It’s time to wrap up the summer and try to make sense of all of my experiences while explaining what I have learned about brewing and the craft beer business.
I’ll start with the actual brewing of beer. Anyone can go on a tour of any brewery and get an overview of the brewing process from start to finish. You mill malt, mash it in with hot water, filter the spent grains, boil the wort and add hops, filter and cool the wort, add yeast for a few days to ferment, possibly add more hops, let the beer mature, filter it again, add Co2 and then keg or bottle it and send it out. However, like most things, it’s easier said than done.
I was able to learn how to actually do this process from start to finish on one of the most advanced brewing systems in the world- Rolec. Although most of the recipe and brewing is computerized and up to the brewmaster, it is crucial to know what is going on every step of the way from testing original gravity to final gravity to pH levels and more. I would have to mill the malt, make sure the right hops are added and that the right pumps and pipes are connected and running. I was able to learn how to brewing works on a large professional scale. I was able to help brew beer on a very sophisticated system that I would soon be comfortable operating on my own if I had a bit more time with it. I was extremely lucky to learn on this system since most craft breweries do not have this kind of equipment. So, having learned how to brew on this system will make me comfortable in a larger and more established craft brewery and give me a leg up in an entry-level position- no matter what kind of position that is. It also gives me a unique skillset if I were to join a smaller craft brewery that doesn’t use this kind of equipment- while still being able to operate any kind of system that they do use.
There is a science behind brewing of course, the temperatures and enzymes and so on, which I am unfamiliar with. However, my co-workers often stressed to me that this did not mean the end of my brewing career before it had even started. After all it is craft beer. It takes some sort of experimentation; it is often a process of trial and error. It is more about knowing the process and beer and what it takes to make good beer than it is the science- leave it to ABInBEV to pay scientists for the “perfect” lager recipe. That’s not what craft brewers are interested in anyway.
Then comes the business side of things. The importance of quality branding, communication and customer service are of the utmost importance. I found it particularly interesting to learn about the detail put into every pamphlet, poster, label, web post and more. The branding has to be strong no matter what. Poor beer may survive so long as its branding and following is strong, but good beer will not last if it doesn’t have a strong brand and therefore not a strong following. As a baby of Brooklyn Brewery- which has an increadible brand- NCB took branding very seriously. Everything from color schemes, to typeface and the kind of beer and crowd that the brewery wanted to be associated with. These things are crucial in cementing the brand and the brewery to enable real growth.
When it comes to a young small craft brewery this is especially important in order to become an established member of the community. I noticed that the Temple Brew House which is younger than NCB had an incredible following. NCB also has a strong following but crowds at the brewery strongly depend on the weather and the events going on at or around the brewery. It is obvious that NCB’s location poses some challenges while the Temple Brew House has incredibly central location. This means that Temple’s location allows its brand to be cemented in the community much more easily than it is for NCB which is on the edge of the city in a young neighborhood. NCB tends to be a destination rather than a spot for regulars. This means lots of exciting challenges that I got to undertake. The best way to battle this we found was to have regular events. Holiday parties, guest cooks, live music, trivia nights and more are all in the works. Regardless, NCB has done a good job of cementing its brand so far in Stockholm and Sweden as a whole for that matter. Of course, the Swedish alcohol laws make it even more challenging for micro and craft breweries to enter into the market. It was quite interesting for me to learn about this industry in an environment that really hinders classic advertisement and marketing strategies for alcohol. Having found ways around this meant being creative and smart while staying true to our brand. I am confident that that is a skillset I will use for the rest of my life- one of creative and responsible marketing.
All of these things may seem like little things that can be improved and changed every day. And they are—but that that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In addition to all of this, it was a great experience to be a part of the collaboration between large and successful international businesses. I was able to learn first hand how they determine trends, how they influence these trends, how they work to get more customers, how they coordinate distribution and how they drive rate of sales. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on meetings and conference calls with Carlsberg and Brooklyn execs while they discussed actionable strategies to improve and streamline any and all elements of the business.
I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t in this business. I am grateful for everything that I got to see and do while in Stockholm and on the road. I can confidently say that everything I learned will be put to good and important use in the future- no matter what that future entails. I am a better person and professional because of my time at Nya Carnegiebryggeriet.