If you are a fan of one of the most nail-biting, intense and shocking drama series ever made, Netflix gem House Of Cards, then you could not get enough of its character Douglas "Doug" Stamper. Veteran actor Michael J. Kelly brilliantly portrayed Stamper, the White House Chief of Staff and former director of strategy under President Frank Underwood [Kevin Spacey].
On film, Stamper was ruthless, lacked a sense of humor, and was a recovering alcoholic. In the real world, Kelly, 49, is ironically the exact opposite; He’s outgoing, funny, down to earth, and yes, loves beer. So much so, he collaborated with one of the largest brewing companies in the country, Atlanta’s own SweetWater, during a visit from New York City to see his brother Andrew. The result was a hoppy, aromatic, spicy, and fruit-forward batch just in time for the nation’s annual IPA Day on August 3rd.
In an interview following his brewing session, Kelly talks about kicking it with the SweetWater team, and the laborious yet enlightening efforts it took to make the “MJK IPA” with SweetWater’s esteemed head brewer Nick Nock. Using the initials of Kelly’s government name to label this limited-edition IPA truly put a stamp on his awesome experience. Catch that?
How did you connect with SweetWater?
Many years ago my brother Andrew, who is my best beer drinking compadre, introduced me to SweetWater 420 on a Christmas holiday at home in Atlanta. Ever since, every time I came home, he and my dad would have it in their fridge or cooler. Then I met [SweetWater taproom and brewery experience manager] Derrick Atkinson via Twitter [@bravesandbeer] and we bonded over our mutual interests in the Atlanta Braves and beer; He became a supporter of my charity, Thanks Mom & Dad. Our friendship grew, as did my love for SweetWater beer.
The thing that impressed me most, is just how much time, effort and energy goes into making one beer.”
What made you choose an IPA, and what tasting characteristics did you want to produce?
When I was in college, I always drank lighter beers; it was my wife who first turned me onto anything that actually tasted good. She said, ‘You can’t keep drinking light beers!’ [Laughs.] My love for the taste and flavors grew over the years. For this beer with SweetWater, I wanted something with a little kick, Derrick had the idea of using 7-Pot [Chili] Peppers, and [SweetWater head brewer] Nick created the ideal IPA base for them. I put Tabasco on almost everything, so making a beer with a similar bite is perfect.
[Atkinson adds, “The beer is a tropical-hopped ‘dark’ IPA with a ruthless schedule of 12 hop additions over the last 15 minutes of the boil and whirlpool. We used a total of 2.5 pounds of hops per barrel.”]
What did you enjoy most about brewing with Nick, Derrick and SweetWater?
I loved the whole experience of coming to the brewery, meeting Nick – who is such a cool dude, just making killer beers – hanging out, drinking beer with the crew there and then rolling up to the Braves game after. Also, seeing the operation that SweetWater has become was amazing; it really blew me away seeing how much space is being used and just how nice it is.
What did you like the least about the process or earned a lot more respect for while brewing the MJK IPA?
There’s nothing I didn’t like about it. I’ve never brewed at home or with another brewery, so the experience was brand new and I learned a lot. What I didn’t know, and the thing that impressed me most, is just how much time, effort and energy goes into making one beer. When you experience it like that, you really appreciate how much work goes into every bottle.
The biggest challenge was playing a guy who didn’t drink.”
What is your favorite SweetWater beer and what did you think about their massive property including the new barrel-aging facility, The Woodlands?
420 was my first favorite and I also love the new TripleTail Tropical IPA because there’s so much flavor but it has a lower ABV, so you can drink a few. [5.5% ABV] The Woodlands is so beautiful, the presentation is spectacular and you can taste unique beers that you can’t get anywhere else.
What are your favorite IPA styles? Are you a hazy IPA, West Coast IPA, Double IPA, or session IPA guy?
I like beer with big flavor and a lower ABV. I lean towards something that has mild notes, is more subtle and has a smooth flavor. I like the taste of beer, so I want it to taste like beer. There’s not one particular style that I like most; I just know it when I try it.
Referring to House Of Cards, what was the challenge of playing a sober character? Did you actually have to get some advice from recovering alcoholics?
The biggest challenge was playing a guy who didn’t drink. [Laughs]. I did go to AA meetings to gain a better understanding especially before my character had to give his ‘Fuck the Zero’ speech at a meeting [in Season One].
How do you keep up with all the new brews that come out during your busy schedule and traveling?
In any city, I love going to a bar that carries all the unique, local beers and being able to try all the city has to offer in one place.
For more information on SweetWater Brewing, visit sweetwaterbrew.com.