Fearless. Bold. Independent.
Last year, Heavy Seas unveiled their new mantra, and since then, they’ve proven that it’s more than just a saying slapped onto a t-shirt.
Over the past year, Brewmaster Christopher Leonard and his team at Heavy Seas have ushered in a new era for this decades-old brewery. Along with their new slogan, they’ve created a new logo, released plans for a taproom renovation and started brewing limited releases on a 15-barrel system. What led to all the changes? Leonard puts it simply, “Change is necessary, and we like to shake things up.”
Draught Lines sat down with Leonard at the Baltimore brewery.
Draught Lines (D.L.) Can you tell us a little about the origin of the brewery?
Christopher Leonard (C.L.) It all started with our founder Hugh Sisson. He was instrumental in changing the laws in Maryland to permit the operation of brewpubs in the mid-’80s. In the ‘90s, he founded Clipper City Brewing Co., which later became Heavy Seas. Hugh brewed his first beer here in 1995 and we’ve been here ever since.
D.L. What was the beer that launched Heavy Seas as we know it today?
C.L. You could probably guess, and you’d be right. The beer that defines Heavy Seas is definitely Loose Cannon IPA. Heavy Seas was originally the name of a lineup of Clipper City beers that were stronger and more potent. Loose Cannon, first brewed in 2004, was so successful and sold so well that we decided to rebrand the entire brewery as Heavy Seas. That beer changed everything for us.
D.L. As we understand it, you joined the Heavy Seas team just as they were hitting their stride.
C.L. Exactly. I’ve been a professional brewer since 1997. Back when I started making beer, the modern IPA didn’t exist. So, I made my name brewing English beers. I loved those malty, nutty, low-alcohol flavors. I had a brewpub at the time and was brewing close to 150 different beers every year. When I joined Heavy Seas in 2013, it was at the tail end of the brewery’s big growth period. Hugh was upgrading all his equipment and my first real job here was to get it all up and running. In 2013 we were brewing about 33,000 barrels of beer a year. This year we’ll be close to 45,000 barrels.
D.L. How has Heavy Seas’ portfolio evolved under your leadership?
C.L. The largest change has been the expansion of our Cannon Crew lineup of beers. With the success of Loose Cannon, we decided to try a double IPA, which became Double Cannon. At first, we were concerned about how it would be received, because it clocked in at 9.5% ABV. To our surprise, it really took off. The following year, we made it available year-round. By the time 2015 hit, citrus IPAs were a big deal in beer, so we decided to add TropiCannon to the lineup. That beer sold out even quicker than Double Cannon. We now have AmeriCannon as well – a 5.75% double dry-hopped American pale ale to round out the portfolio. The Cannon Crew includes a range of flavor profiles and styles, so there’s something for everyone.
D.L. You’re all currently ushering in a new era for Heavy Seas.
C.L. That’s exactly right. Change is necessary, and we like to shake things up.
D.L. The first hint of that change was your new logo. What was the design process like?
C.L. It’s been a three-year process. We worked with a local business to develop it. The new logo is easier to work with; the message is simpler. We wanted something with a pirate theme that wasn’t overly pirate. I think what we came up with is adventurous yet serious. Our new slogan embodies the same values: Fearless, Bold, Independent. We want people to know what we stand for when they order a Heavy Seas beer.
D.L. In addition to your new logo and slogan, you’ve also been rolling out new, limited can releases from your 15-barrel system. What made you want to brew these experimental beers?
C.L. We’d been considering some type of pilot brewhouse for a while. When Dan [Kopman, new CEO of Heavy Seas] came on board, we all decided it was the perfect time to go all-in on a 15-barrel system. It allows us to make smaller batches and brew new styles.
D.L. How have these new releases been received by the Heavy Seas faithful?
C.L. The first one we did was a take on Loose Cannon called Joose Cannon – a hazy, juicy IPA brewed with tangerine puree. That beer was released on a Friday and was gone by Saturday morning. Next up was a Brut IPA brewed with yuzu juice, which I never would have thought to do a few years ago. The new system lets us keep pushing those ideas.
D.L. Any surprises for next year that you can give us the scoop on?
C.L. Not just yet, but we’re always looking at options. We like new mashups. Right now, we’re getting close to finalizing our 2020 portfolio, and you’ll see some new twists and surprises when that happens.