Before they were brewers.
Christopher Walken tamed lions, Gwen Stefani whipped up blizzards at Dairy Queen, while Queen Latifah salted fries at Burger King. Jerry Seinfeld sold light bulbs over the phone. He’s now the world’s highest-grossing comedian.
Some of our favorite brewers were setting up sprinkler systems and inputting codes on Apple IIc’s before they got bit by the homebrewing bug and embraced the thrill of risk and reward by changing careers. They decided to turn a hobby into a paycheck. Or should I say, hopeful paycheck.
One of Philadelphia’s favorite breweries wouldn’t exist if Tom Baker didn’t pull the plug on his career in computer programming after 11 years and start Heavyweight in 1999. His wife Peggy, also a programmer, and Baker closed Heavyweight in New Jersey and opened Mt. Airy’s Earth Bread + Brewery in September of 2008.
Jim Koch has written perhaps one of the most notable stories about career change. The Harvard grad left his job with Boston Consulting in 1984 to follow in the footsteps of six generations that came before. He took his grandfather’s recipe and his secretary Rhonda Kallman, Jerry Maguire style (though Koch probably gave two weeks notice) and started the Boston Beer Company, now the largest American owned brewery in the country.
Steve Jacoby was a sheet metal worker for 32 years at a plant producing silicon chips that decided to outsource all work to China. He had been homebrewing for 10 years at the time of the lay-off. In 2006, Jacoby chatted on Beer Advocate with author Lew Bryson. Bryson advised him, “Don’t call or email- walk in and ask to talk to a brewer.” He headed to Sly Fox Brewing and filled out an application. He was hired in packaging, then started brewing within three months. “I was scared. It’s very physical. I wish I would have started sooner, but Aleve is wonderful,” Jacboy says.
Dan Endicott, due to open Forest and Main Brewing Company with partner Gerard Olson (McKenzie’s Brew House) in late spring, spent the last two years as a florist. He went to school for glass blowing, but planned on being a painter. In 2004, he bought a homebrew kit for his brother for Christmas. Endicott didn’t even partake in the drink at the time. He started homebrewing with his brother and discovered the enjoyment of beer thereafter.
There are a few that aren’t ready to make the full-time move just yet. They might have reservations realizing that craft beer is still less than 5% of the market share. Equipment is expensive, and many are making great beer. Competition- albeit friendly- is intense. Curt Keck of Allentown’s future HiJinx Brewing Company, was the senior brewer at Weyerbacher for two years before he joined the internet technology world. He’s happy with his compensation at his IT job because he is confident that he can provide his children with all the bells, whistles, and education they need with that salary. But he looks forward to the day when he can brew full-time.
It all began with a “Mr. Beer”
One graduates from extract to all grain. From five gallons to a 1.6 barrel nano-brewery like John Stemler of the soon-to-be Free Will Brewing Company in Perkasie, PA. Stemler was in the lawn and garden business for 20 years, and friends with partner Dominic Capece for 15. He began working for Keystone Homebrew Supply two years ago, along with Capece (family owns a pavement company). They are trying to find funding now. Brian Boaks has been brewing since purchasing a Mr. Beer kit in 1999. He sells insurance by day. On the weekends he consults local homebrewers on recipes and takes care of Boaks business. And, business is doing more than alright. Last year, the Garden State brewery did 95 barrels. They’ve already sold 40% of that year-to-date.
What Color is your Parachute?
Sailor, foreign car mechanic, college history teacher, social worker, HR director. Manayunk Brewing’s Bill Young has had five careers prior to brewing. In 2001, at 58, he attended a career-changing seminar in Bend, Oregon. His instructor told him to go into town and interview\ people that did what he thought he might want to do. He took a tour of Deschutes Brewery. Decision made. Young would find the color of his parachute would run the gradient from a bale of hay to brown-black.
He then homebrewed for six months and became acquainted with George Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew. Hummel advised, “You’re two blocks from Yards, or two miles from Manayunk.” His first job was on the Yards bottling line. He then went on to brew at Manayunk under Larry Horowitz. “Larry taught me how to brew and I knew I was going to do it the rest of my life,” states Young. Joined by Head Brewer Doug Marchakitus and Assistant Brewer Jeff McCracken, Young is confident that they’re the best team that Manayunk has seen.
Rob DeMaria, who took a leap to launch Prism Brewing Company shares, “Changing careers into the craft industry isn’t easy, but in these economic times, I learned that the only person in charge of your future is you. Big corporations are slashing employees and generally no longer care about their people. Changing careers is risky and starting a brewery is ten times harder than you might think. Every day is a struggle, but when you get feedback from your customers about how much they enjoy your beer, it makes every headache worth it.”