Is Your Next Head Brewer Still in the Garage?

Getting started on the ground floor of a brewery that is also in its early days can be a good fit for the right homebrewer looking to make the leap into commercial production.

COOP Ale Works is one of the most recognized names in Oklahoma craft beer and its head brewer and operations manager Blake Jarolim has been on the payroll since 2010, when he made the leap from homebrewing math teacher to running operations at the Oklahoma City brewery.

“I was a home brewer and I would come home from school, light it up, fill the pot with water and it soon became much more about the process than making the beer itself,” Jarolim told Brewer Magazine.

The beer sharing community was fairly small in Oklahoma City in 2009, and one of the participants in Jarolim’s group happened to be former COOP head brewer Chase Healey. Soon after meeting him, Jarolim got his start washing kegs on summer break.

Three factors helped Jarolim make the transition from amateur to pro.

The right environment

COOP was small when Jarolim came on board. The head brewer was the only full-time employee in 2010, as founder Daniel Mercer was still working full time at his other job. When Jarolim joined full time, he came on to run the show on the production side.

He was able to grow his skill set in tandem with the company, learning as he went along.

“There was nobody but me here to run the show on the production side,” Jarolim recalled. “I came in one day at a time and did my job without any technical training for quite awhile. As time went on, we added bigger and better equipment and more and more complexity. I’ve really been taking it one day at a time since 2009 until now.”

Natural Curiosity

Jarolim remembers the first batch of beer he brewed at home.

“I remember smelling up the house and making my wife upset and thinking, ‘Yeah, that was not worth the money I could just spend going to the store and buying beer,’” he said. “But the next morning the bubbling started happening. The thing was alive in a way I didn’t understand and it started to pique my interest.”

An eye for efficiency

Jarolim said his natural sense of efficiency is something he inherited from his father.

“Even now, I’ll ask how we can take a really silly idea and make it commercially viable,” he said. “Or find raw materials to do things on a real scale, or manipulating equipment. Making Alpha Hive (Double IPA) requires stuffing 500 pounds of honey into a batch, for example. It wasn’t super feasible trying to get it out of a barrel that was hardened and into a tank, but we manipulated the process and added equipment to make it even easier than dry hopping.

“Daniel has always been into taking hurdles out of the way with maintaining the highest quality. I have taken that torch on the brewing side to figure out ways to make our product the best with maximum efficiency.”

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