Charlotte Flying Saucer’s GM Erik Hodgeman is a giant in craft beer. Literally. Standing at 6’6″, he dwarfs many a beer lover and his hands swallow a pint glass. But there’s no need to be afraid. He’s a fun-loving guy who wants nothing more than to show you how awesome craft beer can be, celebrate the relationships that craft beer can create, and to see the Cubs succeed year in and year out. So, let’s take some time and get know…
Erik Hodgeman, Charlotte Flying Saucer GM
How long have you been with Flying Saucer? How did you get here?
I started my Flying Saucer career about 15 years ago back in 2002 as a bartender. At the time I had zero idea what craft beer was. I remember tasting Avery Maharaja in training and being blown away by the hop profile. I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed it at the time, but that would change. Roughly a year later I moved into management and realized I was hooked on craft beer and Flying Saucer. Fast forward ahead seven years and I was offered the General Manager spot at the Charlotte Flying Saucer. I’ve been at the helm here for nearly 8 years now with a great team to work with.
What was your craft beer “ah-ha” moment? (That moment that your eyes were opened to the beauty of carefully and thoughtfully brewed beer.)
I’d have to say being part of the “Adam Avery experience.” It was 2003 and Adam was in Raleigh hosting a beer dinner. To my somewhat hazy recollection, it was a tasting of some 20-plus phenomenal beers. Hearing the history of the brewery, Adam’s story, and the quality and pride put into each beer made me an instant lifelong fan. It probably didn’t hurt I was 22 years old at the time and got to drink beer with Adam Avery until 2am.
What’s your favorite thing about craft beer?
I’d have to start with the relationships. First off, our very own bosses and owners who double as family, mentors, and friends. Then, it would have to be colleagues. I’d never have the chance to have a beer and learn things with the Asa Hanrahans, Josh Hamiltons, Eric Wolfes, Marc Castaldos, Kirk Caliendos and group of many more fellow GMs without it. We are able to learn from each other daily. Then, there are the business relationships made over the years. Brewery and distributor employees, delivery drivers, draft technicians, it never ends. That’s all before you even get to the point in your day where you are able to sit down and be the first person in the market to try the very first sample of a new brewery’s beer before anyone else.
What’s the most frustrating/misunderstood thing about craft beer?
I’d have to say the local craze. Many people think that just because a beer is brewed in their town, and the brewery is a fun hangout with a nice patio, that they are a quality brewery. It’s hard to find consistency sometimes these days with local product. You just don’t find that lack of consistency with the Founders, Bell’s, Sierra Nevadas of the world.
What’s your favorite thing about Flying Saucer?
The learning experience. I never envisioned being the General Manager of one of the best beer bars in the country. I’ve learned more in 15 years from Larry Richardson, Shannon Wynne, Keith Schlabs, and Jeff Mickel than most people learn from a stack of student loans — all while loving my job. We aren’t micro-managed, our standards are set high and we are expected to meet them as operators. It can be stressful, frustrating, rewarding, gratifying, and much more, but I wouldn’t change a bit of this experience. Also, seeing the growth of employees over the years is a favorite part of the job. The previously mentioned Avery Experience was followed by an orientation of a new bartender at 9am the next morning. That new bartender, Josh Hamilton, is now the General Manager at Raleigh Flying Saucer.
What’s your favorite Flying Saucer memory?
Hard to say, but there have been a lot of charity events over the years we have participated in and which I am very proud of. From Pints to Prostates to Make A Wish to Cool Kids Cancer Campaign to Toys for Tots. It’s a great feeling to be able to use this platform to be able to help others. Back in the day I had the pleasure of seeing my wife in the old school uniform and teaching her craft beer. Obviously, that was short lived as I was more worried about making her my wife than her waiting tables, but nonetheless, quite the fond memory.
Who are your craft beer heroes?
I’d have to start with the boss man, Captain Keith Schlabs. When I first met him 15 years ago, it was an intimidating moment. I was just a bartender at the time and we were hosting a beer dinner with Brooklyn Brewery and Garret Oliver. It was a pretty intense and rewarding event. Now, I can just look forward to having a beer with Keith on the occasional trip to Dallas or with a fishing pole in hand in Caddo, TX. After that, I’d have to go with Bill Covaleksi — founder and brewmaster of Victory Brewing Company.
If you could buy anyone in the history of ever a beer, who would it be and why?
Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. As history has it, he was quite the beer drinker himself. To sit side-by-side with Harry and call a Cubs game over a beer would be hard to top.
What’s the best beer (or best beer moment) you’ve ever had?
That’s a really hard question. The last one I ever had with my dad before he passed away. The one I chugged with my brother after the Cubs won the World Series. Every year when we celebrate our Flying Saucer Anniversary Party in June the entire bar erupts into singing “Happy Birthday” to us and it gives you chills. I don’t think I could possibly narrow down the best beer moment of my life. I’m sure they are many more to come.
Which beer are you choosing…
TO DRINK EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE: I’d have to go with Victory Prima Pils. Whether you just want to finish the day off with a quick refreshing beer or spend a day enjoying a handful of them, it will never disappoint.
FOR THE LAST BEER YOU’LL EVER HAVE: Founders Backwoods Bastard. Hands down.
What’s the most challenging thing about running Flying Saucer or a beer bar in general?
Surrounding yourself with good employees. If you do that, everything is much easier.
Managing 40-50 people is not an easy task. There is a lot of loyalty and pride throughout Flying Saucer. This comes from the very top to the guys washing the dishes. If you can instill that genuine care for what we do to your employees, it makes our jobs a lot easier. I’m lucky enough to have a great management team and group of tenured employees that do it the right way. Other than that it’s probably just learning to be a plumber, electrician, guidance counselor, accountant, janitor, painter, and, of course, reading what the Yelpers have to say about the correct way to do your job.
What’s your opinion of the current state of craft beer?
There is a lot of good beer out there. The market can get somewhat saturated with the amount of beers coming through the pipeline. It’s great to see so many new breweries and beer, but I think it’s important to remember how we got to this current state of craft beer. Without the Sierra Nevadas, Bell’s, Victorys, and Flying Saucers of the world, we wouldn’t be where we are. It is a very competitive market. Only the strong and consistent will prevail in the long run.
What’s something that craft beer can teach the world OR something you’d like to teach the world about craft beer?
I love it, but at the end of the day it’s just beer and is meant to be enjoyed. When it begins to have the alternative effect, you are doing it all wrong in my opinion. Breweries don’t owe us anything and we don’t owe them anything. There is a lot of respect between both parties when done properly however. Focus on doing what you do best, and everything else will take care of itself.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jeff Mickel: “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” This has proven to be very true in business
What do you do when you’re not at the Saucer? What else are you passionate about? Any secret talents (that you’re willing to share)?
Spending time with my beautiful wife Jennifer and stepson Brett first and foremost. Coaching Brett’s football team has quickly become one of my favorite things to do. I’m a diehard Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs fan, so seeing the Cubs win the World Series last year was certainly something I will never forget. I’ll never turn down the chance to toss back a beer with my wife, brother, or close friends either.
…I’m ready for a beer.
Thank you for sharing, Erik, and thank you for working hard to bring the best beer to all the Beerknurds in Charlotte. Give Charlotte Flying Saucer a visit and go see what Erik recommends. Cheers!