Saturday, February 23, 2013

Final Blog Post..For now

Well friends, I think it's time to wrap this blog up.  Looking back to the first post, I can't believe I have kept this going since 2008, and it's been an active archive of most of my homebrews for most of that time.  That's pretty cool!  Not only that, but I've been able to keep a bit of a journal on my progress, not only as a homebrewer, but also through life and on my transition to being a professional brewer. 

I got this comment last week from a fellow homebrewing blogger:

Blogger Orion Homebrewing said...
Hey, I am moving soon back to Boulder, CO from Portland and am hoping to secure a brewing job there. Any advice as to how to approach a potential employer and gain employment? Aside from obvious things like a resume do you think I should offer a link to my blog on my resume? Any tips since you have gone down this route would be most appreciated.
I thought for my final post here, why not try to sum up my experiences on going pro, and offer some advice to people who are thinking of  making the  commitment to taking brewing on as a career.  That is largely what this blog became for me, so if I can pass on some helpful hints, I'd be happy to.  However, keep in mind, this is just one brewer's perspective, and some other brewer might give different advice, because there really are different ways to doing this.  Also, I'm not going to try to sugar coat this.  This is my honest, trying to be balanced opinion, but I'm not doing anyone any favors if I try to paint this as a "dream job", or make it sound easier than it is.
People get into this business in different ways.  There is a certain amount of circumstance or luck involved to getting your foot in the door, especially if you do not have a brewing diploma of any kind. Some people seem to be really lucky, and just end up in the right place at the right time, and land an entry-level brewing job with little or no experience.  I feel like I had to make my own luck.  I'm not sure if I did things the best way, but I chose the strategy of moving to a brewing city and committing to working as a brewer, no matter what it took. I didn't have a brewing degree, and in Portland, I'm not sure that is would have helped much.  Possibly at the bigger breweries, but most of the smaller ones that I was interested in didn't seem to put much weight on that.  That was a hard route to go, but it worked, eventually.  A friend of mine called Portland "Hollywood for brewers", because there are a lot more people looking for brewing jobs than there are job openings, and people move from across the country with the same idea.  This can make it even harder to find work, and it also effects the pay scale, and possibly even some employers' attitudes about employees.  One anecdote I'll pass on, when I was asking Van Havig, who brewed for Rock Bottom at the time, to check out my resume, he said something to the effect of "You want to brew?  You shouldn't have moved to Portland."  Well, Van can be blunt at times, but he had a point!  Yet still, I have seen quite a few friends make the transition in that time, and it is do-able.
My strategy worked out eventually, but financially, it probably would have worked out better if I had stayed at my office job in NYC for a little while longer, invested in a brewing certificate of some kind (I think I would have chosen the American Brewer's Guild program), and then started looking for a brewing position anywhere in the country.  So, that's another option I would suggest that people look into if they can swing it.  I'm sure it would be a good learning experience too.  I have checked out about half of their course materials, and while I knew a lot of the stuff pretty well, there were other areas like engineering that I had been totally ignorant of.  But then again, just being a part of the Portland beer culture was a really great experience.  That's something I might have missed out on if I had taken that route.
Also, be aware of the payscale of most brewing jobs.  Chances are, unless you work for one of the very large craft breweries for a long time, or start your own brewery, you're probably not going to be able to finance your kids' college tuition on a brewing salary.  There is an annual brewers salary report in The New Brewer Magazine if you want to check that out.
Starting off as a fledgling pro brewer, for an experienced homebrewer, can be very weird at times.  one of the tough gaps to bridge is giving up creative control, at least for a while.  99% of entry level craft brewing jobs are not going  to give you much say in anything.  They are going to assume you know very little about what you are doing, and they are going to want you to brew their beers, for the most part, and do things their way.  That can be tough for someone who has had full autonomy for the past however many years.  That's one of the main reasons I kept homebrewing for my first two years in the field.  Yes, there are some employers that will welcome your recipe ideas and even your perspective on the brewing process, but I don't think it's the norm.  So learn to be OK with that, for a while, and homebrew on the side if you have time and need to get your ya-ya's out.  Also, when you do get that creative power, it will likely still be somewhat collaborative. I actually usually prefer the collaborative creative process.  At Jackie O's, some beers definitely are the brainchild of one person, but almost all of them go through some sort of conversation before the first brew, and definitely if we decide to repeat them.  It's fun and I think it generally leads to better beer.  But if you want to be that artiste-type brewer who brews exactly what they want every time, you might want to start looking for investors now. ; )
