What’s it Really Like to be a Beer Brewer? We Asked a Few

Being a brewer isn’t about adulation from fans who adore your perfectly crafted beers. It’s hard work with long hours and requires a fair amount of dealing with the unexpected. I informally polled a few local brewers to find out some things that the beer drinking public may not know about their occupation.

What is one thing about the brewing industry that beer drinkers may not know?

I think people get the impression that we’re either drinking our beer exclusively or finding the most rare “whales” from around the country. In truth, we enjoy a Montucky Cold Snack at the end of the day or a Modelo Especial with a lime on a hot day as much as the next person does. When we are being picky (and not drinking our own beer) we spend our dollars on beer that comes from Wisconsin because we know that, pint-for-pint, it has a much bigger and more positive impact on our immediate community than drinking an ABI or Heineken Group beer. — Tommy Vandervort, Enlightened Brewing

Brewing is about 95% cleaning and sanitizing things. It is only about 5% actually making beer. — Andrew Gierczak, MobCraft Beer

The longer the beer sits in a package, whether in a bar’s cooler or on a store shelf, the more the flavor changes. You may end up drinking a very different product than what the brewer intended. This is especially true of IPAs. [This is] a good reason to drink local and drink at the source if you can. — Matt Hofmann, St. Francis Brewery

One thing that beer drinkers may not know is that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue publishes the monthly sales of all the breweries. We are also the only state that breaks it down between kegs and bottles, according to the Brewers Association. — Russ Klisch, Lakefront Brewery

What are some problems you’ve come across as a beer-maker?

We never thought we’d be managing the challenges that maple syrup producers face in order to make a beer. We did two runs of a beer called From the Roots and we had to acquire 250 gallons of maple sap from a farm near Mayville to make it. The trees run really well when we still have freezing temps at night but warmer temps during the day. It was touch-and-go trying to fill one of these IBC totes, and when we finally gathered enough, we had to truck the liquid to the brewery — on a windy day I might add — white-knuckling it the whole way, and rig up a pump and hose situation to get it into one of our fermentation tanks. From there we kept it cool until we were ready to make the beer. It turned out awesome and was totally worth it!  That was a fun one. — Tommy Vandervort, Enlightened Brewing

There are a few beer drinkers who live to critique beer, and while we don’t mind having fun conversations about beer profiles, we always have a good laugh when a patron says that our pilsners or lagers are really light, or when a double IPA is too hoppy. That’s the point! Those comments are usually followed by a, ‘we’ll see what we can do next time,’ a shrug of the shoulders and getting back to slinging beers over the bar. — Tim Pauly, Broken Bat Brewing

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen or heard?

The strangest thing I have ever seen is definitely a dry hop geyser. Sometimes when brewers dry hop, the hops cause nucleation in the beer, causing a lot of the CO2 to rush out of solution and form a giant geyser of hops and foam coming out of the tank. — Adam Thomas, MobCraft Beer

[A hop geyser] is not a great thing to experience because we lose beer and hops out of the tank, and it usually ends up all over the brewer. Yes, it is a dangerous situation. But it also looks cool so long as you’re not the guy at the top of the tank getting drenched by a geyser of beer. — Andrew Gierczak, MobCraft Beer



Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 20 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for a few years more.