I also learned that caustic soda is really nasty stuff, but that should go without saying. Anyway, I know I’m bordering on blasphemy, especially when I claim this is a homebrewing blog. But brewing beer commercially has little in common with my weekend hobby and not for the reasons you think.
This past fall I found myself with a little bit of free time. I was in between gigs, and I decided it was an opportune time to explore a career in brewing. The good news is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a brewery that won’t accept slave labor/volunteers. In a state like Georgia, where the “sin” tax is astronomical and the Big 3 still reign supreme, craft breweries operate on slim margins. I was easily able to set up a gig volunteering at a nearby brewpub one day a week.
My plan was to start off only coming in for one day. Then, if I liked it, I could come in more often I soon realized, though, that working in a brewery is hardly the dream job beer lovers make it out to be.
Anytime an aspiring homebrewer mentions going pro, he or she will almost certainly hear the following statement: Homebrewing is nothing like commercial brewing. I was surprised at how similar the two are. Yes, the scale is completely different, which necessitates industrial-grade equipment, but a decent homebrewer will quickly get comfortable in a brew house. I’ve only been homebrewing for two years, and at no time did I not know what the brewmaster was doing. So, that wasn’t the reason I didn’t like it.
My days almost entirely consisted of grunt work. I climbed in the brew kettle to scrub off beer stone. I scrubbed mold off the outside of 500-gallon serving tanks. I sanitized countless numbers of kegs, clamps and gaskets. Oh, yeah. And occasionally I helped brew a beer (twice, in fact). I’m not jaded, nor am I opposed to hard work. I’ve spent most of my professional life sitting behind a desk and typing on a computer. I relish physical work. I go rock climbing and backpacking for fun. So, that wasn’t the reason I didn’t like it, either.
The inevitable deal-breaker for me was the lack of creativity.
Commercial brewing is probably (and I’m grossly generalizing, here) 98% process and 2% creative. And most of that 2% is taken up by the marketing staff, if a craft brewery is successful enough to be able to afford one. The recipes I helped brew were the same ones that particular brewpub had been using for years.
New recipes are seldom seen in commercial brewing. While the larger profits garnered by limited edition beers have increased the number of new beers being brewed, your average brewery may come out with 4-6 of those a year (again, grossly generalizing). And unless you’re the owner or brewmaster, you will probably not have a hand in developing those new recipes.
For most craft brewers, you are brewing pale ale on Monday, pale ale on Tuesday and on Wednesday — guess what? More pale ale. To keep up with demand, you must brew the same handful of beers all the time. The thing that attracted me to homebrewing was the myriad beers that were possible to create. In my short time brewing, I have only brewed a couple of my recipes more than once. I’m still exploring all the different traditional styles. And just wait until I get a temperature controlled fridge to ferment lagers.
I realize that some people may still be attracted to a brewing job, but having to make the same beer day in and day out sounds terrible to me. Case in point: I helped brew 500 gallons of porter on my last day of volunteering. I went home and cracked open a growler of a coffee stout — and I didn’t want to drink it. It smelled too similar to what I had been doing all day, and my appetite vanished. I never want to lose my appetite for beer.
When it comes down to it, homebrewing is like cooking for me. I love cooking, and I’m pretty good at it, if I say so myself. But I have no desire to ever work in a kitchen. I’d lose my love for it. And losing my love for brewing is a far worse fate than not working in a brewery.