I did two brewing internships, one for Sixpoint in Brooklyn, and one for Upright in Portland.  These weren't formal internships really, but Sixpoint did take on interns regularly, and I think Upright does from time to time also.  One reason why I am so keen on them is that if you are having aspirations of brewing, but aren't sure if it's too much hard work, you'll find out very quickly in an internship.  Pretty much any small craft brewery - I'm talking brewpub or 10-20 barrel production brewery where you are not pushing buttons to move beer - is going to require a LOT of physical labor from their employees.  Some breweries are set up more ergonomically than others, but even in a brewery that has paid a lot of attention to having the right equipment so you don't have to break your back lifting kegs and stuff like that, there is still a ton of physical work:  crouching, lifting, working in tight spaces, hot spaces, cold spaces, you name it.  You are going to get dirty.  You are going to get sprayed in the face or crotch with beer or yeast.  You are going to be working around chemicals and hot liquids, and if you don't pay attention to safety protocol, you could get really hurt!  
But the other reality of this industry is, most small breweries that I've seen aren't even set up that ergonomically.  At most places, it's going to be a hindrance if you can't lift a full keg by yourself, probably multiple times in one day.  That's probably not kosher with OSHA, but it's a fact, and you should know it going in.  Pay attention to the amount of physical work expected at a prospective employer's brewery.  If you think you might have issues doing that type of heavy lifting, keep looking for a brewery that's better set-up to your needs. (Hint:  if they at least have a forklift, that's a good sign). If you end up at one of those breweries where you have to do things like say, carry full kegs up a flight of stairs regularly, then I urge you to pay attention to how you are doing those tasks, and try not cause your body damage over the long term.  It would suck to be a great brewer for 5-10 years before having to bow out because your knees or back just can't take it anymore.  
Let's get back to finding a job though.  I think it's certainly good to have a resume.  Since I didn't have much experience, I tried to do a resume highlighting my internships first, then went on to my work experience, then my education, and then highlight my homebrewing qualifications.  I did put on the resume that I had a blog.  I seriously doubt anyone paid that any attention, but it can't hurt.  Just do what you can with the resume, because a lot of getting your foot in the door is more about getting face-time at the brewery.  You need to get to know the brewers, and you'll probably have to know them for a while to gain their trust.  I don't know exactly how to explain this, but if you want to get in somewhere, you need to be a face they see on a regular basis and that they like seeing.  Try to be that guy, or girl, who is always showing up with a good homebrew, or just to chat and have a pint, or try out their latest beer.  At the same time, and this is hard to give specifics on, try not to be annoying.  You also don't want to be the person that they see and pretend they don't see because you are going to ask them 100 annoying questions while they're trying to work, before saying, "By the way, I'd still like to work here!"  
A couple thoughts on bringing in homebrew to a brewery:  The other part of my "resume" was my homebrew.  When I was out "doing my rounds"  in Portland, dropping off resumes or just checking back in with people, I always had my best homebrew with me, in clean, uniform brown bottles.  Around each bottle was a label-sized piece of paper, printed from my computer, with my name at the top, my phone number and email, and the full beer recipe.  This way, I looked organized, and they would easily have my contact info if they drank the beer and liked it.  I got some good response to this.  Some weren't job offers, some were just flattering comments or emails from brewers I respected saying they really enjoyed the beer.  But at Alameda, where I landed my first brewing job, I definitely think those beers helped me get on their radar and into the lead for the next job opening.  So, yes, if homebrew is what you have, use it to your advantage.  Let's get more into detail on this though:  Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES, bring any beer that you don't KNOW is really excellent.  If you don't know, take it to a homebrewer you respect and get their honest opinion.  You want to show your best stuff here.  And make it look nice, no half-peeled-off labels or sharpie writing.  Be a pro in your mind already, and you will be taken seriously.  