As I’m writing this, I’m preparing for a trip back to Colorado to visit my girlfriend, pick up some stuff I couldn’t bring all at once, and to go to Ska’s Anniversary Party. I’ve only been gone a month and half – seven weeks exactly – but I feel like I’ve been gone for a year. Part of that is because Baton Rouge has run me through the wringer (truth be told, the universe has run all of Baton Rouge through the wringer in the last two months), and part of that is because work is a lot harder. Most of the reason work is so difficult, is a brewing culture here that pales in comparison to any part of Colorado, but especially Durango. It’s hard work just getting on the same page with the little stuff, like where to put your parts, let alone big stuff like yeast and fermentation management. I’m not complaining, I’m reiterating something that I already knew: that Durango is a world class beer town with relentless professionals at all levels of beer production. From the people filling the kegs, to the ones that clean the taps, from the ones that pull those taps, to the ones that empty the kegs one pint at a time, Durango knows beer.
By the time this is published, I’ll be back at work in Baton Rouge, sweating my ass off, but I’ll be thinking of all of all my industry friends in Durango. And knowing this, I wanted to share will you all a piece of writing that I am proud of, mainly because I’m proud of you guys, my true brew friends. It’s an edited version of my letter of resignation from Ska, which I think only a handful of people saw. But it’s a pretty deep outpouring of love for the people that made the beer happen at Ska. Happy birthday guys.
Dear Ska Family,
Over the last two years you all have been there for me in so many ways that I can’t even begin to list them all. Whether I’m dealing with a difficult filtration or a difficult relationship, you have all kept me sane. Coming in to Ska has been my therapy and such a rock for me through any and all bad situations life has thrown at me. It’s also been such a pleasure waking up before the birds to make some of the best beer in the world with the hardest working group of brewery workers I’ll likely ever see. And you’re all super unique individuals that make working at Ska a blast (there are so many little inside jokes and references that I want to make here, from going “Fred Speed” on mix runs, or having the “Irish Girl” listed as a safety hazard, but I would take days writing all of them, so if you want to know how I’ll remember you, just ask before I leave).
And yes, that last part is true: I’m leaving. I’ve been given an opportunity to take all the great things I’ve learned here at Ska and apply them to a smaller, growing brewery in Baton Rouge as their lead cellar person. Even though my ability to dry-hop a 240 bbl FV in a blizzard will no longer be needed, this isn’t just about all the details of my job, I’m talking about the attitudes and values Ska has. I feel like every one of us has a little chip on our shoulder, we’re a little bit punk-rock with a spring-loaded middle finger for bad beer and a throat-full of damn-the-man! And we may feel like underdogs, but I think a lot of us forget that we make some of the best [bleep]ing beer in the world. The status quo for us is the best beer in the world. Seriously, there are only a handful of breweries that bring home the kind of hardware we do on a regular basis. To keep having that punk rock attitude everyday, takes the chin-up, chest-out, steely gaze of Patrick Swayze in “Roadhouse” or Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill,” and an endless supply of humility at the same time. This is what I plan on taking with me.
So why would I leave? Well, I don’t want to. I really don’t. At least once a day since I was offered the job, I look around the brewery and get a little teary eyed. I’m going to miss all the little idiosyncrasies, graffiti and nooks and crannies of the brewery. But I have to take this opportunity because I don’t want to be a cellar person for the rest of my life. I want to be a head brewer some day and we all know Thomas will probably be the head brewer till he dies of a heart attack at age 86, when some unlucky bastard asks for more 1.5-inch gaskets for the millionth time. That and I’m going to a smaller brewery, where some of my skills that I rarely use here at Ska can shine. Things like writing, creativity, leadership and maybe I’ll get to bat cleanup for their softball team.
Anyway, I’m going to miss the shit out of every one of you, and please, let me know as soon as a position becomes available that you think I’d be a good fit for, even if it’s in 40 years and you need a new Fred.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.