Preserving Brewery Heritage: Prompts to Get You Started

This is the third of three Heritage Chair Communicator pieces touting the merits of preserving your brewery’s history. In the first piece, I shared how a recent trip to Germany served to remind me of the growing uniqueness of our own American beer culture. I made the case for encouraging our younger and newer members to take steps now to preserve their own history. Last month, I shared an article of tremendous value published in the September/October 2015 issue of The New Brewer entitled “The Art of Archiving: Preserving Your Brewery's History,” by Erika Goergen. The article provided a brewery preservation and archiving overview. It focused upon helping you 1) to define the scope of your archive collection, 2) to decide what to keep, and 3) to decide how to store it all. I encourage you to find the actual article and reading it.

In our third article of this series, we take yet another approach. In the spirit of reaching for more personalization, we offer some brewer-provided questions designed to jog your own preservation memory. These questions were provided primarily from craft brewers representing several different stations in life. Some are employees. Some are managers. Some are owners or partners. After spending time in the trenches, they offer groups of archiving questions that address topics that are personal, pertinent, and meaningful.

  • What was your primary educational base? Did you have formal training? Were you a home brewer? Did you work for an established brewer before your current position/brewery? Was there someone who was a major influence upon you?
    One's career path can prove to be a source of great pride. Some have had formal university training. Many have had training in a far-removed field like history (ironically!) or education. Others endured the very difficult “school of hard knocks.” Most brewers celebrate a combination of all these paths.
  • Can you remember when—exactly when—you started thinking about opening or managing your own brewery? Is there a particularly memorable story tied to arriving at your current position or coming to own your brewery? Who was there with you?
    Some brewers literally experience a “Eureka” moment: an almost spiritual awakening where they decided on brewing as their life-long career. Others come to commit to the craft over a much longer period of time.
  • What was your favorite style? Favorite recipe? What lead you to these? Have you archived your past recipes?
    I am amazed by the number of brewers who keep formal recipe books. I have seen some that are ornately decorated, diary-like, and quite unique.
  • Did you enter brewing competitions? Win medals? Do you still have the recipes? Did any evolve into your flagship brand?
    One brewer once shared with me that he won medals for one of his recipes as a home brewer, then won two GABF medals... including GOLD... for the same recipe as a pro brewer... a classic preservation story!
  • If you opened a brewery, did you keep your “day job?” If so, how did you juggle all of your responsibilities?
  • What was your first brewing system? Was it purchased new? Used? Did you retrofit it? Did you outgrow it? If so, how soon? How did you address it?
  • How do your raw materials fit into your own unique story? Were they mainstream and available, or were they more esoteric and non-typical? Did you revive an ingredient, less available or long forgotten? What aspects of your process were unique in your treatment of them?
  • Have you ever experienced a process “mishap” with ingredients that, happily, turned into a new brand?
    One brewer shared with me a mishap story involving an MTX system that wasn’t completely purged of chocolate malt. The result was a new ale that became a mainstay brand.
  • Did your business plan unfold according to your expectations? If not, how so?
  • Did you join any guilds or craft brewer associations? Were they supportive? Did you have a supporting relationship with other brewers or breweries?
    The craft brewer community overflows with compelling stories about receiving help and advice from other small breweries. There are well publicized stories of brewers collaborating on a beer or style for a joint release
  • How did your brand identity evolve?
    Several brewers have shared the challenge of naming their breweries and brands. The proliferation of brewers has caused many conflicts and well publicized litigation. City names, geographic features, climatic features, historic features, animals, even body parts...have all been taken!
  • What were your most impactful lessons? Your biggest surprises?
  • Did you have a supporting hobby that contributed significantly to your concept: photography, cooking, gardening, graphic design, etc.?
  • What were your location options? Why did you locate where you did? What were your biggest considerations?
    Many brewers share the realization of their contributions to their respective communities. Often, their community “once supported several breweries,” and they were the first to brew since prohibition. Others have actually occupied the building of a previous brewery, sometimes of historical significance.
  • What are some of your most memorable aspects...both good and bad...of your start-up?
    The sky is truly the limit here. Back-slapping giggles and tearful episodes can be shared, all personal, and all grist for the preservation mill.
  • What unique aspects can you remember about your early sales efforts?
    Consistent memories here include the realization that actual brewing takes the least amount of time, while the time required to sell the beer is always underestimated. Here is where there are a lot of creative solutions, stories that need to be preserved. Tap rooms are a consistent solution, with many good stories about the creation of their themes.
  • What were some of the earliest venues and events where you were able to present your product? What did they include? Festivals, fairs, shows, taverns, beer dinners, special events?

It is quite encouraging to listen to the degree to which brewers are becoming more aware of their need to preserve their stories. As I said in part one of this series, the big, centuries-old brewers have known this for years, and they have certainly made it a priority to have their story very well known. Hopefully, these questions can serve as a tool to get other brewers thinking about preserving aspects of their own story.

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