Most people in the brewing industry full time get their first taste of brewery life by starting at the bottom, myself included. Working as an entry-level brewing professional often means that you start by stacking cases, cleaning kegs, and scrubbing floors and the outside of tanks. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you operate some pumps, drive the forklift, maybe run the CIP on the bottling or canning line. It’s all shitty work, but it’s where everyone starts, a rite of passage, really. Plus, all the people you meet on the packaging line are genuinely the coolest people in the brewery.
The packaging line folks are usually one of three types of people: people who want to get their foot in the brewing industry (homebrewers, former bartenders, recent college grads); people who are good at manual labor/creative work but are a little too out there for a normal job (you gotta meet these people, seriously); and people who want a cool job but it’s not their entire life (liftees, raft guides, really cool retirees, college students, weed growers, musicians, etc.). They usually have plenty of scars, plenty of tattoos, plenty of stories about each of those, and have lived/are living a hell of a life.
I really think everyone in the brewery, whether they’re accountants, bartenders, or CEOs, should have to spend a few days a year on the line. It’s really the most team-oriented part of the brewery, and watching a good packaging team do their thing can teach everyone a thing or two about their own department.
I’m a few years removed from being on the packaging line on the reg, so I’ve been talking to a few packaging folks to get some insight into the life of a packaging professional. First is my co-worker and the current packaging lead at Tin Roof Brewing Co., Cala Miller. Cala is a rad brewing professional that always brings a positive vibe to work and always eager to learn. She also has a penchant for Fernet-Branca, so she’s got pretty good taste. Tin Roof also just got a new canning line from a Canadian company called Cask that is still in the process of getting all the kinks worked out, so she’s been such a champ at dealing with that fine piece of Canadian engineering.
So, as the packaging lead at Tin Roof, what’s the typical day look like? My day is forklift driving, order building, operating/fixing a canning line, and trying to have enough washed kegs for the beer to package that week.
You are also currently a part-time zoo keeper, and you’ve been a street performer, a musician, a bartender. How have all those other roles helped you with your current job?Change is good for me, so working different jobs in different states around the country keeps me entertained. And creativity is important. Managing packaging comes with a lot of sudden change and stress. Like bartending, I manage that environment well. And being surrounded by creative people, brewing delicious beer, feeds my need for creativity.
What kind of music you jamming while you’re canning?I listen to energetic music (Spoon!). It keeps me moving. It keeps me happy. And if the canning line is running well, it keeps me from being bored.
In your opinion, what are the best traits/skills/attributes of a packaging employee?Finding things to do when there’s downtime. Being quick. Paying attention. Showing up on time.
What’s the most frustrating thing about your job and what’s the most rewarding?The most frustrating things end up being the most rewarding. Things rarely run smoothly when the canning line is on. And that can be stressful. But fixing that machine while simultaneously learning more about my job is always rewarding.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.