Behind the Scenes of Brewing

Written by
Nick Oscilowski
February 16, 2017
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Two Australian brewers give a glimpse into a typical day on the job - the glamourous, the mundane & everything between.

With the beer world experiencing something of a renaissance, there are more beers than ever to choose from and more breweries making them. As a result, there are more and more opportunities for people to get into brewing as a career, whether it’s working for someone else or starting your own business.

And why wouldn’t you want to be a brewer? What a life it would be, starting your day with the sweet smell of boiling wort (the liquid extracted during the mashing process), spending the afternoon pouring your creative juices into recipe development, and ending it with your feet up and a glass of a beer that you’ve made with your own hands.

But is that romantic notion grounded in reality? The honest answer which you’ll understand as you read on is: yes and no.

"As a brewer only a small percentage of your time is actually brewing", says Richard Adamson, an experienced industry figure and co-founder and Head Brewer at Young Henrys, a fast-growing brewery in the Sydney suburb of Newtown.

"Most of the time is cleaning, kegging, cleaning, packaging, filtering and cleaning."

The brewing process, like any form of food or beverage production, begins with a fastidious attitude to cleanliness. You’ve got to keep those tanks, pipes, filters, kegs, bottles and anything else that comes into contact with the liquid perfectly clean and in top condition at all times. If you want to be a brewer, there’s no way to get around the fact that you’re going to do your time holding a brush and hose; talk to enough brewers and you’ll understand why they occasionally joke that they’re nothing more than glorified cleaners.

A better view from the top of the brew house

Of course, brewing isn’t all about getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing – especially if you’re the one in charge and you have a few assistant brewers to help out with the dirty work.

Richard says, "As a Head Brewer, most of the job is project management and very little hands on work. Monitoring the quality of the beer comes first. This happens by working with the team and demonstrating through results the impact of techniques and methods of production. Managing the brewing team comes pretty easy when you have people who are dedicated to the job and love what they do. A lot of the Head Brewer’s job is then scheduling, monitoring forecast versus actual sales and managing inventory."

That’s something echoed by Graeme Mahy, the original brewer at Murray’s when the business opened ten years ago in Taylors Arms and a man responsible for creating some iconic Australian beers. Having departed and worked overseas as a brewer and brewing consultant he recently returned to Murray’s, now in Port Stephens, where he is in his second stint as Head Brewer.

"The Head Brewer does all the planning and paperwork and very little brewing", he says.

"A typical day for me starts at 7am. It's nice and quiet at that time so I can get a few Quality Control (QC) things done or if we’re brewing that day I’ll mash in and start getting tanks ready before the next shift arrives at 8am. From there it’s generally doing paperwork, answering emails, doing more QC and maintenance and repairs."

A recipe for fun

Cleaning, scheduling, paperwork… where exactly then does the fun start? For many brewers it’s in the recipes.

"As a brewer I’m always thinking about recipes; the next beer, the next big thing, or something outrageous", says Graeme. In the past six months alone, that thinking has seen Murray’s release beers as diverse as a raspberry Berliner weisse, watermelon wheat beer and a spiced hot cross bun ale. Through such recipes brewers have the means to unleash their creativity, and that’s something which tends to flourish when others are invited into the brew house.

Since its inception Young Henrys has, perhaps more than any other brewery in Australia embraced the concept of collaborative brewing. This involves the brewers teaming up with another party – whether it’s a fellow brewer, musician, chef, artist, community group or anyone else with an idea – to make a unique beer for a special occasion. In Young Henrys’ case it might be a crowd-sourced fresh hop beer created for TedX Sydney through to an old ale brewed to launch an art exhibition featuring works by icons such as Raphael and Monet. When you invite interesting people into a brewery, there’s no limit to the ideas that can blossom.

And once they step outside the brewery, brewers tend to have more than enough to keep them busy with tastings, tap takeovers at some of the country’s best beer venues, degustations where chefs match a range of beers with specially designed courses, beer festivals, visits to hop farms, judging beer competitions and, most importantly, time spent sharing their beer with drinkers.

Living the dream

If a few daytime hours spent scrubbing the inside of a stainless steel tank sounds like a good trade-off for getting to spend your evening in the company of fellow beer lovers, then brewing may be for you. If so, Graeme and Richard have some small nuggets of advice for getting your foot in the door and getting a feel for what’s really involved.

"Find a job in a brewery, even if it's a few hours working for free", says Graeme. "Brewing is not as glamorous as it seems! A lot of hours are spent cleaning; it's hot and physical work, dusty and sweaty."

That’s something echoed by Richard Adamson who says brewing is "hard physical and mental work [that’s] very rarely glamorous. But it is very rewarding making great beer and working with people who are passionate and fun."

And, at the very worst, at the end of a tough day a brewer really does get to put their feet up and enjoy something they’ve helped create with their own hands.