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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.

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Our Story So Far…

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

So there’s a bit of backstory that needs to be told in order to get this blog up to speed. I intend to keep it nice and short.

I first encountered homebrewing back in college. My friend Paul made his own beer and kept in on tap in our friends’ dormroom closet. This bent a number of dorm rules and the authorities soon intervened, but my interest had already been piqued. In the fall of 2008 I found some used brewing equipment for forty bucks on Craig’s List and I was officially on my way. I brewed off and on for the next two years; mostly extract with steeping. It was a transient period for me so I repeatedly found myself needing to start collecting equipment all over again. One notable batch of mead was left to fend for itself in Hawai’i while I moved back to the East Coast to tour with a band. This sort of thing doesn’t make for good beer.

Things started to settle down and six months ago I decided I was ready to get serious about trying to brew professionally. Though I was a bit of an off-an-on brewer I had always loved the process. I’d like to think that I made some good beers and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I love that brewing is both art and science; it’s your prerogative to take it as far as you’d like in either of those directions.

I had just come out to San Diego — again with the band — and started brewing more frequently. I joined the local homebrew club and started trolling sites like ProBrewer for job possibilities. In December I saw a job posting for a Packaging Team Member at The Bruery in Orange County and applied. During my interview with them I realized that I should be volunteering at a local brewery if I could find one that needed the help. At the time I was living out in East County so I knocked on the door of Manzanita Brewing Company, a small-batch brewery that had just opened in July 2010. I started volunteering with them on brewdays, a couple weeks went by, and then came the call from The Bruery. I had the job.

Since I do two very different sets of activities at each brewery I have continued volunteering at Manzanita while working at The Bruery. So that’s the current state of affairs: M-F I work at The Bruery filling & washing kegs, bottling, and other assorted tasks; on the weekends I volunteer with Manzanita assisting with Brewer and Cellarman’s duties. I work all the time, but I love it. I’m learning something new everyday and am going to attempt to share that knowledge with all of you.

Cheers,

Matt