Average Joe to Brewing Pro - My two years of brewing school.

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Mcbobs

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What a great read! Keep the updates coming! I'm glad to see that everything is working out so well for you so far!
 
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EricR

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Update coming soon! Started the semester today, I will summarize my summer and what's next for my classmates and I in the upcoming days!
 

FastAndy

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Glad to hear you are starting the new semester soon. I feel like I went the total opposite route from you. I've been brewing on a 50bbl system for a while now for a living and will be starting a 22 week class with the American Brewers Guild early next year.
 

dudius

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I was surprised how many shift brewers are in the program so that they can further their educations and careers. There are a couple 2nd and 3rd generation brewers as well.
 
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EricR

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...to Average Joe! 10 (almost) year update.

I haven't been on this site in a long, long time. To be honest I didn't do a lot of homebrewing while I was brewing professionally. The daily routine of waking up and running a brewing business until it was time to sleep kind of took the thrill of the homebrew out of it. I came across a HBT email recently and thought it would be neat to provide a LONG overdue update.

So it's been almost 10 years since I first started my brewing journey. What a wild trip it has been.

A lot has happened in the decade since I first started to document my trip into professional brewing, and I intend to be open and honest about it all. While I won't divulge company names specifically here, I will happily talk about the timeline of my career and the high (and low)lights of it all.

Some people may be able to figure out where I was working, and I'd ask them to keep it to themselves for everyone's privacy.

I'll lead off by saying that I am no longer involved in the industry as a professional brewer. 2021 was my last year wearing brew boots as a full time employee, but I do stay involved in the community and occasionally do some consulting. I guess it's back to average Joe for me.

The last year of brewing college was a blur. Some changes in personal circumstance found me living with classmates, which turned out to be the best experience I could hope for. Living and breathing brewing right across from the campus and with easy access to the teaching brewery was huge for my development as a brewer.

One major takeaway if you do decide to get a formal brewing education - take every opportunity to volunteer that you can. I spent 3x as many days in the brewery as some classmates because I was willing to do whatever work at whatever time. I made connections with other industry professionals. and was able to get a stellar reference closer to graduation. Make sure the people in charge know who you are, and what you are capable of.

Before I even graduated I was hired on to be "Brewmaster" at a startup brewery. They were doing contract brewing in the area and I was able to "supervise" the process while in school. Looking back it's laughable, really. How could a fresh grad with no other experience be a Brewmaster supervising some other production brewer, in their brewhouse, on their equipment?

Once I graduated I moved to the town the brewery was to be located in, while construction was underway (and behind schedule, as is tradition) and this is where I got my first taste of what it really means to be a young brewer at a startup.

Spoiler alert - it's not all that fun.

We were still contracting from the brewery down by the college while construction was underway. Most of my week was spent with back and forth van trips on the 401 to help package, label, load and then deliver beer in Toronto on the drive home. Lets just say that 16 hour days would be putting it lightly at this stage.

When not helping with that contracting operation we were doing sales, waiting on contractors, doing demolitions, hosting events, repairing relationships, waiting on contractors some more, dealing with "unique personalities" and just overall running in circles.

There were some highlights though, I did get to develop some recipes that went on to sell very well in a few Toronto BBQ restaurants. The recipe was developed for them as a private label and then later adapted for our use at the brewery. It's a great feeling to see people take a sip of your product, enjoy it and order another. Especially when you've made 3000L of it 😅


I didn't last long at this company, just over a year. The extreme long days, the lack of actual brewing and a conflict of personalities caused me to start looking for the next job. When an opportunity came up in the city my girlfriend (now wife) was living in I took it.

Lesson I (thought I) learned: Do just as much research and interviewing of your employer as they do of you.

The next job I took was for a brewery in a similar position to the first, albeit with better funding and location. I came on just in time to develop the core recipes, but too late to influence equipment purchases (which would soon become a pain point).

At first this job was everything I had hoped the other would be. More recipe development, faster buildout, more immediate feedback from the community. The equipment that had been selected was from some cheap overseas manufacturer, and SEVERELY oversized for the facility, but how bad could that be, really?

Well the answer is - quite bad. We were brewing in a glorified shoebox in a small strip mall style building with no room for expansion on either side. The brewhouse took up 25% of the floor space, 4 giant fermenters and 2 brite beer tanks took up the rest of the wall and a massive rotary head bottle filler took up the entire center of the floor.

