Already Behind Before Getting Started
I am a 21 year old senior at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY who has become facinated by the brewing industry as im sure all here already are. I first became interested in homebrewing roughly a year ago when I picked up a copy of Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher at Barnes and Noble. I have been homebrewing for about eight months and have already brewed about ten batches using malt extracts from midwest supplies and northern brewer. My question here is, am I already to late to get involved in the brewing industy?
The past year I have read anything I could get my hands on in regards to homebrewing and the brewing industry and I feel as though I am already behind. It seems as though this is a tough industry to get a foot in the door as everybody needing jobs at breweries/brewpubs requires experience. I have been looking into classes at such places as UC Davis and the Siebel Institute but these seem to be expensive in the sense that unless you really know that this is what you want to do you may be wasting your time. For me I feel as though this is what I want to do career wise. As a nieve college student I have fantasized with friends who are currently in cullinary school about opening our own brewpub or microbrewery but obviously I need at least several years of experience if not more to do this thing for real.
I would really like to know what is the best way to go about gaining the knowledge I need in this field to progress to a high level of understanding. Im sure at some point in time all brewers have thought of opening thier own company but the going is rough and the pressures of failure are great. After I gradute this summer I would really like to work at a brewery at any level. Cleaning fermenters, sweeping floors, anything that will get me closer to the brewing process will help my understanding.
What can I do? How do I get started? From reading bios of brewers on many brewing companies websites it seems as though getting into the industry in the early to mid 90's was much easier than it is today. How do I gain experience? Do I take classes? Do I go to a school like UC davis or Siebel for graduate school? Do I forget my dream all together? Can I get involved in a homebrewing club for more knowledge? Does anybody know one in my area? I am relatively new to this site but feel as though feedback here is the best I can get from anywhere. I am already stressing about graduating with no job in site. Somebody help! -Jordan Giles
By no means are you behind the game. I only know of one brewer who told his high school counselor he wanted to be a brewer.
All of your concerns are valid and I know that many homebrews contemplate all this to decide if they should make the leap.
In brief here's the path I took:
Degree in Science Education, taught science for six years, earned a MAsters in Teaching, turned 28 discovered craft brewing, got hooked, volunteered at a brewpub during summer,spring and winter breaks, "took the plunge" at the same brewpub as the asst brewer and took the Concise course at Siebel. Began at $8/hour five years ago. That lasted about a year when I got a head brewer gig at a brewpub and worked part time at a production brewery. 15 months later that closed down and have been at my current pub 2 yrs. Almost five years have flown by and I don't regret the 5+ yrs of schooling and 6+ years of another career. I love what I do and hope that I will for a long time.
That being said, it worked for me, but it is difficult for most. Fortunately, I had some money saved up and a VERY supportive wife. This is key folks! She has been my biggest supporter, fan, critic, and venting outlet (you'll need one of those too). My suggestion is to get in anywhere. Even if it means volunteering. Smaller places are more willing to allow this, but anywhere will do. See if you like sweating/lifting/shoveling/stinking and then relaxing after work with your 16 oz "labor of love". It might even mean working a bottling line for 6 hours or more-it's something. THen check out all the brew school options. You can learn a lot on the job training, but nobody can take that formal education away from you. I've been lucky to be successful with only the Concise course, but more is better. I wouldn't take any course, especiall a long 10000+ dollar course until you've put a pair of boots on. I know people who have and are not brewing now. Make sure it's waht you want to do because it is a job like no other.
This may have only answered some of your q's, but getting your feet wet first is the key.
But, by all means do it. When you are 64, you don't want to reflect back and say, "Gee, I wish I would have given brewing a try!".
Luckily, I won't be saying that.
Yes, forget about becoming a brewer. Decide to settle. How about that truck driving school?
NO! You are not too late. Keep in mind that commercial breweries have been around for HUNDREDS of years! True the micro bubble popped a few years ago but it didn't die! If this is truly your dream, do whatever you can to pursue it. You cannot jump a chasm in two leaps!
Volunteer at your local brewery. Offer to do the jobs nobody else will because that shows strength of character and tenacity (both of which employers/brewers like). To become a very skilled brewer, you NEED to know how everything in the brewery works! The best way to learn that is to start at the bottom and work up. Better yet, add a rung to the bottom and start there. I can't tell you how many brewery owners I've encountered who have no idea how to brew a batch, wash a tank, clean a keg, troubleshoot a tap system! If you really want to build/open your own brewery, you'd better know how everything works and why! Yes, it will take time (years). Remember the sayings: IF IT WAS EASY, EVERYONE WOULD DO IT!
IF YOU DO WHAT YOU'VE ALWAYS DONE,
YOU'LL GET WHAT YOU'VE ALWAYS GOTTEN!
For the record, I started at a micro in Colorado as the weekend keg washer over a decade ago. Now, I'm the head brewer/partner in a microbrewery.
