Milwaukee's Randy Sprecher Plays Not My Job
Randy Sprecher came to Milwaukee years ago to make beer for one of the big breweries. But he didn't like the beer he was making so he founded his own brewery ... and now, his friends keep showing up at his door all the time with lame excuses.
We've invited Sprecher to answer three questions about Carrie Nation, the famously violent prohibitionist.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we invite somebody who does something interesting on, to do something that doesn't interest him.
SAGAL: This is Milwaukee. It's a beer town. That's why Randy Sprecher came here years ago, to make beer for one of the big breweries. But he didn't much like the beer he was making, so he founded his own brewery, and now, his friends keep showing up at his door all the time with really lame excuses.
SAGAL: Randy Sprecher, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, great to see you.
RANDY SPRECHER: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: They like you. They've had your beer. So tell me the story. Is it true that you, years ago, worked for one of the big breweries here in town, the now defunct Pabst Brewery?
SPRECHER: That's right, the Pabst Brewery came out here in 1980, from the west coast, and it was quite an experience there. Somebody like myself, a brewing supervisor, we were doing like seven-twelves a weeks at times, 84 hours a week.
SAGAL: What does seven-twelves mean?
SPRECHER: Seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
SAGAL: Oh, OK, all right.
SPRECHER: So yeah, when you do that much work, you go, I might as well be doing this for ourselves, you know. What the heck, you know.
SPRECHER: I had actually thought about doing the beer thing. Clear back in '74, I wrote the California ABC people about inquiring about having a brewery license. They went, well, where's the railroad and $50 million or whatever to get started, you know. And I said, no, I'd make a little 500-gallon or maybe a thousand-gallon self-made system or something and go from there. And they were going what the heck is this guy talking about?
SPRECHER: You know, this sounds a little crazy, at those days. And then, of course, back then I also was starting to dabble with root beer recipes.
SAGAL: These days, would you say it's true that your company, Sprecher, named for you, is more known for its root beer and sodas than it is for its beer?
SPRECHER: Well, it certainly is across the nation.
SPRECHER: We're not known for beer across the nation so much, but we certainly are known for the root beer. Of course, my passion is the beer. I always enjoy a nice root beer as well. A draft root beer sometimes is pretty satisfying.
SAGAL: Under what circumstances would that be satisfying?
SAGAL: So you were working at Pabst. And what I'd like to think, in fact they kind of - I took a tour of your brewery years ago, and they kind of implied that you were at Pabst and you liked it except you thought the beer tasted bad and you thought this needed to be fixed.
SPRECHER: Well I don't think it tastes bad, I just had a preference for other beers. Having spent 18 months in Bavaria in the 60s in the military, I had a real palate for European beer and Pabst was making what we call adjunct beer. However, we were...
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
SAGAL: Is that what you call it?
SPRECHER: That's what the industry calls it. It's when you add...
SAGAL: Adjunct beer?
SPRECHER: Adjunct is another ingredient...
FAITH SALIE: You add junk?
SPRECHER: Add junk, yeah. You know, the more you stir, most of the junk - but anyway, it's a name for other types of ingredients, you know, that add to the alcohol, keep the color light and the body light. And so, American light beer, light lager we'd call it, is what was most popular.
SAGAL: You've drunk a lot of beer, I'm guessing, in your life, professionally.
SPRECHER: I guess I've had my share, yes.
SAGAL: What is - I know there's so many different varieties and flavors now. What is the worst beer you've ever had?
SPRECHER: Oh that's a bad thing to say. Usually want to know the best. I won't say what's the worst, but there are certainly some beers out there - well I know there's a brewery that's defunct now, so I can talk about them, the old Schaefer Brewery over by Cleveland, I think. They had some pretty - it was tough to drink that.
MO ROCCA: It all depends. It depends how you drink it though. That tastes really great in a funnel.
ROCCA: Don't use a glass; use a funnel. That's how you do it. Whatever happened to shotgunning, by the way? I know that that's not responsible behavior. But people used to do something called shotgunning. Remember that?
SPRECHER: Well, actually, that was after my time, and in between here, and it's probably gone again. I don't know. Get some college kids here to talk about how they do it. Shotgunning I guess was something where you have two holes - you see how Miller is trying to punch another hole to go faster or something.
SPRECHER: You know, pour it in a glass and enjoy it in a glass. But shotgunning, I guess I didn't have the experience. I like my beer in a glass, thank you.
SAGAL: One thing I'm curious about, everybody knows how to talk like a wine snob, even if you're not one. You know how they talk. Oh, it has floral notes of raspberry, whatever you say. Teach us how to talk like a beer snob. If I wanted to show off my knowledge of beer and I'd take a sip of beer...
SALIE: You burp.
SAGAL: It doesn't have to be true, but just tell me what sort of things I should talk about. What should I say?
SPRECHER: Well, the beer snob today I guess would be more of the Belgium or the fine ales, but long aged and have refined bouquets and a beautiful head on it. They seduce you into try to drink some more of this, you know.
ROCCA: And you could be head of the CIA and get drunk.
SAGAL: I know.
SAGAL: Why, this beer is so seductive, it wants to write my biography.
SAGAL: I know that you have a lot of varieties of beer and a lot of varieties of soda. Have you ever tried something that totally was a failure?