A note on the bottler - This thing was huge, imagine a machine built off plans drawn up in the 80s, manufactured overseas and made to bottle hundreds of bottles per hour. It never worked. The electronics were bad and the mechanical bits constantly broke. Despite bringing in a packaging expert who had taught the course at college, we had to get rid of it. This was a point of contention with one of the founders as he had been the one to choose the equipment for this brewery and he had no clue what he was doing.

We replaced it with a Cask SAMS machine, which was a huge relief at the time. Despite the bad rep Cask gets with some brewers I never had any issues that weren't easily solvable and their support team were great.

Despite these issues the first year went great. We won a gold medal and new brewery of the year at our provincial brewing competition. I was able to hire a good friend from college as second brewer, and trained someone local to help with cellaring who has now gone on to do some pretty cool things in his career.

However, it was not meant to be. A combination of equipment issues and production expectations led to some clashes between myself and one of the owners. I got a call while on the weekend while visiting friends in Buffalo and was let go over the phone.

I won't claim to be 100% faultless in any of these exchanges. These were learning experiences for me and the companies I worked for. However, I still believe there is a right and wrong way to treat people and how all of this went down left a bad taste in my mouth. It's around this point that I started really wondering if brewing was for me long term (3 years out of college, 5 years into working as a brewer).

Lesson I (really did) learn: Businesses with multiple partners that have no defined roles but all believe they are in charge can be a nightmare. When interviewing for a startup brewery ask the question of them "Who is in charge of what, who will I report to, who has the final say on decisions?"

Fortunately a few weeks before this went down I had been contacted by another local brewery asking if I would be interested in coming on as a brewer. I was able to reach back out to them and accept the position, this time as a production brewer with non of the management responsibilities. This turned out to be a blessing.

I was able to learn and refine my skills at a fantastic local brewery. We won many awards in my first year there and I finally felt that I was growing as a professional and was able to focus on what I loved most - Brewing!

Alas, after just over a year the head brewer left to start his own brewery and I found myself once again in the lead position. Fortunately this brewery had been around for a few years and already had clearly defined processes, sales and management.

Thanks to this it wasn't too difficult to step into the lead role and here I got some experience with scheduling a fully booked production schedule, several staff members and a major brewery upgrade. Things continued to move along at a steady pace and we continued to win medals locally, nationally and internationally. I also had the opportunity to travel to some awards shows and conferences, which was a fun experience.

While working for this brewery I also got to take part in hiring staff, training them and developing new standard operating procedures to dial things in across the company. I found that I really enjoyed training people and teaching them about brewing. Writing SOPs, not as much 😅

After a few years at the company I was ready to move on, the company was entering a phase of growth that I was not as capable of managing and I felt that my interests lay in running smaller operations where I could be more hands on. At the same time, my girlfriend had become my fiancée and we were planning a wedding and also looking to move closer to my family. I had at this point been living 5-7 hours away from my family for close to 8 years and was starting to feel homesick.

An opportunity presented itself to go back to the first brewery I had ever worked for, which was now under new management, and help them relaunch. While this opportunity was interesting the real selling feature for me was that it is located only a few hours from my hometown, making visits home MUCH easier. We planned to move there for a year, get the brewery re-launched and then continue down the highway to my hometown.

Lesson learned: Spend time really evaluating what you want to do, there are many paths in the industry and many areas where you can add value. Management isn't always the best choice, and fast growth breweries come with their own challenges.

So, it's now 6 years into brewing and I'm right back where I started my career. The brewery had not fared well in the interim, equipment was failing, fermenters looked like they hadn't been cleaned in YEARS and the reputation of the company was in the sewer. I probably should have passed on the job, as the battle was more "up a sheer cliff face" than "up hill". But we thought it would only be for a year, a quick fix up and then on to the end goal.

We were wrong.

COVID hit and we were into lockdown. Everything slowed to a crawl and there was no real way to visit my family, or look for work in another province.

Work at the brewery progressed, however. I was able to fix most of the equipment, clean up the tanks, re-design some beers and launch a few new ones. Slowly our reputation started to get better and people were interested in the beer again. It was interesting to be a part of a re-launch as opposed to a launch. I learned a lot about product development and project management while figuring out how to get everything going again.

