Want to have your own brewery? Hang on for a wild ride.

by DGO Web Administrator

Until very recently, I’ve never really wanted to own my own business, especially a brewery. I’m fine making other people’s beer, using their ingredients and tools, and then I still get to hand someone a beer and say “I made this” (I also have a terrible fear of failure, but that’s unrelated, maybe). Despite personal qualms, I still see people opening breweries, and half the time I think, “how the [bleep] is that guy going to open a brewery? He’s not even a good homebrewer, how is he going to run a brewery?” And, yeah, half the time the product is half-good and enthusiasm is half-there. I guess it’s hard watching the growing pains of any new business, especially one rooted in history, tradition and microbiology. I mean, it’s one thing if you have a hobby of, say, leatherwork and you open an Etsy shop; it’s another thing entirely to turn your weekend hobby and homebrew recipes into a brewpub.

I don’t think a lot of people understand how much and how dirty the work is. Most of the time, you’re in a super humid environment, around hot liquids, lifting bags of grain, dragging hoses and scrubbing every possible thing that can be scrubbed in the meantime. Being sprayed with yeast or beer and getting powdered with hop or grain dust is a regular occurrence. It’s not glamorous. You regularly leave work tired and sore, dirty and smelly.

Romantic, right? The image of the brewery as a spotless environment and the brewer standing with a paddle stirring the mash with a smile, is a rarity and a lot of work to maintain, which doesn’t get photographed or written about. It’s also requires a lot of learning and a lot of reliance on the trials, failures and successes of others. One of the things that I love about the industry is that every person you work with (unless they are absolutely an FNG – [Bleeping] New Guy) has something to teach. A person starting their own brewery from scratch has to figure out their brewhouse on their own, has to learn to scale their recipes for their system, and if they have only homebrewing experience, has to learn all the other important parts of producing drinkable beer at full-scale-batch size. Durango is pretty lucky that, so far, all of our breweries are in the hands of experienced professionals with decades of cumulative knowledge and experience working in their brewhouses. The amount of learning from and reliance on the experience of others that goes into a successful brewery of any size blows me away.

Dealing with the usual learning curve is pretty easy in a brewery filled with consummate professionals. Dealing with problems and failures seems impossible, especially for the inexperienced, because brewers, even the most knowledgeable, well-seasoned brewers make many of mistakes. Machines fail constantly. Ingredients and circumstances change from batch to batch, and the yeast does whatever it wants sometimes. Every brewer I’ve talked to has made some major mistake – filtered the wrong beer, cleaned the wrong tank, opened the wrong valve, forgot some important task or another. Hopefully, you never have to dump beer down the drain, get or cause an injury or break a vital piece of equipment. Some mistakes you will make only once, like going on salary or drinking too much the night before an early shift, but other mistakes, failures or issues are best avoided and prevented. That comes from experience or having that experience for when the inevitable shit does hit the fan.

That fear of inevitable failure, whether it’s a bad batch, or a mechanical fix that’s out of my reach, the inability to handle a weird fermentation problem, or shitty customer reviews on Yelp (oh, yeah, [bleep]ing forgot about the critics …), those fears are, for the moment, what keeps me from going out on my own. That, and loads and loads of student loan debt.

Robert Alan Wendeborn puts the bubbles in the beer at Ska Brewing Co. His first book of poetry, The Blank Target, was published this past spring by The Lettered Streets Press and is available at Maria’s Bookshop. [email protected]

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