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Fun with Boundary Stone’s Colleen Gillespie

In January, DC Beer’s Mike Stein had the chance to interview Colleen Gillespie, General Manager of Boundary Stone in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of DC. He asked her some tough questions, and she blessed him with thoughtful answers.

Her Path to Boundary Stone

Collen Gillespie of Boundary Stone
Colleen Gillespie

It’s come to DC Beer’s attention that many of the tap lines in the District are pouring Virginia draughts. Similarly, Maryland draughts are taking up lines, too, and together quite a bit of tap line real estate is currently occupied by Virginia and Maryland draughts. The majority of the questions follow this observation. The following is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.

MS: Tell us about your time in the beer business.

CG: I started at Granville Moore’s on H Street when I was 20 going to school at Catholic Univesity. I knew nothing about beer, I got a crash course and then I fell in love once I turned 21. I would have my staples that I knew enough about that I knew from each category of Belgian beer. I knew how to sell them and what to push and knew the answers to the questions that were going to be asked. I had tremendous help from bartenders. Server, managers. I would stay and learn and read books and once I turned 21 I hit the ground running. I remember my first Petrus Aged Pale Ale. Hook line and sinker.

I worked at the Bier Baron for a bit. I moved to Belgium. In Bruges and I taught beer classes and I was a tour guide that’s kind of where I really fell into it. I learned from locals who’d been drinking their entire lives and it wasn’t that exciting to them. After I had gone backpacking for 6 weeks two years prior, I was offered a job as a tour guide and jumped very quickly on that. I landed at Bluejacket and that is where I thought I knew everything to know about beer and I remember my fist pre-shift and they were rattling off hops that were in this beer and I thought “oh no I don’t know anything!”

I learned The Arsenal not just the restaurant but the wealth of knowledge I learned from my teammates that were just breathing beer into everything they had. Places I didn’t know, new breweries popping up every single day, I was so in awe of them and dove head first into learning about every hop, every strain of yeast, I made the brewers hold my hand through every single nook and cranny and I eventually became a manager and I had to give tours of the brewery. I was nervous thinking “these people are gonna know I’m a fraud” but I learned so much from that team Josh Chapman (founder, Black Narrows), Bobby Bump (lead brewer, Right Proper), Greg Engert (Neighborhood Restaurant Group Beer Director), Anne Marisic (marketing and events manager, Maine Beer Co.). And they were so excited and as excited as I was.

That’s what I love about this city and this beer scene: that you can find people that are just as excited as you are and then when you get to teach other people about something you’re so excited about that’s what makes it worth it.

MS: Is the whole of Virginia or Maryland beer better than the whole of DC beer?

CG: It’s hard to compare all of DC to all of Maryland to all of Virginia and say one is better than the other. I think they’re all doing things that cater to their markets and are different. Northern Virginia has Loudon County, down to Richmond and Virginia Beach. Compared to DC and then Maryland, I think it’s a hard and unfair comparison because they’re all doing amazing things and crushing it in their markets I think its a disservice. It’s hard to compare all three regions. Yes, you’re going to have your trends and you’re going to want to follow the trends and do the trend better than your neighbor and your competitor but, at the end of the day, if you’re serving your community and your market, that’s your goal.

That’s how you’re making your bread and butter. You’re making your community and your area happy with the beers you’re making and get your beers in peoples hands. That’s your goal. If you’re succeeding in that, you’re crushing it. And if you think about it, in the DMV in the past 10 years, the beer scene has only just begun. It was 10 years ago we were starting in this world. The oldest brewery in this city is only 7 years old.

MS: Is Virginia stealing the show from DC beers?

CG: I don’t think they’re stealing the show it’s just newer right now. I think that if you want to talk Loudon County, Loudon County is doing amazing things in such a small area. It’s random you throw a stone and you hit a brewery in Lo. Co. that’s crazy. I think they’re being highlighted because it’s new, it’s a shiny new toy, and that’s really cool. I don’t think they’re stealing the show they’re coming into their own. Not even five years ago, Richmond hit hard and when you had The Veil and you had Hardywood and The Answer and all these places no one had heard of before and I don’t know how long but in the last five years they’ve become a topic of conversation.

It’s just a topic of conversation and the threat doesn’t take away from the DC breweries at all. I don’t know that much about Virginia outside Northern Virginia but it seems like all of a sudden Loudon Co. blew up and all these different breweries opened up and that happened to us seven or six years ago when we had four breweries open up one after the other.

MS: Does the consumer feel Virginia beer is of better quality than DC beer? Or is it a desire for access to beers previously unavailable?

CG: Honestly, I haven’t had any negative conversations. First of all, people in the city are finally getting excited about beer and that’s across the board. That’s outside our little beer community. That’s the whole city, the fact that they’re getting into beer in general is a huge win no matter if they’re talking smack or not. I think in the conversations I’ve had they’re excited to learn about beer. The fact that people are saying “Oh my God you had this beer in Virginia!” or “Oh my God I was just there this weekend!” and “I’m so excited you have this beer on draft I’ll take one!” People are getting outside their little bubble.

Not sure if its quality versus accessibility. Virginia beer is becoming more accessible in DC. They’re expanding and that’s what’s exciting. I don’t have a car so it’s not easy for me to get places outside the district. So I if I have friends with a car on their day off and they’re going to places like Aslin, you can’t get Aslin a lot of places unless its baseball season and then you have to brave the crowds.

MS: Are beers less interesting because they’re available on a regular basis?

CG: No I don’t think so. For our breweries, their flagships are so important. That’s why they’re still around that’s why these flagships are so consistent at the end of the day. “I just want this beer from this brewery and I’m gonna sit down at the end of my day and that’s what I want.” They’re tried and true and they’re gonna be there for you.

You have your DC Brau Corruption, Right Proper’s Raised by Wolves, 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison, Atlas’ Rowdy Rye and Bluejacket’s Lost Weekend are all great as is Port City Optimal Wit.

MS: Do you know if you’ve poured more Virginia or Maryland beer than DC beer this year?

CG: I would have to check. As you know Boundary Stone opened up 7 years ago with the first brewery. We support each other and we carry beers from Maryland, DC, and Virginia all the time, in cans and on draft. I’d have to check to see and it also depends on events.

I also love bringing in beers form New York or Maine. I like to keep the front taps local we just always have. And I like to say the back taps are for me to be selfish and what I’m excited about. Both local and non local except for Guinness. And that’s all from our homeland were a bunch of Irish kids from Philly.

I don’t think it’s about wanting to keep it local or not. First of all, you have to go with your demand. There are certain things that if I took them off the menu-food or beverage-people would be like ‘Why would you ever do that?!’ Today is my 2-year anniversary, I haven’t been here that long so for me when I came in there are things I knew when I took over. So it was baby steps first, making this beverage program and the cocktail program and the wine program not only be what I wanted but what was best for our clientele and its also for my staff to get excited about something. I know if my staff like something I have to order five of them because they’ll go so quick. Chris Graham (Production Manager, DC Brau) taught a class about beer 101. There were times when Chris and I went on many tangents and we had to bring it back.

This is the basics, but they got excited and when they got excited it made it easy for me. It’s easier to sell something when I know they’re pumped about it. The newest local beer that’s hitting the market or it’s Maine’s Dinner. I have an allegiance but at the same time this is my market, this is where we are. You can see who we’re supporting and who we are and that runs throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

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