Unfortunately the COVID stressors were too much, and we had several periods of prolonged downtime. It was at this point that I finally decided that I needed to move on from brewing. Even in the best of times working for a small brewery comes with uncertainty, and now my wife (we managed to have our wedding the summer before COVID really shut it all down) was pregnant. I knew if I were to be the kind of husband and father I wanted to be that things needed to change.

Lesson learned: I used to believe that it was all important to work your passion job. I quickly figured out that's a great way to lose your passion. Sometimes it is more important to have a stable career, with growth potential and regular income that allows you to do the things you love.

I started studying IT in my spare time. Now, I've never been a good student, in fact I'd say I'm categorically bad at sitting down and focusing on any classwork, even when I was studying brewing. But this time I had a real need, and a real goal.

My wife found a job posting for the local hospital who was hiring for a contract position to replace and upgrade computers across the two local hospital sites. I applied, with little real qualification and somehow got an interview - They later told me it was because of my brewing history, they were so intrigued by it that they said they "just had to meet me".

Brewing saves the day once again!

I was offered the position and I gave my notice at the brewery. This marked the end of my journey (for now) as a professional brewer. From Brewing Pro back to Average Joe, the circle was complete.

This is where I'll end my update (unless anyone wants to know what it's like to walk around a hospital replacing computers, and later get promoted to helpdesk, and even later to transition to a work from home job for a tech startup as a customer support manager / project manager / operations / anything under the sun).

It's been interesting to write this all out, I haven't sat down and really thought about my whole brewing journey at once. I'm now happily living in my hometown with my wife and daughter, surrounded by family and friends. I look forward to returning to homebrewing as I get more time, and exploring some new local breweries.

I'm open to questions, so feel free to ask!
 

Sammy86

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Awesome story man and great lessons for those younger home brewers out there thinking about going pro.

One lesson I would like add to your already great list is to take these chances in your 20's. Going follow a dream and work hard for it...if it works out for you great, if not its not too late to start over and get yourself settled.

Again, great story!
 
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EricR

EricR

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Awesome story man and great lessons for those younger home brewers out there thinking about going pro.

One lesson I would like add to your already great list is to take these chances in your 20's. Going follow a dream and work hard for it...if it works out for you great, if not its not too late to start over and get yourself settled.

Again, great story!
Thanks Sammy, I definitely agree. The journey was well worth it. I learned skills and met people that will stay with me the rest of my life. Glad I did it when young, and it may translate into something more in the future. There are so many ways to be involved in the world of great beer these days!
 

HopChef

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From another former pro, this is the best synopsis of the challenges inherent in the brewing industry, and your story is all too common, unfortunately. There are a lot of amazing and brilliant people and a lot of very challenging people, like all industries, but somehow it hurts more in craft. It's supposed to be a community of passionate people doing something creative and fun. And for the most part it is exactly that. But it hurts so badly to lose or have to let go of something you were sure was your purpose. Kudos to you for sticking it out for so long. And congrats on your family! It's the best clarifying agent.

I'll second the do it when you're young idea. As well as finding the part of the industry that fits you best. There are tons of ways to be in the craft brewing business that aren't slinging kegs or killing your soul.
 

Homebrew Harry

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...to Average Joe! 10 (almost) year update.

I haven't been on this site in a long, long time. To be honest I didn't do a lot of homebrewing while I was brewing professionally. The daily routine of waking up and running a brewing business until it was time to sleep kind of took the thrill of the homebrew out of it. I came across a HBT email recently and thought it would be neat to provide a LONG overdue update.

So it's been almost 10 years since I first started my brewing journey. What a wild trip it has been.

A lot has happened in the decade since I first started to document my trip into professional brewing, and I intend to be open and honest about it all. While I won't divulge company names specifically here, I will happily talk about the timeline of my career and the high (and low)lights of it all.

Some people may be able to figure out where I was working, and I'd ask them to keep it to themselves for everyone's privacy.

I'll lead off by saying that I am no longer involved in the industry as a professional brewer. 2021 was my last year wearing brew boots as a full time employee, but I do stay involved in the community and occasionally do some consulting. I guess it's back to average Joe for me.

The last year of brewing college was a blur. Some changes in personal circumstance found me living with classmates, which turned out to be the best experience I could hope for. Living and breathing brewing right across from the campus and with easy access to the teaching brewery was huge for my development as a brewer.

