This is really a post that I should have been making in installments every month, but for some reason I just never really felt like it. I clung to my new pseudo-identity as a “beer writer” and ran with it, ignoring the issue that was originally the reason that I started this blog: to chronicle my path to becoming a professional brewer. The writing part was simply a vehicle to get more exposure both in and to the industry. West Coaster really changed a lot of that, giving me a platform to actually publish articles on beer, as well as gain more exposure in a market that is very desirable to work in as a brewer. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy putting together good stuff for West Coaster. I have subsequently neglected writing good beer content on Into The Brew, as well as keeping updated with posts on myself and my quest to become a professional brewer. Hopefully I can remedy some of that in this and subsequent posts. All of my work for West Coaster is either published in the “Beer News” section of the website, or the online versions of the magazine that are archived in the “Editorial” section. Of course if you are in San Diego you can pick up a physical copy of the current month’s issue at one of over 100 distribution points in the county. If you can get good beer somewhere, you can probably get a West Coaster as well. My November, December, and January columns were on brewing school and my travels in Europe, and the last three months have been pieces about Toronado, White Labs, and a style piece in India Pale Ale.
December 5th saw me on a Lufthansa flight from Munich back to Chicago, and a subsequent flight back to San Francisco after that. The previous day was graduation at Doemens, where we received our Diplomas in Brewing Technology from Siebel and Doemens. It was a great feeling to finally be done. I was thoroughly exhausted from 12 weeks of non-stop lectures and almost as much beer drinking. The last two weeks were draining. Each day was hours of sitting on a bus mixed in with brewery tours and drinking the local offerings at night. It might sound fun, and it was, but I was more than relieved when I got to finally go home and not look at a beer or a lauter tun for a week. I learned that beer travel/study can take a lot out of you and that you really need to take care of yourself if you want to keep doing it in the future.
Returning to California was somewhat of a blur for the rest of December. Between catching up with friends and family, Christmas and New Years Eve, and tracking down some job leads, January felt like it came in the blink of an eye. I hadn’t yet heard back from the several breweries that I had applied with and was starting to get restless. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Eric Rose, brewmaster/owner of Hollister Brewing Co. in Goleta sent me a message on Beer Advocate. Eric was looking for an assistant brewer and tracked me down after remembering me from a conversation we had while I was visiting the brewery in the spring of 2010 in which we talked about my plans for brewing school that fall. After several exchanged emails, we set a date for an interview and I made plans to drive down to Goleta.
In the middle of January I made the drive down to Goleta for a working-interview at Hollister. I met Eric at the brewery late in the morning and helped him brew a batch of Beachside Blond, their Kölsch-style beer. We also transfered and harvested yeast from a batch of Hefeweizen and kegged off the remainder of a batch of The Pope IPA to free up a bright tank for the Hefeweizen to go into. All the while, we talked about me and my hopes for a career in brewing, as well as Eric and what he planned for Hollister and the brewer he was looking to hire. I gained a lot of respect for Hollister after seeing how tightly he runs the brewery, and had been all by himself for about half a year since his last assistant left. There are a lot of little tricks to brewing world-class beer in a small pub setting, and hearing Eric talk about all the great friends in the industry that helped him get to where he is today was very heartening. It sounded like he was looking for an assistant that would be the perfect fit for both him and the plans that he had for the business. After finishing the workday we shared a pint over some more conversation and then I headed to El Capitan State Beach to camp for the night before driving home.
Just over a week later I got an email explaining that while he was in no way condemning my skills, I was not right for the job. I had seriously psyched myself up for a move back to Santa Barbara and was quite let down to get the news. The email was honestly a little cryptic and I’m still not sure exactly what he ended up doing about the position. All I know is that he was interviewing one other person who did not have nearly the depth of experience or education that I have, but was a previous employee and friend. The whole experience was both shocking and incredibly enlightening. When it came down to it, I think we were just too different for him to feel that we would work well as a two-person team in the brewery. Specifics are beyond what would be respectful to disclose in this forum, but lets just say that I learned that personality is very important in a small brewery. You can train anyone with a good head on them to clean a tank and move kegs, but you’ll probably have a harder time changing their taste in food or music. It goes a lot deeper than that, but you get the idea. His parting words I took to heart, and they have become ever more pertinent as time goes on:
In my decision making process I spoke with a number of brewers about the difficulty of hiring new people into the industry. It seemed like many of us would like to see individuals like yourself just take any brewery job, even if it’s just washing kegs and scrubbing floors, so that you at least get a realistic idea of what the job entails from the inside out. Often times just being on the inside is what it takes to land one of the jobs that never seem to pop up on the message boards.