Taylor Seidler is the Creative Director of Beer Advocate Magazine as well as manager of the Beer Advocate brand in its many other incarnations, including the website and the Extreme Beer Fest. What started as a small ticker site for beer nerds is blossoming into a beautiful and useful magazine thanks to people like Taylor. I first met Taylor when she came calling for GBH photos of Solemn Oath Brewery last February for a feature on some up-and-comers. Since then, we've collaborated many times on features, covers, and a new GBH column that'll be appearing in Beer Advocate's May issue.
But that was all over email. At this years' Craft Brewer's Conference, I finally got a chance to shake Taylor's hand and talk beer + design at Rock Bottom in downtown Denver. A couple pints of kolsch in the first warm days of spring was just what we needed to get excited about the year ahead. This is Taylor's Maker Drinker story.
1. How did the worlds of design and beer first collide for you? How do they relate?
Beer labels. I’ve always paid attention to packaging and even considered going back to school for industrial design for a while. In the early days of my craft beer education, I’d pick beers based on their labels. I’ve since learned it’s not the best way to do it, but it’s my designer instinct and it was a place to start. I feel lucky that I moved to Boston for college, a city with a lot of beer options to look at, as well as to drink. There’s a great sandwich/cheese/specialty shop in the South End near my old office where I’d go for lunch. While I waited for my food, I’d look around the store at all the labels of the beers, chocolate, boxes of pasta. It was pretty typical to leave with more than the sandwich I’d gone there for.
From there, I blame BeerAdvocate. There I was, minding my own business, when a 7-month-old magazine needed a new designer. I didn’t know much about the beer industry at that point. Luckily I had already been introduced to BeerAdvocate and craft beer, and was trying new beers and learning as much as I could. Working on the magazine definitely expedited the learning process for me — all of a sudden I was formatting homebrew recipes and trying to find the correct glassware for a photo. There was pressure to get it right, because I was designing a publication for people who knew more about the subject than I did at the time. There are still people that know a lot more than I do, but I’d like to think that I can hold my own.
2. How has your life changed since putting your skills to use in the beer industry?
There are some incredible people in my life now due to this job. The beer industry is full of the friendliest and possibly the most interesting people I’ve met, from scientists to homebrewers. Everyone has a story, and that’s influenced me to try to have an active part in the industry and to not just be a part of the media watching from the sidelines.
3. What's the day-to-day like helping shape the future of one of the world's most widely-read magazines about beer?
Like most jobs in publishing, it’s not glamorous. Well, like most jobs anywhere. There’s a lot of time spent on the computer emailing and planning for upcoming issues. When it’s time to take photos of bottles for the beer reviews, there’s a makeshift photo studio that takes up half of my office for at least a week. There’s a lot of multitasking with the magazine, the fests, and any other projects that might be going on. And I try to keep a balance between the day-to-day tasks and finding time to work on the creative parts, where I’ll get lost in what I’m doing for a few hours while the emails pile up.
4. What are some of your favorite spreads? Why?
These may not be the best designs out of the work that I’ve done, but they’re some of my favorites. I like a challenge, so these picks are ones that I had fun putting together.
When Good Beers Go Bad
With this being a beer magazine, it’s easy to use photos of bottles or breweries, but that can get boring after a while. So, I try to take advantage of opportunities to switch it up. Sometimes a story makes it easy, like this one. A few of the ingredients I had in my kitchen, and the rest took me to the spice shop down the street to see what I could find.
I’m not sure where I got the idea to build a big pyramid out of coasters in the middle of my living room for this feature. But I did. And after knocking it over the first time, I started taping all the coasters together. When parts toppled the next couple times while trying to shoot it (for this spread and the cover), it was much easier to put it back together.
A Game of Risk
I love designing infographics. When there’s a story in the mag that’s going to include a graph or something, I get really excited. Though, at some point, I wonder what I got myself into because they always take so much time to do well.
I went to Alaska with my boyfriend, and managed to turn it into a partial work trip. We traveled to as many breweries as we could and I took photos along the way. What came out of the trip was a rare photo-based feature for the magazine, with the text supplementing the photos, instead of the other way around. It was difficult to narrow down such an amazing trip into just a few photos with captions.
The way magazines present beer reviews are always different, some show the bottle and a pour, others just the label (like we used to). But when we redesigned our beer reviews, we wanted them to be appealing but useful. I love how they turned out, and while the format has its challenges, I think it’s totally worth it.
5. What are some of your bigger goals with the magazine?
The magazine keeps getting better because we have great writers, artists, and photographers who are contributing their work. There are definitely some things I did in early issues that make me cringe today. I guess that’s inevitable when you’ve worked on a publication for 7 years. I’d like to see the magazine’s quality keep improving in all aspects. We have a new managing editor joining the team soon, so I think that will bring some new ideas to the table. Right now my bigger goals aren’t focused so much with the magazine itself, but some other projects that are in the works for BeerAdvocate.
6. What else do you work on beyond the magazine?
I work on materials for the whole BeerAdvocate brand, like logos and the guide booklets we publish for all of our beer fests. Courtney Cox (our previous managing editor) and I put together infographics for the last page of all the fest guides. Those are tough to get started but we’re always happy with them when they’re done. We spend a lot of time coming up with what information to collect and ways to present it, but I don’t know if anyone finds them as interesting as we do. Some of the infographics have been easier than others — a graphic on beer styles is pretty easy because that information is in the beer list, but a graphic about ingredients is a little trickier.
As far as outside of BeerAdvocate, I do freelance work from time to time, and I’ve designed wedding invitations and such for some of my friends. I’m also big on personal projects — I’m in the middle of refinishing a midcentury wood chair and I’ve been making things out of old book paper. I bake all the time, so there’s a sourdough starter that’s been living in my fridge for a while now.
7. What are some of your greatest beer moments?
My boyfriend and I have been homebrewing for a few years, and besides it being an all-day science experiment, it’s a social thing for us. My brother got to brew with us when he was visiting. We brew a rye IPA for summer and the group of friends we go camping with, and we bring bottles to share with everyone. Homebrewing has helped a lot with my job actually. The beer recipes we have in the magazine made a lot more sense once I brewed my first batch. I’m growing hops for the third year so I’m hoping to harvest enough to brew with this fall. I feel like I’ve accomplished something by keeping the hops alive through two New England winters.
Being able to go to Allagash and the Dogfish Head brewpub to brew collaboration beers has been pretty incredible. Allagash White was my gateway beer into craft, so I was excited to be able to meet the people there and try beers straight out of the barrels, and to be there for picking out hops for the beer that was brewed that day. The collabs with Dogfish Head are their own beast, because the beers from those days are for the Extreme Beer Fest. There are ingredients that are a little out there — olive paste and juniper berries for a martini beer, and one year we made a trip to the beach to get ocean water to add to a brew.
8. What's in your fridge right now?
I’m happy to say there’s some Heady Topper hanging out in the fridge (though not for long). As well as a few bottles of homebrew — a coffee amber and rye IPA. There’s also Lagunitas Sucks, Baxter Tarnation, High Life (because everyone needs a cheap go-to), a blackberry lambic, a barley wine from Midnight Sun, and a bunch of random bottles I’ve gotten from work.