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So You Want to be a Brewer
By Jim Anderson

I had the biggest laugh in a long time recently while talking to a lawyer. No kidding. He was one of these young, aggressive attorneys who was making a very big living off of other peoples' misfortunes. So much money, in fact, that he was about to retire at age 40.

"What are your plans," I wondered, "when you retire?" He got that whimsical Jimmy Stewart gleam in his eyes, as if he could actually see the future. Then he told me -- quite earnestly -- "I'd like to retire into the restaurant business."

Well, imagine my reaction. If you say it was a brotherly slap on the back and a hearty "Atta-boy," you're dead wrong. If I remember properly, I actually sprayed him with an entire mouthful of whatever I was drinking at the time, and then fell on the floor in convulsions. You see, you don't retire into a business that keeps you working 70 hours a week, into an endless parade of transient waiters, burnt-out lightbulbs, sticky-fingered bartenders and petulant customers who storm around and wave discount coupons in your face. You just don't.

Yet it's the same sort of rose-tinted vision that has attracted so many amateurs to the beer business lately. Let's face it, what poor slob who stares at a computer screen all day in a stifling office and eats lunch at his desk wouldn't succumb to the pastoral lure of the brewery? What's so hard about it? You shovel some grains into a pot, hook your thumbs into your overalls and smoke your corncob pipe while it brews, and then have all your friends over for a party, right? Wrong!

Being a microbrewer is enjoying the least glory for the hardest work and lowest pay of all the skilled areas in the food business. Most of these men and women -- even those at the top of the microbrewery chain -- do it for the love of their craft and their product. A far reach from the love of the spotlight that motivates your typical wanna-be celebrity chef parading around in flower-speckled parachute pants.

Brewing is the worst combination of backbreaking work and exacting standards: Try crawling into a cramped brew kettle to scrub it down with lye. Try carrying a few 100lb. sacks of barley from one end of the brewery to the other then hefting them over your head to pour them into the steaming wort. Try picking hundreds of tiny grain husks one-by-one out of the bottom of a dark lauter tun. Try making sure that every surface in the brewery is absolutely sterile so you don't have to dump hundreds of gallons of infected beer down the drain. Try getting your bottling machine to work for more than ten minutes at a time without it going into a total seizure that only Fritz from the Old Country can fix next time he's in America. Try sucking up to the BATF so your labels can be used in more than one state. And when you've finished all that, try being friendly and cheerful to the dozens of homebrew enthusiasts who call every day "just to talk".

So, next time you see a brewer in a shirt and tie, chatting it up with investors, beware -- he's probably not much of a brewer. The real guys are the ones you never see. And when they retire, you can bet it will be to some quiet place that doesn't take coupons.




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