Over the time that I was writing CAMRA’s Homebrew column, doing BrewWharf and flogging beer online, I was inundated by people wanting to get into brewing as a profession; Today, the same question is from those looking to get involved with or those opening a brewery.
Close friends who joined me on the journey have gone on to be brewers, head brewers and all manner of other tasks and challenges within the beer industry we love, have created and enjoy daily. And, being quite honest, my life has changed so much from those days, do I do much brewing now, probably not.
I have to admit, from the outset, brewing and beer has never been a career path that I’d aspired to pursue, it kinda chose me, as in the only job that’s kept pulling me back, something that I could actually do, I didn’t have to ask permission, seek approval, I just got on with it. That alchemy thing that is brewing, that’s the bit I love, does keep the normals at bay.
My career path has has more twists and turns than a roller coaster at a Disney fun park. I love science, I love art, design, travel and languages. I’ve been a teacher, worked in high performance business consultancies, as well as washed dishes to cooking in small fancy restaurants, internet stuff, worked for magazines and print newspapers, hauled hoses around wineries as well as spending far too much time in University.
But, as some say that all adds to life’s rich tapestry. I leverage those experiences, from every single aspect, to deliver what I do, every day, week, which today is sell hops, for Simply Hops, the craft arm of Barth Haas, a premier company in the world of hops and all things hop derived.
Growing up where I did, in a farming community there weren’t huge opportunities, school was 45miles away and college an hour on the train, with changes. Eventually, university was the other end of the country, then the other side of the world. However, in the beginning, I grew up in a real ale centric free house, in a then isolated community in the bottom of Kent, called the Romney Marsh. This instilled in me a passion for beer and travel: I was the “beer guy”, the guy everyone went to to ask where should I go to drink and eat in X city.
As beer grew, so did I, in knowledge, and weight. I was lucky, getting that early exposure to something that’s now become the normal, good beer is certainly a norm today. Looking back, when we got the internet; the nascent bulletin boards transforming to BeerAdvocate and RateBeer gave me insight into what was happening around the world. I hated being out on the Romney Marsh at times, well often.
Constantly fighting to get away, to get away from the Marsh, but often resorting to beer as a job, whether pouring beer, making beer, cleaning casks and breweries, or just cleaning up after those that had over indulged to get through the week. That working hard to get away and keep something going has kept me going today.
It has to be remembered that “Craft Beer” whilst exciting and interesting today, is the result of years of hard work by everyone from the outliers: early CAMRA founders, good beer retailers and wholesalers like Utobeer, CaveDirect and many others, local CAMRA groups through the Social Media Blog/Twitterati today. There isn’t a school that all these people who’ve created these businesses, that does a beer and business course.
They’ve all been successful from time served, learned fast and self motivated to educate themselves day in day out. Education, communication and putting events, creating spaces and saying to the every day public, “yes, it’s ok to put down your industrial pale lager and chose something local, different and full flavoured.” has been paramount in cracking the message and marketing dollar spend by the multi-nationals.
I can clearly remember having strong conversations with my father, that beer wouldn’t be a career. I do now like to remind him of those conversations.Yes, I have been around the craft brewing/beer industry for a very long time, but I have always turned my hand to the different challenges and opportunities that it presents. I still live in the bottom of Kent, yes, in that much maligned town of Dover. (don’t believe all you read!) Opportunities don’t come knocking every day down here, meaning that I have and still do, leave the area every day to go to work. This keeps you on your toes.
Today, I sell hops. Nearly three years ago I was selling beer. At both companies, Simply Hops and CaveDirect Beermerchants, whilst different sections of the same part of the greater industry, were and are vastly different in their scale and operations, but demand quality of their personnel and themselves. Knowledge of your job and what you know of beer, as a mix is paramount. Amongst the last 20 plus years, I have dipped in and out of brewing, as well as home brewed when time and more importantly, interest peaked.
Coming from working in kitchens, I was comfortable with the intense attention to detail required, the bio chemistry, the work load and time and level of cleanliness and sterilisation required. But, I realised I am better as a communicator, project type and comfortable with diverse languages, etc than I will ever be a brewer. This is why I never call myself a “brewer”, I can brew, and do brew, successfully. But I don’t do it all day, everyday.
One of life’s failures was when I helped build an e-commerce for a scooter company, I knew nothing of the intricacies of the greater scooter world, let alone the sub cultures of Mod types and the twist and go youth. Yes, I knew e-commerce, but I didn’t know the subject. Yes, I love the art and science of brewing, genuinely. I am still learning everyday. Joining the hop industry has really reignited the grey matter, and I realise how little I knew about the nuances; when brewers I’d met through my Beermerchants.com days said I can’t get Citra or Galaxy, I know why now, and do everything in my reach to effect that. I have also been working hard, with the lens of a beer retailer and the aspects of cooking life, making the most of what you have, looking at hops that people others have overlooked and forgotten.
However, my skills and make up are serving the greater industry in different ways, in different sectors. Could I be a brewer, day in day out. No. This is where I have to ask you, could you!?
However if you’re really good at something, why not do that for the beer industry? Also, to quote the Joker, “if you’re good at something don’t do it for free…” Case in point, I was speaking to a friend who’s a really good accountant, a good brewer too, wondering what to do with his beer brand? Should he scale, should he buy his own kit? I asked do you feel you could be a better brewer or accountant?
There was a pause.
So I said, why not do accountancy services for small brewers? That way you can keep in with the industry you love, doing something you’re really good at with the insight of what it takes to be a successful beer brand. Craft Beer as it matures will always need people who are good at what they do, knowing beer and being experienced in the nuances, is a killer combination.
Opening Breakwater, was a life long aspiration, seeing it to 6 months trading successfully, wasn’t solely built on the skills of being a brewer, it was a combination of being behind a bar, running busy sea front pubs, back street boozers, fancy kitchens, running businesses at tough times in the greater world, marketing and comms skills learned at that time of need; street smarts rather than book learned. Employing people to operate, giving them the opportunities, to take the brewery and make it their own has been the bigger pleasure, maybe not “cool” but super exciting to me.
What the hell am I getting at?
In summary, being a brewer is a hard, wet, dangerous job – those that do it day in day out are, I believe, genuinely worthy of the hero status that is being bestowed on them. You need to be smart, practical and fit. If you really really want to be a brewer, for all of us, go be the best brewer you can be, absolutely kill it. Invest in yourself, keep yourself fit and well and make a commitment to making great beer. We who dress up the industry will be eternally grateful.
Likewise, I am always in awe of the people who can turn a few twitter followers into beer tastings, then blog articles, then books, then speaking engagements, then businesses, consultancies even breweries.
There are huge opportunities to those that are willing to commit to being the best in farming, agronomics, ingredients science, research and development, education, logistics, supply chain, distribution, retail, marketing, accountancy, communications, events management,.. and so much more.
You still want to be a brewer!?