Sarah graduated in the first Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation cohort in May 2015. She is currently a brewer at Hi-Wire Brewing’s Big Top production facility and has been featured in the college's marketing materials for the Craft Beverage Institute. She was interviewed by CBI Director, Jeff "Puff" Irvin.
Q. How have you coped without going to class every day?
A. I work. All. The. Time. I love it. Also, I work at Hi-Wire with two people from my cohort, and see a few others regularly, so we get to relive the good ol’ days pretty often. But I definitely still have nightmares that I have an exam the next day that I didn’t study for.
Q. What have you done to continue your education?
A. I’ve found that this career is about constant education. Whether I’m learning a new department (at Hi-Wire I’ve moved from packaging to the brewhouse), trying to improve our processes, isolating an issue we’ve been having, or just trying to keep up to date on trends on the brewing industry, it requires continued education and research. And honestly, just so I can keep myself fresh on the basics, every once in awhile I’ll listen to a brewing audiobook (narrated by Charlie Bamforth, of course) while I’m up on the brew deck. That’s more just me being a nerd. Also, keep your brewing books after your graduation - I refer to them pretty regularly.
Q. What are you doing away from brewing that keeps you sane?
A. Planning my next big adventure. We take our vacation time seriously, planning epic travels and hikes. Next up is a 5-day backpacking trip through Zion National Park, as well as exploring Canyonlands and Arches. Of course, part of the planning process for any trip is figuring out which breweries to visit, so it’s not TOTALLY away from brewing.
Q. How has your college experience prepared you for a craft beverage career?
A. Many in my cohort had started off as homebrewers - I didn’t. I knew a lot about beer, but if you straight up asked me to brew one I would have probably just stared at you. I got the hands-on experience to know not only HOW to brew beer, but that I actually LIKED brewing beer. It’s easy to say “Being a brewer would be so cool!” but it is a lot of physical labor and a LOT of cleaning. Lucky for me, I like those things. The program also gave me a very holistic view of how a brewery is run. It isn’t just “how to brew beer.” It’s packaging. It’s marketing. It’s distribution. I believe that the more you know about the brewery as a whole, the better you can do your own position within the brewery.
Q. Describe your most rewarding experience at A-B Tech?
A. It was very rewarding to go through this 2-year program with the same cohort. I had people going through the same things as me, working hard to learn as much as possible. It was helpful to be around individuals who were just as passionate as myself, and it encouraged me to work even harder. Those connections are even more important after graduation - most of my closest friends from the program have gotten jobs in local breweries, so once we graduated we immediately had networking connections at multiple breweries across the region. Usually it takes a while to develop those relationships when you first enter the industry, but for us, that network was already in place. Whether we’re trying to figure out why a beer didn’t turn out quite right or if we just ran out of Biofine *coughSamBryantcough*, we can call on each other for help and advice. We all want each other to succeed, because a friend who makes good beer is a friend indeed.
Q. What advice do you have for future graduates and prospective students?
A. Take your internship seriously. I say this as a once-intern and as someone who currently works with interns. Be on time, be willing, be enthusiastic to learn. Treat it like it it is an very long job interview - because in some cases, it is. Also, be honest with yourself during your internship. If you’re finding that you hate what you’re doing, then maybe that area of the brewing industry isn’t for you. With your education in the program, there are so many things you can do in the brewing industry that aren’t actually “brewing”, so find the area that best suits you.
And for individuals who are thinking about enrolling in the program, I would strongly suggest doing your research and looking at the various types of jobs in the brewing industry before you just dive right in. Have realistic expectations for yourself. As I’ve said, being a “brewer” isn’t for everyone, but that’s not what this program is. It can prep you for being a better distributor or laboratory technician, or even set you on the path to become a Cicerone and beer buyer. Keep an open mind and see where the weird and wonderful world of beer takes you.