I first met Michael McSherry when I interviewed him for a roasting position several years ago. While my initial thoughts may have been along the lines of “What’s the deal with this guy?!?,” within mere minutes of conversation, I was not only ready to suggest him for the position, I was also interested in getting to know my new friend. He has that effect on people, as I witnessed on several occasions. On a professional level, we clicked early on. As we both continued to learn about coffee and hone our skills, we developed roasting philosophies that were very much in line with each other. After finishing things up on Friday afternoons, we would often fall into the sorely missed Edgewater Lounge to discuss the state of the roasting department and any challenges that had been thrown our way over lunch and beers. We were a good team. Our personal interests intersect on many levels, and our shared love of music, camping, beer, and of course coffee provided endless entertaining discussions. In a song by Desert Soap, one of Michael’s musical endeavors from his time in Chicago, he sings “You gotta live ‘til you die,” and this guy definitely walks the walk. I’ll stop rambling, and simply say that it was a true pleasure catching up with my friend Michael.
Hey Michael, thanks so much for Spillin' The Beans. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Michael McSherry. I lived in Chicago for 10 years, Oakland, California for 5 years, and am currently moving to San Francisco. I worked in coffee for about 10 years - always roasting, sourcing and quality control side of things. I now work in beer for a San Francisco based company called Sufferfest Beer Company. I started and have grown the Field Marketing Program for the business and am now executing over 300 events per year all over California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, & Texas. That’s the big picture of work life. Hobby wise I have been singing and playing guitar, doing photography, climbing, cycling, and writing. Neil Young is my favorite artist and recently my favorite podcast has been “Cocaine & Rhinestones”, especially the episode about the Louvin Brothers. As of yesterday I have been listening to the song “There’s A Higher Power” of their 1960 album Satan Is Real. There is a pretty great story about that album cover...
It's been a few years since you moved out to California. How has your experience been, and what do you miss about Chicago?
The experience has been really amazing! The nature and the opportunity that is available is unreal. It has a so much to offer. If you get off your ass and get out there to experience all there is to offer and seize opportunities your it’s not hard to get your mind blown on a daily basis.
Things I miss about Chicago? The music scene, the Hoyle Brothers on Fridays at the Empty Bottle, all the friends I made during my 10 years here, biking around the city, quick access to the beautiful state of Michigan, Half Acre, Revolution, and 3 Floyds beers, and the intense joy of Chicago summers, to name a few things.
You started Grinderman Coffee, a bicycle-delivered coffee business while in Chicago. Tell me about that.
I think it was about 2005, I had my own house painting business, worked at an event space called The Greenhouse Loft, and was a part time Preparator at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute Museum. In the winter painting slowed way down which was my primary source of income. I had a good friend named David Meyers who was home roasting coffee and I asked to come see how he did it. He had this thing which was basically just a propane gas grill with a rotisserie motor attached to with a drum on a chicken spit. He would put coffee in there and handle the thing with welding gloves and smoke billowing filling up the garage. When I approached for the first time it looked like the garage was on fire. I took note of the parts and then just assembled a copy of his machine in my own garage. Soon I was roasting coffee and selling bags of coffee at shows my band would play. People asked how to get the coffee if they did not want to come see my band and so Grinderman Coffee was born. I started a website and a subscription service where you could buy my coffee and I would bicycle deliver it to your home. I also sold wholesale to grocery stores. I did that for about 6 years and in the middle of that was offered a roasting position at Metropolis Coffee. Next thing I knew, I had a career in coffee. Those were good times. I just started and didn’t question much. It went well and I used the extra money I made to rent a cabin in Michigan. I am a big Nick Cave fan and yes, Grinderman Coffee was influenced by Nick’s band of the same name, and specifically the song Grinderman. Give it a listen.
So when you left Chicago you were working in coffee, and you’ve since transitioned into beer. What parallels and differences do you see in the industries and cultures? Is there anything about coffee you miss and/or anything in either experience you would like to see more of in the other?
Lots of drinking beverages of your respective industry.
Lots of sharing beverages of your respective industry.
Lots of telling everyone about your beverages and your brand story.
More competition to be known, earn brand loyalty and brand awareness.
No shortage of excellent coffee and beer.
Both beverages really help open us up to socializing with friends and strangers.
We talk and write a lot about what we taste.
Music is a key component in both cultures.
