If you are remotely interested in craft beer and Keith Bodziak doesn’t ring a bell… well, that’s probably because you know him as @beer_shark.
Right? All caught up now? I just sat down with Keith at Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco followed by a tasting of a 5-year-old Westvleteren 12 at Dolores Park where he told me all about how this fish predator almost became his best friend. Keith is originally from New Jersey and thought he’d give wine a try. He found himself buying expensive cases of wine, which tapped him out. Someone then suggested he’d give craft beer a shot. That was right around 2006. He first dipped into the German and British brews following a trip to Europe. Back then, Keith was working in the printing business and doing professional photography for the fashion industry (which he still does).
Like most people who have an interest in craft beer, Keith started home-brewing and meeting people with similar interests around his area, a lot of whom now have their own breweries. He told me that on his most prolific year —probably 2011, he home-brewed right around 500 gallons. Quite a feat! Simultaneously, he started visiting breweries and took a particular interest in Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales in Delaware. Beer Shark has made quite a few contacts over the years and has amazing stories to tell about a slew of breweries. Take Dogfish Head, for example. He told me owner Sam Calagione had to go ask the governor of Delaware to repeal the law that made brewing illegal since the prohibition era. Sam got the state to overturn the law and was, effectively, the first brewer in Delaware since prohibition. Cool story…
In 2013, his girlfriend moved to San Francisco for work in the marketing industry. A few months passed and Keith decided it was time to pay her a visit. He never left. There he was in a brand-new city with no friends but a great deal of knowledge on beer and photography. Those are not exactly bad skills to have and Keith got to meet a lot of people in the fashion industry around San Francisco. Pretty quickly, he realized that everyone in the area was communicating via Instagram. So he went ahead and downloaded the app. The first couple years, Keith didn’t post anything beer related. You know… why bother? Ha! But his circle of friends made him feel like his Instagram game wasn’t really up to par.
“I used to hang out with huge guys who had like 50 thousand followers,” Keith said. “They would ask me ‘What’s up with your Instagram?'”
His handle has always been @beer_shark and his friends thought he should give his page a theme. Beer seemed almost inevitable. He was passionate about it, had the knowledge and the skills. What more do you need? In the early days, the photographs were far from what they look like now. But Keith learned everything he could from his Instagram star friends when he worked with fashion and style bloggers. He said he also used his Instagram as a way to meet people when he first got to the City. Over time, he said he tried to take better and better pictures, which proved to attract more and more followers.
If you have an Instagram page with only a couple hundred followers (and your dream is to grow that audience), don’t despair. Keith was always Beer Shark but not the Instagram shark he is today. In 2016, he only had about 500 followers; it took him about 6 months to go from 500 to 1,500 in January of 2017. “I would use all the tricks and hints from the girls I used to photograph for,” he said. Things have been looking pretty good ever since.
But you know what? Having an Instagram account with that many followers is hard work. “You get sucked into it,” Keith said. Responding to direct messages, interacting with comments, posting, taking photos, liking other people’s posts, etc. is all very time-consuming. He said that each post takes about 30 minutes to craft (without the photography part). And that’s only the beginning. After that, you have to be present on the platform and respond back to comments quickly as he believes the first 10 minutes of a post are the most crucial. It’s so much work that @beer_shark is actually a two-person operation. His girlfriend Elizabeth Chiu, a food Instagrammer herself, also posts content on there, but Keith remains the face of the page.
This year, Keith took a little bit of a break from his fashion photography business and was able to focus a little more time and energy into Beer Shark. I guess that’s helped him quite a bit on the follower side of things. He said that for every 2,0000 followers that you get, you seem to get a new type of interaction with your audience. It first starts with comments at 2,000, direct messages at 4,000 and so on. You can really make this whole Instagram thing into a full-time job even with just one account. Also, he doesn’t recommend taking shortcuts because he said they have consequences. You wouldn’t want that nice shark to swim in dangerous waters.
But hey. Don’t think that Beer Shark is just an Instagram junkie. The platform is just a way for him to share his experience and knowledge on craft beer. And trust me. He’s got loads of that. And even some opinions on trends too. Keith is very well-versed in the marketing aspect of craft beer and realizes he falls for it just like anyone else. Ha! (I’m guilty too; don’t worry) 1. We talked about the fact that breweries tend to come up with lots of different versions of the same beer (different fruit, added fruit, DDH, TDH, etc.) just to be able to market it in a slightly different way, get more Instagram posts from fans and extra check-ins on Untapped. Interesting. 2. We also talked about collabs and how we are sometimes a little unclear as to what the collab consists of. He even suggested someone should write an article about the whole collab movement alone. Go ahead, Keith. The floor is yours! Or maybe I’ll volunteer and we can collab on the article… What do you say??! 3. He mentioned that beer names have sometimes nothing to do with what’s in the can, so to speak. But also, there are lots of codes and secret language around naming beers. Other Half Brewing may have some of the most bizarre ones on the market, but they mean something. Keith said the Cheddar in DDH Dollar Slice with Extra Cheddar IPA just means that it has Vermont yeast. So all Other Half “Cheddar” brews are made with Vermont yeast. Clever!
In any event, Keith sometimes feels a little conflicted because of his Instagram following and the performance aspect that comes with it. “I sometimes want to drink things, but I have to think about how well it’s going to play on Instagram,” he said. Keith, dude, just enjoy yourself! People will follow your shark friend wherever he goes…
PS: He’s had to replace his shark a few times because people have stolen it from him at bars. Funny!