Brew School: Learning by Doing

Written by Justin Lloyd for blog.beeriety.com

Despite everything I’ve been learning at the brewery I constantly want to know more. Fortunately, the brewery I work in consists of three people: the head brewer, an assistant brewer and myself. This small crew provides me with many opportunities to not only flood my mind with beer knowledge, but also get my hands into many of the daily brewing operations.

I currently work six days a week. Although I spend three great days in the brewery, the other three days are spent waiting tables. In all honesty, being a waiter is the pits. However, it pays the bills.

Lately I’ve found some of my brewery hours getting cut in order to work more in the restaurant—the brewery is part of a brewpub, so we have a full restaurant and my two jobs are thankfully located in the same building.

Initially I was bummed, since I viewed this as stepping backwards from my ultimate goal of full time brewing. However, I spent one of these forced days off visiting another local brewery and checking out the operations there.

A friend of mine starting interning at a brewery in Brooklyn around the same time I started my tenure at Chelsea. On my day off I hopped the train over to his neck of the woods and had the chance to see the inner workings of another commercial operation. My initial reaction was to the size of this brewery. It dwarfs the facility in Chelsea and produces about 5 times as much brew. Also, the brewery had 8 full time employees and 2 interns.

Although my buddy is now full time, like most people, he started as an intern. Most interns start as the brewery monkey, shlepping around pallets and cleaning kegs. While this is essential to any brewing operation, it also takes the least amount of time to learn. I’m not saying that keg cleaning isn’t important, but when it comes to the mindset of brewery interns, it’s only the first few backbreaking steps down a long road of brewing knowledge.

As he showed me around the space I got curious and began asking a lot of questions about their procedures. Since I now possess a pseudo-working knowledge of a brewery, I started contemplating how the practices at Chelsea were different from the way things were done here. After a few minutes of questioning my pal conceded that he wasn’t sure about most of the procedural activity since he didn’t get many chances to take part in the actual brewing. Most of his time, he said, was spent on the other side of the brewery cleaning and filling kegs and directing transfers.

As I sat on the train home I realized how often I’m able to get my hands in many of the essential brewing activities. While I definitely clean my fair share of kegs and spend a great amount of time completing the less desirable tasks at Chelsea, I’m also allowed to take part in the actual brewing and many other aspects of life in the brew house.

Working in a small brewery—like working for any small operation or company—definitely has its setbacks, but the rewards outweigh these issues by far. Although I may be forced to wait a few extra days for my paycheck, or the beer I make isn’t as readily available as bigger breweries, I have the opportunity to get my hands dirty and actually learn the craft. Despite the little inconveniences, the hops stuck underneath my fingernails and the wort that sticks to my boots is a true testament to the value of learning by doing. Besides, how many other people get to pour themselves a pint in the middle of their workday?