OK, another point:  you have to make sure they actually drink the beer.  Every brewery I have every set foot in has a shelf of homebrew and other beers that people bring in and they somehow never, or only rarely, actually drink that beer.  One of the reasons is that they may be distrusting of the quality of some of those homebews, for good reason.  Or they may just set it on the shelf and forget it.  When I was at Cascade I actually found some of the bottles that I had given them on such a shelf, as we were going through a bunch of old crap and dumping out a lot of those old beers.  I was like "Hey, this shit was good!  Why didn't you drink it!?"  Well, we did drink it there and then and it was still good.  So this gets to my point in a roundabout way.  Your best chance of keeping your beer off that shelf is to drink that beer with them, the day you bring it.  This can lead to good things, discussion of brewing techinques in which - BING! - you get to trade some information with the brewer.  This is a good chance to show them what you know but also ask them a little bit about what they do.  Everyone loves a little flattery.
On a side note:  I have heard, I don't remember which brewer said this, but basically the opinion that some brewers don't look kindly on homebrewers bringing in beer as a resume because at heart, they can be jealous people with fragile egos who cling tenaciously to their creative thrones.  I'll just say, I believe there are probably some brewers like that, but man, what a depressing thought!  I don't think this is any reason to be wary of bringing homebrew in as a resume tool.  I mean, would you really want to work for someone like that?  I'd venture a guess that this is a rarity and not a common opinion though.
I think you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to land that first job.  Do whatever role, even if it's washing kegs 8 hours a day or bottling, you've got to take it.  You are probably not going to get to be that picky.  If you have a chance to work for a brewery, even if you think they are making a less than stellar product, take it!  Maybe it will eventually be your chance to help them in that area.  However, if you get a job offer from someone who is making really "problem" beers, I might actually advise against taking that job.  If their beers are regularly showing up with obvious amounts common beer flaws that any beer judge could pick up, or worse, infections, I would actually say you should move on.  That job is not going to be worth your time in the long run.  That's a matter of opinion, but I'm sticking to it.  Unless they hire you as a consultant, you probably know more than them already.
And this goes for any industry, but also, watch out for bad bosses.  This is a tough area to make a judgement call on, because if you really need that first brewing experience, only you can make that call.  We all know what bad bosses or owners are like.  They usually throw up red flags before you even get a job offer.  But, they could make your life miserable if you are not careful.  If you end up taking a job with a bad employer, how are you, personally, going to segregate the act of brewing from the experience of working for a shitty boss?  If you get in this situation, don't let them burn you out!  It's not the brewing that's a problem, it's the work situation.  Try to keep that in mind and move on as soon as possible, to someone who respects you.
That's pretty much all I have based on my own personal experience.  Just remember, BE A PRO.  Be it already in your actions and your thoughts.  The job search is kind of like dating - you can't be afraid of rejection, and eventually if you keep at it, everything will fall in place and you'll be able to start your dream job in this glamorous world of brewing! (Wait, do you still think it's glamorous?  Go back and read this again from the top!)  Best of luck, at the end of the day, this is an incredibly rewarding job that for the right person, could provide a lot of happiness and gratification.

Post-Script:  
Thanks to everyone who read this "blog" (can we not find a better word for that?) and kept up with what I was doing.  Homebrewer or pro, we're all of the same breed.  It's been really fun to see what other people are doing and it's amazing the amount of information that is shared through the brewing community through blogs.  I want to keep this blog fairly pure and mostly about homebrewing, which is why I'm shutting it down now.  BUT, if I take up blogging at for my current job or any future breweries, I'll be sure to post updates here.

Cheers, best of brewing to you, 
Sean 











4 comments:

Chaz said...

You're not coming up to Anchorage for the Culmination Festival that Anchorage Brewing is putting on I presume? I heard Jackie O's was pouring and I'm hoping to attend...

I got a gig brewing at Alaskan in Oct.

Seanywonton said...

Maybe some day but not this year. Sounds fun! Never been to Alaska.

Orion Chandler said...

Wow, I hope you know what a service you have provided by writing this article. I have literally spent hours looking for "real-life" accounts of brewing work and yours is the best on the net! Thanks man, your such a help! Cheers!

Paul White said...

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