Yuck. Gross. I know people call me that with good intentions, but please, stop calling me a master brewer. Or brewmaster. Whatever. Maybe one day I might deserve to be called one of those two terms, but I’ve got a lot of craft beer brewing ahead of me before that happens. For me, they are interchangeable. For others, not so much.
Technically, a brewmaster is someone who handles the brewery’s production from start to finish. They are the ringleader of a circus. Myself – yes, it’s what I literally do every day, and honestly, I’m pretty good at the job. I love it to death. I still get a little case of the heebie jeebies saying it about myself, though.
Smith Matthews of Southbound Brewing in Savannah, Georgia says, “A Brew Master has the necessary skills and experience to run every aspect of production in the brewery from grain to glass. It’s his/her sole responsibility of ensuring the brewery puts out a high quality, safe product for public consumption. To me, it’s not a term to be taken lightly. So I embrace my title of as Brew Master because I know what I had to do to get here. When people acknowledge it and and respect it I appreciate it that much more.”
A Master brewer, on the other hand, can be roughly defined as someone who has the street cred to be a professional at all things beer. It is someone trained in a massively intense regime in a far away land in sensory tasting, brewing, production, packaging, educating… this is the dean of your college. He or she is a brewing wolf who is long in the tooth and has a wealth of knowledge that should strike awe in your everyday brewer.
I finished up my brewing education at the Doemen’s Academy a couple of years ago over in Munich, Germany. As a brewing student, I was afforded the opportunity to not only meet actual brewing masters/master brewers but also to study under them as a part of my education. Brewmaster is not a term thrown around jokingly in other countries of the world. These are the Jedi masters of beer and brewing technology. These are people with decades-long, tenured and successful careers built on everyday brewing management. They have years of daily, hands-on experience with raw ingredients and brewing processes from beginning to end. These people have accolades and sales figures that are difficult to wrap your head around.
Of course, there are those who are far undeserving of either title describing themselves as such. Conversely, there are others who have definitely earned the title playing that card very sparingly. It is fortunate that our small but growing industry is doing a great job of self-policing this theoretical line. I bet if you rounded up a good pool of brewers and point-blank asked them, Are you a brewmaster?, that most would chuckle and decline the title.
When asked his reaction to that opening statement, Joey Siconolfi of Frothy Beard Brewing simply states, “I always politely reject it. I have been brewing beer for a little over nine years. However, I’m still learning. Brew Masters are technically trained in all facets of brewing which include chemistry, engineering, biology, electrical, plumbing, and management. Brew Masters earn their title just like chefs, pilots, or doctors. While being called a Brew Master is flattering, I don’t feel that I currently deserve it.” I feel you dog. I’m in the same boat as Joey.
I guess what I’m saying is the title makes some of us feel uncomfortable and probably rightfully and necessarily so. There’s a brave new world of craft beer out there. Globo-beer is gobbling up craft breweries left and right. The fight is only going to get tougher from here on out and those of us that intend to stay local and true to the communities that invest in us need to keep our swords sharp and our reflexes honed. We can’t start getting big-headed and carried away with being rock stars.
Even though we are a cool bunch to hang out with, at the end of the day, brewing is a job – a tough job. I’ll admit it is rewarding and fun, but positions and titles have to be earned. While we are making fun and intensely awesome products that may end up gaining some pretty colossal fanfair, many of us brewers are simply too young and not yet experienced enough to be swinging the swagger stick.