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First Draughts


Robert Alan Wendeborn

The life of a brewer (and it may not be what you think)

Ar 170819650
Adobe Stock
Ar 170819650
Adobe Stock

[Editor’s note: This is part of a series exploring the lives of brewery employees. First up: Brewer, part 1.If you’re a brewer at a large brewery, your day might start at 5 a.m. by saying hello to the overnight brewer, being careful not to make too much noise as you approach, lest he mistake you for a ghost in the cavernous recesses of the brewing floor. You are probably the first person he has seen in over eight hours and he’s probably been talking to himself for at least three of those hours. They might have been listening to whatever music could keep them up, or they could be on their fifth pot of coffee; they could be chain smoking during every second of down time. Depending on the brewer, the brewery, or how busy the brew schedule is, this overnight brewer might have smoked a few bowls or masturbated a few times or some combination of the two. Oftentimes, it’s a fight just to keep your eyes open and your mind sharp, so you do what’s necessary.

If you’re a brewer at smaller brewery, you might start your day at 6 a.m. by greeting the assistant brewer, who is not yet trustworthy enough to be in possession of their own set of keys. They may have a breakfast burrito for you, or you may have a cup of coffee and a Clif Bar for them, depending on your relationship, generosity, and the current status of your collective bank accounts. Depending on the brewer, the brewery, or what day of the week it is, you might smoke weed, or give the OK for the assistant brewer to smoke or you might have to sneak off and smoke in the alley, or you are an ardent professional who would never think of doing such a thing.

No matter the size of the brewery, if it is a brew day, you begin by verifying the status of the day’s brew: Is the fermentation vessel clean/sanitized? Is the water hot? Do we have enough/the correct grain? Do we have the hops? Is all the equipment working? If it is a very large brewery, you will inquire as to the current status of the brews: Where are we in the mash? Where is kettle 1? Where is kettle 2? Have we milled in the grain for next batch? How long have we been knocking out, etc.

All this information will tell you how busy you are going to be, it will tell you how shitty the night went for the overnight brewer, it will tell you if the second shift brewer will be doing the cleaning cycle for most of their shift and will probably just mess around with the cellar person the whole time.

By 7 a.m. you’ve got a whole packaging and cellar crew or a kitchen staff starting to do prep. This is when the music definitely switches to metal. There will also be heavy doses of Sublime, Nickelback, and Limp Bizkit. You will know the start of every Sublime song well enough to be able to switch the song before Bradley Nowell says “Santeria.”

At around lunchtime, or 9:30 a.m., all the normies start showing up. They may come in and say hey, they may have to walk through the brewery on their way to the office and casually nod, or they may go straight to their desks and never even think about how the beer is made. Almost all of them know enough about the beer to be good at their jobs. Most of them know a great deal about the beer, and a handful of them know more than you because they’ve been doing beer gigs longer than you’ve been able to drink. Some of them want to know but are too overworked pushing paper and making spreadsheets to learn. Some of them just know the beer is good enough to pay their bills. A few of them don’t care. They could be making Chapstick for dogs for all they care. A few of them care so much about the beer that it keeps them up at night.

It’s usually after lunch that you are in the groove or in the weeds. In the groove means that by the end of your shift, you will have started the CIP before the second shift even gets their boots on. You will have hit all your brew stats. Your temps will be exact, your times will be quicker than usual, your pHs will all be spot on, your yields above average. If you’re in the weeds, god help you, and god help those around you.

Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.