Living the Dream


I received an email from a homebrewer dreaming of becoming a commercial brewer and he asked, “How late is too late for a determined fool to chase an old dream?”

My answer to him was that it is never too late to follow your dream. The moment you stop pursuing your dreams, you might as well be dead. That is absolutely true and I will always stand by that claim. You should always live life and make of it what you can. But I can’t help but mention the flip side too. We know that it takes determination, persistence, creativity, and passion. The great thing is you can have all of those things no matter what your age, but there is a practical side to consider.

If you have deep pockets and can hire plenty of people to do the hard work, then you can go that route. The issue is when you can’t afford that, which is pretty much everyone that might want to open a brewery. So what is the physical demand in a brewery? You need to be able to lift empty kegs, sacks of malt, and push around pallets of grain. Brew days are long and physically demanding, dragging around heavy hoses, cleaning mash tuns, and many other tasks. Other days aren’t much easier and distribution day can be a challenge too. Note that I said empty kegs. Nobody should be lifting full half-barrel kegs by themselves. Certainly, it is often possible, but it isn’t really wise. The chance of causing permanent physical damage is not small, even with proper lifting technique.

At Heretic we team lift things like full kegs, but even still, I’d love to get a lift for the delivery van to make the whole process easier. In fact, we try to find tools or methods of working in order to reduce the physical demand where possible. I’ve visited a lot of different breweries and more often than not, it is clear that reducing the physical demands on the brewer is not high on the priority list. I’m always amazed when a brewer needs to carry sacks of grain up or down multiple flights of stairs. Sometimes they need to carry the grain multiple times. Once when delivered, a second time to mill the grain, and a third when it is time to remove the spent grain. I understand that there are often limitations on buildings and on the funds available to install solutions, but sometimes it is just that the comfort of the brewer is unimportant to those in charge. Maybe it is just me, but I think better and do a better job when I’m not struggling to survive physically.

And even worse, there are some breweries where the safety of the brewer gets short shrift as well. Simple stuff like chemical-safe goggles and gloves. Eye wash stations and fire extinguishers. Dust masks and hearing protection for the mill room. All of this stuff costs very little to implement and there is no excuse for allowing your employees to work without these basic protections. When we don’t keep things like safety and physical demand in mind, even the youngest and healthiest brewer can’t live the dream.

One Comment

  1. Jamil,
    As a former professional baker, I really appreciate your saying these things. I worked in restaurants and bakeries in my twenties and early thirties. Now I homebrew (and bake, and cook, and make wine too), but I can say I am astounded at how few people think of these perfectly obvious and core things. It may be because the brewing world is generally younger and more male and thus more sure in its own sense of physical power. But these things are impermanent and can be taken away in seconds, even from the young and strong. I may have a more realistic assessment as a woman in my mid-forties, but I also have permanent spinal degeneration (genetic), and arm injuries from my baking days, and I’ve had at least one concussion and stitches on the job! I don’t think anyone ought to be in denial about the physical demands of brewing – much less any other big production food/beverage industry. Even craft is big production when you come out of your kitchen or garage.

    Thanks so much for the sanity and thoughtfulness (and good writing) of many of these posts. Note that now I am a more or less happy database developer: Folks, there are many advantages to keeping your day job, especially if it helps you to hire the people and buy the equipment that will prevent your ending your brewing career prematurely!

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