It’s hard to remember a time before Velvet Hammer was a part of our lives here in Texas. In the years since Michael Peticolas brewed his first batch (December 30, 2011), it has quickly become a favorite of serious beer drinkers across DFW. Maybe that’s because it’s such a serious beer: 9% ABV and so delicious — it’s hard to pace yourself. It sneaks up on you in the best possible way. We were curious to learn more about what makes Peticolas so special. So we sat down with our bearded friend Rich Franzen, a brewer at Peticolas, to learn more about the beer, the brewery, and, of course, the beard.
Beard Supply: Let’s talk beards first. Then let’s talk beers.
Rich Franzen: That seems like an appropriate order.
BSc: Where did this luxurious beard of yours come from?
Rich: Well, in my former life — you know, pre brewery — I worked for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. And before that, I was in the Army. I was always this very clean-shaven guy. Exactly the kind of guy you’d imagine works for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and was in the Army before that. But then something happened. I started home brewing. I’d never grown a beard before, but something about the brewing made me want to give it a try. And, holy shit, can I grow a beard. Like, I mean, a pretty decent beard. To be honest, I probably started pushing the limits of what was acceptable for a man who worked in a courtroom. But I liked it, so I just kept going. Kept going, that is, until I started working in a real brewery, Peticolas. It was so hot that I cut it off. For a while at least. Then I grew it back. What I have now is from January of last year.
BSc: How attached are you to your beard? How much money would it take for you to shave it off?
Rich: I could probably be persuaded to shave it for a charitable cause.
Rich: There you go.
BSc: A few more beard questions, and then we’ll move on to the beer portion of the interview. Do you use any products in your beard?
Rich: Salsa, mostly. Cottage cheese. Various soups and chowders. Large doses of Velvet Hammer and Sit Down. Once a week I like to treat myself and use some real beard oil. I don’t like to wash my beard too much — not unless I’ve been into something really disgusting. Typically, I just give it a hot rinse. It’s pretty au naturel. I do carry a wide-tooth wooden comb. A Beard Supply comb, actually. It’s in my pocket right now.
BSc: Do people treat you differently because of your beard?
Rich: Are you kidding me? 190%. It’s the weirdest thing. I’m walking through Trader Joe’s just minding my own business, and dudes are shouting at me like, “Holy shit, man! That’s awesome!” But I mean, who doesn’t like a high-five for no reason? That’ll put a smile on anybody’s face. The weird part is when people think it’s okay to touch it. Guys and girls. I’ll be standing there with my girlfriend, and suddenly there are hands coming toward my face. It’s a bit awkward.
BSc: Maybe it’s a bit like how pregnant women feel when people touch their bellies.
Rich: This is my baby! Not your baby! My baby!
BSc: Maybe this would be a good time to transition to beer talk.
BSc: You mentioned this is your second life. I’ve heard that a lot from brewers. I guess there is something idyllic about the brewing lifestyle?
Rich: Well, to be sure it’s a lot of hard work, but in the most satisfying way. I also love this place more than anything else. Sometimes that makes it more difficult because you care so much about everything. We’re not just here for the beer, it’s the people, too. We all kind of found our ways to this brewery for different reasons and now we’re a family. I’ve been to Michael [Peticolas’s] house for Thanksgiving and Christmas — literally part of their own family for a day. My family lives in northern Iowa so I don’t always have plans, so Melissa or Michael will ask what I’m doing, and I’ll get that look on my face like, “Oh man, should I pretend to have plans?” I guess she knows that face by now. And for the record, she’s a terrific cook.
BSc: Was there a moment when you said, “No more bankruptcy stuff. Beers — now.”?
Rich: What happened was I came by Peticolas for a tour because I loved Velvet Hammer so much, but had also heard the reputation for the beers and the crew from so many homebrewers in the area. Then I went on a few more tours. Next, I asked if I could help out by washing kegs or scrubbing floors. And then I washed more kegs and scrubbed more floors — all while listening to a blend of music like you’ve never heard. All Michael Jackson songs one day. Michael Bolton the next day. Then George Michael the day after that.
BSc: I’m picking up on a Michael theme.
Rich: I was using my vacation days to be here, so I could help out and feel like a real man for a while. Afterward, we’d have a beer on the dock and just enjoy being there. I was sitting there soaked in sweat, smelling bad, tired; and I had this feeling of, Man, this is awesome. What if this were how things went every day? Then one day Michael called me at work to say they were thinking about adding a sixth employee and was I interested. Did I want to do something crazy? I went to lunch at the City Tavern downtown, right next to where I worked, and I ordered a burger and a Velvet Hammer. I sat there and stared at the beer. I drank some of it, stared at it some more, drank more of it, and did some more staring. Then I went back to work, called Michael, and said, “I’m in.”
BSc: Why is Velvet Hammer so good? What’s the secret?
Rich: I think it’s the balance. We really push the limits of our mash tun. We brew everything manually (stirring the mash, grain out, whirlpooling), so we really push things pretty far, especially for a beer like Velvet Hammer. It’s also fairly aggressively hopped, but there’s a lot of malt behind it that balances out those hops, so it’s very rounded. It ends up being this very full beer with a clean back end. What’s amazing about it is that it’s 9%. The fact that it’s such a big beer and people are still reaching for it after having a couple speaks volumes. As one man — Tony Drewery, a beautiful bearded man who’s the father of craft beer in North Texas — famously said, “Velvet Hammer is like titties. One’s not enough and three’s too many.”
BSc: Oh wow.
Rich: I don’t know if you guys can use that, but make sure you attribute it to Tony Drewery.
BSc: Why don’t you put your beer in bottles and cans like everybody else?
Rich: I could talk about many different facets of that for sure. But the nutshell answer is that quality and consistency are everything for us. We want to make sure everyone has the best experience possible, and we’re doing that very well with kegs right now. Our kegs are self-distributed. We do everything ourselves. We don’t want to rely on a deliveryman or a grocery store guy. We make sure the kegs never get hot. They never sit anywhere but in a cooler. We make sure all the lines are clean, and kegs are super fresh so every beer is the best beer it can be. You start putting beer in cans, sitting for months warm on a shelf, all bets are off. You think the gas station or grocery store treats beer with the utmost care and respect? We have nightmares about this stuff. For us, it’s all about quality and the brand and the people who love our beers — us most of all.