Over the course of February, we got the chance to interview brewers from six of our favorite Boston-area craft breweries. Each of them weighed in on more than a dozen questions for our first ever brewer panel.
In this post--the fourth in a five-part series--you’ll hear from brewers at Jack's Abby Brewing, Clown Shoes, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, Nightshift Brewing, Idle Hands Craft Ales, Enlightenment Ales, and Aeronaut Brewing Co. on how their families reacted to their career choice, times they felt like giving up, and tips for becoming a professional brewer.
In case you missed the previous posts in this series, you can find them here:
- Boston Brewer Panel: On Evolving Tastes and the Creative Process
- Boston Brewer Panel: On the Rise of Women and Beards in Craft Beer
- Boston Brewer Panel: On Homebrew Tips and Lessons Learned the Hard Way
How did your friends and family react when you told them you wanted to be a brewer?
Well, it was 1990 and I had recently graduated from college with a degree in journalism. I hit it just right, though, as jobs in journalism seemed to wane and brewing as a career wasn't yet viable. After a few years of suffering from poverty while working in breweries full-time, I eventually made it work. These days most everyone I know wishes that they had made this sort of career move a long time ago.
My friends think it is cool. My family is happy that I am following my passion. They tolerate the pay.
My family has always been very supportive of my career choices. I started in the nonprofit field, so in terms of pay and long hard hours there hasn't been much change on that front. As it turns out I have a fair bit of brewing history in my family: my father homebrewed for several years, I'm four generations removed from the Molson family, and my Great Grandfather used to run the now defunct Cold Spring Brewing Company in Lawrence. During my career transition, I was taking online classes from the Siebel Institute, interning for free at a local brewery, and homebrewing several times a week for seven months while living off of unemployment and looking for a paid job in the industry. Throughout that time my then-girlfriend now-wife had faith something would work out, even when my faith waned from time to time.
When the brewery started I had a "normal" job for the first 12 months. Brewed on nights and weekends and sat at a desk during the week. That was exhausting. But I proposed to my wife and the next day quit my job to work full time at the brewery. Classic bait and switch. She both loved and hated me for doing that.
Mixed reactions. My friends were pretty excited, although perhaps a bit skeptical. My dad was not all that thrilled, but became much more enthusiastic when I decided after a few years to pursue my own project.
Was there ever a time in your journey to head brewer you felt like giving up? And what was it that got you over the hump?
No, never. It's always been a fun career, even when I was bringing home under $10,000 a year. I knew one day I'd make it work for me. Occasionally I get a bit mardy about the mania that surrounds craft beer right now. But it's such a great life: hard work, stainless steel, barley, science, art, and then you have beer to drink at the end of the day!
check out this link for photos/background on this guy!
this one is good, too.
I’m still on the journey to being a full-time brewer. Brewing test batches is just one of my tasks, albeit a really enjoyable one--even the cleaning. I think about the practicality of following this path often, but then I think about my alternative, which would be to go back into consulting and I think how much better off I am working in beer.
The thing I love most about brewing is that I continue to learn new things about brewing every day. It's challenging, keeps me on my toes, and pushes me to be better. There are days when it feels like the world is caving in and you're a failure, but you have to learn your lessons and be better off for it.
There were certainly several instances when I was living off unemployment I considered going back into the administration field. In 2011 there weren't a lot of jobs being publicly posted and it was tough getting an interview, let alone a paid job with no direct or related work experience. As I said before, my wife was incredibly supportive and kept reminding me we had made this decision for me to chase down this career change and could continue to make it work. It was also inspirational to talk and listen to people in the industry, and how much passion they had for their jobs, and tastes of the unique and well crafted beers they were making.
*Aeronaut's New Facility
Nope. It hasn't been an easy road but nothing has ever caused me to pause and even think about giving up. Passion drives you forward.
Oh my god, so many times. My dad's van that I was using to drop off my first batch of beer caught fire on the way to the ACBF in Boston on the day of the fest. It caught fire again the day I was making my first deliveries. Both times I felt a deep sense of shame were I not to follow through, solve the problems, and get the job done. The thought of letting down the people who have supported me is powerful inspiration.
What is the best piece of advice you’d pass along to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps--going from homebrewer to brewmaster?
I homebrewed once or twice but was never really a "homebrewer." The first time I did it I was curious because of all the books on brewing I had read. It helped confirm to me that I wanted to work in a brewery, but I wasn't particularly interested in brewing in my kitchen again.
Listen to experienced brewers (either in person or through books), take training courses if you can, and learn the rules before you break them.
Be willing to take any job to get you in the door. I cleaned kegs part-time as an unpaid intern for my first job while driving three hours round trip. Understand that for every entry level job posting breweries receive tens if not hundreds of applicants. The biggest thing I would say is that a brewing job isn't fun, it's hard work. The reality is much different from the idealist vision most people have about working in a brewery.
Be willing to do unglamorous tasks for long hours and come home physically exhausted. Be ready to take a big pay cut. There are a lot of people looking to get into the industry so if it's something you really want to do get a degree from an accredited brewing school (Siebel, American Brewers Guild, UC Davis, etc.), several of which offer courses online so you don't have to quit your day job. Reach out to breweries in your area and ask about unpaid internships, many small startups often need some extra hands on bottling days. This will not only get you experience, a reference in the industry, and your foot in the door at that brewery if a paid position is to turn up, but it also shows a prospective employer that you're passionate about brewing and want to work in the industry. Skills such as welding, electrical, plumbing, and kitchen work are also very transferable and desirable, so be sure to highlight those on your resume, cover letter, and in the interview. Also get to know people in the industry by going to pint nights, visiting breweries, and volunteering at festivals. A lot of times they'll be the first to know of positions becoming open.
Most people view a brewer as someone who gets to drink beer all day long. That is very far from the case. Brewers work long days and clean constantly and do many repeated process, again and again. If you hate bottling 50 bottles worth of homebrew then just imagine what it's like to package thousands in a day. It's not that glamorous of work. That being said, we love it. It's extremely satisfying to see people drink the product you worked so hard to create.
Get professional experience. Work under other people. Ask lots of questions. Listen.
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