"I wish there had been a local program that condensed everything I had to scrape together into one comprehensive course... amping up to a commercial scale requires a comprehensive understanding of chemistry, physics, work flow, and sanitization."
What got me started in craft beer? Well, that's a tough question to answer. For starters, a vague childhood memory comes to mind. My first taste of fermentation came as a kid, going up to a fruit bowl and finding that the grapes had turned into a crude version of wine. This sparked a curiosity in me, observing a natural process that incurred such dramatic change – a very tasty change at that.
But most likely it was my time spent living in Wyoming, making several trips per week to Fort Collins, a sort of Mecca for craft beer. Many a night was spent imbibing some of Colorado's best beer. It didn't strike me until much later that brewers all over the country were trying to replicate these satisfying suds on their own.
Some time later, I heard stories from a friend about trying to make beer in his kitchen. These stories always ended with a huge mess, soaking wet socks, and much-too-drunk friends. I decided to attend one of these infamous get-togethers to satisfy my curiosity. It was everything I expected and more, aside from the sub-par beer. My natural curiosity lingered, and as I kept attending these homebrew parties, I kept seeing more and more ways of improving the process.
Thus, I decided to make my own system. With much stricter tolerances for temperature and sanitation, along with a sober mind (and the foresight not to wear socks while brewing) a group of us finally started making beer during the winter of 2009.
Competition fueled our desire to improve and soon we were brewing weekly, honing new techniques, and sharing our beer within other circles. Casually passing beer out to friends soon turned into bringing a truck-load of kegs to family Christmas and donating my beer to charity auctions to raise money for worthy causes.
One fateful holiday, my uncle brought up an idea: "How would you like to start a brewery?" How could I say no? Soon after, I was sitting down with my uncle, Paul, and Mark Anderson, sampling and describing my beer. Talk of future possibilities carried well into the night.
So, how does a brewer truly become a brewer? In my mind, it all starts off with a relentless passion for beer. You can have all the theoretical knowledge and tangible skills in the world, but without true passion you will never make amazing beer.
Thinking back to my start as a brewer, I wish there had been a local program that condensed everything I had to scrape together into one comprehensive course. Going from home brewing to commercial brewing is an incredibly challenging leap of both skill and faith. Even though the core principles of brewing remain the same, amping up to a commercial scale requires a comprehensive understanding of chemistry, physics, work flow, and sanitization.
All in all, being a brewer is more art than science. You can learn everything you need to know from a book, but those pages will never allow you to create your own unique recipe... or how to adjust your boil when there is a storm rolling in since your grain bed is about to stick and throttling back on your lauter valve—or getting a feel for running your O2 for a bit longer because the yeast is over-stressed. Know what I mean? A brewer's feel only comes with time and treating the equipment you have like an extension of your body.