Sunday, April 03, 2005

On measuring achievement: Some merely throw the line into the water, but others are fishermen

For the past two months, I’ve been sifting through the contingencies as my business and livelihood, the New Albanian Brewing Company, approaches a challenging transitional time.

Specifically, our brewer from inception, Michael Borchers, is leaving us to return to school, and a new brewer has been engaged. He is being trained, and looks to be a good fit for us.

This fit didn’t come quickly or easily. Seeing as we’re a family-run business with limited resources, finding a trained brewer with experience who’ll also work relatively cheaply has proven to be a virtually impossible proposition.

That’s the sort of reality to which we’ve become accustomed, and as such, it’s an acceptable part of doing business.

What does one look for in a brewer?

Especially as it pertains to small-scale brewing, it strikes me that formal training is less important than enthusiasm, a willingness to learn, and the presence of an intangible “taste” for the possibilities inherent in craft beer.

Learning the step-by-step is one thing, but having a feeling for a job is something else entirely. Brewing is art as much as science, and training that focuses on technical processes omits exposure to the beer and brewing aesthetic that in turn lends itself to creativity and absorption in the craft.

A brewer can be taught and learn the technical nuances of brewing, but does he or she have an instinctive appreciation for beer, for styles of beer, for flavors and textures and moods of beer, and for the history of beer?

These are the foundations of good beer, and if they’re solidly in place, it’s worth more than half the game.

In my business, the beer that is brewed on site is just one facet of the overall presentation.

We serve the finest beers from American and the world, and to the casual observer, it may seem like the many choices offered are overwhelming. Actually, there are hundreds more beers that we could add to the list if there were sufficient space and money for inventory, and if the beers moved quickly enough before getting old.

However, more so than shelves, money and age, the choice of beers offered is determined by knowledge of the many options within the more narrow parameters of a design, a plan, an objective that embodies what I hope people experience when exploring the world’s beers.

In essence, that’s my job – to know these beers inside and out, to use my specialized knowledge to organize and sell, and to teach customers so they can make informed choices.

But more than that, my job is to believe in beer.

It has been said that certain people possess an innate ability to sell, and these born salesmen might just as easily sell automobiles, securities or wine.

Personal experience has taught me that this is true, and that such people do exist, and yet this knowledge makes me uneasy. If given my choice, I’ll reject the “professional” and embrace the one who believes, who feels, and who lives the job.

Obviously, my preference probably shouldn’t be extended to an untrained intern over a skilled professional surgeon.

My point is that when it comes to matters like art and entertainment, and food and drink, intangibles come readily into play. Professional skills are valued, but they're no more important than sound instincts and the ability both to know and to feel the objective.

Ponderables ...

Can a cigarette smoker properly administer a non-smoking area? Perhaps …

Can someone for whom the acme of culinary achievement is Applebee’s grasp the concept of a quirky independent eatery? Maybe …

Can a Coors Light drinker speak the same language as a craft beer aficionado? Possibly …

But in all three cases, probably not.


Turning to the local media, in today’s Sunday edition of the New Albany Tribune, there is an article about Develop New Albany, the non-profit entity with the mandate to help improve "downtown" New Albany.

For the past 15 years, Develop New Albany (DNA) Executive Director Nick Cortolillo, Associate Director Jane Alcorn and a host of volunteers have been working hard to beautify and strengthen downtown … “I feel like I've made a difference since I've been here,” Cortolillo said. “I can see the positive change (in downtown).”

DNA working to bring life back to downtown New Albany, by Lyle Lowry, Tribune County Reporter.


edward parish said...

Are you at liberty to say who the new brewer is?

The New Albanian said...

Later this week ... we're promoting from within, but we haven't had the final meeting yet.