We drink things more than we eat things.
I worked in production roasting and quality evaluation in coffee, I now work in marketing in beer.
You tell the story of origin a lot in coffee, In beer you tell the brand story a lot more as well as recipe development, in my experience.
I also work a lot on the events side and there lots of “festivals” in the beer industry and I don’t recall so many “festivals” in coffee.
There are WAY MORE laws in the beer industry that can affect where and how you can serve than in coffee.
Big beer pays lots of money often to buy up successful micro-brands, I don’t think that happens as often for as much money in coffee. I could be wrong but that is what I have noticed.
Anything about coffee I miss? Having so much good coffee available at any time! I now have to buy bags of coffee and occasionally trade beer for coffee, but that is one thing I definitely miss. Other than that, I worked in the coffee industry for nearly 10 years. I feel I got my fill, and learned a lot. I also know I tend to change my interests every 2-5 years with nearly everything I do and I have accepted this. I enjoy what I do when I am doing it. I am thankful for the opportunity and experience, and then I move on.
I love it when people break the stereotypical vibe of a cafe and would like to see more of that. I also would love to see more places that are a coffee in the morning place and turn over to a bar in the afternoon or evening. If I opened a place, for example, it would be a bar and have an old country Saloon vibe. Open early and serve solid coffee in the morning and then in the afternoon change over to serving beer. It would play old country music, and 60’s and 70’s era music. Take it or leave it.
I’ve always known you to be extremely driven by creativity. How are you expressing yourself artistically these days?
Relationships, photography, climbing, 60’s & 70’s style with a little country thrown in is how I am expressing myself these days.
For my work now, I work with a lot of different people, create relationships, and build events and experiences for people these days. I love talking, hanging out, and building ideas that come to life via experiences.
I have been working on understanding manual DSLR photography a lot more and have begun to capture the experiences I build. I also love photographing friends, artists in their creative spaces, and I am working on landscape photography so I can hang pictures I am proud of in my home.
Joshua Tree National Park
Primo Mendoza, Chicago, IL.
Photos by Michael McSherry
Since moving to California, I have been heavily into cycling, then running, now climbing. There is a lot of stuff to climb in California and they gym climbing scene is very strong there. Climbing is very physically challenging, in the moment, requires problem solving, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. I enjoy the challenge and process of trying to become stronger and more flexible and the feeling you get when you pull off and put together a series of hard moves to reach the top of a new route or problem.
The 60’s & 70’s:
This era and style has always just felt right to me. I just click with everything and feel like I was born in the wrong era sometimes. I just love the sound, style, fashion, vans, attitudes and values. I love the mix of country western and honky-tonk style with 70’s style too... It just speaks to me, man!
Michael McSherry, livin' that life.
From what I've seen, you also seem quite passionate about cycling and climbing. What do these mean to you, and what do you get from them?
I got into cycling a lot more as a necessary means to start Grinderman Coffee. After hauling coffee all over Chicago, I eventually had an urge to just ride and not haul anything. That is when I got a road bike and started doing longer road rides for enjoyment. Long rides always served me as a kind of meditative practice. Focusing on not much except what is in front of me and what is going on the current moment. After moving to California, I rode even more. There is so much to explore and see on a bike in this state and it really helped me to better understand the geography of Oakland and the greater Bay Area.
As far as climbing, I got into it after moving to California. I climb a lot more than I ride now, but it is also very meditative and brings me very much into the present moment. Cycling and climbing both share an active meditation element for me, and both have fitness and exploration elements that I truly enjoy.
What role does coffee continue to play in your life?
I continue to make a Chemex and/or Aeropress at home every day. My favorite roaster and cafe in Oakland is Timeless Coffee by far. Their quality of coffee, roasting, brewing, and kitchen and baked goods are THE BEST in Oakland as far as I am concerned. I love brewing and enjoying at least 2 cups of coffee at home each morning. That said, I have also come down from my specialty coffee throne and am not above a Starbucks drip coffee either. I enjoy the ritual of coffee and feel a connection to coffee in the same way as special agent Dale Cooper. With that I shall leave you with one of my favorite Coop quotes - “...every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it; don’t wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee.”
Thanks again, Michael! Lastly, have you heard any good jokes lately?
Not specifically no, just look around - being a human being is pretty hilarious to me!
I told you this guy was great, but check this out: he made a playlist for ya! Enjoy!