You Can Go Homebrew Again

Leaving commercial brewing behind

Pretty much everyone who has brewed more than one batch of beer at home has thought about working as a professional brewer or opening their own brewery. I chose to do the latter, opening Heretic Brewing Company in Pittsburg, California with my wife in early 2011. 

Over the past decade I have had many homebrewers tell me their dream of starting a brewery or ask me for advice on how to get a job in the brewing industry. They loved brewing at home so much they wanted to make it a lifetime career. 

In the beginning, I was honest with them and told them they should reconsider. Owning a brewery, or any business for that matter, is a lot of hard work. It can be rewarding on some levels, but it can be brutally hard, challenging work. I’ve seen too many people fail and too few truly succeed.

It was clear that the homebrewer in me never left. It was just beat down a bit by the weight of owning a brewery.

What I don’t like about the beer business is that it is a business. Those days when I could wake up and decide to brew something fun and new were gone. I didn’t have any days off and I had to consider things like production schedules, distribution channels, and taproom sales. Sure, I still created new beers, but then I had to take care of federal and state label approvals, price posting and label production, and so much more. If there wasn’t great branding to go with the beer, then it didn’t matter how great it tasted; it wouldn’t be commercially viable. One of my favorite styles of beer is British cask ale, but regardless of what us beer geeks claim, very few customers want lower ABV beers and we could rarely brew them. 

Eventually, advancing age, health issues, and the stress of the pandemic made my wife and I come to the hard decision to sell the brewery we had worked at every day for the last decade. It was a tough decision. Many of the nearly 50 employees were like family to us. We loved seeing them and being around them. They helped us build a brewery from nothing to a substantial, internationally distributed brand. It hurt a lot not to be part of that anymore. 

What selling the brewery did afford me was time to work on other things. Time to clean out the garage. Time to fix that sticky door. Time to have lunch with friends. 

I was at lunch with my friend Chris Graham of MoreBeer!, when he asked if I had time to homebrew again. I had thought about it, but I didn’t have any of my homebrew stuff left. Chris set me up on the spot with a Brewzilla system and some ingredients to brew a classic English bitter.

Heretic Brewing Company Founder Jamil Zainasheff with his new homebrew setup
Photo courtesy of Jamil Zainasheff

At first it seemed slightly foreign to me to be brewing 5 gallons (19 L) of beer again. The equipment was different from anything I used in the past, but once I got started, it was like riding a bike. I fell into a familiar rhythm. I instinctually knew the timing, the additions, the adjustments, etc. After a decade of running a commercial brewery, it was so incredibly easy to make a small batch of delicious beer. I put that batch in a cask and served it on a beer engine, much to the joy of my friends. It was by far the best English bitter I had ever brewed and I didn’t need to worry about how much to sell it for or how to convince distributors that they should take some. It was clear that the homebrewer in me never left. It was just beat down a bit by the weight of owning a brewery.

While just about everyone that has brewed more than one batch of homebrew dreams of opening their own brewery, just about every brewery owner dreams of just being able to brew with the freedoms and joy of homebrewing.

Issue: December 2022