Thanks for replying to my cry for help. I feel as though I deep down knew what all were going to say I just needed the voice of a knowledgebale person in the field to push me to the goal. I want to get started, I need to get started but the college degree comes first so come June I will throw me self in head first. Thanks again and if anybody has any other suggestions or replies feel free to email me at email@example.com. (Or if anybody needs some work done!) Cheers- Jordan
You are not too late!
Do whatever you can to get involved in any type of professional brewing atmosphere before going to school though. And....read anything and everything you can on the topic. Getting your judge certification is something that you could look into now through a local homebrew shop or nearby homebrewers club. I'm sure you drink beer now anyway, so familiarizing yourself with the different styles and taste profiles will only add to your homebrewing portfolio and possible future adventures in brewing.
I started homebrewing in high school (in Canada) after drinking my friend's Dad's homebrew on the sly. After University, (delving into microbiology and chemistry), I worked at and later managed a Brew on Premise where people make their own beer with your guidance. While there, I met the Head Brewer from a local microbrewery who I helped out in times of hop shortages. When the micro added a third shift, I was approached to join as a brewer/ cellarman (we rotated weekly). After a few years, and unionizing, the owners sold the rights to our brands to a regional brewery and parted out the equipment, leaving me unemployed. After a year in another field, I was hired by a brewpub in Indianapolis, where I worked for 6 years and won a few GABF medals and a gold at the World Beer Cup in Rio, along with some State Fair stuff and a few TV appearances (2 PBS shows and on the Food Network) and newspaper articles. I even taught part of a food and beverage business course for Indiana and Perdue University satelite extensions. I was also paid quite well in comparison to the other brewers in my local market, and received many perks through my employer and the community. This was all very hard work, but very rewarding and a real huge boost to the self-esteem. If you're lucky you also get to meet and know some amazing people in the industry like Charlie Papazian (I was asked to pick him up from the airport on one visit), Michael Jackson, Garret Oliver and lots of great brewers from big name breweries. I found most brewers to be very approachable and helpful when bouncing around ideas.
I'm now back in Canada and no longer brew professionally, due ,in part, to the proximity of other breweries in relation to where I want to live, to be near my family. I'm doing foundry engineering and mettalurgy now, but would go back to brewing in a heartbeat. Looking back, I really wouldn't want to change the path I took.
Good luck on your journey!
If I was starting from scratch, I'd get a degree in microbiology, while homebrewing on a regular basis, building up from beginner (malt extract kits) to a more involved full grain system (lots of gear available!), brewing batches from scratch, learning about ingredients by brewing different recipes, getting good and even more important getting consistent results.
Brewing beer at home can be almost exactly like brewing in a small commercial brewery.
A microbiology degree will teach you a heck of a lot of very applicable stuff, AND will make you much more employable both inside and outside the brewing industry.
I just re-read your initial post, and see that you're about to get a degree. What is your major? How would you feel about going back to add microbiology to your resume?
This is great
Once again the feedback on this site is amazing. It is humbling to see that experts in the field take time to answer questions from youngins like myself. My degree will be in Political Science. The aplication of this to brewing may be minimal but I feel as though I have gained a good education through this field. As for such things as microbiology or chemistry I only have one semester left with four credits needed so I really dont have much time to do that. I may take an intro chem coarse though or something along those lines. Once agian thanks for the insight.
Take our advice, if you really want to do it.
Listen, I know it seems a daunting task to get a Science Degree at this stage in the game for you, but if you really want to be a Brewer, do it and you won't be sorry.
I got my Undergrad Degree in Classical Literature. Nine years later I finally got my Master of Science. It can be done, and you won't regret it. I reached a real glass ceiling in my career without a Science Degree, and I've worked for everything from Brewpubs, to a Microbrewery, to a Macrobrewery, and even a Whisky packaging plant.
I got the certifications from UC Davis and the whole BJCP thing, but trust me: for many of us, they can only get you so far unless you are really lucky.
It took me 6 years to realize that like any other career, if you really want to go places, you can't just depend on luck, but you have to be prepared. Get some experience and find out if you really like this field, then go back to the best possible school you can get into.
Believe me, with all the Government grants for Science students, they are practically giving these degrees away. Back in 1998 I was offered a grant for full tuition plus books and $8500 a year, just to go to school and get a Masters Degree. No, I wasn't a great student Undergrad either.
I just became interested about a year and a half ago in becoming a professional brewer. I have been flying for an airline the last 10 years and the politics and furloughs have just gotten old and for the last 15 years I have been homebrewing.
To get a feel I enrolled in a UC Davis brewing course online and when on days off I have gotten a part time (non Paying) internship at Carolina Brewing in Mooresville, NC. I have realised with the pay I will probably maybe continue part time and keep the current job (due to mortgage, wife, kids). But the experience I have gotten has been incredible and with all the free beer I get to take home its like being payed anyhow. I am hoping after my finals to work out a deal with the brewery I have been helping out at to go in and brew when one of their brewers is on vacation or calls in sick. I love the profession and the people involved.