The beer guru has an impressive resume, highlighted by a nearly 5-year stint as a beer buyer and bartender at another outstanding Milwaukee institution.
Ray’s Wine & Spirits created a fair amount of buzz in the local beer community last week when it announced that Rob Zellermayer is assuming the role of general manager. Expect the new hire, who comes to Ray’s from Bay View’s Sugar Maple, to up the excellent beer game at Ray’s even more. I asked the affable Zellermayer a few questions during his first week of work at his new job.
How did your interest in beer begin?
I had just completed the first examination in the (sommelier) process and weeks later the restaurant where I was working (Bjonda) moved its concept from a wine-centric restaurant with white linen and fine dining to a craft beer-focused upscale pub.
I started realizing what was about to come about in Milwaukee in a serious way. Beer seemed like a natural fit and I kind of switched gears.
You seem to consider educating others about beer a big part of your job.
We’re selling more than a product. We’re selling a culture. I believe very much in the spirit of the craft beer revolution. I think that it’s most important for me to actually enhance the craft beer culture, not just sell the product.
What about joining the staff at Ray’s was appealing?
I’ve been friends with [co-owner] Orey [Laev] for years and it’s my home liquor store. It’s a bike ride away from my house. Also, I see the need for more craft beer in the Wauwatosa area and I want to do my part.
What are your thoughts on being able to work in Ray’s Growler Gallery?
I’ve been to events up there but I was not a regular, mostly because I was at another bar working all of the time. It’s a unique situation that gives me a platform to do what I love. It’s not a concept that we see in Milwaukee very often—to have an on-premise and off-premise relationship like that. It’s a sign that Milwaukee’s craft beer scene is getting a little more mature.
Are there any beer styles you prefer?
This is how I approach customers: I usually lead with, “what styles don’t you like?” It’s kind of like music, when you ask somebody what they like and they say, “I like everything” but then you dig deeper and they say “I don’t really like country.”
If I see a Berliner weisse on a menu, I get super excited. I am still a big hop head and if I can get an IPA that reminds me of that first time I was really exposed to hops in a serious way I get excited. It’s the a-ha moments that we all chase after.
So is there a style you don’t like?
Ha, I have to be in a very particular time and place to really appreciate a hefeweizen.
Considering the surge in the industry and the recent craft brewery boom in Milwaukee, this must be a good time to be in your line of work.
You’re 100 percent correct. Milwaukee is in such a unique situation because we have so much beer history and beer pride. Now, from a craft perspective, we have artisans doing it on a grassroots level. The crazy thing is, the vast majority of the new breweries coming about are really good. It’s hard to find a dud in the lot.