Manny Chao is the man behind Georgetown Brewing and its signature brew, Manny's. He loves being a brewmaster and supporting the community any way he can (he donates his venue to non-profits), but when he's not making beer, what really gets this guy hopped up?
"I don't brew beer when I get home, let's put it that way," says Chao, who prefers to get a buzz in other ways: skiing, biking and traveling the globe, specifically.
In this week's Counter Balance, Chao talks about the importance of traveling, the sport that physically broke him, why he thinks American's are so picky about food, and why he probably won't go have a beer with you if you ask (give the man a break, will ya?).
How often do you drink beer for enjoyment?
I drink beer, but I actually don't drink a lot at home because a lot of my business involves being out and being in bars and restaurants because those are my customers; the way that we say "thanks for your business" is to show up and support them.
When you're tired of the beer scene, what do you do?
I like the outdoors, so I'll get out and exercise. I like biking. I used to play ultimate Frisbee with friends but the body's breaking down a little bit. I'm sort of semi-retired. I played a lot when I was a little younger. Last year, I kind of stopped playing.
In the winter I like skiing. I just picked up cross country skate skiing last year which is awesome. It's like going for a run around Green Lake but in one of the prettiest places you can imagine. I don't know if you've ever been to Mazama before, it's right over Highway 20. You have to go around in the winter and go through Chelan and Winthrop, but think about being out in the woods where it's just trails--miles and miles of these perfectly groomed flat trails with beautiful scenery all around. No houses or anything. It's like going for a run in the woods because you're getting a great workout, but without the impact of running.
Picture yourself skating on ice--that's the motion of skate skiing. It's a little more dynamic [than Nordic skiing]. You can get a workout from both types, but you move a lot faster when you're skate skiing. I view it as this great workout because it is really tiring.
The skiing doesn't really get good until January or February when there's more of a base.
What do you do that doesn't break your body?
Travel. I'm heading to Thailand at the end of November for vacation. I went to Vietnam a couple of years ago and Europe earlier this summer. I think it's important to get out of the country at least once a year. We can get a little stuck as Americans; we live in our own little world. You sort of forget how other people live. And I'm not just talking about going to resorts and hanging out on the beach, which is nice as well, but just getting some sense of culture.
I went to Vietnam two years ago and we did basically a food trip where we just looked up great places to eat; we kind of followed Anthony Bourdain a little bit and tried to hit some of the same restaurants he hit. When you eat in a country, you really learn about the culture, so that to me was one of the most fun vacations I ever took. Often times, we'd have two dinners a night or two lunches in one day. And then you're walking around the city just going from café to bar to restaurant, which is great. You really get to soak in the culture.
Do you have family over there?
My parents spend their time between Taiwan and Bellevue.
I was born in Spain. [My parents] had a Chinese restaurant in the Canary Islands. We moved when I was five from Spain to the east coast before settling down in Oregon when I was in the third grade.
What brought your folks to Oregon?
A restaurant opportunity. My dad had a friend who started a business in Portland and was looking for a partner and asked my dad to come out and help.
What was the restaurant called?
Is it still there?
It is still there. It's got a different owner now--an employee who worked for my dad for a long time. It's right downtown Portland.
Do you ever go there?
Sometimes I go there, but I haven't been since my dad retired. I should go back in. I'm sure I still know some people there.
Do you get inspiration from beers in other countries?
Absolutely. It depends on where I am. When I was in France in June I'd sit down and try to order a beer. I don't speak French but someone taught me how to say, "What kind of beer do you have on draught?" and every time I'd say that, they'd just bring me a beer. That's France, though. We were in wine country; that's not their focus and I understand that. But we were on a biking trip and when you've biked for miles and miles you don't want to sit and have a glass of wine, you want to have a beer! In Vietnam, a lot of the different areas had their own regional breweries. They were all German-style lagers and they were good and they were different. So, I tried different beers but it's not like it is here. I think if I were going to travel to another country for beer it would be Germany or Belgium.
When I travel, it's not necessarily to...my vacation isn't centered around doing research on beer; my vacation is centered around getting out and having a vacation! Even when I'm traveling around the country, if it's not a work trip I'll try to stop in local brewpubs and try local beers--that's the fun of it. You want to try stuff that's made right there.
I think the best saying I've ever heard is that the best beer is the one that's in front of you. I definitely subscribe to that. It's hard to sit there and criticize someone for loving Budweiser when it's their favorite beer. If they love it, great! There are times when you're in Vietnam and all you want to drink is a light lager when it's 92-degrees outside. People definitely brew beer in different regions because of the weather and because of the ingredients around there; it sort of evolves for a reason, just like the style of food.
Are you a food person? Do you consider yourself someone who loves to try new restaurants?
Manny and his good friend Mark Fuller from Ma'ono/Spring Hill.
I wouldn't consider myself a foodie, but I like eating. I think part of exercising is the whole idea of earning your meal and earning your drink. I probably exercise because I want to feel that.
One of the places I love to go when I'm not going to see customers is over on 12th and Jackson. There's a bunch of little Vietnamese restaurants. I like to get banh mi sandwiches. To me it's fun discovering little places where you literally pay $3 for a sandwich because it reminds me of going to Asia where you can sit down and get a bowl of beef noodle soup for like $5. I think it's a beautiful thing because they use fresh ingredients and it's inexpensive and there's nothing fancy about it.
Why do you think Americans tend to over-criticize food?
I think it's because we've got a lot more time on our hands. We've got the luxury of having disposable income. And when we turn the faucet on, the water works. We've got roads and infrastructure. We have a good life here and it allows us to actually spend time thinking about stuff, where in other countries people are just trying to get ahead. They're more worried about getting food on the table or having a roof over their head or sending their kids to school. I think when you're working more on living, you have less time to complain about other things.
Do you ever grab a beer at 10 a.m. when your tasting room opens?
Somebody will hand me a beer to taste, yes. It happens all the time. It happens at 8 a.m.! But I won't sit down and drink a whole beer at 10 a.m., no.
Are you pretty good at handling your booze?
Yes. I've had to be. The thing is being able to pace yourself. This business can be tough because people want you to drink beer or they want to have a beer with you or they want to buy you a cocktail or something. So, sometimes it can be challenging. You gotta learn how to say "no" or to pace yourself.
Do most people assume you always want to go have a beer with them?
Yeah, they do. It's kind of funny that way.
I actually do go to the 9lb Hammer just about every Friday. If I'm in town, I'll head over there after work. It's kind of routine for me. The 9lb is a fun place because that's where all of the locals hang out and I think it's fun just to be able to hang out with them. It's like All City [Coffee] in the morning and then the 9lb in the evening. It's just fun to sit and have a beer and talk to people.
Why is your beer not in every bar in Seattle?
There's some alehouses now that sort of feel like we're too popular in Seattle so they want to be different and serve someone else's beer. It bothers me because they think we're a big company, but there's only 39 of us. It's not like we're a big company, but because we're pretty popular here in Seattle, it feels like we're being punished for our success a little. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, but it's still important to me to be on top of those places [that don't sell our beer] because those are places where people go to find good beer. You can't please everybody, but we still try to go out and support those places because we're part of the community.
Are some people surprised that Manny is a real person?
Oh, yeah. I get that all the time. It's kind of funny. I think people are surprised, maybe because I'm Asian and they just assume I'm a Mexican dude or a tall German guy who brews beer.