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Wednesday, June 26,2013

The hops and the hound

Lansing man spins his love of beer into part-time gig

by ALLAN I. ROSS
Beer, as Homer Simpson famously toasted, is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Well, it was something close to that, at least. Either way, we’re willing to bet he never thought of turning it into a sideline profession. 

Lansing native Paul Starr, 30, launched I’m a Beer Hound five years ago, a company dedicated to the thriving Michigan craft beer scene. His real job is as a self-employed website designer at the eponymously named Paul Starr productions, which, wouldn’t you know, is a skill that comes in pretty handy when you’re launching your own website. 

“Doing the Beer Hound site actually made me a better designer because I started learning all kinds of new aspects of web development,” Starr said. “I’m not making any money off the site yet, but everything I make goes right back into it. Who knows what it will be able to grow into.”

I’m a Beer Hound is centered around the website, imabeerhound.com, but last year Starr found himself in the event coordination industry as well. In August 2012, he founded Lansing Beer Week, seven days of craft beer-centric activities. Its sequel arrived a little earlier this year — it’s this week, in fact. Aspects include tap takeovers, a beer and bacon pairing (sorry, it was on Tuesday, you missed it) and historical bike tours of Lansing, all culminating at Saturday’s Lansing Beer Fest, a music and beer festival in REO Town.  Not bad for a guy who was weaned on PBR.  

“Yeah, the first beer I ever had was Pabst, in college,” Starr said. “But I had a friend who started homebrewing, and that was interesting, but when I tasted Newcastle (Brown Ale) for the first time, it really struck me. But my gateway drug was Bell’s Oberon. It was all over after that. I was hooked.” 

But Starr doesn’t get starry-eyed when he’s talking about beer — this is serious business. In fact, he says he sees his role as more of a guide through the sometimes confusing world of craft beer. 

“You used to have to go to specialty stores for craft beer,” Starr said. “Now you can get like 15 kinds of Michigan brews at Meijer. It’s great, but it can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you like.” 

Since the inaugural Beer Week, Starr said he’s held about an event a month around town, mostly featuring beer pairings at the REO Town Pub. In February he threw his first festival, the Art and Craft Beer Fest, which quickly sold out. He said he’s eyeing a bigger venue for next year, but he’s not waiting until winter. 

“I’m being cautiously optimistic, but I think eventually I’ll get up to four festivals a year,” he said. “I want to fill in the spaces between existing events like (downtown Lansing’s winter) FrostFest and (Old Town’s) Oktoberfest. There really is enough interest to go around.” 

And speaking of interest, Starr has been able to attract several writers to contribute original content to his website, which features about an article per week. Content is supplemented by press releases that are submitted to him. But his specialty seems like an awfully niche market — isn’t there a danger that the craft beer bubble could pop? 

“Beer is a lifestyle choice — it’s not a trend,” Starr said, pensively. “I see it as part of the movement behind restaurants like Fork in the Road and Red Haven, which are dedicated to locally sourcing food and high quality. It’s going back to pre-Prohibition times, where every town will have its own brewery. Lansing’s a little behind the times, but it’s catching up.” 

Lansing Beer Fest
Featuring more than 30 craft Michigan beers
Washington Avenue, REO Town
1 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, starts at noon for VIPs
$30/ $35 VIP
lansingbeerfest.com

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