Saturday, September 20, 2008

Someone Called Me “Brewmaster”


If prompted, I am happy to talk beer and brewing with most anyone. Many people are either fascinated with the method or amazed it can be done at home, and almost all are understandably ill-informed of the entire process and subculture that has developed. For that reason, I was caught a bit off-guard when during a recent conversation, someone said to me, "So, you’re a brewmaster, right?"

To the general public, brewmaster is a term that lies somewhere between kids' fantasy toys and overly enthusiastic hobbyists bordering on obsession. However, what this innocent layman actually committed was a rather minor faux pas by using that term incorrectly. Within the brewing community, especially within the professional and commercial realms, this honorific is reserved for a select few.

In Germany, a brewmaster (or rather Braumeister) is a formal title and job position. It reflects a professional brewer who has completed a university course of training for the Diplom-Braumeister, somewhat equivalent of a Bachelors of Science degree in brewing beer. Inspired individuals can even proceed to a Diplom-Ingenieur, something like a Masters of Science with a specialty in biotechnology/brewing science.

In the European world, calling someone a brewmaster or master brewer is a designation of respect. It means that they have mastered the art and science that is beermaking, and have the credentials to back it up. It implies not only a knowledge of brewing but also an advanced education in the chemistry and biology of those involved processes. Although not entirely uncommon, there are but a few schools that offer such programs in both Germany and the United States, and their popularity is growing.

Overall, finding such certified brewmasters in American craft brewing operations is not necessarily a given. Many owners of microbreweries do have a similar academic background, possibly having attended one of the domestic brewing programs such as the University of California, Davis or the Siebel Institute of Technology. Most are simply talented homebrewers who have turned professional, or have apprenticed at other craft breweries. However, few are certified brewmasters of the German tradition.

Because of this, it is much more common to find a head brewer in charge of a small brewery here in the States. There are several variations on this title—such as Head of Brewing Operations, Chief Brewer or simply Brewer—and all reflect more of a journeyman aspect to the profession on this side of the Atlantic. Being the upstart entrepreneurs that they are, some small brewers have adopted more playful titles, such as Chief Zymurgist.

Do homebrewers have any such titles or rankings? Not at all. Aside from being no more than a pastime, homebrewing is a much more egalitarian activity. Even award-winning, long-time homebrewers still make mistakes and are still learning about their devoted weekend diversion. There is much more camaraderie and less status among homebrewers, as the hobby lends itself to teaching and learning across both the novice and the expert.

Given that most American craft breweries are small operations at best, titles and positions are little more than words printed on a business card. With small profit margins and a lot of labor involved, most professional head brewers are as up to their armpits in muck as any volunteer or lowly trainee. What title should these professional brewers use? As more than one has personally told me, "Janitor."

1 comment:

dcullen said...

I am looking for a "brewmaster," or someone who is potentially on board to be of reference regarding information and advice for launching a full swing brewery, funded by a major company. Future employment opportunities are certainly a possibility for anyone willing to help with initial guidance. If anyone out there is interested in this major project, let me know as soon as possible.