Trip Blog (for live reporting from the road).
to a new brewer, September 2008
My name is BobbyGirl, and I first wrote to you nearly a year ago. I'm the current brewster for Nobody's Brewery in Somewhere, USA. We're a small corporate chain of brewpubs; don't know if you're familiar or not.
I just hit my first anniversary in the brewery and brewed my 60th beer. I operate out of a small 7bbl system and usually go through about 475 bbls a year. Our place is corporate owned, so there are recipes to be adhered to, but it's good learning experience. I had never brewed before going into the brewery at Nobody's, so there was a lot to learn.
I was the first female brewer for Nobody's, and with no previous experience, I felt like I had a lot to prove. I try to make up for lack of experience by being as pristine as possible with my practice. Everything stays clean and shiny and I try to be as precise as possible with temps, measurements, etc. So far nothing has had to be dumped! ***knocking on wood*** :)
I have my first year under my belt now, and really want to keep brewing in the future. I was hoping for advice on what to do next. I'd like to take some online brew classes through Siebel, but have NO science background and a poor recollection of even Algebra (my B.A. is in Philosophy and Literature! hah!). The plan is to stay at Nobody's for the next few years (or as long as the company stays solvent!) and just get experience.
I'd really appreciate any suggestions you may have.Cheers and have a great day!
Sounds like you have a good basic foundation via your current experience. Keep reading and learning everything you can. Formal brewing education is a good idea.
It's great that you have honestly assessed your experience/education (or lack) in this area. I recommend you sign up for a basic math class at your local community college. You may need both Functions (precursor to Calculus) and Statistics. The school may be able to give you a test in the placement/admissions office so you can assess where you are on a scale of math knowledge/understanding.
You'll definitely want to have Algebra down pat. Once you have the math part out of the way, you will want to take a semester of Chemistry. You can take the Chemistry class geared for non-science majors, but you'll have to have it. (It is easier than the science-majors Chemistry class.) You will HAVE TO be able to read a chemical formula, and you'll need to understand enough Algebra and Chemistry to do that.
Once you have those basic requirements under your belt, then you can think about the Diploma Class at Siebel, or the American Brewers Guild program in Vermont. Seriously, don't spend money on these programs unless you have some decent Algebra, Statistics, and Chemistry understanding, as you won't get as much out of the coursework, or you may not even be able to complete the coursework successfully!
Start saving your money now as these programs are expensive. There are a few scholarships out there. You will qualify better than someone with no professional experience, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting a scholarship, such as increasing your personal brewing knowledge...
Depending on your personal life, if you have time beyond these classes for a hobby, if you haven't homebrewed, you should do so. Homebrewing will give you more experience with recipe development than you currently get at work. If you are meticulous about keeping notes (ie: brewlog binder or notebook), you will find that you may be able to scale up your homebrew recipes and use them at your next brewing job. (I scaled up my old recipes at my first paid brewing gig.) Homebrewing will also give you a lot of experience with raw materials and techniques you haven't used before. These things take time as you have to walk before you run, so start now.
The goal is to homebrew good batches of beer to style consistently. One way to verify your skill is to enter homebrew competitions. Winning competitions gives you extra goodies to put on your "beer resume." You should also study for and take the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Exam, and then make yourself available to judge homebrew competitions. You can still enter your own homebrews in those competitions, you just can't judge the categories you entered.
Be sure to homebrew styles of beer you are NOT making at work. You are already strong in those styles. Homebrew the styles you are weakest in, and don't be afraid of using new techniques. Get a good homebrew recipe book, such as Jamil's book: http://www.amazon.com/Brewing-Classic-Styles-Winning-Recipes/dp/0937381926/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219101188&sr=8-1.
Follow the recipes till you feel confident, then mess around and modify some recipes. Once you feel good about that, then make up your own recipes from scratch, but only after you have researched what was traditionally used in a particular style of beer. Once you've got several traditional styles of beer down, then create your own cross-style and non-style beers.
You have to learn the foundation before you mess around. Picasso was well-trained in classic painting and portraiture BEFORE he set out to create his own style. At 16 when Picasso entered art school, his application submission piece was deemed technically perfect. Only later did he help develop Cubism and his other cutting-edge art styles. Similarly, I can guaranty you that Tomme Arthur (of Port Brewing fame) mastered classic beer styles before he ever tacked up the sign over the entrance to his wooden barrel room that states, "In Brettanomyces We Trust."
I know this is a lot of "homework," but you have several years of employment at Nobody's Brewery to keep you going while you tackle the next stage of your career.
One step at a time... first, call your local community college and schedule a basic math assessment test. Plan to go from A to B to C to D to.... hitting all the stops before you hit Z. This is a several-year process we've laid out, but I am confident that your passion for beer and the work of brewing will propel you not only through this process, but to the top of the brewing field.
The fact that you took the time to reach out to me, shows that you have the guts to reach out and grab the gold ring. The directions are all right here in this email.
Please keep in touch, and congratulations on choosing a fine career like brewing to invest your passion in.
Thank you so much for your kind and generous advice! Your thoughts and time are truly valuable! I have started by dragging out the old and dusty algebra texts from college and am working through those. While the memory gaps are alarming, I feel that by the spring semester Chemistry will be a reasonable undertaking. First steps! Some private space must be found before I can try homebrewing... I have a 6 and a 4 year old and they tear up the place like you wouldn't believe!
I'm excited to say that all the plans to attend the GABF are now in place and now it's just counting down the days! When is the Pink Boots meeting? Although all the male brewers I have met were consistently nice, helpful, willing to share knowledge, etc..., it's really exciting to be meeting a bunch of other females brewing beer! Can't wait! Looking forward to October!