Brew School: Becoming a Brewer

Posted on June 16th, 2010

Friend of Beeriety Justin Lloyd recently began working at Chelsea Brewring Company in Manhattan as a cellar man. Below is the first in a new series of articles by Justin about what it’s like to work in the brewing industry.

Last year I set out across the country in search of the ultimate job—professional brewer. After three months of visiting numerous breweries, pubs and festivals, I landed in Portland, Oregon and set out to find a job in a commercial brewery. Despite dropping off resumes at every brewery, distribution company and beer bar in the area, I simply could not get a job in the industry and resigned myself to home brewing. I eventually found a job in a restaurant but kept an eye out for a chance to work with beer. Hours were spent scanning websites like ProBrewer.com and beer blogs for internship opportunities; pint and after was consumed while chatting up brewers trying to discern their secrets for success; I even convinced a film-making friend of mine to edit a video submission for a chance to work at Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, Oregon:

None of it worked.

About a year after I left New York, my father called me. He found out that an acquaintance of a co-worker was friendly with the owner of Chelsea Brewing Company in Manhattan. Even better news was that business at the brewery was steadily growing and they might need some extra hands. I spent the several weeks making phone calls and set-up an interview. Ten days later I was on a plane to New York, anxiously preparing for an interview. I got hired as a waiter in Chelsea’s restaurant and spent my days off volunteering in brewery. In three weeks, the boss asked me if I’d like to work at the brewery officially two days a week while waiting tables on the weekend. I instantly agreed.

I started working at the Chelsea Brewing Company about a month ago. Currently, I’m considered the cellar man of the brewery. This awesome and archaic sounding title means that I perform all the grunt work and help out the two brewers with whatever they need. Mostly, I scrub, sanitize and fill kegs. However, since Chelsea Brewing is a small operation—30 bbl brewhouse and six 60 bbl fermentors—I work side by side with the brewers while they answer my incessant questions and show me the ropes.

My days in the brewery start at 7am. I get to work, hop on the forklift and get the brewery ready for the day. Once the pallets of kegs, malts, hops or whatever happens to be lying around that day are cleared I fire up the keg washer and get to work. We have a 4-keg cleaner so after scrubbing the outside of each keg I load them up to the machine and flush and sanitize the inside of each. Four kegs take 15-20 minutes on the machine so you can imagine that if I have thirty-six kegs to clean, the majority of my morning is spent cleaning.

Around 8:30 the head and assistant brewer show up. By that time I’m usually finishing up my keg washing and manipulate the machine to state bulk filling for our accounts. Chelsea is a draught only brewery so although we don’t bottle our beer, we have numerous accounts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to whom we provide full kegs, corny kegs, casks, firkins and pins. Depending on the brewmaster’s agenda for the day, I assist with the day’s task while keg filling. Since the summer has unofficially started in NYC—those beer gardens need to stay stocked—we’ve been busy brewing to fulfill all of our orders. Brewing generally lasts 6-7 hours depending on the style and the amount of cleaning we need to do. Non-brew days are devoted to beer transfers, tank sanitizing and other odds and ends needed to keep the restaurant bar stocked and the beer delicious.

While it may not be a huge accomplishment on my part, I can safely say that I’ve gained a feel for keg washing. I won’t be creating recipes that will take the beer world by storm, but I’m slowly gaining an understanding of the job, dirty keg by dirty keg.

  • Great article Justin!

  • Danny

    moreeeeee

  • Tony

    Congrats on the job – any fun industry (beer, wine, Hollywood) is tough to get into, especially a long-term trade like brewing. Best of luck, and keep it up!

  • Congrats, look forward to hearing more about this. Everyone wants to know what's going on behind the scenes. Give us the scoop.

    -The Beer Newb
    http://BeerNewb.com