Finding Balance in Paperwork & Brewing

As a brewery grows, it also means new challenges. For some up-and-coming breweries it means tackling the prospect that the head of brewing has other than tending to a kettle or switching lines in a transfer.

Sometimes, management duties call.

“When we had to switch to three shifts at our 10-barrel facility, it was time to hire more brewers and I had to step back from brewing and focus more on management,” remembered Don Oliver, the Brewmaster at Turlock, California’s Dust Bowl Brewing. “I went from brewing all of the beer, to about 40 percent of it, and now I don’t get a lot of hands-on brewing time.

“It was difficult to leave the brewhouse behind, as I hate desk work, but I still have creative control of the beers.”

Cris Ellenbecker, who is the Brewmaster for Johnson City, Tennessee’s Yee-Haw Brewing, has seen enormous growth, going from 5,000 barrels in 2015 to 11,500 in 2016. He said he hasn’t been able to step away from brewing, cellering and bottling most days.

“It is a challenge to find the balance between paperwork and production work,” he said. “With the great staff that we have here, it makes it easier. Getting everything done in one day would be near impossible if it weren’t for them.”

Oliver still fills in brewing on both brewhouses when needed for the eight-year-old brewery that produced 6,800 barrels last year.

“It’s important to still stay connected with the sights, sounds and smells of the brewery,” he said. “Advice I would have for a brewer stepping into management would be to realize that you can’t do it all. If you remove yourself from physical brewing, you can step back and look at the overall picture of production and make better decisions regarding efficiency, process improvement and quality.”

Ellenbecker said to “know what you don’t know.”

“Probably the best advice that I’ve heard,” he said.

Oliver said the best parts of being a manager are being able to directly influence company culture and ensuring his brewers grow as individuals through training.

“I think the curse of management is that you don’t have the satisfaction of job completion,” he said. “Management never ends, so I feel there is less of a sense of accomplishment.”

Added Ellenbecker: “It’s always a pity when you have to let someone go, or discipline them for something they should know better than to do. The best part is getting to do fun things for your staff. Letting take off early to go drink together downtown and have a little team building day.”

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