Dave Hoops column: What makes a brewer
Those of us who live this dream know that one of the biggest secrets to a happy life is loving your job.
I started brewing in 1990 and as I look at entering Year 33, there have been many changes in our world and society, yet brewers, as they have for literally thousands of years, keep on keeping on, to me that is grounding and encouraging.
This week I will take a closer look at brewers. Most brewers I know are fiercely independent, scientific, meticulous, artistic, out-of-the-box thinkers. Many had other careers previously to brewing. A few careers some of my brewer friends have left:
- Aerospace engineer
- FedEx dispatcher
- Emergency medical technician
- GIS technician
- Cattle rancher
- Tax attorney
- Burger King manager
There are many, many more. In every case, the dream of brewing beer for a living was a bigger motivator then money or career advancement. Those of us who live this dream know that one of the biggest secrets to a happy life is loving your job.
Unknown to most, there is not a lot of money in brewing unless maybe your name is Busch, with a fluctuating fortune in the over $20 billion range. Most of us hope for a middle-class life with our family and that is attainable. With the last two years of COVID, there have been adjustments and many many closings, unfortunately, and we are all trying to bounce back and are looking forward.
I interviewed some random people mostly through emails, Zoom, and at the brewery. My question: “What does the word 'brewer' mean to you?” Here are some responses:
- Easygoing person; laid-back; good views on life quality; of course, beards; and intelligence
- Someone with MacGyver-like skills; an amateur engineer, electrician; plumber; janitor; just a competent individual
- Artisan craftsman/woman
- My dream to be one
- My Dad
- Rubber boots, a smile, and a beard
- Hops and beards
- Sen. John Hickenlooper
- The guys that make Bent Paddle
- Wintertime, fireside beer sipping
- Liquid chef
- Deeply passionate individuals
- Hairy, chubby guys
- Hops, hoppy beers and hops
I don’t have space here to give you all the responses, but that is a nice cross-section. What this says to me is that folks view us with some respect and admiration. Some of the classic generalizations are also highlighted. Let’s look at a few of these:
1. Hairy, chubby guys. While this describes me somewhat, brewers come in all sizes and shapes and genders.
2. Beards, but again it is not a requirement to own an impressive beard to brew beer. (See gender brewer comment above), I do believe that about 70% of all male brewers sport facial hair at some point of the year. There are many reasons for this:
- Climate. I always grow a beard in the winter just to deal with northern Minnesota winters.
- Too busy to shave, like monks and their duties, our beer comes first.
- Beards are awesome.
3. All we do is stand around and drink. This is not true at all. We taste our beers everyday during pH and gravity testing because no machine can identify off-flavors better then a trained palate. We also taste our beers for sensory panels to make sure there are no imperfections to deal with. We have a half-pint at lunch because what civilized person would not?
That is certainly not standing around and drinking all day.
4. Brewing is a glamorous job. This is true if glamour means scrubbing floors, tanks and kegs; hauling hoses; carrying 55-pound bags all the time; getting up at 4:30 a.m. to mash in; and cleaning everything obsessively all the time, then doing it all the next day. Ask any brewer what he or she does, and you will get a similar answer. The creativity and the opportunity to share what we produce, while not glamorous, is very satisfying.
5. Brewing is a male-dominated field. Not true at all. Many of the pillars of the craft beer scene are ladies. Carol Stoudt, of Stoudts Brewery; Kim Jordan, of New Belgium; Gwen Conley, of The Lost Abbey Brewing Co.; Meg Gill, of Golden Road Brewing; Teri Fahrendorf, founder of Pink Boots Society; and our own local star brewer, Allyson Rolph, of Earth Rider Brewery, immediately come to mind. A recent poll by the Brewers Association put the number of women at 37% from ownership, brewing, laboratory work, marketing and finance.
As we deconstruct the brewer as museum piece, let’s look at traits that many of us do share:
- Opinionated. Absolutely, brewers all have their own way of brewing and expressing their craft. We all think we are right about beer as we see it.
- Cooperative. Yes, brewers are some of the most generous individuals with each other that you will find in any industry. We are community driven and will help each other out of an ingredient jam or a beer fest or advice, always.
- Intelligent. I have met no dumb brewers, ever.
- Passionate. We all believe in what we are doing at such a high level that in my case, for example, brewing is just an extension of my lifestyle and a part of my personality, second only to being a husband and father.
- Curious. Brewers are incredibly curious and eager to learn new things. I will never forget when Sig Plagens, the legendary brewmaster, said: “I’ve been brewing beer all my life and don’t know 10% of what there is to know.”
- Creative. What has driven the craft beer industry to the heights we have achieved so far has been done by rolling up sleeves and thinking outside the box. Brewers see beer ideas in everything; it’s a fun and fulfilling part of our job.
- Hardworking. You cannot be a brewer without a strong work ethic and a commitment to hard work. Simple as that.
This is a common statement: “I don’t make beer; I just gather ingredients. Yeast makes beer."
Also: “Every day we make it we make it the best we can." We use this motto at our brewery.
My hope in writing this article was to shed some light on who brewers as people are as we get out a bit more and visit Twin Ports brewers, keep the folks in mind who are “making it the best we can."
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .