27 Jan

I wrote last time about motivation, in particular realizing that as important as making beer is to me in opening a brewery, thankfully I am enjoying the other other challenges involved. I’ve been told by friends already in the industry even before I made the decision that I would need to make this adjustment, to learn and accommodate myself to brewing being only one part of many required for success.

Still, at its base, what makes a brewery as a startup different from any other kind of enterprise is the fact that it makes beer. If the product isn’t of a good quality, it doesn’t matter how well you do at everything else. With an excellent product, then everything else incrementally raises your chances of success.

I have experienced enough, including one pro-am collaboration so far, to understand that there is a substantial difference between what I do as a home brewer and what even the smallest commercial brewery does. Though they may share much in terms of principle and theory, the practice when you are making something for sale on industrial equipment is quite a bit different. This is a gulf of knowledge, skill and practice I don’t have time to discover all on my own.

I enjoy the iterative learning involved in home brewing. I am pretty sure my practice at it will stand me in good stead in my own brewery. Any kind of a head start, though, in terms of accepted knowledge and practice is going to help me produce the best product from day one and reserve the on the job lessons hopefully to those elements that will elevate entry level quality to something that truly stands out in the market.

One of the very first people I interviewed for the podcast, Tony Prebula at Saints Row Brewing, mentioned taking a correspondence course through the American Brewers Guild, one that adds to multiple month online course a week of in person instruction and a month long internship at a local brewery. Tony’s internship lead to four years at the start of his career at Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore. I admire Union’s beer and what Tony has been building here, in my hometown, for the last year and a half.

I’ve looked at brewing education programs on and off over the years. For home brewing, it seemed like overkill. For my own commercial brewery, it now seems quite necessary. The challenge is finding a course that is reputable and cost effective, both in terms of my own resources to invest in the brewery and my time which now must be able to stretch between my full time day job and each successive stage of planning and launching the brewery.

When Andrea and I went to Vermont to Brew-Your-Own magazine‘s NanoCon last year, the two day boot camp I took before it was conducted by the head of the ABG, Steve Parkes. Chatting with Tony back when we originally registered for the conference and booked the trip, he mentioned the connection with his own brewing education, that the boot camp was likely to be an incredibly valuable experience, which it was. Steve’s approach to the boot camp was no nonsense, almost overwhelming. Almost. I still felt like opening a brewery was something we could do and thankfully with far fewer illusions about what we’d need to do in order to be successful.

As I mentioned in the post on motivation, I have been debating with myself how hands on I will be able to be with the day to day work of brewing. If I hold to a good measure of humility and remain open to learning from experience, I am sure I will figure out what the right balance is and if, when, and how much help I may need to bring on. I had continued to look at online courses, now including the Intensive Brewing Science & Engineering program from ABG.

If I end up being the primary brewer, a handful of months of education would alleviate a lot of my worries about learning my own way from home brewing to commercial brewing. If I have to bring on an assistant or hire a part or full time brewer, that education would make working with such an employee more effective. With these thoughts, I went ahead and applied for the program, which required pulling together some information on my formal education and listing out my experiences brewing, including any additional books, periodicals, and the like that I had consumed as part of my hobby.

Shortly after mailing off my application, I received the good news that I had been accepted to the 21 week program that started this past week. From now until June I have a not inconsiderable course load including lectures, selections from a double handful of books, and supplemental material that is already filling almost every spare minute in my nights and weekends. Early July I travel to Vermont to work hands on in the lab and the brewery. I emailed my preferences for my internship out of the listed local breweries that participate, we’ll see where and when that lines up, hopefully in the next few weeks.

Like a lot of the rest of this journey so far, I am almost but not quite overwhelmed as well as incredibly excited.

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