Finding Balance with 13 Top Craft Beer Pros

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Craft Beer California

Moonlight Brewing founder Brian Hunt has a unique view of balance.

On June 9 in Paso Robles, at the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, we asked participating craft beer pros, How are you able to maintain balance in your life, if you’re even able to? Their responses might surprise you.

Tyson Arp (Nebraska Brewing Company)

No, not at all. It’s funny. As we’ve grown and gotten busier, it’s definitely consumed more and more of our life, but for almost five years now, it’s been 100% beer, all the time. That’s alright. I love what I do. It doesn’t feel like work, so that’s cool.

Mikkel Borg Bjergso (Mikkeller)

I don’t know. I’m busy as hell. I have a family as well. I have a daughter and a wife. Just try to make everybody happy. As long as I’m having fun, I’m in balance. In the periods when it gets stressful because we have too much work, obviously it’s not a good thing. I’m trying to have fun with what I do, and traveling here and brewing with these brewers is obviously a lot of fun.

Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker Brewing Company)

That’s a great question that I haven’t been asked before…Brewing started out as a hobby – that thing that I did to get away from stress, work etc. Then that hobby became an obsession and later it became a career. Through it all, I still have not been able to get away from the obsession part. I have a serious case. As the brewery grows, there is no denying that the stress that making beer used to dissolve tends to creep back in. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. As our brewery and the craft brewing community continue to grow, the number of obligations grows exponentially with it. That’s why building a great team is so critical to success. The core of or brewing team have been together for 10 years now and we continue to build this program together. I have the best brewing team in the business. I would be dead without them. This year I will travel more than 100,000 air miles visiting brewers around the world. I wouldn’t ever leave the brewery if I didn’t have our team.

Jon Carpenter (Golden Road Brewing)

Balance is an interesting thing. You just keep walking that tightrope, and if you fall off, hope you grab on and pull yourself back up. I’m not sure anyone really maintains balance at this point. We’re all-in, every facet of our life.

Phin DeMink Southern Tier Brewing

I’m just lucky that I was able to make beer my life. I wake up every day and don’t really think, “I’ve got to go to work.” It’s really still a hobby for me. We’re able to make a little money along the way. I still view it as a hobby and we’re still really into it. I don’t always look at it like work alone. It has balance to it, my life. And a wonderful family.

Dave Engbers (Founders Brewing Company)

Who said I had balance? I kind of joke, but beer, this is our path that we’ve chosen. Trying to balance that between family and work can be challenging, but we bring our family to a lot of events. Beer is a very social beverage and should be celebrated. I think it’s something that we should have families involved in. It’s part of our society.

Grady Hull (New Belgium Brewing)

Actually, that’s not a problem for me. New Belgium is a great place to work and have work-life balance. I have a wife and two kids and I get to spend lots of time with them, except for these last two weeks where I’ve been traveling a lot.

Brian Hunt (Moonlight Brewing)

I haven’t jumped off a bridge yet and I’m still alive so I must have done something reasonably well.

Pat McIlhenny (Alpine Beer Company)

Balance in our life comes from good exercise, good food, good company, good people. It’s working out pretty good.

Masafumi “Mori” Morita (Yo-Ho Brewing Company)

No. The brewing business is not work for me.

Victor Novak (TAPS Fish House & Brewery)

[laughs] Balance? Well, I finally have a new brewer coming on, so that will help me reduce the hours a little bit. At the end of the day, if you’re working 12 hours, 13 hours, and it’s a long day, I’m not stuck in a cubicle making autoclaves, or whatever. I’m making beer, dealing with great people, interesting, intelligent people. It’s beer at the end of the day, and you can’t complain about that. So the balance comes in understanding what I’m doing and the love of what I’m doing and then I still get out and run and mountain bike and go to museums, and read books and all that. I try to keep that perspective.

Noah Regnery (Hollister Brewing Company)

Between the lady and brewery, it’s not easy, but it’s okay to have beer for your life. There are definitely worse things.

Clay Robinson (Sun King Brewing)

I am now. For the first two years, I was really unable to maintain any balance. It consumed everything that I did. I was one of our brewers. I was our Marketing guy. I was our PR guy. I was our Events person. Actually, a couple years ago, Dustin [Boyer] came on board. He had previously been my assistant brewer and he came on board to help out. We’ve grown. Three years ago, we were building the brewery out, and this year, we’ll do 18 to 20,000 barrels. As we’ve grown, we’ve invested a lot more money in better equipment, lab equipment, and most importantly, people who are really good at things that they do. Back to your hiring question, we find people who are passionate about it, we find elements of what they do that they really love to do, and then we turn them loose and let them do the best they can on it. People allow me to have a balance. Two years ago, I couldn’t have attended a festival like this because I would have been busy with a million other things. At home today, I think we have three different events going on. We’re at a beer festival here, we’re at a beer festival in Colorado and we’re at beer festival in Bloomington, Indiana, simultaneously.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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