One major takeaway if you do decide to get a formal brewing education - take every opportunity to volunteer that you can. I spent 3x as many days in the brewery as some classmates because I was willing to do whatever work at whatever time. I made connections with other industry professionals. and was able to get a stellar reference closer to graduation. Make sure the people in charge know who you are, and what you are capable of.

Before I even graduated I was hired on to be "Brewmaster" at a startup brewery. They were doing contract brewing in the area and I was able to "supervise" the process while in school. Looking back it's laughable, really. How could a fresh grad with no other experience be a Brewmaster supervising some other production brewer, in their brewhouse, on their equipment?

Once I graduated I moved to the town the brewery was to be located in, while construction was underway (and behind schedule, as is tradition) and this is where I got my first taste of what it really means to be a young brewer at a startup.

Spoiler alert - it's not all that fun.

We were still contracting from the brewery down by the college while construction was underway. Most of my week was spent with back and forth van trips on the 401 to help package, label, load and then deliver beer in Toronto on the drive home. Lets just say that 16 hour days would be putting it lightly at this stage.

When not helping with that contracting operation we were doing sales, waiting on contractors, doing demolitions, hosting events, repairing relationships, waiting on contractors some more, dealing with "unique personalities" and just overall running in circles.

There were some highlights though, I did get to develop some recipes that went on to sell very well in a few Toronto BBQ restaurants. The recipe was developed for them as a private label and then later adapted for our use at the brewery. It's a great feeling to see people take a sip of your product, enjoy it and order another. Especially when you've made 3000L of it 😅


I didn't last long at this company, just over a year. The extreme long days, the lack of actual brewing and a conflict of personalities caused me to start looking for the next job. When an opportunity came up in the city my girlfriend (now wife) was living in I took it.

Lesson I (thought I) learned: Do just as much research and interviewing of your employer as they do of you.

The next job I took was for a brewery in a similar position to the first, albeit with better funding and location. I came on just in time to develop the core recipes, but too late to influence equipment purchases (which would soon become a pain point).

At first this job was everything I had hoped the other would be. More recipe development, faster buildout, more immediate feedback from the community. The equipment that had been selected was from some cheap overseas manufacturer, and SEVERELY oversized for the facility, but how bad could that be, really?

Well the answer is - quite bad. We were brewing in a glorified shoebox in a small strip mall style building with no room for expansion on either side. The brewhouse took up 25% of the floor space, 4 giant fermenters and 2 brite beer tanks took up the rest of the wall and a massive rotary head bottle filler took up the entire center of the floor.

A note on the bottler - This thing was huge, imagine a machine built off plans drawn up in the 80s, manufactured overseas and made to bottle hundreds of bottles per hour. It never worked. The electronics were bad and the mechanical bits constantly broke. Despite bringing in a packaging expert who had taught the course at college, we had to get rid of it. This was a point of contention with one of the founders as he had been the one to choose the equipment for this brewery and he had no clue what he was doing.

We replaced it with a Cask SAMS machine, which was a huge relief at the time. Despite the bad rep Cask gets with some brewers I never had any issues that weren't easily solvable and their support team were great.

Despite these issues the first year went great. We won a gold medal and new brewery of the year at our provincial brewing competition. I was able to hire a good friend from college as second brewer, and trained someone local to help with cellaring who has now gone on to do some pretty cool things in his career.

However, it was not meant to be. A combination of equipment issues and production expectations led to some clashes between myself and one of the owners. I got a call while on the weekend while visiting friends in Buffalo and was let go over the phone.

I won't claim to be 100% faultless in any of these exchanges. These were learning experiences for me and the companies I worked for. However, I still believe there is a right and wrong way to treat people and how all of this went down left a bad taste in my mouth. It's around this point that I started really wondering if brewing was for me long term (3 years out of college, 5 years into working as a brewer).

Lesson I (really did) learn: Businesses with multiple partners that have no defined roles but all believe they are in charge can be a nightmare. When interviewing for a startup brewery ask the question of them "Who is in charge of what, who will I report to, who has the final say on decisions?"

Fortunately a few weeks before this went down I had been contacted by another local brewery asking if I would be interested in coming on as a brewer. I was able to reach back out to them and accept the position, this time as a production brewer with non of the management responsibilities. This turned out to be a blessing.

