Author Topic: Brewery internship?  (Read 949 times)

Offline galapagos jim

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Brewery internship?
« on: January 27, 2012, 06:57:30 PM »
The short version: What's the best way to go about contacting a brewery to offer myself as free labor in the brewery for a week or a month, in exchange for simply being there and learning more about how a brewery is run?

The long version: I'm employed full time in the software industry, but I'm contemplating a change in career. I enjoy beer and brewing and they say you should do what you love. I'm nowhere near ready to go pro, but maybe ready to apply to a fermentation science program and go the academic route.

But I want to know what working in a brewery is really like. My job affords me a lengthy vacation, during which time I'd like to offer myself to a local brewery (I'm in Seattle, so there are plenty to pick from) as free labor for a week or a month. Maybe multiple weeks at different breweries, if they'll have me. In exchange, all I ask is that I be allowed to observe and ask questions about the brewing process. Consider it an internship.

How do you think a brewery would react to this offer? Would they be likely to take it? Who would be the best person to contact? The head brewer or HR or the owner?

I realize that the obvious answer here is just to go ask some breweries. No penalty for trying, eh?  Problem is that I'm a bit of the shy type. Introverted, maybe. I have a hard time striking up conversations with strangers. In person, anyway; I've got no problem spilling my heart out to all you folks on an Internet forum. ;)  So the idea of waltzing into a brewery and trying to get the attention of one of the proprietors and pitch them my idea is scary to me. I'd like to prepare myself with a good approach and a good pitch, hence a little asking about on the ol' Internets.

Your opinion desired.

Online mtnrockhopper

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2012, 10:50:46 PM »
I think some breweries will appreciate the free help, others just won't want to be bothered, and how they feel depends more on their situation and their personalities than how you approach them.  You'll probably have more luck with smaller breweries, especially ones that are starting out and maybe can't hire all the help they'd like. I'd tell them exactly what you told us and just ask if they are interested.  I'd guess you'll have less luck at any place with an HR department.

And plenty of small breweries use volunteers. Dogfish Head had volunteer tour guides until a few years ago and I know a couple people who have volunteered to work on bottling lines.

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Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2012, 11:15:17 PM »
Personally I would start with the brewer - I suspect most wouldn't like having someone shoved on them from the owner, but most of them get a pretty free hand in the brewery.  i don't know of any in this area that are specifically looking for help, but go to Belgian Fest on 2/4 and try to meet some of the brewers.  You'll have the benefit of some beer as a lubricant to make it easier to talk to them.

If you can, try to go to a bunch of different ones - the breweries around here are really varied, so if you're looking for a broad education of what it is like to work in a brewery, better to get a wider perspective.

I can tell you this - a LOT of people volunteer to work in breweries, so you might not be high on anyone's list.  And the brewer's pretty much all know and talk to each other, which can be both a good and a bad thing.  Good because if you get in good with one person they will put in a good word for you at another place.  Bad because, well, if you suck it might be harder to get another chance somewhere.

Really, if you go volunteer at a brewery they are the ones doing you a favor - often you are more hindrance than help, not even including all of the questions.
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Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2012, 09:09:44 AM »
If you would approach me I would be more interested in longer term part time commitment then a few full days and you are gone.
it takes time to train new people for the job. Me as a brewer I have to make sure that you do the job correctly.

Most of jobs in the brewer are non glamoures jobs. Lots of cleaning. Some heavy lifting.

Good luck.
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Offline a10t2

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2012, 10:20:52 AM »
I'll throw in my two cents, and I apologize if it comes off a little harsh.

I've had several people volunteer/get hired to work short stints in the brewery, and I feel like it always ended up costing me more time than I gained. I'm a little OCD, though, so the first few times someone was doing something in my brewery I had to watch them to make sure they were doing it "right". Brewers are busy - in a small brewery, sometimes insanely busy - and on-the-job training is just time that the brewer can't be doing something else.

That isn't to say that you shouldn't try, though. Make sure the brewers know that you're willing to do the simple tasks like scrubbing floors or the outsides of kegs, or mucking the mash tun - things that can't really be screwed up. Learn by watching and asking questions until you get into your comfort zone.

And yes, please start by approaching the brewers directly. There's nothing worse than showing up to work a 14-hour shift and finding out you have to babysit a new hire that day; ask me how I know.

