while we were interested in his fruited sours, he struggled with perfecting the milkshake IPA, something that we do well, and he wanted to learn more about making that style. The collaboration presented an opportunity for both of us to learn. Mike also shares that spending time at each other’s breweries is valuable as well. The time spent talking about both beer and business helps all involved become more knowledgeable brewers through better understanding the mindset and approach of others in the industry.

Speaking of aligned values, Mike says, “It’s getting harder to know who you are buying your beer from.” He encourages that this is why it’s so important to buy beer locally and from independent brewers. It is a belief that he feels Full Circle embodies as well.

We see that as a huge compliment and the feeling is definitely mutual. Join us in grabbing a pint from Unsung at their taproom in Anaheim the next time you are in Orange County.

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