Podcast Episode 358: Bill Cherry of Switchback Enjoys the Slow Burn of Learning Through Doing

In a fast-moving era, Switchback founder Bill Cherry bucks the trend by choosing slow growth and less-popular niche styles—such as smoked beer—that afford time to learn and focus through iterative brewing.

Jamie Bogner May 3, 2024 - 7 min read

Podcast Episode 358: Bill Cherry of Switchback Enjoys the Slow Burn of Learning Through Doing Primary Image

Subscribe to the Craft Beer & Brewing Podcast:

Innovation in beer has been accelerating for the past decade as breweries—excited by new styles and techniques, and feeding a culture of newness incentivized by social apps—churn out a relentless quantity of new beers in new formats with new labels. However, to hear Bill Cherry tell it, the choices he’s made at Switchback over the past two decades have been driven more by slowness than speed.

Packaging in 22-ounce bombers so they could dial in packaging before moving to more popular formats, or pursuing innovation in smoked beer because demand (and competition) in that niche are small, have afforded the brewery time and space to figure it out and build demand organically, always focusing first on the beer and its quality.

The results have paid off over recent years, with 2022 gold and 2023 bronze medals at the World Beer Cup for Katie’s Love Poem, their grodziskie. But that’s just the kindling, as their broader Flynn on Fire series has seen them tackle and learn from a vast array of different smoked beers. Cherry loves smoked beer because they’re harder to sell to consumers—there isn’t a built-in market for them, so they have to create one, and he loves that challenge as well as the runway for lower-stakes experimentation.

In this episode, he talks through that counterintuitive strategy and how it relates to their approach to innovation, including:

  • designing Switchback Ale based on pieces of other inspirational beers
  • growing slowly to make sure beer quality is always top priority
  • packaging draft only for the first 10 years of the brewery until they could afford a quality bottling line
  • homing in on smoked because because “nobody likes smoked beers, but they should”
  • creating the smoke-o-meter scale for conveying smokiness to consumers
  • step-mashing for flavor, not just attenuation
  • maintaining a living yeast pitch that’s going on 2,000-plus generations
  • balancing hop flavor and smoke aroma in smoked IPA

And more.

“if you can get people to drink something that they don’t know they want, that’s true craft,” says Cherry.

G&D Chillers At G&D Chillers they always strive to Build Great Chillers. Partner with them as you Build Great Beer. Josh Erickson from Chafunkta Brewing company says, “The team at G&D were a critical part of our 10x expansion, always just a phone call or email away, and thanks to their superior equipment, technology, and documentation, commissioning our new chiller was smooth and straightforward. Now we can’t wait until we need to upgrade our existing chiller!” Choose G&D Chillers on your next Expansion or Brewery start up and receive one free year of Remote control and Monitoring of your new G&D Chiller!

ProBrew Logo 200px
ProBrew is the industry partner that brewers trust to take their operations to the next level, especially when it comes to canning their product for distribution. By partnering with ProBrew, brewers can fill and seam their canned product at ranges from 100–600 cans per minute. Our unique filling process also ensures low dissolved oxygen pickup and focuses on product quality during the entire process. For more information, visit probrew.com or email us at [email protected]. ProBrew, Brew YOUR Beer.

Old Orchard logo 200px
Are you struggling to source affordable citrus ingredients because of market fluctuations? Try Old Orchard’s flavored craft juice concentrate blends, which mimic straight concentrates at a better price point and with a more reliable supply. Old Orchard’s citrus flavored blends include Blood Orange, Grapefruit, Lemonade, Lime, and Tangerine. To learn more and request your free samples, head over to oldorchard.com/brewer.

Streamline efficiency with Omega Yeast’s Diacetyl Knock Out series. The DKO series is comprised of eight familiar yeast strains engineered to knock out the formation of diacetyl before it starts. The strains you know, now better. Available now for made-to-order pitchables at any volume. Contact Omega Yeast today at omegayeast.com.

ABS Commercial has been a full-service brewery outfitter for more than 10 years. We are proud to offer brewhouses, tanks, keg washers, and preventative maintenance parts to brewers across the country as well as equipment for distilling, cider-making, wine-making, and more! We know the ins and outs of the brewing and installation process and can design the perfect set-up for you, whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand. Contact us today at [email protected] to discuss your customized brewery needs. ABS Commercial. We are brewers.

This episode is sponsored by Yakima Chief Hops. Yakima Chief Hops launched VarieTees Supply Co, their own brand of hop apparel inspired by hop varieties, art, and community. Shop designs from various artists inspired by your favorite varieties including Citra, Simcoe, Sabro, and Mosaic! Shop VarieTees and use promo code CBB20 for 20 percent off at varietees.com.

If you’re opening or expanding a brewery, getting your building right is one of the most important things you’ll ever do. The architects at OPA Design Studio are your partners in developing the unique design you need. With more than a decade of experience designing breweries, the folks at OPA are here to serve as your trusted experts from start to finish with their full range of architectural services. Visit designopa.com to set up your no obligation introductory consultation today.

Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].