Brewery Nightmares


A reader asked me, “At what point does someone have enough knowledge to become a [professional] brewer?

Or do you hire someone to do the brewing and then learn from them?” That is a really good question and one that I think many more people should ask themselves when opening any kind of business.

My wife and I watch some reality shows about failing restaurants and we are always amazed how someone with absolutely no experience decides to open a restaurant and act as the chef. I guess everyone who has scrambled an egg thinks that they know how to cook.

In craft beer, I have met people with no prior knowledge of the industry buying a brewpub. In more than one case, they told me that after a single day of training, they became the head brewer.  I’m not saying success is impossible in that case, but I think that must be one tough road to quality and success.

Well, how about an experienced homebrewer? I know a number of homebrewers who turned pro, including myself. Some had only brewed a few batches before jumping into the business and the results speak for themselves. Others, with substantial homebrew experience seem to fair much better. Some people say that I only loosely fit the definition of homebrewer, since I have had my share of experience brewing on professional equipment, but I have seen others do quite well with far less experience than I.

The brewing process is the brewing process. The fundamentals of great beer are the same at 5 gallons as they are at 5000, but it isn’t that simple. Where it gets tricky is in the size and scope of things. Cleaning a fermentor isn’t done with powdered wash and a carboy brush. You need to understand how to work with hot caustic and pumps safely. You can’t open a vial of yeast and toss it in the top of the fermentor, you need to harvest and transfer the correct amount of yeast in a sanitary way from one fermentor to the other. You’ll need to work with other chemicals and perhaps pressurized steam. It is possible to seriously injure or kill yourself or someone else in a commercial brewery. While you might be able to figure out most of this stuff on your own, it pays to have someone show you how to do it correctly and safely. The pressures, temperatures, weights, and chemicals in the brewery can turn deadly without warning for the inexperienced.

If you are not going to hire an experienced professional to work with you, then you must go and seek professional training first. You might be able to intern at another brewery or you can take classes from several brewing schools in the United States or abroad. And, if you really want to be successful, don’t just limit yourself to things like how to clean a unitank. Spend time learning about quality control and the business end of the brewery business. It will all be time and money well spent.

One Comment

  1. Scott Rudich says:

    Skills from other industrial manufacturing industries transfer well. Our brewing staff has over 40 years of combined pharmaceuticcal manufacturing experience including supply chain management, process design, and quality control, but no brewery experience. We make mistakes from time to time. I will agree that having someone on staff that can properly design a CIP process is key. Making friends with other pro brewers is another source of knowledge.

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