Friday, 26 August 2016

6 ways to land your first job in a brewery

The world of brewing – one I am reasonably new to professionally, but not on a home brewing level (and certainly not on a consumer level) is often a strange, absurd world, full of oddballs, misfits and crackpots – and so, landing a job in a brewery isn't necessarily a straightforward qualification/job interview/9-5 salary path. Brewing is mostly vocational, and so not necessarily an academic study – which is great, because it means you don't have to be formally educated – at least to begin with – to start brewing for a living. Assuming you are a home brewer hoping to break into professional brewing, here's 5 tips to help you along the way.

1. Achieve things with your home brew. Don't just brew standard beer to drink at home – find the stories. Go to home brew festivals and clubs and tell your prospective employer about these amazing meetups you to go to share your beer. Enter competitions and get your beer scored, keep the paperwork and take it with you to your interview. Take a keg to parties and events – brew special beers to open on special occasions. Follow historic recipes, use strange ingredients and build bits of kit to brew like a caveman. Do a little beer tourism when you're on your jollies. One question I was asked in the interview that ultimately landed me my first brewing job was “what's the craziest thing you've ever brewed?” Being able to answer an “Imperial Black Saison aged on red wine soaked oak chips” certainly raised a smile and broke a lot of ice. I once participated in an online group brew challenge where we had to brew without using modern technology (thermometer and hydrometer were allowed.) Having these points to talk about in an interview, even an informal one, will go a long way to your employer building a positive picture of you.

2. Take some minor  “brewing interest” qualifications. Assuming you already love beer and know a good chunk about it, there's plenty of not quite accredited but reasonably well respected taster courses out there to help you step into your professional development. Cicerone Certified Beer Server ($69, reasonably easy), Beer Judge Certification Program ($15, reasonably difficult), Craftbeer Beer101 ($20, extremely easy), and BJCP Beer Academy Foundation Course (£130 + VAT, no exam, City and Guilds qualification) are all low cost exams that will look great on your CV and demonstrate an understanding of beer in general without too much study. You're not aiming to show you can operate a state of the art macro brewery here – you're proving you have an interest in beer, some knowledge, and a desire to study for more.

3. Volunteer. Yep, get volunteering. I don't think there's a better way to gain brewing experience than to offer your labour for free – volunteering has massive benefits to you as a potential professional brewer, and most micro breweries can always use a hand digging out the mash tun or cleaning the copper. It's a great chance to learn the trade inside out on a real working level, and can get you into a close knit network that's probably tighter than you think – brewers talk, brewers are mostly friends and if there's an opening somewhere, you'll probably be first to be recommended, if they can stand to lose you. Many employers will simply look for experience, and listing a brewery you've worked for on your CV is a very essential box ticked for many breweries – entry level jobs are often simply a matter of turning up on time, being willing to put the graft in and appreciating the end product. Keep putting yourself out there – again, brewers are weird folk and may need convincing – so get yourself to a brewery, drop them a couple of home brews off and have a friendly chat, and you might find yourself weighing out hops sooner than you think. There are voluntary positions available at beer festivals too – you'd be surprised how man brewers and breweries attend, how many people you'll meet in the trade, and how many of the same people you see at these events time and time again.

4. I'll stress this again – take some beer with you.
My boss's favourite saying is “the proof is in the pudding” and he's not wrong. You can have all the processes, ingredients and branding in the world, but people taste with their eyes, nose and mouth, and beer drinkers are, it's not unfair to say, among the most opinionated in the world. Brewers love beer. Give them a beer you're proud of and they'll have confidence in you. There's not a brewery alive that will string you up for taking alcohol to your job interview – in fact, all of the interviews I have attended have all resulted in beer tasting.

5. Play to your strengths. Working in a brewery is a mixed bag – I always say that the 8 or 9 jobs I've had over the course of my life were my real education. McDonalds taught me processes, food hygiene/safety and customer service – ASDA taught me inventory mangement – bar work taught me, well, to serve beer. Landscape Gardening taught me to run a business, take accurate records, and how much coffee to drink before shovelling a tonne of spent grain out of the mash tun. My hobby of pratting about on photoshop has lead to me designing our pump clips, adverts and promotional material. Every job or hobby you've ever had is likely to play a part in your transferrable skills, and you'd be surprised how much is relevant, so don't leave them out.

6. Be cool.
Brewers are artisans, so any artisan hobbies you have are worth bigging up. Make an effort to get on with your potential employer on a personal level – this can be a stressful industry, and nobody wants to work with a beer snob, an irritating know-it-all, or a general pillock. Make yourself somebody that people want to share a beer with at the end of the day – because chances are, that's what you'll be doing.

Any tips or questions? Feel free to comment...

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