SPRECHER: In the beer and soda?
SPRECHER: Well, a failure in the sense that it doesn't sell or have a following, that's not...
SAGAL: No, I'm talking about a failure like you make a batch, you drink it, you put it down and you say, "Listen, no one must ever know." That's what I'm talking about.
SPRECHER: Early on, as a home brewer and stuff, there were batches that you would go, gosh, do we have any animals that might drink this?
SPRECHER: You know, put it all back, you know.
SALIE: Why are you so svelte for someone who drinks a lot of beer?
SPRECHER: You know what, I've been working and it's hard work, when you get older, you know...
SAGAL: Yeah, how do you do that?
SPRECHER: I drink less and work out a lot, you know. So swimming, I've been doing my share of swimming. I love swimming.
SALIE: In beer?
SPRECHER: In beer.
SPRECHER: Low carbonated beer, because when it foams up too much then you can't see where you're going.
SAGAL: That's a problem.
SPRECHER: And you know, it gets kind of gassy and you want oxygen, not CO2.
CHARLIE PIERCE: Yeah.
ROCCA: Can I say...
PIERCE: Then everybody else gets out of the pool and it's terrible.
SAGAL: Yeah, I like that. It's like, turn head to breathe, put head down to drink. Turn head to breathe.
SAGAL: That's pretty much how half our audience spends their evenings anyway. So why not just swim in it.
ROCCA: When you're invited to a party and it's BYOB, is that a lot of pressure?
SPRECHER: The biggest pressure is what to bring and how much, you know. We make quite a range of things, so I normally got something for most palates. And it depends what kind of party you're going to, I guess, what you're going to come up with.
SALIE: What if you're going to the Republican Party, what kind of beer do you bring?
SAGAL: At this point, they just need a lot of it.
SPRECHER: Yeah, they need a lot of it.
SAGAL: Well, Randy Sprecher, we are delighted to talk to you about beer, but in fact, we have invited here to play a game we're calling?
CARL KASELL: Prepare you sinners, to receive the sharp edge of God's judgment.
SAGAL: You brew beer and make wine and brandy, which means that Carrie A. Nation, the famous and famously violent prohibitionist of the 19th century, would have loathed you. We're going to ask you three questions about the life and career of Carrie Nation. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine.
SPRECHER: Well I'm glad you picked a favorite person of mine. I've known them for years.
SAGAL: Oh, sure.
SAGAL: Carl, who is Randy Sprecher playing for?
KASELL: Randy is playing for Dan Sidner from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: Now, you know that Carrie Nation was the famous, most famous of the temperance activists or the prohibitionists. Her habit was to go into bars and smash bottles with hatchets, right, famously.
SPRECHER: Well I'm finding out.
SAGAL: Yeah, you are, OK.
SPRECHER: Where were the police?
SAGAL: She referred to herself as what? A: "A hatchet-wielding bustle-wearing scourge of drinkers, tipplers, and sippers." B: "A hellish vision, drawn from the sickest nightmares of the drinking man." Or C: "A bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like."
SPRECHER: Now that's quite a list of choices.
SAGAL: It is.
SPRECHER: I'll tell you. I guess, since she did use the hatchet, let's go with number one.
SAGAL: You're going to go with the hatchet-wielding bustle-wearing...
SPRECHER: Well, you said that she whacked those bottles.
SAGAL: She did.
SAGAL: Actually, no, she said C: a bulldog running along the feet of Jesus. She was propelled by her religious faith, Ms. Nation was.
ROCCA: Oh my gosh.
SAGAL: Next question: once she got involved in the temperance cause, Mrs. Nation liked to walk into bars and address the bartenders how? Was it A: Good morning, destroyer of men's souls?
SAGAL: B: Man, I would kill for a drink?
SAGAL: Or C: Duck?
SPRECHER: Well, I don't know. Can we go with A or C, but duck, she's got the ax, right, the hatchet?
SPRECHER: I don't know, maybe - OK, all right, the audience is generally right, right?
SPRECHER: We'll go with the majority. We'll go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A, and they are right and you were right. It was good morning, destroyer of men's souls.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It was only later that she started going in and smashing the bottles with a hatchet. Later in life, Mrs. Nation needed money to support her activities. How did she raise the money? A: she auctioned off the chance to watch her take a drink?
SAGAL: B: she sold souvenir hatchets? Or C: she sold photos of herself in a swimsuit?
SPRECHER: I'm going to go with B, I think, on that one.
SPRECHER: The swimsuit, who knows what you're going to get there, holy cow.
SAGAL: Oh yeah.
SAGAL: It was 1910, it really wouldn't have done much.
SPRECHER: It could drive you to drinking, you know.
SAGAL: The answer, you're choosing B, selling souvenir hatchets.
SPRECHER: Let's try that one.
SAGAL: That's right, that's what she did.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: She was famous for her hatchet, souvenir hatchets.
ROCCA: That's amazing.
SAGAL: Yeah. Carl, how did Randy Sprecher do on our quiz?
KASELL: Randy had two correct answers, so he wins for Dan Sidner.
SAGAL: Well done. Randy Sprecher is the award-winning beer Meister at the Sprecher Brewery here in Milwaukee. Randy Sprecher, thank you so much for joining us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.