Imbibe 75: 2017 People to Watch

It’s that time of year when we release our annual Imbibe 75 issue—a list of people, places and flavors poised to make an impact in the coming year. For this year’s roundup of People to Watch, we’ve already highlighted a few bright stars, including Seattle bar owners Anu and Chris Elford, longtime bartender turned bar owner Angus Winchester, Jason Parker and Micah Nutt of Copperworks Distillery and tikiphile Humuhumu Trott. Pick up a print issue to see the complete list (including all of our People of the Year, who are mentioned here). In the meantime, check out a few more highlights here.

Bertony Faustin
Willamette Valley winemaker Bertony Faustin is accustomed to being misread. From his first vintage as founder of Abbey Creek in 2008 to the recent 2016 harvest of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varietals, he’s been hit with the same question: Where’s the winemaker? Faustin is one of relatively few African- Americans in an industry often touted for its romanticism and allure, but not its diversity. The personal trainer–turned-vintner is now combating that with his forthcoming documentary, Red, White & Black. Currently in post-production, the film started as a passion project but quickly evolved into something more, thanks to tremendous public support, and Faustin points to the many ironies of the wine world, which—as with much of the agricultural sector—is reliant upon minorities. This son of Haitian immigrants knows that the demographics are changing, even in wine, and he hopes his film will shed some much-needed light on producers like himself, Jesus Guillen of White Rose, the LGBTQ wine community, and others. “Wine was always about the what, the terroir and the grape,” Faustin says. “I want to get back to the who.” —Mark Stock

Dana Sicko
Dana Sicko, Baltimore native and founder and CEO of Gundalow Juice, doesn’t sell cleanses, detox regimens or meal replacements. She sells juice—whole-ingredient, cold- pressed and delicious. After studying nutrition in college and founding a personal meal- service company, Sicko found herself cooking for people who wanted something healthy (and great-tasting) to drink. “Initially I set out to create a more approachable green juice—something that you would feel okay having with a slice of pizza,” she says. She picked up a juicer and some jars and got to work. Her clients enjoyed her juices so much that they urged her into business, and Gundalow Juice set sail. Now two years in, Gundalow remains a small but thriving operation, with from-scratch juice recipes inspired by Sicko’s work as a personal chef (the Dockside Sunrise, with pineapple, cucumber, lime, ginger and jalapeño was born from a salsa recipe). Available nationally via online sales, Gundalow Juice was also recently picked up by Whole Foods, and Sicko and her mother handle all distribution. “We’re just taking it at our own pace,” she says. “I love being able to demo to people at Whole Foods and say that I made the product.”—Penelope Bass

Erica Indira Swanson, Tea Person of the Year
Among unadorned whitewashed walls, honey-blond wood counters, and Danish-style wooden chairs and stools, Erica Indira Swanson, founder of Portland, Oregon’s Tea Bar, sips a ginger-lemon tea toddy and projects an air of calm uncharacteristic for someone who’s 25 and just opened her third tea shop in two years. “I was raised by a single father, and he owned a real estate company that he started when I was about five,” Swanson says. “Seeing that firsthand had a large influence from a business perspective.”

Swanson says her father instilled in her both an entrepreneurial drive and a certain degree of fearlessness, traits honed through her own education and travels. She’s fluent in both Spanish and Mandarin, lived abroad in Cuba for a summer and attended high school in China for a year, a time that also deepened her appreciation for tea culture. “Tea has always been my go-to,” says Swanson. “While coffee speeds me up in a way that I sometimes don’t want, tea feels very nurturing.”

Tea Bar is Swanson’s answer to third-wave coffee, both in aesthetic and philosophy. A simple, curated menu offers fewer than two dozen types of tea, sourced in smaller batches from family farms whenever possible. Tea lattes and seasonal specialty drinks round out the menu, along with organic boba teas in flavors like peppermint, taro and vanilla rose. “I feel like oftentimes with a lot of tea places there are 100 or 150 options, which is overwhelming,” says Swanson. “We really narrow it down, but I still feel like our menu is very dynamic, and there are a lot of ways to customize things.”

Swanson opened her first location in December 2014 in Portland’s Northeast neighborhood while still working as a property manager for her father. Buzz about the café began immediately, and people were soon driving across town to sample Swanson’s wares. After just 18 months, Tea Bar found its second home on Portland’s booming Division Street, and a third location is now open in the city’s Pearl District. “Initially, I did hope to open more, but I never would have thought that I’d be opening up three in two years,” Swanson says. “I would have thought that sounds crazy.”

