Three years ago, if you would have explained to me what I would be doing for a living now, I would have thought you were pulling my leg.
If you would have told me that I would be spending my time building and teaching a beer education curriculum, hosting beer and food pairing events, and helping to develop new beers for nationally recognized breweries, I would have assured you that no such job existed. But as a trade brewer for Tenth and Blake Beer Company, these tasks are exactly what my job entails. Part of me is expecting to wake up any second.
I started my journey toward a beer-related career as an overzealous, impossibly green college grad with little direction besides an interest in beer and a naive curiosity toward brewing. I began brewing at home because I wanted to know more about how beer was made. You see, I am what is commonly referred to as a "know-it-all."
This undeniable fact was brought to my attention by my father at a young age then subsequently reinforced by every teacher I’ve ever had. I like to be right. I like to sound like I know what I’m talking about – whether I truly do or not is often inconsequential. This rather unbecoming character flaw has, however, fueled my desire for learning and, in-turn, served my career well.
By this point, I had brewed a handful or batches with variable success, but that did not matter. The damage was done. I realized that brewing had become embedded in my brain. I had always been interested in food and cooking – as a child, I had regularly wore out my mom’s cooking magazines – but it was the subtle differences in ingredients and the mystical nature of fermentation that drew me to brewing.
Also, during the mid-2000s, we were experiencing the early stages of what would become a bit of a brewing renaissance in the U.S., a symptom of which was the growing acceptance of adding just about anything to your beer. I recall one of the early recipes was for a cocoa, coffee, ancho chile and oatmeal stout. I recall that reviews from friends and family were mixed at best.
As I became more serious about beer, I began to fraternize with other like-minded beer nerds. Joining a homebrew club introduced me to other brewers, helped me to hone my skills and introduced me to competition brewing and judging. I was soon inspired to pursue beer and brewing-related certifications. If I was going to be considered a beer expert, then I’d need to prove it.
By this time, I had been dreaming about beer-related jobs, but as a recent college grad in the height of the 2008 recession, I was just happy to be employed. I had spent two years at a large telecommunications company and hated every second of it. On the day before I quit, I went to the owner of a local craft beer-centric pub, and after a few beers, I told him that if he would give me a bartending gig then I would quit my telecommunications job and apply for graduate school the following day. When I gave my two-week notice the next morning, I felt both terror and relief at the same time.
While earning my MBA and MA in Journalism in Pittsburgh, I began taking on beer-related freelance writing projects as well as continuing to build my reputation as an eager beer nerd. After doing some sporadic packaging work at local breweries, I was given a shot at actually brewing beer professionally. What started as a consulting opportunity quickly turned in to a full-time brewing gig and, ultimately, a Head of Brewing Operations title at a small brewpub. Finally, I was earning a living with beer.
Enter Tenth and Blake Beer Company. A friend passed my name along, and I was approached about a job with the burgeoning craft and import arm of MillerCoors (Tenth and Blake includes breweries such as Blue Moon Brewing Company, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company and Pilsner Urquell). I initially took a sales job – where I spent a year and a half learning that side of the business – before being offered the position of trade brewer with Tenth and Blake; soon after, I relocated to Milwaukee with my wife and newborn daughter.
That was nearly two years ago. Since then, I have spent every available moment capitalizing on an ever-growing, industry-wide hunger for beer knowledge as a catalyst to meet some wonderfully interesting people and have some amazing experiences. Whether it’s walking and smelling my way through experimental hop fields in the Yakima Valley or teaching week-long classes on how to best pair beer with food, I will continue to milk this experience for all its worth.
Why am I telling you these things, especially at the risk of sounding (at the very least) self-involved and (potentially) nauseatingly boastful? I’m telling you these things because I am thankful. Call it "lucky" or "blessed" or whatever you prefer, but I know what it feels like to truly hate what you do every day, and I am thankful to not be in that position currently.
Some of you may have a job you enjoy; others may not. Again, I am not keen on the implication that I am in a position to give anyone advice. However, if you aspire to land a job in the beer business – or, for that matter, any industry for which you have a passion – I hope I can pass on some advice that I have received and that helped me to find a job I love.
Passion and experience are equally important.
Showing a passion for your calling – whether it be beer or any other pursuit – is important, and its infectiousness can be viewed as an asset. At the same time, hiring on passion alone, without the accompaniment of relevant work experience, requires a huge leap-of-faith by a hiring employer.
Focus on your interest, broaden your experience.
Knowing what you want to do – be it a specific job or a department – and targeting your efforts toward that goal is helpful. Even if you land in an adjacent role, you are that much closer to where you want to be. That said, do not be afraid to broaden your relevant experience as you pursue that role. It may sound counterintuitive, but a wider range of experiences can help to differentiate you from other candidates.
"Fake it until you make it."
Of course I am being a bit facetious here, but my point is to not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. If a new role or task seems difficult and a bit overwhelming, then you are probably in for a great learning experience. Take the opportunity to grow and display that you are capable of taking on new challenges.