Blood Sweat & Beers: Redefining The American Dream One Year In The Professional Brewing World
I really have been slacking on the blog font…However, this year was far from ordinary in many aspects…So I think I’ll give myself a pass. This week marks one year since I left Corporate America to chase this dream of brewing professionally. It was a year jam packed with all kinds of rewards, blessings and well…. a global pandemic. Completing my first year in professional brewing on top of facing the new normal as a result of Covid-19 has been quite the experience to say the least.
I did a lot of reflecting these past couple of days on this year. On the outside looking in it really does look like I am living the dream. And in most aspects, I believe that to be true, but there are other sides of this story that not many people get to see or hear about. If I told you it’s been nothing but sunshine and rainbows, then I would be lying through my teeth. It has not been easy. In fact, I think this could be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But, Im proud of what I accomplished this year and Im happy that I took this leap of faith and took a shot. I owed it to myself.
I spent the last ten years of my life building a career in Advertising Operations. I had a comfortable life – good/respectable salary, good benefits, vacation time, etc. My wife Katie and I love to travel and we have been blessed to see so many beautiful places together. In the brewing world…a lot of these luxuries are off the table.
I thought a lot about why I left digital advertising. I also thought many times over about just throwing in the towel and going back to that comfortable life. It would be incredibly easy for me to do that. Almost too easy…There were many days where I almost picked up my phone and sent out an SOS. Luckily, I have an absolute rock of a partner in Katie. She keeps me pushing forward no matter how hard it gets. She reminds me why I do this. Every morning when I wake up before the sun comes up to start another long day, I get dressed, walk/feed our dog Jersey and come back into the dark bedroom to give Katie a kiss goodbye. She says something as I leave each day that keeps me going…”I love you. Im proud of you.”
I think “comfortable” is the key word here. The comfort I had working in Advertising made me uncomfortable. I was exhausted and burnt out. It was a different kind of exhaustion. I started to notice that my brain never slows down. I think at least three steps ahead ALL THE TIME. I can’t stay comfortable I was just constantly chasing. Its me not being fair to myself and its just not in my nature. I have this crazy thirst for growth, building on things, striving for the best and creating something tangible its both a blessing and a curse. I was finding myself smacking my head on the proverbial ceiling.
I loved everyone I worked with like family, which also has been another factor in this transition that has been incredibly difficult - I think about all these people a lot. Im known to make strong connections with people, especially people who I work on the front lines with every day. The truth of the matter is…I could have kept going, kept learning, kept pushing, but the result of all that effort and hard work wasn’t something tangible to me. It was something I was passion about in a sense however, it wasn’t MY thing. Every time I would try to research the industry, I was just becoming un-interested and distracted. I found myself daydreaming about beer and brewing. That was the difference. I was never much of a reader but, when it came to learning and researching brewing I would blow through books. I have created quite the library here at the house. I couldn’t get enough. The relationship with brewing just made sense. Made a lot more sense.
Why did it make so much sense though…? I remember many times just watching the crowds of people in the morning running through train stations and bus terminals. I wondered what their lives were like and why they were in such a rush. I wondered why they looked so stressed. Im sure many of them were rushing to a job that they loved, but I also knew that many of these people were rushing to a job they absolutely hated. A job they didn’t choose, but a job that maybe chose them through a sense of obligation and being a responsible adult. I started asking myself these questions…why am I doing this…? Do I have to do this…? Am I doing the right thing, making the right choices? Is there another way? And the main question…why am I able to even think this way?
I started to break this down. A lot of our ancestors came to America for a better life. It wasn’t a better life for them, but a better life for their kids, for their grandchildren, for their great grandchildren. I saw my grandparents work hard for their kids; my parents work hard for us…but where is the exit? What is the end goal? Who gets to cash in on this? What is the American dream? I tried to be a dreamer and break into the music industry before diving into Corporate America and I crashed and burned. Maybe that was the answer? Maybe the American dream is just a load of crap.
