[My friend and brewvana reader, Adam Draeger, has chosen to chart a new career path, and he’s agreed to allow us to tag along on his adventure. Adam’s an experienced homebrewer and engineer who has recently taken steps to transition to the world of professional brewing through coursework at the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology. This is the first in an occasional series that Adam will be guest-posting here at brewvana. Enjoy his intro. He’ll be back with updates in the coming weeks.]
Guten Tag! My name is Adam Draeger and this is the first blog in a series about exploring a career change into professional brewing.
I grew up in the beer state of Wisconsin and graduated from UW-Platteville with a BS in Engineering Physics (which is a fancy title for a combo of electrical and mechanical engineer). During my freshman year I met a homebrewer (and future fraternity brother, Tim “Cream” DeTroye), but at that time, the thought never crossed my mind that I would/could homebrew due to the fact that (I thought I) didn’t like beer (AKA: Bud, Miller and Coors).
After I turned 21 my roommate got me to quaff Bud Light regularly, but I didn’t enjoy it. I tried Rolling Rock andSam Adams with marginal improvement. It wasn’t until I visited a brewpub in Madison, WI, called the Angelic Brewing Company (now closed) that I had my first beer epiphany. The place had the awesome brewpub atmosphere that I continue to seek and relive any chance I get. It also dawned on me that this beer was only made in this one location for consumption in this one location. I was experiencing an unique beverage that was made locally by somebody from raw ingredients, but not just a beverage…..BEER!
This first epiphany turned me into a beer hunter and I desired to experience as many brewpubs & craft beers as I could find (and as a college student…afford). I started light with the cream ales and kolsch-style ales then drifted darker toward the pale, red and brown ales eventually making my way to the stouts and porters. At one point my thoughts took me back to my freshman year and Tim’s ability to “brew his own.” I’m a creative guy, and I love to make things….why not recreate some of my craft and brewpub favorite styles of beer myself?
It was 2000 and I was interning at Lands’ End when I read John Palmer’s (free online) book called “How to Brew”. I was so cautious about my descent (errr…ascent) into brewing that I just kept reading and studying for a year before I let myself take the plunge.
My first batch was made in Freeport, IL, on June 30, 2001, while on internship with Newell-Rubbermaid.It was a hefeweizen extract kit that I called Ninkasi’s Sumerian Wheat, named for the first beer goddess.
After 19 batches of extract brewing, I upgraded my system to all-grain — mostly to be more creative and save money. Fast forward 9 years to when I made my 100th batch of beer on Aug 18, 2010 (not counting the many ciders and meads that I’ve brewed as well).
For the last six years I have lived and worked as a process engineer for Pella Corporation in Pella, IA. While over the last 10 years I have considered the Siebel brewing course many times, it never seemed feasible for my family and me for me to take the plunge and take off time time from work to do so.
In October, the company took a look at the bleak forecast for 2011 and decided to offer a voluntary retirement/separation package instead of just laying employees off. (I have a lot of respect for this company and have no ill will towards my job, manager, or coworkers.)
My wife and I discussed and saw this as an opportunity to move to (possibly) Colorado, a state after our hearts. After a lot of prayer and discussion we felt that God was telling us to take the separation package and sell the house, but nothing further was for certain. So we started putting feelers out in Colorado to see if any of them would be blessed. I also signed up for the waiting list for the Feb 7th start of Siebel’s next program. I was explicitly told not to get my hopes up as there are rarely cancellations. I put my energy in to job hunting for engineering positions in Colorado…I even applied to New Belgium as a facilities engineer.
After a month of searching and praying, I received a call from Siebel saying that there was a cancellation and that I was the first on the list. More discussion ensued and my wife and I decided that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a career change and I accepted the position in the class at Siebel.
Since being enrolled in this course, I have done some preparation for the class. I am reading the MBAA’s practical handbooks and my local brewery, Peace Tree Brewing Co has agreed to let me job shadow their head brewer, Joe Kesteloot. My wife, Erin, and girls (Julia, 3, and Raven, 1) drop me off in Chicago on Friday, Feb 4th, and classes begin on Feb 7th. My next posting will be about my first week at school and adjustment to living in the “windy city.”