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Posts Tagged ‘brewer’s mind’

The Sounds of Heavy Metal

May 19, 2011 2 comments

A funny thing has happened since I began working at The Bruery: I’ve developed a strong preference for silence over listening to music. With my Bruery weeks and Manzanita weekends I average 4-6 hours of driving every Friday to Sunday, yet still I traverse those miles with the sound system off. It seems that this is a natural response to the brewing environment, which tends to be quite loud. We are, after all, talking about industrial production here. Dickensian working conditions these may not be, but when you’re nestled between air compressors and propane burners things get overwhelming pretty quickly. It’s not unusual to find myself screaming at Garry during the course of an otherwise pleasant conversation because of all the noise.

While brewing does cause auditory fatigue, an attentive ear is a surprisingly useful asset in a production environment. Machines speak volumes if you listen. Mills and pumps that have run dry protest loudly and with reduced bass. The keg washer hisses and splashes in various combinations as it moves through its cycle, which allows you to track its progress from anywhere in the brewery. While filling kegs you can hear the last of the carbon dioxide get ejected before the full keg begins to spray foamy beer on the floor. You also know that if you hear something out of the ordinary you should probably try to figure out the sound’s origin immediately. Just this morning my supervisor, Victor, and I were talking when he suddenly asked if I heard water running. I could only hear the decidedly unsubtle sound of wine barrels being pressure washed, but soon thereafter we realized that he had indeed heard the miniature waterfall created by sparging too hastily.

Yet the din of the machines is hardly the only culprit behind my tired ears: we also have ourselves to blame. The Bruery has an awesome sound system. The average age of the six brewery staff is 25. We listen to music and we listen LOUD; not that we have much choice if we want to hear over the aforementioned racket. You might think this somewhat masochistic but I promise it’s essential for morale. Try quickly removing 2500 lbs of spent grain from the mash tun or bottling for 8 hours straight and you too would need the boost afforded by music with a quick tempo. Some days it sounds like a nightclub in there. Sometimes a mosh pit. No matter the genre, between the music and the machinery it’s no surprise that I relish a silent drive from brewery to brewery.

…And now, the best and worst of The Bruery’s various playlists:

Worst Offenders New Favorites
An entire album of Taylor Swift Foals – Antidotes
An entire album of Linkin Park Big Business – Here Comes the Waterworks
An entire album of P.O.D. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
“The Reason” by Hoobastank Deadmau5
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In Brewery, Beer Schedules You!

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Welcome to my own personal economic downturn. There’s been little for me to do at The Bruery so I’ve only been in twice this week and today’s the start of a very long weekend. This displeases my wallet and speaks to a brewing reality that is worth delving into: if you aspire to enter the industry be sure to consider how flexible you can be. I’m not referencing the ability to “twist and turn, reach over your shoulders, bend and stoop” that every brewer’s help wanted ad mentions; I’m talking about choosing a flexible lifestyle.  If you need a steady, dependable schedule to anchor your life you won’t find it making beer.

All things considered, my hours are relatively easy to handle. Packaging takes place between 8 and 5 and The Bruery tries to stick to weekdays whenever possible.  I typically find out each week’s schedule on the last day of the prior week. My scheduled days do sometimes change at the last minute, but that’s unusual. Full-time employees know they work every day but their hours vary widely. With our two brewer, 1 – 3 batch per day schedule one brewer generally comes in as a early as 4AM to get the brewday started and the other stays into the evening to finish up. Their days last between 8 and 12 hours, depending on what’s brewing and how busy we’ve been in the preceding week.

My friend Nick brews at Ballast Point and confirmed that our malleable schedule is hardly unusual, even for a larger outfit. Though Ballast Point’s annual production is 10 times The Bruery’s, their employees’ hours still change on a day-to-day basis. I imagine that life doesn’t become more predictable unless you work for a brewery like Stone that’s brewing 24/7. Most of the daily variation is simply unavoidable. For instance, higher alcohol beers require longer lauter times. The Bruery’s boil lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours depending on the beer. Schedules have to change if a fermentation takes longer than expected or ingredient deliveries get delayed. There are very few brewery processes that can be paused, so it’s necessary to keep working until the task is complete, quitting time or no quitting time. Unless we’re bottling a full day’s worth of beer we avoid taking any breaks until we’ve finished.

Some might find the brewer’s schedule unsettling, but I find it invigorating. One of the joys of life is that every day has the potential to be different, if only we’re willing to capitalize on the endless possibilities afforded to us. The average full-time job imbues our days with an unrelenting sameness that hinders one’s perception of these possibilities. The inertia of the daily grind lends itself to a stagnant existence against which we should constantly struggle. So while I would certainly appreciate having an extra day on my time card this week, I remember to value the less tangible benefits of the brewer’s lifestyle. If you believe that you’ll feel the same, you just might enjoy brewery work as much as I do.

Volunteering at a Brewery

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

One of my aspirations for this blog is to help others become professional brewers. Sometimes I’ll be posting information about specific techniques or equipment, but I think it’s equally important to supplement that with tips on how to make yourself a more attractive candidate for breweries to hire. To that end, one of the best ways to increase your chances is to volunteer at an up and coming brewery.

If you’re like me you might have assumed that, with the industry’s ever-increasing profile and size, the days of breweries opening their doors to volunteers were long gone. While that’s true for larger outfits, newer breweries are often in need of help and short on cash. Perfect volunteering opportunity. In general, the best way to find out if a brewery needs an extra set of hands is to go ask in person — try a flight while you’re at it!

Volunteering is the single best way to experience the realities of professional brewing. You’ll likely cover yourself in beer, hot water and grain dust. You’ll understand the physicality of brewing on a larger-scale. At the end of the day you’ll either be tired and joyful or tired and irritable. That may lead you to realize that you don’t actually want to do this every day, but even if that’s the case you’ll have an enduring, informed appreciation for the work of craft brewers. Or you’ll love every second of it, in which case you’ll learn some invaluable information on the job.

There are the little things: how to handle chemicals or flip and tighten a tri-clamp with one hand. Then there are fundamentals of brewing theory: what different mash temperatures are trying to achieve or goals for cleaning and sanitizing. Most important of all is that you’ll learn to think like a brewer. You need to hone your abilities to multi-task and organize logistics of space and time. If you’re already an all-grain homebrewer you’ll recognize procedural similarities, though some of the techniques and technologies used will be new to you. You’ll learn vocabulary of the trade that will translate no matter what brewery you end up working for.

Brewery owners will respect volunteer experience if for no other reason than that it demonstrates real interest in the craft. They know that you’ve traded time in order to learn: if you’ll do it for free, you must truly enjoy brewing. They can also be certain that your experience elsewhere will make it easier to teach you their operating procedures and, who knows, maybe you’ll be able to teach them a trick or two that they didn’t know.

If you’re going to volunteer, it’s up to you to ensure that you’re getting a good deal out of the exchange. I hate to see members of my generation working for nothing. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, learning everyday and building your resume it’s probably a fair deal. In the end you have to decide if you’re getting enough out of it. Sure, they’ll likely give you beer and merchandise, which is always fun, but you need to be proactive about your education. Get them to train you in all aspects of their process from milling to packaging. Learn everything you can and don’t be afraid to move on if your arrangement ever becomes uneven. As long as you’re driven to learn I’m sure you’ll find it was worth the time you invested.

That said, it’s time for me to go work at Manzanita in exchange for beer and an education.