Ashley Knotek @ 10 Barrel Brewing Co.
No one would argue that brewmaster is one of the most important roles in any brewery. (After all, the word “master” is right there in the name….) But while there’s plenty written about brewmasters and the fabulous beer they brew (and rightfully so), they’re not the only ones who make the brewery go ‘round. We rarely hear about those individuals in less glamorous positions at the brewhouse who are just as critical to its operation.
Before you read on, see if you can guess what some of these jobs might entail. You might be surprised to find out that some of the positions are so vital to a brewery’s success. You might not have even realized one or two of them are jobs. We hope that the following five profiles gives these unsung heroes of America’s breweries a little bit of the glory that they deserve.
Ever roll your eyes at a troll’s comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram? Imagine reading so many of those comments that your eyes might as well be stuck to the top of your skull. A brewery’s social media manager has to engage trolls all day long as part of his or her job, replying to comments and questions as the voice of the brewery. “Our social media channels are the only way -- besides packaging and print -- to talk to our consumers one-on-one,” says Ashley Knotek (pictured above), a digital media manager at 10 Barrel Brewing Co. “When I’m talking to people on a daily basis -- trolls included -- I’m talking as the brewery. It’s the most intimate way for me to interact with customers besides being a sales rep or a bartender serving the beer.”
But dealing with trolls and talking like a brewery is just the tip of the iceberg for these internet saints. “Our marketing team is pretty small,” Knotek says. “We all wear a bunch of hats. I’ve recently been starting to work with other companies we can collaborate with. We did a collaboration beer with an all-female owned clothing apparel brand in Portland called Wildfang. And I help out our marketing direction with print ads. I name beers. We all do a little bit of everything here.” That’s right -- if you've ever chuckled at a particular beer name, there’s a good chance a digital media manager could’ve been behind it.
credits:"10 Barrel Brewing Co." align:center
Quality Assurance Manager
Okay, “Quality Assurance Manager” certainly isn’t the sexiest job title in the world. (For the record, that would be “Chief Nutella Eater”). But if you like your beer to taste -- you know -- good, a QA Manager is pretty much as crucial as they get. “Our most important [job] is quality,” says Sofonyas Cherinet, a microbiologist and QA Manager at Karbach Brewing Co. ”Is the beer tasting like it’s supposed to taste? We taste every batch of beer, starting from what’s in the grain bins and the fermenters to the final product. We want to make sure every batch tastes like it’s supposed to.”
Now, beer can’t make you sick, since pathogens can’t grow in it. But it can taste like garbage, and bum you out for spending money on it -- which no one wants! That’s why the QA Manager tastes beer like a detective, looking closely for clues at a crime scene. “We have a target [for each beer] to hit for color, bitterness, foam level, and carbonation,” Cherinet explains. “The customers need to get a fresh beer that tastes good, and is up to standards.” Cherinet splits his time between the production floor, the cellar, the brewhouse, the packaging area, and the lab, doing some of the most important work in any commercial brewery.
Breweries don’t just drop from the sky, built out with brewing equipment and a taproom ready to go -- someone is responsible for getting them to that point. And those people are called Brewery Fairies. Just kidding, those aren’t real! But General Contractors are. And even though they don’t work directly for the brewery, they’re just as important as any employee in that they do all of the hard work to get a brewery up and running. “Right now, we’re working with the Mighty Squirrel brewery to find a space, design it, and then procure equipment,” says Mike Haynes, owner of the commercial construction company Haynes Group. This is not an especially quick process -- Haynes worked with the New England IPA masters at Trillium Brewing Co. for two years before they could open their doors to the public.
And building out a brewery can present obstacles unlike those faced by any other businesses. “[A modern brewery] is a unique space because you’re blending retail and warehouse space, which is becoming the predominant format,” says Patrick Andrews, a Senior PM at Haynes. “They’ll have a tasting room and a retail space right up alongside the warehouse and manufacturing. And bringing all the elements together effectively, it’s a bit of a unique challenge.”
Meanwhile, all you have to do is show up and drink beer. You have a great job, person who is reading this.
credits:"[Blue Point Brewery / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/BluePointBrewery/photos/a.81253628203.80416.70410693203/10154265541158204/?type=3&theater)" width:400 align:right
While brewmasters bask in the glow of fame, senior brewers (and really, brewers of all stripes) work alongside these brewmasters like their right and left hands, all to little fanfare. While a brewery’s size often dictates what any brewer will do all day, they most often do a little bit of everything. Daniel Jansen, Director of Operations and Brewmaster at Blue Point Brewing Co., oversees everything from brewing to packaging and logistics, and can’t be on the brewery floor every day. That’s where Jim Richards, Blue Point’s senior brewer, steps in.
“Jim is the boots on the ground, and the guy who chips in on all aspects,” Jansen says. “He takes the cask program and runs it with little to no direction. But then when we need [someone to help bottle beer], or jump on the brewhouse and brew, he jumps on that too. He’s definitely a hands-on making-beers-everyday kind of guy. And I think that’s what he’s passionate about and enjoys.”
There’s plenty of heavy lifting involved, too -- especially when a brewery has a cask program like Blue Point’s. “It’s a manual cleaning and filling process,” Jansen explains. “Hoisting [those casks] up onto a dolly and wheeling them into a different room, and hoisting them back. It’s manually intense.” The next time you drink a beer, think about just how much sweat likely went into making it. (Not literally, hopefully.)
Don’t forget the interns! Ricky Klein, head meadmaker at Groennfell Meadery, points out that these young whippersnappers just don’t just fetch coffee -- they’re super useful for a reason you might never have thought of. “Everyone thinks one of two things about interns: either they’re free labor and a gift from the heavens (they’re usually not) or they're going to be a tremendous amount of work (they certainly are),” he says.“That said,” Klein continues, “we’ve never regretted taking on an intern -- even the ones that proved to be disproportionately difficult -- because they do the one thing that no one else in your operation does: constantly ask questions.”
Klein says that interns will often question the processes of the brewing operation in an effort to understand it better. And by doing so, it often becomes clear that there is “an enormous amount of legacy practice that simply does not make sense anymore.”
Klein makes a great point -- but hey, it's also nice to have someone around who can go on a midday coffee run. Talk about an unsung hero!
Note: Karbach Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, and Blue Point Brewing Co. are members of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.