All-around beer badass Em Sauter wears many, many hats: author, cartoonist, beer-obsessive, Advanced Cicerone, and Communications Manager for the inimitable Connecticut-based Two Roads Brewing Co. For the last seven years, Sauter’s been chronicling her journey through the craft world one skillfully illustrated beer review at a time in her award-winning illustrated blog, Pints and Panels, a project that ultimately led to her brand new book, Beer Is for Everyone! (Of Drinking Age). In a world filled with aspiring beer writers, a published book is no small potatoes. And it’s her fresh, funny, and totally original approach to teaching and celebrating the good drink that makes her stand out from the ever-thirsty pack.
Sauter, who holds an M.A. from the Center for Cartoon Studies (yes, that’s a thing -- a very, very cool thing), recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about what she’s all about and how she landed such an awesome job.
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TBN: Which came first: your interest in cartoons/drawing or your interest in beer?
Sauter: I started drawing when I was a toddler, but I found my style after trying to copy Archie comics in study hall when I was 11. I didn't do a very good job of copying their features, but the trial became the basis for my comics style.
When did you have the idea to bring the two together?
I got really into beer in 2006, when the beer scene was pretty small. When I was accepted to the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2009, I realized that my comics could be more than just a hobby. And in the summer between my two grad school years, I decided doing a comic about beer would be fun.
What inspired Pints and Panels?
I was driving home from the grocery store (I always seem to find inspiration when I drive), and I thought, “I would love to review beer in comic form.” I walked into my then-boyfriend's house and asked, "Hey, I'm thinking of reviewing beer in comic form. What do you think?" Not looking up from his book he said, "You should call it Pints and Panels.” And I remember thinking, "Well, that's the best name ever." That was seven and a half years ago, and P&P is still going strong.
Many people have beer blogs or review sites, but very few of them actually get a book deal out of it. Walk me through how that happened for you.
I never really thought about doing a book. I had been doing my website for about five years when [All About Beer Magazine editor] John Holl called me and said, "You should do a book." So I contacted the agent who worked with Brooklyn Brew Shop, a homebrew company in Brooklyn, and he immediately emailed me back and said he also represented a lot of cartoonists. It was basically meant to be. He found me a publisher, and that was that.
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How did writing the book differ from doing Pints and Panels?
Pints and Panels is mostly me sitting at the bar talking, but the book was a clean slate. It was daunting, but also great for getting me outside my comfort zone, which I needed. It made me a better cartoonist.
How did you determine what beers to review? Like, were you checking them off a set list, or just picking them as you go?
The beers that made the book were both beers I loved as well as ones you can easily find at the grocery store or bottle shop. Since the book is a sort of Beer 101, I wanted new drinkers to be able to start their journey with high quality brews. As far as what goes in P&P, it's pretty breezy. I’ll come across a beer -- I just had a great farmhouse beer from Luppolo in Vancouver, BC, that a friend brought me -- and I’ll just jot down a few notes about it on my phone. Then in the morning when I draw, I’ll use my notes to start the comic. That's pretty much it.
Who did you imagine your ideal reader to be when you were putting together Beer is for Everyone?
Beer is for Everyone! really is for everyone -- and I mean that sincerely. The reader is meant to open a random page and just start reading. It was written for that person who says, "No, I don't like beer.” To which I say, "Yes, you do like beer, you just haven't found the right beer for you." It’s an illustrated guide -- approachable and not heavy. And you can read it pretty much in a day.
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What was the best part about writing the book?
Definitely getting to travel to California to try [Russian River Brewing Co.] Pliny the Younger for my rare beers chapter. Attending Younger Day was so awesome, and obviously the beer was amazing.
How has your life changed since publishing the book?
The only thing that’s changed is that I really want to do it again. There's so much good beer out there.
What do you love most about the craft beer community?
The people. Everyone is so friendly and passionate about what they do. There's competition, of course, but it's always friendly. Everyone wants everyone to do well and make the best beer possible, and that's super rare in any profession.
What else are you into besides beer and cartooning?
If I'm not talking about either beer or comics, I'm sleeping. Aside from that, I have a weird obsession with trains and will take them whenever possible (I took a train to Utah in October to visit my sister and it was one of the best trips ever). I really like spending time with my family, too. I'm lucky to have their support.
Do you think you’ll ever get sick of beer?
No. I always tell people that beer is like music, it's infinite. From only a few ingredients come a beverage that pairs well with not just food, but life -- experiences, memories, all of it. It may sound hokey, but beer is powerful.
Because Sauter’s book is a great entry point for people looking to learn more about beer, we asked her for five beers she’d recommend to craft beer newbies.
Em Sauter’s Top Five Beginner Beers
Lagunitas Brewing Co. Pils
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Czech-Style Pilsener, 6.2% ABV
Sauter recommends this supremely crisp, effervescent number for lager drinkers looking to spice up their porch-drinking routine.
Allagash Brewing Co. White
Witbier, 5.1% ABV
The artist calls this citrusy smooth operator “an awesome Belgian beer that’s great with or without food -- and it’s got a low ABV, too.” Looking for something a bit stronger? Try their full-bodied 9% Tripel, which reminds Sauter “of a flavorful white wine.”
Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter
American Porter, 5.2% ABV
Sauter describes this rich, creamy, and surprisingly drinkable coffee-scented sipper as “a great dark option.”
Bell's Brewery Two Hearted Ale
American IPA, 7% ABV
This classic IPA is a long-time favorite of brewers (and beer writers) across America. Especially those who work for The Beer Necessities.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale
American Pale Ale, 5.6% ABV
“[Two Hearted] and this Pale Ale are excellent hoppy beers,” notes Sauter, recommending two of the craft beer world’s most dependable -- and tastiest -- bitter brews.
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