I was able to learn and refine my skills at a fantastic local brewery. We won many awards in my first year there and I finally felt that I was growing as a professional and was able to focus on what I loved most - Brewing!

Alas, after just over a year the head brewer left to start his own brewery and I found myself once again in the lead position. Fortunately this brewery had been around for a few years and already had clearly defined processes, sales and management.

Thanks to this it wasn't too difficult to step into the lead role and here I got some experience with scheduling a fully booked production schedule, several staff members and a major brewery upgrade. Things continued to move along at a steady pace and we continued to win medals locally, nationally and internationally. I also had the opportunity to travel to some awards shows and conferences, which was a fun experience.

While working for this brewery I also got to take part in hiring staff, training them and developing new standard operating procedures to dial things in across the company. I found that I really enjoyed training people and teaching them about brewing. Writing SOPs, not as much 😅

After a few years at the company I was ready to move on, the company was entering a phase of growth that I was not as capable of managing and I felt that my interests lay in running smaller operations where I could be more hands on. At the same time, my girlfriend had become my fiancée and we were planning a wedding and also looking to move closer to my family. I had at this point been living 5-7 hours away from my family for close to 8 years and was starting to feel homesick.

An opportunity presented itself to go back to the first brewery I had ever worked for, which was now under new management, and help them relaunch. While this opportunity was interesting the real selling feature for me was that it is located only a few hours from my hometown, making visits home MUCH easier. We planned to move there for a year, get the brewery re-launched and then continue down the highway to my hometown.

Lesson learned: Spend time really evaluating what you want to do, there are many paths in the industry and many areas where you can add value. Management isn't always the best choice, and fast growth breweries come with their own challenges.

So, it's now 6 years into brewing and I'm right back where I started my career. The brewery had not fared well in the interim, equipment was failing, fermenters looked like they hadn't been cleaned in YEARS and the reputation of the company was in the sewer. I probably should have passed on the job, as the battle was more "up a sheer cliff face" than "up hill". But we thought it would only be for a year, a quick fix up and then on to the end goal.

We were wrong.

COVID hit and we were into lockdown. Everything slowed to a crawl and there was no real way to visit my family, or look for work in another province.

Work at the brewery progressed, however. I was able to fix most of the equipment, clean up the tanks, re-design some beers and launch a few new ones. Slowly our reputation started to get better and people were interested in the beer again. It was interesting to be a part of a re-launch as opposed to a launch. I learned a lot about product development and project management while figuring out how to get everything going again.

Unfortunately the COVID stressors were too much, and we had several periods of prolonged downtime. It was at this point that I finally decided that I needed to move on from brewing. Even in the best of times working for a small brewery comes with uncertainty, and now my wife (we managed to have our wedding the summer before COVID really shut it all down) was pregnant. I knew if I were to be the kind of husband and father I wanted to be that things needed to change.

Lesson learned: I used to believe that it was all important to work your passion job. I quickly figured out that's a great way to lose your passion. Sometimes it is more important to have a stable career, with growth potential and regular income that allows you to do the things you love.

I started studying IT in my spare time. Now, I've never been a good student, in fact I'd say I'm categorically bad at sitting down and focusing on any classwork, even when I was studying brewing. But this time I had a real need, and a real goal.

My wife found a job posting for the local hospital who was hiring for a contract position to replace and upgrade computers across the two local hospital sites. I applied, with little real qualification and somehow got an interview - They later told me it was because of my brewing history, they were so intrigued by it that they said they "just had to meet me".

Brewing saves the day once again!

I was offered the position and I gave my notice at the brewery. This marked the end of my journey (for now) as a professional brewer. From Brewing Pro back to Average Joe, the circle was complete.

This is where I'll end my update (unless anyone wants to know what it's like to walk around a hospital replacing computers, and later get promoted to helpdesk, and even later to transition to a work from home job for a tech startup as a customer support manager / project manager / operations / anything under the sun).

It's been interesting to write this all out, I haven't sat down and really thought about my whole brewing journey at once. I'm now happily living in my hometown with my wife and daughter, surrounded by family and friends. I look forward to returning to homebrewing as I get more time, and exploring some new local breweries.

I'm open to questions, so feel free to ask!
Pics or it didn't happen !
Just kidding you. That's cool you came back after all this time. Even though it didn't turn out to be your dream career, at least you lived it and found out for yourself. Great post. No loose ends left in this thread.
 
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