What’s Releasing this week:
3/22 Skeleton Tree Roggenbier 6.1% ABV (From FRB’s Small Batch 1BBL Pilot System)
What’s Brewing this week:
3/22 ESB Trail Series #8 Extra Special Bitter- ESB 5.1% ABV: 4/12 Release date.
Transition: Homebrewer to Professional Brewer & How to become a Brewer
It happens a lot. I’m in the tasting room taking a moment to speak with FRB Customers, or at a Beer Festival after pouring a beer for a fest-goer. The most frequent questions that I get from people after they understand that I was a Homebrewer for 8 years, before I became Head Brewer at Front Royal Brewing Co., are “How difficult was it to go from homebrewing to brewing on a professional level?” and “What can I do to become a Brewer?”.
I always start to answer this inquiry with a smile, knowing that this means, whether they know it or not, that they are genuinely interested in knowing just what the quality of the beer that is currently in their glass. As well as the story is with who made and crafted that beer, and how it all got in their glass. It’s one, if not the most, endearing quality about Craft Beer that helps create a love for Craft Beer & Brewing. If the brewery is doing it right, you pretty much have access to all the storylines that surround the shear struggles and character of each Craft Brewery-and that includes the story that surrounds the Head Brewer.
Less sexy than what most think
With the second part to the question, a lot of these people asking this question are asking because they also may have some interest in someday being a brewer themselves. Brewing beer has become romanticized as some glamorous job that in most people’s minds, they just stand around all day and drink beer. It’s not anything like that. Most of the tasting and analyzing of beer comes off the clock. If it was easy, then everyone would do it is what I normally retort with. The hard work every single day, no matter if it is a brew day or cleaning kegs, cannot be skipped or skimped on unless you want to produce beer that is low quality and not consistent.
No one is going to be able to teach you your own work ethic. It’s a learned trait that becomes either a part of your character or it isn’t. Brewing is a passion career. No amount of schooling is going to instill that passion within you. Real life experience is golden; get your hands dirty, get yourself into homebrewing, and dedicate your free time to learning the craft and see if there is truly a passion inside you for it. Have form successes’ and most importantly have some failures and learn how to correct them.
You need to see if the fire for it gets lit for you and go from there. That is the best thing that you can do for yourself. The day to day work is completely different than what the majority of people perceive it as. It’s a lot less sexy than what most think it is. Then? Then you can look into some of the various brewing classes and certifications that are out there. Without a passion for it, your heart isn’t going to be in it. That is going to show in your beer and the way you run a Brewhouse. See where your own path leads.
Many ways to get there
The other thing that I try to relay to them is that there is no one way to answer the Homebrewer to Pro Brewer question to anyone without first relaying aside from having the passion and drive, there is not just one way, but there are many different ways to get there.
For me, my path to a Head Brewer. I started with being a Homebrewer and dedicating myself to the hobby, spending countless hours brewing in my driveway, fermenting & bottling in my basement, and making every beer style that I could to educate myself.
- Countless books, podcasts, blogs, brewing conferences.
- Founding a Local Homebrew Club (Shenandoah Valley Homebrewers Guild) and helping to build a group of like-minded peers to be able to share successes and failures with. http://shenbrew.org/
- I engrossed myself heavily in running a couple of local Homebrew Competitions
- Join the American Homebrewers Association https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/
- Getting my BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Program) Certification, educating myself on off flavors and taking them seriously, what causes them and how to prevent them & learning and using the language to describe them. https://www.bjcp.org/index.php
- Training my tasting pallet and really focusing on being able to pick out and describe exactly what it is that I’m tasting.
- Getting my Cicerone Beer Server Certification and Training others to do the same. https://www.cicerone.org/
All that was before I ever thought that brewing at a Professional Level as a Head Brewer was even a possibility. I think as I look back on it all, I would say that I would not be anywhere near as good of a brewer as I am without these key foundation steps in my background. It was an important part of my path and story. Yet this doesn’t even touch the challenges that led me down the path to researching and educating that I took to get myself as ready as I possibly could be.
Understanding and getting your head wrapped around the scale-up of recipes from ten-gallon batches to ten-barrel (310 gallons) batches is not as simple as it sounds. Nothing is a simply one-for-one scale up. I had the amazing opportunity to be able to draw on knowledge and feedback from a lot of fantastic brewers (professional and not). This allowed me to not only ask the silly little questions that I didn’t understand. They let me come into their brewhouse and brew with them. That experience of seeing how they did things in their own way in their own brewhouses was a truly priceless step to my own learning, understanding, and confidence to get to this point.
I use BeerSmith Brewing Software and always have. I knew enough about it to help me dig into the conversion aspects. There are a ton of different settings that you can set up to get it to work with the scaling correctly. brewhouse size, tank dimensions, batch profiles, hop utilization %’s-all of which you must be certain to research and understand where they needed to be and thus set up for proper scaling of recipes.
By far, the topic I spent the most time researching and getting an education on, was water. Getting my head wrapped around water chemistry was a huge thing for me. I had not really ever concerned myself with it before. (My water as a Homebrewer came from a private community watershed, and a well water system that is great to brew with, with nothing much added.) I learned how to read a water report. Identifying what each number means, what water salts are used for and how they affect your water chemistry.
Understanding what our water chemistry on Main Street, Front Royal. Then understanding any changes to it are critical to the quality of our FRB Beer. Not to mention understanding the water profile for each beer I wanted. Each beer style that I brew has its own water profile based on a few key characteristics I’m looking for in the finished beer. Balanced mouthfeel, dry aftertaste, smoothness of the bitterness, and/or alcohol, etc.
Learning Your Equipment
You still have to know your equipment, understand how it operates, and how you want it to operate. There are many unknowns to it all until you start to gain the valuable experience needed to understand it all. Getting in there and using the equipment, running test after test and seeing just how things react during certain times. Writing up your Standard Operating Processes (SOP’s) for you and your equipment that you expect everyone who sets foot in your Brewhouse to follow. It’s a matter of quality and consistency. It all just takes time to manage the pressure and stress to utilize that time appropriately.
Each Brewer and therefore their Brewhouse has their own character that they put into their beer. It’s a unique and good thing that should help exemplify the passion that the Brewer and their Brewhouse Team have for the Beer that is going into your glass.
One of the most rewarding things that I have experienced is seeing your beer pouring out of taps into a customer’s glass. The enjoyment on their face as they drink and enjoy it over great conversation makes it all worth it.
See you all in the Tasting Room!
Front Royal Brewing Co.