Mashing in

This month, Charlotte Cook finds hope for the industry, in the next generation of brewers


Last month, I wrote about how I was struggling to uncover positive things in the beer world. While there is still a lot to be said about that, I have since managed to find myself in a situation that also gave me many reasons to be hopeful about the future of our industry. 

In July, I was lucky enough to return to the beautiful Middlebury in Vermont, this time not as a tourist, but as an instructor at the world-renowned American Brewer’s Guild. To be asked to help teach the next generation of brewers was a great honour, as well as an incredible way to induce a spectacular new level of imposter syndrome. My fellow instructors had decades on me in the industry, as well as a lot more teaching experience, but I was never treated as a rookie or less knowledgeable (even though my brain definitely failed me on more than one occasion). As a woman in the brewing industry, this is not a given, and I reckon I go into new situations assuming that I will need to prove myself in some unexpected and inexplicable hazing process. But the instructors and students were welcoming and gracious and I soon felt like I truly belonged.

This is a setting where knowledge and skill still have currency

Above all, this is a setting where knowledge and skill still have currency. It can be easy to get jaded about craft beer, especially when you see reports of breweries stating that their beer must be kept cold, not to preserve the flavour, but to stop it from exploding in consumers’ hands. Even worse is when they make light of such basic failings; as brewers, we need to make sure that what we're sending out is safe, and making alcoholic grenades does not fall under that description. The constant jokes about craft beer fans and brewers being tedious hipsters with few interests outside of hops and getting out of their tree are also tiresome; we are more multifaceted than that. 

This means it was a delight to spend time with budding brewers in the USA and see such unbridled enthusiasm for the craft, and a genuine desire to learn as much as they could. I haven’t been asked such probing scientific questions since university. These didn’t come from a place of trying to prove how much they knew or to show dominance, but from an insatiable want to expand their knowledge, and even though I went to bed every night utterly exhausted from talking, it was a genuine privilege to help guide people through the complexities of brewing science. 

It was also wonderful to get to know the people outside of their brewing boots; the kombucha enthusiast, the amateur mead maker, and the guy who’d travelled from Japan for a two-month internship in Vermont were all fascinating and wonderful to meet. It can sometimes feel like brewers are very heterogeneous, yet meeting this group of students reminded me that brewers come in many forms, and that is something to be celebrated. There were also five women in the cohort of 19; that’s over 25%. I have never seen that many women attending a brewing course before, and it was very heartening to see. 

There were also five women in the cohort of 19; that’s over 25%

It was also very gratifying to see people who had committed so much of their time and effort to learning a subject come together and, in many instances, actually brew for the first time. I can only hope that I provided good tutelage and that they went away feeling more confident from their day brewing with me. 

As I mentioned though, the imposter syndrome was very real. I had to go home and learn the American malt analysis sheets, as I had only learned the European methods, which aren’t much use to a bunch of students who won’t come across that daily. I was also nervous, in case I said something wrong, or in case I drew a blank, and this was compounded by the fact I had uncontrollable tremors brought on by a change in medication. Attempting to demonstrate how to use a hydrometer whilst your hand is vibrating is a new challenge, but hopefully my digital instability wasn’t too much of a distraction. 

I went to America feeling despair at the industry, fed up with complacency and a lack of action to make it a more equitable and welcoming place. Meeting the students showed me that the gatekeepers are on the way out, and the new generation of brewers don’t need to be welcomed to the fold, they’re going to come in and they’re going to shine with their knowledge and desire to do a good job. While they need no welcome, I’ll be the first to roll the carpet out. Here’s to The Class of 2022. 

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