Good luck. It's a filthy, exhausting, incredibly fun job.
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Offline galapagos jim

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2012, 11:01:50 AM »
Thanks guys. This is incredibly helpful. Reading your responses helps take some of the edge off of my current panic. My desire to do this may be a byproduct of my current existential crisis (been in the software game a bit too long, methinks...), but I still like the idea of working in someone else's boots for a while. Comments in reply:

tschmidlin:
Quote
a LOT of people volunteer to work in breweries

Really? Somehow I find this both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. Do you think they're chasing experience like I am, or they just think they can get free beer? Knowing the competition could give me an edge in being successful. :P

tschmidlin:
Quote
if you go volunteer at a brewery they are the ones doing you a favor

I have no illusion that it is otherwise. I'd be extremely grateful to anyone who would let me in their doors on my crazy adventure.

Thirsty_Monk:
Quote
Most of jobs in the brewer are non glamoures jobs. Lots of cleaning. Some heavy lifting.
a10t2:
Quote
Make sure the brewers know that you're willing to do the simple tasks like scrubbing floors or the outsides of kegs, or mucking the mash tun - things that can't really be screwed up.

I anticipated that, at best, they'd limit me to the first two. Mucking out the mash tun sounds like a blast!

Thirsty_Monk:
Quote
I would be more interested in longer term part time commitment then a few full days and you are gone.

THAT is a most valuable response, and makes me glad I came to this forum to ask.

I would not be opposed to this. My current job is full time but flexible enough that I could squeeze in some time at a second job. Staying in this frame of mind, if it were me proposing this to you, what type of commitment would you be looking for? A number of hours per week? A number of days per week? ("Hey, just leave those kegs until Tuesday when the part-time dude is here.") How useful would weekends be? (Most of my brewery visits are done on weekends and they rarely seem busy with actual brewing activities.)

Related to this, I assume that breweries do occasionally have open positions they hire for. What's the best way to go about finding those, to understand what a brewery looks for when hiring?

Also, another approach I've been considering as a first step is to ask a few brewers to do an informational interview. Just a 1/2 hour of doing one-on-one Q&A with me. How do you think that would go over?

Again, thanks for your responses, guys. I really appreciate it. This is very helpful.

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2012, 02:03:28 PM »
tschmidlin:
Quote
a LOT of people volunteer to work in breweries

Really? Somehow I find this both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. Do you think they're chasing experience like I am, or they just think they can get free beer? Knowing the competition could give me an edge in being successful. :P
When the subject of volunteers comes up the brewers I know have said they get more volunteers than they have time to deal with, since it takes a while for you to actually be useful.  Often you'll end up doing something that is important but further from the brewing than you'll want to be.  One guy I know works in the tasting room on weekends, hoping that when there is room in the brewery he can move over there.  When they go to look for someone they'll look and see who is around and a hard worker.

Anyway, these are people (often homebrewers) who want to work in a brewery, not people looking for free beer.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2012, 03:13:21 PM »
What kind of commitment?

Every brewery is different. A lot of them are single person show. Different personalities and phylosophys that reflect on brewery attitudes.

I for example work almost every day. We use returnable bottles. Monday is a delivery day. I would like you yo come every Tuesday to wash dirty growlers. Sometimes it is 30 and sometimes it is 150. So it would be from one hour to couple of hours. Another job would be check on stock in grocery/liquor stores.  Depending on how we get along I might find something else like filtering and filling the kegs.

There is one more thing to consider. What would you do if you get hurt in the brewery. This would spell trouble for brewery.
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Offline denny

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2012, 03:42:42 PM »
There is one more thing to consider. What would you do if you get hurt in the brewery. This would spell trouble for brewery.

The liability issue is the first thing I think of whenever I read a thread like this.  A huge issue, especially for a small brewery.
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Offline galapagos jim

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2012, 04:12:18 PM »
Liability had certainly crossed my mind. I suppose it would be up to the individual breweries to make a decision as to whether or not my presence and participation is an acceptable risk. I would not be adverse to signing waivers if necessary.

For my own part, being employed I have my own insurance so any injury to myself would at least be covered for my own sake. Legal exposure to the brewery or injury to other persons certainly is a different matter.