This year allowed me to conceptualize the meaning behind the American dream and the process it takes to get there. A chance to redefine it, understand it's meaning for myself. It’s not clear cut. You don’t wake up one day as a child, proclaim that you are going to be an Astronaut when you grow up and then NASA shows up to your doorstep on your 18th birthday. There’s a path. The path is the American dream. Following your dreams isn’t a matter of getting from point A to point B. It isn’t a straight line. It’s a matter of finding high points with logical properties and linking them together through excessive exploration. Sometimes you must go back to go forward, left to go right and more importantly right and left to move forward. At the end of the day, dreams don’t have to be labeled as a dream if you truly intend on chasing it. It can be reality through the practice of being a realist with the ability to visualize a dream as a tangible responsible rational outcome. Our ancestors made a sacrifice so that we can at least even have these thoughts or aspirations.. This concept is a cornerstone in the story behind Terra Costa.
I realized that I was able to link logical properties together through my excessive exploration. When I made the jump to professional brewing I kept a grip on the Advertising world. Since my first day working at the brewery I have been working part time for one of the previous companies I built a good rapport with. Im incredibly thankful for the group over there. They are allowing me to chase this life. When I was presented with the opportunity to work at a brewery everything just fell into place. If you have a spiritual side and believe in things happening for a reason well….all the signs were there. Now I just had to live this life. It’s fast paced, dirty, sweaty, exhausting and rewarding.
Most weeks at the brewery Im pushing 50 sometimes 60 hours a week depending on how cooperative a brew day or canning day feels like being. I spend a lot of time earning my keep by doing tasks of anyone first entering the brewing industry. There’s a lot of cleaning. A lot of mopping, a lot of time spent dislodging hop/yeast clogged valves, a lot of manual labor, countless hours being on your feet. Not to mention coming home, taking a shower, eating dinner with Jersey and Katie then firing up the laptop to put in 2-3 hours of advertising consulting work, going to sleep and waking up at 5:30 AM to do it all over again. I went from building and managing a new team in Tel Aviv Israel to grabbing a mop and cleaning up hop debris, cutting my teeth and learning the ropes from the ground up. As mentioned before, there are days that I wanted to give up. Go back to my comfortable life and just brew for fun in my cool hombrewery in my garage. Sounds like a nice life….But too much work has been done for me to look back now. Truth of the matter is…as chaotic as it sounds. I love what im doing. The sick part is…. after a crazy work week I find myself over a kettle of boiling wort on the weekends in my garage. It’s a labor of love. A life not suited for many people, but somehow its my life.
I’ve learned so much this year. If I was to start Terra Costa without making this jump, I absolutely would have been dead in the water. There were so many lessons learned at the brewery. There were days of victories and days of great defeats ie: dry hopping 30 bbls of an IPA and learn the hard way about dry hops creating nucleation with residual CO2 causing something that reflects the eruption at Old Faithful…that was a fun day. I learned to develop good habits around sanitation and handling beer, how to properly carbonate large batches of beer and in general just learn the life of a brewer.
I also have had the pleasure to create on our pilot system and have many of beers that I conjure up in my head get to see the light of day and enjoyed by the general public. There are both physical and mental aspects to being a brewer. Things that most people never consider or mention…I think the two hardest learned traits over this year in this industry was getting into physical brewer shape and making your mental health a priority. There’s a ton of time spent doing physical labor, executing important yet monotonous tasks fueled by tortuous repetition. Your body and mind need to adjust to these things. There’s also a lot of time spent by yourself. Just you and your thoughts as you rake out two thousand plus pounds of spent grain out of the lauter tun. There’s plenty of room for your inner demons to come out and play. This year I invested in myself, my mental and physical health. I had no choice to be honest, it’s the nature of this game. That’s the American dream. The fact that I was able to do this…I have zero regrets and Im excited for what this next year has to bring both to my growth as a person and the continuous development of the Terra Costa brand. I also just really want 2020 to end like the rest of us.
Cheers for now!