A Brewer’s Life

A Brewer's LifeWhen drinking a beer, or after consuming a few, a patron may not think of all the hard work that goes into that cold brew, but a brewer’s life is not necessarily an easy one. Beer is a serious business. In the United States craft breweries employee approximately 110,273 people a year. This number continues to grow, with new breweries opening everyday.  While beer drinking may start until after noon, or in the evening, the work that goes into making it often starts much earlier, with many brewers clocking in at seven am.

A full time job, with a wide range of characteristics; the business of beer is not only an art, but a science and marketing job as well. Pay can start as low as $19,000.00 per year, but the potential for growth is great.  Two brewers at North High Brewing Company located in Columbus, Ohio would not share words about their salary, but did give the details of a day in their shoes.

Zack Null and Chris Welker, both beer enthusiasts, have been working at North High Brewery for a few years.  Welker began going to the brewery between his classes at Ohio State University. He stated,

I just loved the place and the beer and wanted to be there. I graduated with my degree in early childhood education and was done with school. The owners asked me if I wanted to start working there.  I told them I did.  I started first by helping with things here and there, before I began learning to brew the beer.

Null also started at the brewery in a different position. He was a bartender for quite a while before he began training under the former brewmaster. He has a degree in computer science but said,

I like my degree. I get to use it while doing the other two things that I love, making beer and smoking meat. I help manage the website for the brewery. I am also starting my own company for barbecuing and home brewing, so I get to do what I love in all aspects right now.

North High Brewing Company is undergoing a few other exciting and big changes.  Currently Null and Welker are in charge of the brewing process, however they are waiting for a new brewmaster to begin.   The new head brewer will begin in a couple of weeks. He is an experienced brewmaster from San Francisco, California. The company is also expanding in size next month per Null and Welker. Welker stated,

The company will go from being able to make about two kegs, to 20 with the expansion. A new building, with larger kettles and boilers is coming. We will also have less manual labor with the advances in the machines. It will still be very hands on, but easier to make more quantity. No cut in quality though.

The company will remain making keg and draft beer for sale, but is not planning to begin bottling their product yet.

The current work day for the brewers consist of coming in around seven in the morning, five days a week.  They check their inventory,  start grinding the grains to go into the beer and then malting begins.  The components vary slightly depending on the type of beer that is being made.  Mashing converts the starches from the malting phase into sugars that can be fermented.  The mash is put into metal vessels where water is added.  The water reaches nearly 200 degrees.  The process then includes a variety of steps, totaling to about six hours of work. Yeast is added to the beer for the fermenting process.  White patches are far from the image of the yeast that makes its way into the beer.  Various forms and flavors of the yeast are present in the brewery, in liquid form, and are added to attain a desired taste.

The beer is allowed to vent during the fermenting process through a hose in the top that is placed into water.  This allows the carbon dioxide to escape without letting oxygen in. Once the time is right, the beer enters its final stage at the brewery and is placed into kegs.  During this step the brewer places specific pressure, allowing the beer to get the perfect head.

The process is a detailed one, with personal touches being placed to add the distinct flavor of each batch.  Null and Welker currently brew approximately two batches a day.  The job is more labor intense than it sounds; according to Null,

The hardest part of our job is that you are wet.  From the boilers, to cleaning, and really most parts of the process, you are getting soaked with something.  Being wet makes the temperature extremes even worse.  You can be standing by a 200 degree machine and 30 seconds later you are in a cooler.  That is probably the hardest part of the job.

Welker agreed with him and added,

Lifting and moving around the kegs is also quite a bit of work. Brewer’s usually are pretty big, at least in the arm department, and you have to be, to do all of the lifting.  Kegs and barrels end up weighing more than you would think, and we lift them up to shelves and various places all day.  We definitely get our workout in while we are in here. That isn’t always a bad thing though.

Neither brewer has job benefits or retirement plans at this time, which they say can be a downside.  That is changing soon for them as they will start getting benefits with the expansion of the company.  They joke, saying together,

We drink beer at work most days. Tasting things to make sure that they come out the way we want. The alcohol kills the germs and keeps us healthy. That is a brewer’s life.

Both Null and Welker seem to enjoy their jobs enough to not mind the minor downfalls. The men agree that the best part of their job is seeing their product enjoyed by others. Per Null,

When you sit down after a days work and sip on something you have made, that is good. When you look up from your cup and see a room full of people enjoying, really enjoying your beer, that is the best thing ever. You know that you made something that is great, and something that makes people happy.

North High Brewing Company is a unique location for craft beer. Each year a few hundred new craft breweries pop up. Each brewery with its own style, not just in setting, but also in beer. This Columbus company has a very distinct, and delicious, selection of beer. Beer enthusiasts are welcome to not only enjoy the hops and happiness, but also get a little taste of a brewer’s life themselves. The professionals lead individuals and small groups through brewing their own batch, which even includes making custom bottles to take home.

Interview By Latasha Alvaro


Interview with Zac Null and Chris Welker
Brewer’s Association

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