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RapidChat: Jason Ley brings the hunt for elusive beer to the big screen

As a modern-day "Ahab," the conquest for "whalez" (translation: brews that are hard to find) is a boundless expedition. Searching high and low for rare beer selections can exhaust much of anyone's time, especially in our great beer state. With the debut of a new reality TV show, titled "Modern Ahabs," which just premiered at the Wealthy Theatre, Jason Ley hopes to turn this beer enthusiast lifestyle into a full-blown career.
Jason Ley

As a modern-day "Ahab," the conquest for "whalez" (translation: brews that are hard to find) is a boundless expedition. Searching high and low for rare beer selections can exhaust much of anyone's time, especially in our great beer state. With the debut of a new reality TV show, titled "Modern Ahabs," Jason Ley hopes to turn this beer enthusiast lifestyle into a full-blown career.
Rapid Growth Media: So what exactly is a “Modern Ahab?"
Jason Ley: A present-day Captain Ahab on the hunt for his own personal white whales (a la Moby Dick) – his bucket list beers.
RG: For those of us who are unfamiliar with the enthusiast lingo, can you familiarize us with a few other key terms?
JL: A ‘whale’ (aka white whale, or whalez) refers to beers that one, are scarce and generally not very easy to acquire – often released only once a year or at surprise intervals; two, are usually of a high quality that validates their demand; and three, have reputations complemented by some degree of mystique – for any number of reasons.
Beer it forward: A random act of kindness in which someone gifts a beer to another person.
Drain pour: Either simply a bad beer or one you dislike so much that you just can’t stomach finishing, the ultimate insult to a beer.
Graveyard: The empty bottles (a la tombstones) as trophies after a bottle share, often photographed and shared across social media.
Infected: When a beer is “ruined” by being infected by the unintentional introduction of wild yeast, in which the contamination happens in the brewery as the wild yeast naturally occurs in the air, or from previously used barrels that have been infected. In rare instances, an infection can be a happy accident, and result in a beer that is salvageable and actually enjoyable.
Mule or Proxy: A person who hauls beer for the benefit of others, often having to stand in line or attend beer release events on the behalf of someone else who’s name is associated with receiving that particular controlled allotment of bottles.
Shelf turd: The commonly accessibly beers you can find almost anytime on the shelf at your local bottle shop. They usually have little to no trade value, but if they’re not nationally distributed, enthusiasts might still like to try them in exchange for equivalent shelf turds from their area.
Tick: The act of checking off beers you consume, most commonly done now via the app, Untappd.
RG: Was there a specific incident that inspired you to create a show showcasing rare beer releases?
JL:  It was a culmination of what I was witnessing extreme fanatics do, and the realization that I found myself starting to get carried away seeking out beers simply based on the buzz of their reputation.
RG: What great lengths have you gone to, personally, to get your hands on a coveted beer?
JL: Dark Lord is a Russian Imperial Stout by 3 Floyds, of Munster, Indiana, released once a year on Dark Lord Day in April. In order to compete with everyone online vying for a pair of the estimated 10,000 tickets sold, which sold out in less than five minutes, I think, I hit refresh simultaneously on two laptops and two iPhones. When the festival was all said and done, I was out-of-pocket close to $500 – for tickets, transportation, hotel accommodations, food, and, of course, the beer. The weather was absolutely terrible that day. I wore a full-body rain suit and still got soaked through. And, I did all of it for a beer I had never had before. That experience solidified that enthusiasts hunting their bucket list beers might just be a story worth telling.
RG: Do you have any personal displays that showcase your accomplishments?
JL: Very few. I have a modest cellar that I try to drink through as regularly as I can. While visiting Europe with my wife for our five-year anniversary, I brought back an empty bottle from a series of beers I drank in Cinque Terre, Italy, and a bottle cap from the first bottle of Westvletern XII I had when I accidentally stumbled upon it in a dusty beer bar in Amsterdam. I also have a bottle of Red Stripe from my first trip to Jamaica. So, yeah, nothing too crazy. You can’t take the stuff with you when you die, so I’d rather just drink it now.
RG: So why craft beer? What is it about the industry that you were drawn to?
JL: I have an affinity for challenging myself by trying new things – for me, it keeps life exciting. With craft beer, it’s a constantly evolving hobby that offers so many nuances for enjoyment that I can explore at my own pace – both personally as an enthusiast, and professionally studying to be a Certified Cicerone. In pursuing "Modern Ahabs," it has the potential of satisfying three major passions in my life: craft beer, writing and traveling.
RG: Do you think the industry has long-term career potential?
JL: Without question. However, depending on the role you want to have in the industry, and for me – it’s a serious one, there’s also the understanding that it’s a business which demands a grounded, mature level of respect. The industry will absolutely get to a point where it naturally weeds out those who are in just because it’s the cool thing to do.
RG: How does GR stack up against other beer-savvy cities?
JL: Competitively so. There’s such a healthy momentum right now in West Michigan that’s hard to ignore. In working at Grand Rapids Brewing Co., I get to talk to hundreds of beer fans visiting from all over the U.S. who fall in love with our city and our beer. It’s evident GR has something special to offer. However, if we want to continue to evolve as Beer City USA, we have to be conscious of what other cities are doing to progress not only their scenes, but their beers, and make sure we never get complacent with the accolades we receive. If we don’t always strive to be better, another city will.
RG: What is your advice for any new brewery that is looking to put down their roots in this community?
JL: Be authentic. Just because you’re a homebrewer who crafts beer your friends tell you is great, you’ve got to be able to back it up from every angle when you open a brewery. And, if you’re not a business-minded person, hire someone who is. I hate seeing a brewery that’s run sloppily, is mismanaged and has a staff that’s too cool for school. Pay attention to the details. Your branding should have a distinct identity. Your marketing should be dialed in and consistent. Your staff culture should be inclusive and fun, yet professional. Your food better be good. Your ambiance should be inviting and give off a vibe that matches your brand. And, please don’t name your beers in misogynistic puns. Be intentional about everything.
RG: Lastly…. What can we expect from "Modern Ahabs" in the future?
JL: My goal is to partner with a major TV, cable or streaming network – to develop Modern Ahabs into a series of multi-episode seasons, with each episode featuring a different national or international craft beer whale. My director, Ben Wilke, owner of Deep End Films, and I have already started the process to package the show to be pitched to the television industry. In the meantime, people can stay tuned and join the hunt at modernahabs.com

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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