Life Lessons from an Evolving Brewery

I really wanted to write about the Life Lessons we can learn from Brewer’s Yeast. Usually when Greg Parker explains the magical properties of yeast to me, I am totally inspired by this amazing organism and how it can be likened to humanity. Unfortunately, as I was trying to recollect those stories for the post and asked Greg to remind me how yeast are like people, all he could come up with was, “If the resources are too abundant and the conditions are right they will reproduce until they basically create so much heat that they all die”. Which I am pretty sure was just another one of his attempts at getting me to stop asking for a third kid. So, in an effort to keep this more positive, I’m going to focus on Life Lessons I’ve learned from the evolution of Iron Horse Brewery.

1. Don’t be afraid; or be afraid, but do crazy stuff anyway.
When Greg and I bought into the brewery with his dad, we had a three year old and an infant, no money in the bank, no industry experience, and were able to pay ourselves a collective $1000.00 per month. I’m not advocating this as a model to imitate. But, the opportunity presented itself, and in spite of all of our fears, and the better judgment of some of our elders, we went for it. Greg’s dream was to own a brewery and he didn’t let anything hold him back. I definitely would’ve bailed six months in if I could’ve, but I’ve learned a lot about what good can happen when you go for something with all your heart and work hard, even when the odds are against you.

2. Surround yourself with good people.
I try to imagine what would have become of the brewery if it had only been in the hands of Greg and I. Greg gets distracted by snowboarding and mountain biking which means he is pretty much distracted all year long. I have the attention span of a fruit fly after being home with small kids for years. For all of the things we bring to the brewery, we lack others. If we didn’t have someone like Tyson overseeing the brewing, Regan taking care of the details, Ross out making friends with the world, Suzanne running a tight ship in retail land, or Jared sitting in his windowless office thinking up weird ideas all day, we would be in serious trouble. IHB is what it is because of the strengths and weaknesses of the entire team, and how well everyone works together to complement each others’ weak spots. Being surrounded by good people certainly makes you stronger as a person and it makes whatever you are doing a lot more fun.

3. Do things because you love them, not to win awards, or meet someone else’s standards.
When we first started in the brewery, we realized quickly that we weren’t going to be able to follow the common model of entering our beers in contests for awards. Why you ask? Well, because we don’t follow style guidelines (and we couldn’t afford the entry fees). We make stuff up and play around with new ideas and focus on creativity and inventiveness, rather than how to replicate the perfect IPA. We aren’t looking to copy a style with perfection, we are looking to make something unique that represents who we are as a company. That approach has proved valuable for IHB, and it certainly is something I’ve tried to carry forward into other areas of my life. Which is lucky because I really am much better at making things up than I am doing what I am supposed to.

4. Be the best version of yourself; not an imitation of someone else.
As the brewery has grown over the years, and as we have had to make collective decisions about how to steer it, we have often opted for the unconventional path. Because we never had the funding to pay large-scale industry professionals to come in and do things for us, we had to figure out who we were and do it our own way. Sure, that meant paying a friend in beer for help on the website, or Greg brewing all day then pouring at a festival at night and then sleeping in the van on the side of the road. But doing things ourselves helped us to figure out who we were based on our own values, rather than going out and trying to replicate what we saw work for other bigger breweries. So no matter where you are or what you have to work with, all you really have to do is embrace it.

We look forward to making more mistakes in the future, so more life lessons can be learned.

Until next time.


One comment on “Life Lessons from an Evolving BreweryAdd Your Comment

  1. Tyler Sharp on

    There is a ubiquitous, overarching message that comes out of the IHB. Positive attitude makes a positive work environment. Happy brewers make exciting beer. Happy servers peddle the product with gusto. You people are going to make me diabetic by the time I finish reading your blogs.

    Mushy “OMG I love you all so much” out of the way, I would posit a few of my own conjectures about the yeast-humanity analogy.

    In the face of adverse conditions, yeast can survive from the few strains in the bunch better suited to high or low temperatures.

    Yeast strains traveled a lot after college, finding it unsatisfactory to be cooped up in one region.

    Like a good friend, once a friendly yeast is discovered, it tends to get invited to a lot of parties.

    Just to make sure this isn’t too warm and fuzzy, and somewhat to echo what Greg said: Yeast isn’t immune to the tragedy of the commons. Leave it unattended and it will eat itself to death.


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