So You Wanna Be A Brewer? One Man's Path

What homebrewer, or even just a beer enthusiast, hasn’t thought I want to be a brewer? Two years ago Matt Rowe, @LooseScrewbeers, started tweeting real facts about being a brewer with the hashtag #SoYouWannaBeABrewer. He was kind enough to let me compile the first 20 into a blog post you can read here. Ever since then I’ve wanted to sit down with him and get more in-depth about his path to be a brewer.

So You Wanna be a brewer

Matt started homebrewing after college in the summer of 2008 with a friend and their dad’s old winemaking equipment. After a few years, he realized he wanted to make the jump from his desk job over to brewing.

Getting Your Learn On

Matt enrolled in the Siebel Concise Brewing Course. You can go to Chicago and take it over 2-weeks, but his desk job didn’t afford him the opportunity to take the time off to train for his next job. Instead, he spread it out over a few months taking the course online.

The education he received there was a great background and raised his resume in the stack when he applied at MadTree. He learned the why instead of just the how and when that MadTree eventually teaches to new brewers who don’t have a formal education.

Having that background definitely helps you a little bit in the process of the transition

Matt said that the resume bump was one of the biggest things he got from the Siebel course. Whenever they post a brewer job, they get stacks of resumes from homebrewers. If you’re thinking about going pro, this is an excellent option to help you stand out in a crowd of homebrewers.

 Entering Competitions

Something I’ve noticed when new breweries open up is people will say “Oh, they won that competition” or “Well, their homebrew can’t be that great because they never won any comps.” Personally, I like it when a brewer has won a few medals, but I know that the judging process can be flawed and brewing 5 gallons of great beer doesn’t mean you can brew 15 barrels of it. I’ll let Matt speak for himself on this one.

I did enter a little bit in the process, I won a couple medals for the recipe that is now PSA. I got 2nd place in a couple CMI competitions for that beer. Got a few other medals, I think I got 2nd place for a wheat IPA I did.

It wasn’t a huge interest to me, for me it was more the structured feedback thing. I hit a point a few years in, I’d done all the things you do as a beginner, and you start diving into different styles and stuff and I wanted to get stylistic feedback.

So You Wanna Be A Brewer

People are always curious what it’s like to be a brewer. Talking with Matt about this it sounds like there’s plenty of unrelenting repetition from brewing PsycHOPathy nearly a third of the time. MadTree balances this out for their brewing team with the different creative beers they do.

That thought never occurred to me when I saw some new chef series beer or just a less familiar style. I figured MadTree enjoyed doing experiments and wanted to keep people coming in to try the new stuff. Of course, the brewers are going get worn out from tedious tasks and eventually make mistakes. Those unique brews will twist things up and keep them on their toes more.

When asked for any last thoughts on going pro Matt had this beautiful response:

At the end of the day you better really fucking love cleaning. We really are glorified janitors and we get to babysit a single celled organism that’s harder to babysit than any human baby you’ve ever had to deal with.

It’s clear from talking to Matt that there are a lot of great things about being a brewer, but it’s a job; good days, bad days, unendingly repetitive tasks and stressful crap. At the end of that day, though, you’re making beer; when you have a bad day, you can pour yourself a pint.

Differences Between Home and Pro Brewing

This question came from @HamBrew807 on Twitter:

There’s not a whole lot of differences … in terms of process we’re doing the same thing as you, just 30 kegs at a time instead of 5 gallons.

It was clear the biggest difference was all the technology. Matt already had a killer homebrew rig; a full electric HERMs, pumps, and counterflow chiller. But the increased technology and equipment allowed for significantly higher efficiencies. That jives with everything else I’ve heard and learned. You spend about an hour mashing, and about an hour boiling, and about at least a week fermenting regardless of if you do those things in a basement or a brewery.

So You Wanna Be A Production Manager

Matt started as a brewer 2 and a half years ago, but they quickly promoted him to production manager. What’s a production manager?

I’m responsible for start to finish of what we’re brewing for the production side of the business.

His role now is figuring out how much of what beer they’re going to need months in advance and working that number backwards through the kegs, cans, fermenters, and back to the raw ingredients to make sure they’ve got the hops, grain, and weird adjuncts like nasturtium flowers to brew the beers.

My immediate question to all of that was, how often do you still get to stand over a boiling kettle and brew beer? Matt tries to get back there at least once a week to stay in tune with what’s happening and because it’s what he got into the beer industry to do in the first place.

But Wait, There’s More!

I don’t want to get off track of how he became a brewer, so I’ll have another post soon with more behind the scenes production management info. A little tease is that we’ll get into great info about hop contracts!

Another topic we covered at length was MadTree’s new year-round can PSA. Matt Rowe is the man behind the beer since he first homebrewed it a few years back. I’ve got another entire post lined up all about how he developed PSA and what it was liking seeing his beer on Kroger shelves.

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