The Not-so-Righteous Path to Making Beer for a Living

*Originally written by Paul Von Hagen

I vividly remember the very first craft beer I had the pleasure of ingesting. For legal purposes, let’s say that IT WAS TOTALLY not ON MY 18TH BIRTHDAY. I HAD DEFINITELY not BEEN DRINKING complete garbage (Busch Light and Natty Ice), for a couple years now at this time. I had no idea what a real, good beer could be. My experience with beer up until this point consisted mainly of drinking piss-flavored carbonated malt beverages as quickly as possible, usually while tossing ping pong balls into plastic red cups. My brother, being older and wiser than I, had a much better palette for fermented beverages, and saw to it that I experience the finer side of the wonderful world of beer.

For what WAS DEFINITELY not MY 18TH BIRTHDAY, my brother got me three bottles I’d never even seen before: Chimay Rouge, Bleue, and Blanche. Chimay, one of only 11 official Trappist breweries in the world, is world-renowned for their classic Belgian ales. Being young and full of nothing but testosterone and bad decisions, I decided that the best place to open and ingest these bottles was in the parking lot of the local skate park with a few friends. The bottles confused and intrigued me; “why the hell does this beer need a cork?” I popped them open, and we sipped them straight out of the bottles like wild animals suckling their mother’s teat (if current me could time travel, I’d go back to that moment with a proper tulip glass and slap the shitty emo comb-over straight off of my young, pimply face. You don’t drink good beer right out of the bottle you little punk; also, bet on the Seahawks to win the SuperBowl in 2013, just trust me.)

From that moment on, I had an itch that my brother had been trying to scratch for years; an itch to try more new, exciting, and different beers. I had no idea that this desire would eventually lead to me getting to make beer for a living, but I’m damn glad that it has. Let’s talk about that…

Like every young, misguided youth with a burning desire to do something outside of the norm, I decided to forgo conventional college (where the SQUARES all go to fit into the system, man) and went to art school instead. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I liked music, and that was enough to decide to pursue a degree in audio engineering at the Art Institute of Seattle. I had a blast, learned a lot, ran my own freelance audio business for a bit, and eventually lucked out by getting referred to a job at Microsoft. The job had nothing to do with my degree, and it was for a company I honestly don’t respect at all, but when I saw how much I’d be making, the conviction-fueled anti-establishment voice in my head quickly shut the fuck up so I could stack the proverbial paper. I became the epitome of the sellouts I told myself I hated, but being able to afford nice things all of the sudden has a way of making you not feel so bad about selling your soul.

“I have a top-floor apartment looking out over the Seattle skyline and the beautiful Puget Sound, fuck having a soul!”

Flash-forward to the layoff that cut a good portion of the team I worked on, myself included. I found myself more relieved than upset, and basically milked unemployment for a very fun and lazy few months. Eventually, a good friend of mine decided that I’d be a good fit in the dark, seedy mess that is the bartending industry. I started out assisting the bar at a craft cocktail joint in the heart of downtown Seattle, and fell in love immediately. Not only was I learning about liquor and cocktails, I was experiencing new beers that I’d never even heard of.

After a short while, I was bartending on my own, and was thrilled to be doing so, that is until Microsoft came calling offering me my old job back. As much as I hated it, the internal drive to make as much money as physically possible took over, and having a set schedule that didn’t consist of closing the bar at 2 a.m. and proceeding to get completely hammered 5 nights a week sounded like a welcome reprieve at the time.

Of course, I was completely wrong. Only a couple months back into working at Microsoft, I realized I’d made a huge mistake, and pined for the long nights drinking shift beers with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. My desk job was boring; there was no challenge, no excitement, no fun, nothing new to learn or do, and I hated it. As luck would have it, fate must have seen my pain, because it quickly brought about a new round of layoffs, and off I was again to dive back into the world of alcohol service.

Spending some time to think about what it was that I actually wanted to be doing, the thought popped into my head to investigate getting into craft beer. I knew that I loved the alcohol industry as a whole, especially malted carbonated beverages, and I also knew that I didn’t want to sling drinks from behind a bar for my whole life. After some research, and a visit to Central Washington University (Go Wildcats!), I put all my chips into the pot and enrolled in the Craft Brewing Certificate Program. I spent the last of my time in Seattle learning and reading as much as I could about beer and the industry, pursued my first level Cicerone Certification, and drank as many different beers as I could get my hands.

Fast forward a year and I’m a graduate of the program and working in the packaging department at Iron Horse Brewery. I was happy to have experience in a professional brewery to add to my resume, but with my lease ending soon, I had no idea where I was going to go. I talked to our brewmaster here and explained my desire to brew professionally and bust my ass to learn as quick as possible even though I had zero technical experience. For whatever reason, he decided to give me a shot, and I was soon promoted to shift brewer. Having been on the brewing side for over 3 months now, I can tell you with certainty that it’s easily the coolest, most fun, most exciting, and weirdest job I’ve ever had. My coworkers are all a little crazy in the best way possible, and I wouldn’t rather work with another group of goofballs. Sure, like most jobs, sometimes it can be extremely stressful, but at the end of the day I still get to MAKE BEER FOR A LIVING.

I sit down after work sometimes, fruit of my labor in hand, and think about how rad my job actually is. Some people save lives, some people teach children, some people run multi-million dollar companies, but I have a career in making arguably the greatest beverage ever known to man! And yes, it’s as fucking cool as it sounds.

 

*Note. Iron Horse Brewery does not condone underage drinking of any kind. This blog is a reflection of the author’s own life experiences and opinions, not Iron Horse Brewery’s.

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