This is an excellent conversation. If nothing else it's becoming clear to me that my little idea may require biting off more than I can chew. Likely my best route is to start small, make friends with some brewers, volunteer to pour at festivals and such non-operational activities and work my way up from there.

Offline Gribble

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2012, 08:54:25 PM »
Another aspect on the topic of safety is holding regular OSHA safety meetings.  Making sure that every employee and volunteer understands all the hazards in the brewery, the wet floors, hot surfaces, chemicals, confined spaces, etc., and how to be safe as possible using PPE.  That way as a brewer you cover your ass knowing that every person in your brewery knows what's going on. 

To the OP, volunteering at a brewery is a great way to start out, but as someone who's had volunteer is his brewery just making sure that that person is going to be around for a while so as not to waste my time is the biggest thing.  I don't mind teaching people whats going on, I started as an AB and teaching the home brew class, and had a guy from a class volunteer filling pigs, and he did such a good job we hired him.  Just start talking to brewers and you'll see a lot of em love free help, but definitely get in with your buddies and start brewing.
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Offline a10t2

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2012, 02:30:44 PM »
Related to this, I assume that breweries do occasionally have open positions they hire for. What's the best way to go about finding those, to understand what a brewery looks for when hiring?

(Most of my brewery visits are done on weekends and they rarely seem busy with actual brewing activities.)

Most open positions will get listed on the probrewer.com forum. The BA forum also has some, but I think you have to be a member to get an account.

If you don't see brewers working weekends, it's probably because you weren't there at 6am.  ;)
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Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2012, 07:25:57 PM »
From ProBrewer:

Quote
Here's the actual verbage from the US Dept. of Labor.

(b) Congress did not intend to discourage or impede volunteer activities undertaken for civic, charitable, or humanitarian purposes, but expressed its wish to prevent any manipulation or abuse of minimum wage or overtime requirements through coercion or undue pressure upon individuals to “volunteer” their services.

(c) Individuals shall be considered volunteers only where their services are offered freely and without pressure or coercion, direct or implied, from an employer.

(d) An individual shall not be considered a volunteer if the individual is otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which the individual proposes to volunteer.

Pretty cut and dry. Unless your volunteers are already employed by your brewery in another capacity, or are "coerced" into working for free, they are freely volunteering their services.
Most of the laws refer to "public agencies". Unless your brewery is owned by the Government...it ain't public.
Also...volunteers are not covered by workers comp. They get hurt, it's on their tab, unless you want to cover their expenses. They may sue, but the likelyhood of them winning is nil. They volunteered.

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Offline DrewG

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2012, 05:49:26 AM »
I volunteer at a local craft brewery from time to time. I was a regular/mug club member for a couple of years and got to know the head brewer a bit. After I was infected with the homebrewing virus, my insatiable desire to learn anything and everything about making beer prompted me to ask if they ever needed help in the brewery. The reply I got was "If you mean the work for pizza and beer kind of help then sure, we need help"  Its sometimes fun, sometimes a learning experience, but always hard work. Dont expect to have much to do with the brewing process, at least not for a while. Youll probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about packaging, bottling lines and stacking heavy things for hours on end. Some days you may not even have an opportunity to ask questons. When you do, try to make sure they are well thought out and ask them at an appropriate time.

If you're a hard worker and not a giant pain in the ass they'll probably ask you to come back.
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Offline Siamese Moose

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Re: Brewery internship?
« Reply #14 on: February 23, 2012, 03:35:09 PM »
I volunteer at a 1500 barrel/year brewery. We have the two owner/brewers, four full-time employees, and a dozen part-time volunteers. The owners were friends of mine for years before they opened, so that's how I started. I thought I was going pro, and went in with the intent to learn pro brewing. They knew and welcomed that. My situation fell apart, but I still work 2 shifts per week. (I'm otherwise retired.) To get in as a volunteer, you need: 1: Know brewing, be a homebrewer, and preferably BJCP certified. 2. Be prepared to do any job asked. In my case the only thing I won't do is lift full half-barrels (back issue), but I spent most of my time cleaning floors and cleaning/sanitizing kegs. I occasionally brew, bottle, keg, filter, and kibitiz on recipes. The other volunteers were accepted because of the ability to make a long-term commitment. I estimate 60 hours of training is required to become an asset. Anything less than that and you are a liability. In a small brewery they just don't have the time to train you.
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