A New Beginning: Beer School At Siebel
January 20, 2011
The four and a half years since I finished up my masters degree at RPI have been an interesting ride. After five months of grueling, agonizing and depressing job searching, I wound up working as an imaging scientist at ITT Space Systems Division. This was both a boon and a curse. It was a very nice paying job straight out of college, but it was also a miserable experience. Working in a large corporation with management that was a bunch of holdovers from Kodak, thus having an extremely shortsighted and micromanaging mentality, coupled with the daily annoyance of working with defense agencies, made those three years a soul crushing experience.
Through all the misery of defense contractor work I poured all my passion and free time into my favorite hobby: brewing beer. This, coupled with Rochester’s burgeoning craft beer supply, is what kept me sane. During these years my brewing abilities and techniques expanded quite a bit and my passing interest in getting into the brewing industry intensified.
On the last day of March in 2010, three long months of waiting for the layoff announcement at our division came to fruition. I passed through those turnstiles for the final time that day with a giant smile on my face (and a few choice words for the company and my ex-supervisor). I think that the layoff was actually the universe balancing itself out by taking me away from a miserable situation and giving me the perfect opportunity to follow a better path.
It was during those early days of unemployment and job searching where I finally decided to go for it. The opportunity to be nearly debt-free, have a significant amount of savings, have no mortgage/wife/kids or anything else to tie me to one location, pretty much made the decision for me. I signed up for brewing school in Chicago.
The Siebel Institute of Technology is a school that is considered one of the best in the country for professional brewing education. The International Brewing Diploma program that I signed up for consists of seven weeks of classes in Chicago, three weeks of classes in Munich, and two weeks of touring various breweries and suppliers throughout Europe. The phrase ‘experience of a lifetime’ doesn’t begin to cover it.
Jumping into the brewing world like this is easily the biggest risk I’ve ever taken in my life. I’ve had VP’s of defense contractors in Maryland and Virginia wanting to talk to me about positions they needed filled down there, but I’ve decided to completely abandon that soul destroying line of work in favor of following a passion. Some people think I’m nuts for leaving a lucrative industry like that to follow a low paying career path, but I think you’re crazy for continuing a job that makes you hate life and yourself everyday. I personally think that anyone saying ‘don’t do something you love as a job’ have just never had the balls (or the right situation) to try.
Going along with this jump into the industry, getting actual experience in a production brewing environment seemed like a great and necessary idea. In August, I began an unpaid apprenticeship at one of the few breweries here in/near Rochester: Custom Brewcrafters. They are a small brewery that makes custom beers for local bars and restaurants, has a few of their own beers under their brand, and have been doing more and more contract brewing lately.
I worked at CB for five months, just ending my apprenticeship last Friday so I could have a few weeks to get things done before heading to Chicago in February. I honestly have to say that the five months I was at Custom Brewcrafters were an absolute blast. I was involved in almost every aspect of commercial brewing to some degree during my time there. The best part was that I drove home everyday satisfied with my decision. Yes, it’s a lot of hard physical work, and you spend all day on your feet and getting dirty, but it’s the kind of work that really agrees with me.
The thing that really made the experience great, however, was the people. Bruce and JP, the two guys that actually do all the brewing there, were fantastic to work with and I can’t thank them enough for all they taught me. Even on the worst days, where everything is going wrong and it’s frustrating as hell, we always managed to have a good time.
One last thing in this incredibly long-winded post. I fully plan to blog my experience at Siebel, and my experiences in the industry afterward. We’ll see what form those posts will take later on, and I’m completely open to suggestions at this point.