Tea Bar’s new location will debut its own line of specialty teas, and Swanson has been dialing in the recipes for housemade chai blends. A beer and wine license allows them to serve tea mimosas, and down the line she hopes to introduce bottled teas and a tea subscription service. Despite the rapid growth and the constant franchise requests, Swanson says she wants to see Tea Bar evolve at its own pace. “I wouldn’t say I had any grand plan to open up a lot of them; I was really just taking it day by day, and I’ve had so many amazing team members help me get to this place,” says Swanson. “I want to expand in a natural way that doesn’t compromise quality. I value balance in life.” —Penelope Bass

Mitch Steele, Beer Person of the Year
Mitch Steele can make macro lagers and cultish IPAs better than most anyone in America. At Anheuser-Busch in the mid-1990s he brewed both Bud and hop-forward beers, chased by a decade run as Stone’s brewmaster. The hop savant developed Sublimely Self-Righteous black IPA and Enjoy By, a penetratingly fresh double IPA, and authored bulletproof brewing resource IPA. And now, he’s preparing to take his decades of experience down to Atlanta to open a brewpub, the culmination of a career that started with the suggestion from Steele’s college resident advisor. “I believe his comment was, ‘You cannot go to [UC] Davis and not take this class,’ ” Steele recalls of signing up for Intro to Winemaking. “I fell in love with the blending of the artistic and scientific.”

Steele also studied brewing science, headlights aimed on a beer career. Jobs were scarce in 1984, so he made wine at California’s Almaden Vineyards and later moonlighted at San Andreas Brewing, brewing English-inspired ales. Steele caught on at Anheuser-Busch’s Fort Collins, Colorado, facility in 1992, parlaying his shift-supervisor role into an innovations position at AB’s St. Louis plant, dreaming up beers like American Hop Ale. “I was a big fan of IPAs, and I wanted to brew something that could have credibility with craft,” Steele says.
Marketing didn’t buy into the beer, but Steele wasn’t bitter. After heading to New Hampshire to manage AB’s local brewhouse, he brewed Bud by day and homebrewed IPAs during his downtime. “It was a creative outlet that I wasn’t getting with the regular job,” says Steele, who would drive to Massachusetts to buy Stone beer. When Stone’s brewmaster position opened in 2006, an intrigued Steele applied. A two-day interview with founders Steve Wagner and Greg Koch secured the position.

His IPA-laced tenure coincided with the rise of tropical, fruity hop varieties, such as Citra, Galaxy and Azacca, as well as research with Wagner for IPA. Both were instrumental in developing Enjoy By, Koch’s brain flash for an imperial IPA with a 37-day self-destruct date. “It was the culmination of all the double IPA information, techniques and best practices I’d gotten,” Steele says. Brewing was easier than writing. “When it came time to put all that down onto paper, it turned into a different animal,” he says.

So had Stone. Steele started developing two recipes a year; by the time he departed Stone last year, he was devising 30 to 40 recipes, with new breweries in Richmond, Virginia and Berlin. Then industry vets Carey Falcone and Bob Powers, of American Beerworks, pitched Steele on a solo project in Atlanta. It resonated. “There was part of me that felt that if I pass on this opportunity I may not get another one,” Steele says.
The to-be-named brewery, earmarked for 2017’s second half, butts up against the BeltLine, a railroad corridor reconceived as a pedestrian and bicycling path. Plans for the 20,000-square-foot brewpub include a restaurant, outdoor seating and rooftop bar overlooking the city skyline. Concerning beer, “everything is fair game,” Steele says. IPAs will pour alongside sours and traditional lagers like his favored Oktoberfest. For the near future he’ll commute from California (his daughter is a high school sophomore), embracing his career’s ultimate challenge. “Building a brewery and a brand from the ground-up is something I’ve never done,” Steele says. —Josh M. Bernstein

Yeekai Lim
From pop-up to permanent, Cognoscenti Coffee has become a staple of the L.A. drinks scene. Helmed by designer-turned-coffee entrepreneur Yeekai lim, who has long been captivated by the nuances found in a well-made cup of coffee, Cognoscenti now has three brick-and-mortar locations, two of which opened last year, with the most recent spot in the fashion district housing Lim’s first roastery. Despite the continued growth, Lim says one thing hasn’t changed: “The pop-up was always a one-on-one experience with customers,” he says. “We try to carry that same intimacy with our service now. —Penelope Bass